Power dynamics in a relationship often take time to emerge and identify, particularly when it comes to the young and the restless. After all, most undergraduate students find equal footing with partners as broke and immature as they, but as real world issues like bills, careers, and parenthood enter the mix, a new imbalance can suddenly develop or an existing one can be thrown into sharp relief. Once a fiercely independent wannabe rocker, Raviva finds herself financially and emotionally dependent on Lou, just as his attention is waning. Her brief coffee shop run-ins with Jamel begin to take on deeper significance because she is so desperate for human contact after spending all her time caring for the baby (supposedly, anyway; the show has provided only scant evidence of this). Feeling themselves drift apart, both Lou and Raviva are embroiled in not-so-innocent flirtations with others, and revealing that fact to one another is an attempt to shift emotional control as well, to remind the other that they are still desirable.
Meanwhile Sophia wonders about the ramifications of allowing her older, wealthier girlfriend Laura to buy her a new cell phone under her contract. With tiresome consistency, Raviva once again rushes in to reprimand, warning her friend that accepting the phone means owing something (her comment that if Lou were to get her such a gift she would owe him nightly sexual favors is a particularly charming suggestion). Every week this kind of commentary continues it grows harder to believe that the friends of Underemployed would put up with Raviva’s always presumptuous, frequently hypocritical bullshit, let alone find it helpful. She tells Sophia with snotty pride that she would never want to be on Lou’s phone plan, yet the girl is happy to use Lou’s actual toothbrush every day because it’s just too hard to remember to charge hers. Even worse, the show vindicates her suggestion that no one gives without expecting in return, with Laura looking down meaningfully at the cell phone when Sophia says she can’t meet up with some of her friends. Not only does this turn for the obvious kill an opportunity to discuss a legitimately complex quandary of modern day romance, it doesn’t make sense with Laura’s personality. Would the woman who was so understanding of Sophia’s reluctance to come out to her parents just a few episodes earlier suddenly turn into this controlling manipulator who uses a gift to try and buy submission?
Professional relationships are examined here, too, as the crux of the episode is the Madura Tequila party thrown by Daphne and company, and hosted by pretty brand ambassador Miles. While Daphne and Miles have not yet entered into the messy romantic entanglement this show keeps trying to unconvincingly foist upon us (I long to tell the writers to give up the ghost on this chemistry-void dud of a pairing with the tone that Regina George orders Gretchen Wieners to “Stop trying to make ‘fetch’ happen!” in Mean Girls), the fact that they now work together has made the friendship tense on numerous occasions. When Miles suggests spicing up the text a bit, Daphne reasonably if imperiously orders him to stick to the script, but is ultimately shown the error of her ways. This show can be oddly preachy about what it means to be a good friend. In “The Trivial Pursuit,” the attitude of the others when Sophia yells at them for drunkenly slobbering all over her place of employment suggests one should always prioritize friends over work, regardless of their behavior. Similarly, Daphne’s caution over working with someone she knows to be unreliable bordering on a pathological liar is depicted as sell-out behavior, as if one should always trust their friend, in every situation, regardless of what experience suggests. Frankly, these platitudes are simply untrue and their pat, allegorical delivery is unsatisfying.
Daphne also tries to change her dynamic with her boss, first attempting to assert their equality by demanding a raise, then by weakly suggesting they are friends. Exploring that time when someone like Daphne has gotten the gig, but is then faced with navigating office politics and career strategy is promising, but once again the treatment is superficial. Daphne speaks to her boss with an entitled tactlessness that feels both out of character and difficult to relate to, obliterating the intricacies of the exchange. Employing some subtlety, hewing a little closer to reality, would have been a smarter move from a narrative perspective. Life, even and sometimes especially in its tougher moments, has the potential to be just suddenly, inexplicably funny; if the show focussed more on developing its characters rather than wedging broad comedy into thin drama, everything that is truly, absurdly funny about early 20s city life might come out organically.
The writers could also stand to cut back the cutesy “we’re such quirky, great friends!” openings. This episode starts off with the gang playing baseball in Lou’s improbably huge apartment, armed only with laundry baskets and kitchen appliances like they’re The Little Rascals, or Prozac-toting runaways from some scrappy orphanage. The bouncy indie-pop begs us to love these wild and crazy guys, the camera hops frantically from one shining happy face to another, but with nothing substantial to anchor them those smug smiles feel forced, just a perplexing round of generic reaction shots rather than the tender idiosyncrasies of real friendship. The entire exercise has the air of trying too hard, but not hard enough in any of the ways that matter. When Daphne puts off Miles’ desire to spice things up at the tequila tasting with the vague, poorly written line “We can make other things better. Let’s leave this be,” she may as well have been talking about the show, which seems firmly rooted in mediocrity.
- Props to the writers for choosing, for Daphne’s shade of nail polish, Lincoln Park After Dark, an OPI color that is part of the brand’s Chicago line. Chi-town native readers (and guest reviewers) have repeatedly mentioned that the show’s depiction of their town, or at least its use of aerial shots and mass transit B-roll, is one of the few things that consistently feels accurate.
- The readers have spoken, in that they haven’t. As Underemployed has failed to garner significant viewership amongst the AVC audience, this is the last episode we’ll be reviewing.