Sutton Foster (TV Land)

This week, the ancillary characters’ storylines are put aside in favor of examining Liza’s relationship with Josh more closely. Josh’s innocent remark about not being a big reader sets off an alarm in Liza’s brain, and her insecurity about there being a disparity in their relative maturity due to the gap in their ages spirals into concern about intellectual maturity as well. Some differences can be overcome—a relationship can survive without two willing adult dodgeball participants, or even one—but intellectual compatibility is a major part of a relationship, especially for someone like Liza, for whom reading is such a passion. But Liza experiences a rude awakening when her obvious attempts to probe into Josh’s scholastic background—or lack thereof—backfire completely. In an exquisitely written and performed scene, Josh quickly figures out Liza’s agenda and calls her out on it. The confrontation is painful to watch because of how much truth there is to both characters’ viewpoints: Liza needs to discern whether or not this man is right for her, but she doesn’t know how to put her questions delicately, while Josh is quick enough to grasp Liza’s intentions and spell out his experiential worldview coherently. The fact that he is able to do so in that moment speaks to his “emotional maturity,” as he refers to it later, a gift that Liza may lack if she truly is subconsciously sabotaging her relationship due to insecurity about an age gap.

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For dramatic purposes, it makes sense that Liza initially shoulders so much blame for this encounter, as the topic of intellectual compatibility may need to go into temporary hibernation so it can rear its ugly head again for the sake of conflict in future episodes. In truth, though, Liza isn’t in the wrong for assessing Josh’s ambition and intellectual pursuits since dating is about assessing compatibility; she just went about it the wrong way. Dating involves judgment; that’s why it’s so difficult. Josh is right to push back at her preconceived notions regarding intelligence, but literature is also a significant passion of hers and at this point in her life, Liza should put a good amount of faith in her instincts when making decisions; due to experience, she knows when something isn’t right. But red flags and deal-breakers aren’t the same things; hopefully Liza can demonstrate some emotional maturity of her own at some point and maintain distance from Josh’s bedroom long enough to identify what she really wants.

Much of the episode concerns Liza’s personal life, but this narrative is balanced by a subplot concerning her professional development. Treating a book club like a focus group may not be the best way to assess a manuscript’s potential for publication—or realistic at all—but Liza deserves points for effort. In both her personal and professional life, Liza is in pursuit of a diamond in the rough, and she’s willing to put in the work necessary to find that. By taking advantage of the suburban connections she developed in her old life, Liza demonstrates her ingenuity and the value of her life experience, traits that should lead to her advancement in the publishing world. Her professional development is illustrated in book club scenes that poke fun at suburban culture without taking the tired approach and totally disrespecting it. Liza experiences a culture clash for sure—the group assumes that she’s a lesbian just because she’s living with one—but they accept her readily. The women seem pretty great; they come prepared to discuss the book and drink a Margarita Atwood or two, and Liza trusts their opinions enough to feel justified in her assessment of The Scarf after hearing their praise.

In general, this episode is as interested in showcasing the importance of women’s support for one another as it is in showcasing the central romantic relationship. The intimacy of one scene’s blocking, which involves Kelsey meticulously covering up Liza’s bruises with make-up, reflects the intimacy of a conversation wherein Liza seeks advice from her younger co-worker. The scene concludes with a joke that demonstrates the evolution of this central friendship: When Liza mentions her night with the members of the book club—as well as the drinking and woman-on-woman action that takes place—Kelsey responds with a laugh, saying that it sounds like the nights they have out with the girls. Some of the best humor is character-driven, but inside jokes can be just as effective narratively. Inside jokes can shut others out but they also speak to the intimacy between characters, illustrating the closeness of relationships in a natural, organic way. From a confrontational argument to hilarious lines and relationship-based jokes, this episode’s writing delivers promising range.

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Stray observations:

· Re: Adult Dodgeball: “It was like being trapped in a cage with rabid hipsters. If there’s such a thing as artisanal steroids, I’m sure they were on them.” The term hipster may be meaningless, but the jokes are never not funny.

· Re: Adult Dodgeball Pt. 2: I think “adult dodgeball” is the term. Yes, I had to look it up.

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· “What’s the plural of ice, bro?” “It’s a collective noun!”

· “I watch Ellen every day!”

· The book club may have imbibed a few too many Margarita Atwoods. Their analysis of The Scarf mostly consists of random, unconvincing comparisons to recent popular books. But what do I know? I’m only into Japanese manga, mostly for the art.

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· I can’t believe that Hilary Duff is referring to Tinder in-episode now too. I know you’ve been promoting some weird reality project with all of these dating website shout-outs, Duff, but don’t you dare compromise the art. Like Julianna Margu-lies, you’re officially on notice.