Delocated Review: "Sample" (Episode 3.06)
Delocated is clearly Jon Glaser’s show. He writes it, he produces it, he plays the main character – it’s probably as pure a distillation of Glaser’s comedic vision as will ever exist on TV. Even if every other character left the show I’m pretty sure Delocated could exist in a recognizable and satisfying form if the character “Jon” was still around. So is it weird that, halfway through the third season, I’m way more interested in the Mirminskys than Jon?
The show hasn’t really fallen off from the brilliance of season two, and it’s still one of the two or three funniest shows on TV, but the character of Jon is less crucial to that greatness than it has been. Other than the amazing “Skins”, the two best episodes for Jon so far this year put him in situations where he doesn’t really talk. Like his sleep cooking in “Midnight Munchingtons”, Jon’s “silent strike” in “Sample” keeps Jon at the center of the plot while severely restricting his dialogue. And that’s a smart choice, because Jon’s personality has been more abrasive than ever this year.
Delocated misses Zoe Lister-Jones and Mather Zickel more than I thought it would. Without a calming influence like Lister-Jones Jon’s delusions and self-absorption have had a harder edge. He’s still absurd but it’s less playful and more awkward, closer to the shameless assholism of Kenny Powers from Eastbound & Down. Jon also doesn’t really have a friend anymore since Zickel’s secret service agent left. Instead of a tolerant voice of reason and a well-meaning co-conspirator, Jon’s entourage now consists of TB (Ali Reza Farahnakian), a largely quiet and contemptuous paramilitary bodyguard, and the Glaze (Marc Wootton), a charlatan of a life coach who openly encourages Jon’s worst behavior. TB and the Glaze are hilarious and smartly conceived characters, but without anybody to ground him there’s almost nothing to like about Jon.
Jon has a great central gag in “Sample”. He finds out that DJs are sampling his catchphrases for dance tracks. He complains to the network about the lack of royalties and learns that they own the rights to everything he says or does on TV. Jon goes on a silent strike in protest, refusing to say anything on camera. (You don’t even have to look all that closely during the street protest scenes to notice Les Savy Fav’s lead singer Tim Harrington leading a pro-Jon chant.) Jon can’t ever stay silent, though, so he builds a suit covered in buttons that trigger samples of various simple commands and typical Jon catchphrases. He basically spends the rest of the episode playing those samples, usually at inappropriate moments. Like the skins bar of “Skins”, this idiotic plan is uniquely Jon in nature, but also precludes his more hateful and embarrassing side from emerging this week.
Jon’s silent strike eventually becomes background to what really matters in “Sample”, and in the show in general at this point: the thoroughly awkward relationship between the Mirminsky brothers. Coward and failed stand-up Yvgeny (Eugene Mirman) is the leader of the crime family, but his younger brother Sergei (the excellent Steve Cirbus) is far better suited to lead. Meanwhile Sergei is incensed at the power Yvgeny’s girlfriend Trish (Amy Schumer) has within the family. He schemes to take her out of the equation by manipulating her into cheating on Yvgeny. Of course she winds up cheating on Yvgeny with the silent Jon, and Sergei admires her chutzpah way too much to kill her at that point.
This is a potentially off-putting storyline, as it turns one of the only two female regulars this season into a horrible sex-crazed monster. Schumer is fantastic at it, though, playing a vapid sorority type who gets off on danger. She makes even Jon uncomfortable. You know there’s something wrong with you if Sergei admires you.
Every scene involving the Mirminskys was great in this episode, from Sergei’s casual menace to Yvgeny’s pathetic response to his girlfriend cheating on him. Todd Barry also showed up yet again in what might be his most perfect Delocated moment yet. And Sergei’s visit to the Wang Cho crime family was remarkably intense. That tension almost always exists in Sergei’s scenes, but his face-to-face with the equally intense Qi-Qang (Yung-I Chang) was almost unbearable. Both actors are so straight-faced and dedicated to these roles, and that dramatic element is a large part of why Delocated is such a great program. Yes, it’s absolutely absurd, especially when the Wang Chos somberly reveal their permanent mark of shame is a giant thumb’s down carved on a wayward colleague’s back, but the presentation is so dry and sober that it almost feels wrong to laugh. Which makes that laughter feel even better.