“Uncool” isn’t a bad half-hour of TV, but it is the weakest episode of Married’s still-promising infancy. It’s disjointed and misleading, its themes are muddled and hackneyed and irrelevant to Lina’s half of the story.
A message about parents coming to grips with their uncoolness floats around, but never really coalesces in Russ’s half, which keys in on his and Bernie’s feeble attempts to collect payment from a “difficult” client, an evasive fraternity treasurer named Doogie. (We now know what Russ does—freelance graphic design—and this is why money is so tight.) You can probably guess how things go: Doogie and his frat brothers are misogynistic assholes; Russ and Bernie lament their status as “the old guys they used to make fun of,” and fail to intimidate Doogie into paying up. Ultimately, to be tough/cool, they have to not care about being tough/cool, as is the tough/cool way. (Shattering a window with a keg doesn’t hurt, either.)
This is a lesson that’s been handed down by television since the Days of the Fonz, and Married doesn’t put a fresh spin on the lecture, or the college setting. The frat boys are chugging one-dimensional dicks who use “skank” and “slut” as synonyms for “girl.” The old guys are awkward and out of touch, and find their chivalry misplaced on Greek Row. The most surprising thing about this story is Russ enlisting Angel, the waxer’s tattooed ex from the pilot, to be their muscle… only for Angel to hammer these kids with a speech about the dangers of alcohol abuse in lieu of his fists. During the big showdown, he bails to call his sponsor.
Angel and Bernie are the highlights of the episode (“It appears that Doogie has come on our face as well”). I love Angel scoffing at Russ’s orthodontist bill: “Five grand? What, are you getting braces for the whole family? You white people always pay too much for shit.” This little truth-seed grows into an epiphany for Russ. Ostensibly Russ learns that, as a dad, he doesn’t have to be cool—he screams as much at Doogie. But the most (or only) significant thing he learns in “Uncool” is that he can’t afford to pay white people prices anymore, because he’s a freelance artist with three kids, and a wife who works her ass off—but not in a way that nets checks.
Lina, who’s been technically unemployed since becoming a mother, launches the job hunt this week under pressure from Russ, with the orthodontist’s bill looming over both their heads. Punching up her resume with Jess, Lina offers, “I once flew by myself with all three kids. While I was breastfeeding.” Jess dubs this a “baller move,” but one they can leave off a job application.
Lina’s uncertain steps toward working life remind me of a newly-released felon’s, right down to the negative influences (Jess and A.J.), and up-in-smoke interview. This makes sense because thus far, Married has portrayed married life as sort of a prison of our own making. In “Uncool,” Lina tells Russ she hates him before clarifying, “I don’t hate you. I just hate my life, and my life is you.” Hey, don’t forget the kids.
Lina has been trapped in this nuclear world; now she’s trying to find her place on the outside. (“Is it pathetic that I’m almost forty and I don’t know what I want to be when I grow up?” she asks.) She’s done one thing for the past twelve years—one hugely important, all-consuming thing. Re-acclimating to society and reentering the workforce is going to be incredibly hard, and I sympathize with her much more than I do Russ—who has yet to break a sweat professionally or at home. (Men.)
Unfortunately there aren’t a lot of laughs to be had on Lina’s end this week, save Jess’s nose-tapping admission that she lost her sense of smell via an “old cocaine injury.” A.J. is one of my favorite characters, but his restroom cornering/sniffing of Lina’s old boss was more uncomfortable than anything. It would have been funnier for Lina to meet with the man stoned, but that would have diluted (if not defeated) the point—she’s terrified to resume work, so much so that she couldn’t even get out of the car.
I wrote last week that I’m starting to think of Married less as a comedy and more as a dramedy. This week, I realized it’s an imbalanced one: Russ and his friends hog the bulk of the laughs, Lina the pathos, and poignancy, and empathy. As the show finds its footing, I hope Russ gets to deliver more as a husband and father, and Lina gets to deliver more zingers. Because if TV’s taught us anything, it’s that you don’t have to be cool to be funny.