Last night’s episode of HAPPYish revolved around death. And God. But mostly death. It was … fun.
Okay, so remember Dawson’s Creek? That show was huge when I was in college, and I found that at my upscale, super-preppy college, people would watch that show and then go to their (elective) film study or philosophy class, and would weave their very limited knowledge into a weird tapestry of words a la Joey Potter (Katie Holmes’ character), and then sit there smugly in their Abercrombie vests, feeling smarter than the rest of us, after basically saying nothing in very big words. Admittedly, I did the same thing a few times (only I was an American Eagle girl — nay to Abercrombie). I’m kinda wondering if maybe I wrote this episode of HAPPYish in my (nonelective) script writing class when I was 19, and somehow sent it off 17 years into the future for production. (This entire last paragraph was a very long, convoluted way of me saying, “NOBODY REALLY TALKS THE WAY THE PEOPLE IN THIS SHOW DO!”)
Episode 3 opens on a picture of Michaelangelo’s The Creation of Adam (from the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel) and a voiced-over diatribe about God, from Thom. God has to be eternal, God can’t die, God should STFU, yada yada yada. “Walk a mile in my terrified mortal shoes, God. Lie in the dark, knowing nothing of the dark eternal nothing that follows. Then you can judge me. Until then, f**k off. F**k you, God.” Middle finger salute. Whoa. This one’s gonna be a heavy one, eh, Showtime?
As usual, the episode has 2 different storylines (one from Thom’s home life, one from work) which converge at the end. The home storyline (which drives the work storyline) is that Julius, Thom and Lee’s child is sick. He has a bug, like every kid in America has at least a few times in his or her childhood, and this makes Thom get all crazy-angsty about death. Talk about melodrama.
As Julius lies in bed feverish and coughing, Lee tells Thom to stop picturing Julius dead. He tells her, he’s not picturing Julius dead, he’s picturing him dying, which is far worse. If you’re dead, it’s over, but if you’re dying, there’s still hope you’ll pull through. “It’s the hope that causes the pain,” Thom says. Oy.
The next morning, Thom sits in a meeting with his fellow ad peeps, looking miserable as they discuss who they can reasonably get rid of. Ah, layoff meetings: something I hope to never have to sit in on. (Thom has a particular interest in saving his associate Debbie, who has been at the agency over 20 years.) Ever the idiots, the new creative Swedish directors Gottfrid and Gustav sit in the meeting, and Gottfrid argues, “Guys, we’re creating a better and smarter M.G.T. Every act of creation is an act of destruction.” [Gustav whispers something into his ear.] “Gustav reminds us of eggs and omelettes.” Blank stare from everyone, and they go back to arguing over layoffs, whereupon Jonathan gives an order to everyone to get back to him which who from each of their departments they can get rid of. Meantime, Lee is at home with Julius. He watches Dora the Explorer while she talks on the phone about how he’s over the hump, and right on cue, Julius vomits on his tablet. (I don’t blame you, Julius. I vomit when I watch Dora, too.)
Cut to Dani (Thom’s headhunter friend, played by Ellen Barkin) and Thom on the phone. He asks if she knows of any account executive positions–for Debbie. She’s surprised, and asks if Debbie is looking, and he tells her she might be soon. Dani tells Thom he needs to worry about himself, and his own job. (This seems to be a common theme; his boss Jonathan tells him the same thing, often.)
After all of the morning’s talk about layoffs, Gottfrid seems nonplussed (after all, it’s not his job on the line) and, that afternoon, leads a meeting about the agency’s creative priorities. New York Life (one of M.G.T.’s biggest clients) is not a creative priority any longer; the agency has done all they can for them. Gottfrid wants to let them go because they (at the agency) are “busy.” It’s pretty clear that he just doesn’t think they’re cool enough, and Thom calls him out on that fact. After a morning layoff meeting, does Gottfrid really plan on letting a $35 million client go? The gist of the discussion that follows between the department heads at the agency is that they’re trying to be a creative shop, and that insurance advertising has gone the way of comedy (Geico’s gecko, Met Life’s Charlie Brown) while New York Life has stuck with tragedy.
Thom, being the good dad he is (and fully convinced that his not-that-sick kid is at death’s door, apparently), goes to the store to look for children’s medicine, and who shows up but the Geico gecko. “Oh, delightful,” I think, because I’m one of those easily-amused Americans who’s all “yaaaay, cartoon lizard!” The gecko, however, goes into a speech about fear, and death, and how we all die, and is really just a huge a**hole of a lizard, if you ask me. Thom feels the same way, and after the lizard quotes Mark Twain and makes a lame joke about death, Thom kicks him–hard–and he hits the wall with a sickening splat.
At Thom’s home, we hear a voiceover from Thom about how his problem is that he’s Catholic, because God loves unhappy endings. He kills. (It’s just a virus, dude. Oh. My. God. Get some perspective.) He’s so worried about Julius’s 102.6 fever, and wants to give him some more medicine to make him better. Lee already gave him Tylenol, but Thom wants him to have something else, and rattles off a list of medicines that don’t decrease fevers at all. Naturally (naturally) this leads to an argument about religion. Sigh. Thom tells Lee she has a thing for suffering, because she’s Jewish. She tells him that all her mom ever did was shove medicine down her throat (and her mom’s very Jewish, so obviously her unwillingness to dope Julius up isn’t a Jewish thing).
The next day, Thom has a meeting with his military account, and we hear one of the young M.G.T. employees presenting to the group that the enemies at home, for the military, are actually parents, because they prevent their kids from enlisting. The argument, she says, must be made (via advertising) that since kids never listen to their parents about anything else, why start now? This makes Thom think even more about death, because as he works to save his own child (from a garden variety virus), he’s working to send other people’s kids to the military to die.
Hey, diversion: Rob Reiner’s here! Remember in episode 2, how they wanted to use documentarians to make a film about Keebler Elves? He’s the one, apparently. He gives an artsy speech that loses even me (and remember, I’m way into flowery language, from over Dawson-ing myself in college), to prepare Thom to create scripts for this elf documentary that are more “real.”
Tom and Jonathan go shopping, and discuss New York Life. Jonathan argues that the insurance company is going to leave no matter what, and urges Thom not to fall on his sword for Debbie. Thom tells Jonathan that Julius is going to die, and he doesn’t want to be in a store when it happens (in an effort to get the shopping trip over), and Jonathan asks why Thom thinks Julius is going to die this time. Thom tells him it is so because he’s been imagining him dying all day. (Uh, if people could really die from others imagining it so, we’d be extinct by now.) Then they get into a whole flowery, existential thing (as colleagues always do) about how really, everyone is dying, all the time. But Jonathan is dying faster, he points out. Thom looks shocked and worried. They’re doing tests, Jonathan tells him. For what? For everything. He rambles endlessly for a while, and I’m not sure at the end of the scene if Jonathan really has anything wrong, or if he’s just being ultra-dramatic. I’m guessing the latter.
Thom IS going to fall on his sword for Debbie by trying to save the insurance account, and summons 2 employees (who assume they’re on the chopping block) to put something funny together for New York Life.
While they work on that campaign, Lee takes Julius to the doctor, and while he examines her son, she rants (like no real mother that I know–rather, like a pseudo-intellectual college freshman in her first film class) in a poetic, angsty, philosophical way, about science and religion, after remarking that she’s not one of those moms that brings her kid to the doctor for everything. However, her overly-inflated speech bubble is popped once the doctor tells her it’s just a bug, and recommends Robitussin. She’s furious. “That’s your big cure?” she yells. He tells her, “Robitussin is just relief, Mrs. P. Cures are God’s business.”
Hey! (Quick subject change.) It’s Mickey from Seinfeld! (Remember Mickey, Kramer’s Little Person actor friend? He’s played by Danny Woodburn.) In the next scene, we see him with 2 other Little People, performing a very dramatic scene before Rob Reiner and the M.G.T. folks. It’s depressing: Fast Eddie is sick–he’s had a brush with death–and the elf mom and dad are talking about it in much the same way that Thom and Lee have been discussing Julius as of late. Rob Reiner has a piece of acting advice for the boy playing Fast Eddie: “I want you to think, ‘I saved the cat, and yet, I am the cat.'” There’s also a whole elf-y discussion about the new cookie factory down the road that’s threatening their existence, yet the bright side is that it “still takes a Keebler to make a Keebler.” Thom’s asked by Rob Reiner to knock out even more documentary scripts like this one, for the Keebler campaign.
And he does. At home that night, he sits at the kitchen table with his laptop, writing scripts, and here comes that gecko again. They verbally spar, and the gecko tells Thom that the thing about geckos is that they cannot blink. They see everything–death, disease–and they see every second of it. (Even with the cartoon lizard, this is exhausting to watch.) Thom is all “woe is me” because he has the knowledge that we’re all going to die, and then he slams the gecko in his laptop until the gecko cannot feel his own legs.
He heads to the bedroom (under a voiceover that the problem with the Bible is that joy is just a setup) and Lee tells him that she gave Julius some Robitussin after all. She’s figured out why her mom gave her so much medicine: not to make Lee feel better, but to make herself feel better.
The next morning, the team presents their funny campaign (which deals with the sh*t hitting the fan) to New York Life. The insurance men say that it’s funny, but not their kind of funny, which leads to a soliloquy from Thom about death, and how he knows that comedy can’t stop death. It’s actually kind of a cool speech (not exhausting, just neat). He tells New York Life that they’re the adults in the room (a room full of kids — the other insurance agencies that are doing all of the silly ads), and that they should stop worrying about the kids’ table, because when lightning strikes, the terrified kids will come looking for grownups. The New York Life guys seem satisfied, and we get that nice warm, fuzzy feeling that Thom has saved the business.
But, alas, he has not, because this is HAPPYish, not an episode of Full House. Jonathan calls him to tell him as much, and rehashes the whole speech he’s been giving Thom over and over, about not trying to save anyone else. After they hang up, we see that Jonathan and Dani (the headhunter) are about to start an affair, and as they make out and he unzips her dress, he tells her that there’s no hope of a relationship between them. “It’s the hope that causes pain,” she says, harkening back to Thom’s earlier comment during his initial worry about Julius.
That night, as Thom stands in the lot by his car, the Geico gecko pulls up, injured, on a mobility scooter, and talks to Thom about the comedy and tragedy in life. “It’s only tragedy when you don’t see the comedy,” he says, and Thom gets in his car and runs him over. “F**k you, Thom. F**k you,” the gecko yells, paralleling the way that Thom yelled at God at the beginning of the show.
The show wraps up with Julius feeling better — Thom and Lee discuss his fever, and how it’s down to the almost-normal mark. Lee throws up all over Thom, for she has caught the bug. Thom is not disturbed by this (apparently he has gotten over his fear of the garden variety virus wreaking havoc on all of his loved ones) and the show ends with a nice voiceover about how you have to laugh at life so you’re able to deal with the tragedy and the pain that it brings. With that, I totally agree.