Thursday, July 23, 2015

REVIEW: 'Married' - Lina Celebrates a Birthday While Russ Puts Some Effort Into His Marriage in 'Aftershocks'

FX's Married - Episode 2.02 "Aftershocks"

Lina and Russ let the wrong friends host her 40th birthday party.

This has been a really great start of the season for Judy Greer's Lina. Despite the faults the show has had in the past and still largely does now, it is a great showcase for her talents. In a year where she has been strongly misused in a number of summer blockbusters, it's great to see a starring vehicle for her that actually gives her great material to work with. In the premiere, Lina was dealing with her mother's declining health. In "Aftershocks," she has to come to terms with what turning 40 actually means for her.

This episode is strong because it largely just focuses on Lina and Russ. They both see this big day differently. It has a major impact on the state of their marriage and they have to deal with that. They do so in interesting ways. It's much appreciated that the show never deliberately cut away to some subplot featuring AJ or Jess. Those characters have their moments. But giving them their own story here would have been a major mistake. They both still have a presence in this episode though as they both choose to focus on the superficial gifts of this celebration instead of the emotional states of Lina and Russ.

Even though it was a strong narrative decision to keep the focus limited to just Russ and Lina (as well as their reactions to the outlandish stuff Stacey and Jay are up to), the stories themselves weren't all that original. It felt typical that Lina would use this landmark birthday to have a minor midlife crisis and try and recapture her youth. Similarly, it felt easy to have Russ' story focus on how the failures of other people's marriages may start happening to his own. The material itself wasn't that strong. But because the characters have become fully fleshed out (largely because of Greer and Nat Faxon's performances), the episode was able to build to a truly genuine and realistic moment between the two at the poolside.

Michaela Watkins and Patrick Fischler are great actors and terrific comedic performers. Stacey and Jay definitely push the weird boundaries that the show has established for itself. They are characters who can go a long way with just a little. They can't be overused otherwise their appeal and humor will wear off. The show recognized that in the first season. Their one previous appearance offered one of the better episodes of the season. The success of that episode is likely what led to an encore here. They continue to be fantastic characters. It's horrible that they are separating and yelling things like "Spectrum" and "Menopause" at each other. And yet, it still feels in the same realm of realism as everything else the show does. It strangely works. They aren't characterizations that would feel out-of-place in a show that also features Russ and Lina's terrific sequence of jumping into the pool together. This episode makes both of those beats work together - a not so small feat to accomplish.

"Aftershocks" doesn't work as well as the season premiere did. But it did enough solid work to keep the second season consistent so far. Some details didn't completely work. Lina's mysterious injury was never all that interesting. It served a purpose in getting her into the mindset that people will now be judging her based on her age. That did allow interesting moments with Jordan, the babysitter who's becoming a fashion designer. Russ feeling like he offers very little to the marriage was an idea that didn't have a whole lot of substance to it. It was largely something for him to do while Lina was having the more profound story. But again, it offered a few humorous moments like his attempts to talk with Jay as well as the confusion about their first date tickets. And yet, all of these minor issues aren't able to take away from the greatness that is Russ and Lina jumping into that pool. Yes, they are getting older. But they are still capable of making each other laugh and have fun together. That's what makes a healthy marriage. So, the two of them have nothing to really worry about.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Aftershocks" was written by Samantha McIntyre and directed by Jamie Babbit.
  • AJ and Bernie continuing to get into Russ' head over the state of his marriage is starting to get a little tiresome. The audience knows that Russ has the strongest marriage out of the three of them. So why in the world should he ever listen to them?
  • AJ's shoe fetish was quite amusing - largely because Russ and Lina had the same reaction that most of the audience probably had: befuddlement.
  • The detail about Jay caring more about his miniature figurines of historical figures than his marriage really gave a lot of depth to that character. While Stacey's assertion that people are afraid of balloons and plungers only added to the overall weird quirkiness of her character.
  • Lina has apparently started working as a substitute teacher. That's an interesting detail that doesn't really go anywhere. Though to be fair Russ' job has never been a primary source for story either.