Monday, September 5, 2016

REVIEW: 'Mary + Jane' - Jordan and Paige Try to Get a Celebrity Endorsement for Their Business in 'Pilot'

MTV's Mary + Jane - Episode 1.01 "Pilot"

When the girls get called to deliver to some major Hollywood celebrities, Jordan is determined to get a photo with the stars to boost Mary and Jane's rank on LA's "Green 15."

MTV's Mary + Jane does feel very reminiscent of Comedy Central's Broad City. It's a stoner comedy set in a big city that focuses on two female protagonists who go around town having crazy adventures. There are some key differences between the shows. Broad City is already a hit and Mary + Jane has the potential to be one as well. The structuring at least in this premiere is very similar though. The two best friends - Jordan and Paige - come together and hilarity ensues. And yet, they also spend signficant chunks of the episode dealing with their own personal problems and how their decisions affect their lives and business. Jordan and Paige actually run a marijuana delivery service. Meanwhile, Broad City's Abbi and Ilana just partake in the product. It's still an important part of both shows that the parallels are drawn almost immediately. Both include some fantastical moments as well - with Mary + Jane's perhaps being drawn a bit wider and broader in this first episode.

Scout Durwood and Jessica Rothe have a nice rapport with each other the moment they appear on the screen together. That's a crucial element of this show. Unlike Broad City, they didn't create the show. So, the creative team had to find two actresses who could pop onscreen and have a strong female friendship from moment one. They have found that with Durwood and Rothe. And yet, this will probably be a show that gets better as it goes along. It will take time for the writers to understand everything about Durwood and Rothe. They do a great job in this opening episode with providing them material that they can excel at playing. But the show will grow and becoming something great once the writers have a firm understanding of everything the two actresses can do. That's something that just takes time to develop. The show itself is very confident with its premise. It is forced in a couple of moments. When things just relax back into the chemistry of the two leads though, it's funny in an effortless way.

The premise of the show is that Paige and Jordan run a weed delivery service. They strive to be legal drug dealers. And yet, they also love just proclaiming that they are drug dealers. That's a joke that recurs quite a bit throughout this premiere. It doesn't always work. One of them calls themselves drug dealers and the other has to explain to the people who overheard that statement that they only sell legal prescriptions. It's a necessary joke because of the murky legal status of marijuana at the moment. This is a legitimate business opportunity for Paige and Jordan. They have goals they strive towards with this business. But it's also just precarious enough that any slip up could seriously damage things for them. They are just getting started with this service. It's a big deal when Paige gets the product ready in the morning. It's apparently something that doesn't happen that often. So, Jordan makes a big deal about it. That's a little unnecessary. But it also highlights that this business is just getting started.

Paige and Jordan are still learning what they can and cannot do with this business. Jordan has no problem sleeping with one of their clients. And yet, that's a huge issue because it could lead to a misunderstanding about what all they offer. Sex definitely brings Mary+Jane notoriety throughout this opening episode. They are hoping to crack the Green 15 - a list of the best weed delivery services in Los Angeles. That's an easily understood goal for their business that could give the season a nice through-line. It's what they want. The season will highlight their struggles of getting onto the list. Here, it means confusion about prostitution. Jordan had sex with a client because it was just something she wanted to do. She took the business out of the equation completely and made sure she wasn't paid for her services - including for the weed. But when Paige does it, she's just listening to Jordan's advice in order to get over her ex. It's a little too frustrating that most of what defines Paige in this premiere is her connection to a man. A guy who exists solely as a plot device and not a character as well. But again, it's funny to watch as she gets trapped in this awkward situation of sex. She wasn't expecting money from the encounter. But now, it means there is a new guy who thinks she's interested in him.

Meanwhile, Jordan's story is a bit too fantastical and weird. The girls try to get a celebrity endorsement to get them on the Green 15. They manage to get one by random. It's a joke that makes the audience work to understand what's going on. It would appear that they are delivering to Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie. And yet, it is never explicitly said out loud. It's just alluded to greatly. The waiting room is full of accolades. There are many, ethnically diverse children running around. But things take a turn for the over-the-top quickly after that. The children can't watch movies or TV shows. So instead they just watch an improv troupe who are seemingly trapped in this place. And then, when Jordan actually delivers her product, she does so to CGI renderings of what celebrities really look like without all of the makeup and professional styling. It's a very ambitious story for the show to tackle in its first episode. But not a whole lot of it actually works. Nor does it do enough to highlight who Jordan is as an individual character.

Mary + Jane also marks a key programming shift for MTV. This feels like an attempt for the cable network to mature. They've had success with original comedies in the past. But those successes have come from high school coming-of-age stories. This show does not fall under that demographic. More importantly, the subject matter is very different and geared to a slightly older crowd. This is a show that is comfortable talking about how guys finish during sex. It's a bit more brash and blunt in that type of humor. It's a style that could work for MTV. But a lot of networks have been undergoing rebrands as of late. Not all of them have worked out right away. So MTV will have to be patient with its new crop of shows to see if this is something that their audiences actually want.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Pilot" was written by Deborah Kaplan & Harry Elfont and directed by Michael Blieden.
  • Hipster jokes have become commonplace and mean-spirited on so many current shows. And yet, that culture is just treated as something that is a part of Paige and Jordan's world. They criticize it but they are still an active part of it as well.
  • However, Paige and Jordan standing in line waiting to get in the weird new businesses throughout the city is a pretty lame running joke. Hopefully, it's not something that continues in the future.
  • Paige's ex-boyfriend is a graffiti artist who needed her to get his supplies when they first started dating but broke it big after Taylor Swift mentioned him on social media. Then, he cheated on her and that's what ended their relationship. And yet, he texts her in the end. So, it would seem this is going to be an important story this season.
  • Paige and Jordan are given a rival to compete with as well. He only really appears in one scene to give them the suggestion of celebrity endorsements to boost their business. He got Seth Rogen and that's why he's in the Green 15. But he later drops out because Seth gets a restraining order issued against him.
  • Which do you think takes better pictures on your phone? The front camera or the back camera? Paige and Jordan suggest the back is better. But then, they don't get the selfie they need to take their business to the next level.
  • A monkey is missing in the neighborhood. It's enough to distract both Jordan and Paige at different times. Paige even sees him at one point. But neither do anything to capture the animal.
  • Plus, the girls have a dog named Daniel Day Lewis who is obsessed with Paige. He is even given subtitles which showcase a deep urge to have sex with her. That's a specific story that will need to be well balanced in the future in order to work. It just feels like too much here.