1. Birth: Anticlimactic. Suspense building for nine months, and for what? A dark, messy and not all that joyful resolution. And who really believes that the “Husband” would suddenly shift from indifferent, absent spouse to soothing, expectant dad? The introduction of the epidural minimized dramatic impact, and lowered the stakes significantly. From that point forward, I was disengaged. The emergency C-section twist held promise, but it was at once too gory and too detached. How is that even possible? The only thing that redeemed this train wreck was the baby (me!) who gave a heroic performance. Tough to pull that off when you’re covered in white gunk.
2. First Step: Obviously “First Potty Trip” was the hands-down best episode of the season, if not the whole series. By comparison, “First Step” was hugely disappointing. So much wasted potential here. Despite an incredible performance by our star (me!), particularly under such adverse circumstances, the feeling just wasn’t there. When “Mom” exits the room to charge the camera battery, the forward momentum of the narrative dips precipitously. Lacking direction, our star continues, wobbly, hopeful, but “Dad” is looking at something on his phone. Twitter. He’s tweeting something. Is this intended as a dark comedy? Are we being punked?
3. First Kiss Where do I even begin? The two leads have no chemistry whatsoever, the acting is atrocious, the “8th grade dance” set-up is unoriginal, hackneyed. Do we really need so many extreme close-ups? Can someone get make-up in here? Why is the soundtrack still playing Hall and Oates? The endless awkward pauses and indie hand-held camera just make the whole thing more painful. And the next scene where the “love interest” giggles to friends in the girls’ bathroom only demeans her in our hero’s eyes. All in all, this episode was a real stinker.
4. Wedding Pretty clichéd. The “Bride” was not “glowing” as intensely as expected, if at all. “Best Friend” was utterly unconvincing in the role of presiding Universal Life Church minister, and he said “um” way too much. (There’s no such thing as a mumblecore romantic dramedy for a reason, people.) That cake-smearing scene was intended as comedy, but it felt forced, and not nearly light-hearted enough. The “Bride” character actually looked pissed. (Is she pissy like that all the time?) “Mother of the groom’s” speech needed a rewrite, inappropriately intimate yet not all that touching. And speaking of touching, the wedding night itself was devoid of sexual electricity. Who puts rose petals on a bed, anyway? How do you get away with lighting so many goddamn candles in a hotel room? Isn’t that a fire hazard? What is this, a John Hughes film? Does an overwhelming, smothering taint of lavender make our hero aroused, or just nauseated? Two thumbs down, way down.
5. Middle age Let’s talk for a minute about rising action. The challenges an antagonist (“Boss”) places before our hero (me!) should always seem insurmountable without actually being insurmountable. Watching this complex, multi-layered lead character struggle valiantly around the clock to impress his boss is certainly compelling, but only if he actually gets rewarded for his efforts. A flabby gut, an upside-down mortgage, bratty children: These are not “rewards” and don’t constitute a gratifying turn in our story. We don’t require a Hollywood ending, just something with some teeth. (Should an extended bout of constipation really get its own subplot?) It’s also becoming clear that “Wife” is all wrong for her role, and seems to be mouthing her lines without conviction. Should’ve considered an actress at least 15 years younger. A roundly disappointing season from start to finish, but at least it’ll be interesting to see how our showrunner backs out of this narrative dead-end with next season’s premiere.
6. Death I don’t think there’s ever been a finale that dragged on more than this one. The wretching, the jaundice, the far-away eyes: So dark it almost feels comical. (Is that the intention?) Instead of a clear narrative trajectory, our story is constantly interrupted by an indifferent nurse who can’t put in an IV line properly. The “Wife” and the various unidentifiable “children” are really terrible at improv. Where’s the script supervisor? Shouldn’t some words go here? Shouldn’t some of these extras be holding hands and talking about how much they love our hero (me!) and how important he has always been to their happiness, or something? Shouldn’t the music be swelling at this point? What’s that terrible smell? Why isn’t anyone crying? Why did we fade to black out of nowhere? What kind of an ending is that?
7. Hell You call these clouds? Why aren’t they white and puffy? Why are they so incredibly… warm? Where’s God and Aunt Martha and Rex and who’s the asshole with the Fu Manchu? This Heaven place is total bullshit. Is this a denouement? This part feels superfluous, tacked on. Did we really need it, narratively speaking? I would’ve done it all differently, especially the ending. That finale was a huge disappointment, and anyone who disagrees with me is a moron. I won’t say specifically what I would change, I just know it could’ve been way better. In my hands, every single scene would’ve been gratifying and special and tonally consistent. I really would’ve hit it out of the park. Too bad. Excuse me for a second, but there’s something — ouch. Ouch. Ouch. Ouch. Ouch. — -> Infinity.
On Wednesdays, Heather Havrilesky (aka Polly Esther) is The Awl’s existential advice columnist. She’s also a regular contributor to The New York Times Magazine, and is the author of the memoir Disaster Preparedness (Riverhead 2011). She blogs here about scratchy pants, personality disorders, and aged cheeses.