This week’s episode of The McCarthys was a dip in quality for a simple and predictable reason: they returned to all the threads set up in the pilot that, honestly, never made sense. It’s a common problem with TV shows: The pilot sets up a shaky premise and that after its aired, it becomes hard to gracefully pivot out of that without it feeling like a retcon. In its third episode, The McCarthys reminded us of everything weird that’s happening in the storyline: why did Arthur hire Ronny for a job he wasn’t qualified for? Why did Ronny take a job he wasn’t interested in? Why did both of those things happen especially when Ronny’s more qualified brother very much wanted the show? What does Ronny being gay have to do with any of this? That last question made this an especially troubling episode. I recall in the pilot there was some convoluted reasoning behind Arthur needing a gay coach. Removed from that already tenuous explanation, all the mentions of Ronny suspecting he was just hired because he’s gay are confusing at best and offensive at worst. They’re implying that this kind of tokenism is actually common in the real world and, implying through omission, that it’s more common than the many incidents of queer people fired or never hired at all because of their identity. It is, unfortunately, not uncommon for sitcoms about gay guys to feed into some weird myth that not only is discrimination rare, but that being gay is some sort of weird advantage. They tend to focus on only the most privileged gay characters through some misguided belief that actually acknowledging discrimination would kill the humor. As a counterpoint to this, check out Brooklyn Nine-Nine, which regularly acknowledges inequality without ever skipping a comedic beat.
Despite suffering from playing up the shaky premise that, I’m praying, will finally be left behind after this, moments of “The Good Coach” still shine. In particular, we get a lot more of what’s been working well from day one: Ronny’s relationship with Marjorie. They’re great together. In one stand out scene, she tries to be mad at him but it just descends into them talking about how great it would be to hang out with Tina Fey and Amy Poehler. Scenes like this are so natural and effortlessly funny.
In another great sequence, Marjorie attempts to watch The Good Wife with the rest of the family when Ronny is unavailable (normally, she insists everyone besides Ronny leave while the show is on, which I love). She ends up evaluating them, saying things like, “Currently, Gerard is doing the best job of watching the show.” When I first saw the title of this episode I was wary. I couldn’t believe how much they’re going back to the running joke of Marjorie enjoying The Good Wife. But, I’ve completely changed my mind about that. It’s become more than a running joke, it’s a legitimate character trait. Some people’s entire personalities are the TV shows they watch (I’m not saying me, but me) and the writing of Marjorie nails the details of this kind of TV obsession so perfectly that it completely works.
But, the best moment of the episode came from Arthur and it completely blew me away. Unfortunately, it was hurt by the fact that it was tied deeply to the convoluted plot which I’ve already talked about. It comes with Arthur talking about how he’s concerned about how much Ronny is working to get better at being a basketball coach. Obviously, this set up is terrible. First, he hired Ronny for a job he wasn’t qualified for because of convoluted reasoning and now he doesn’t like the idea of Ronny working to get better at that job? Yeah, the set up is a mess, but put it aside for a minute and think about this moment in a bubble:
Arthur explains that seeing Ronny spending so much time studying basketball reminded him of Ronny’s youth, when he used to pretend to like sports and pretend to not be gay. He talks about how he never wants Ronny to feel like he did during that time again. Wow. I will never get over this moment. It’s not a parent coming around to accepting or tolerating their kid, which we’ve seen. It’s him actually understanding that Ronny doesn’t want to be straight, that Ronny’s problem is not– and was never –being gay, but only the expectation that he shouldn’t be. And it’s coming from a father like Arthur, who seems so old-fashioned and has trouble expressing love or emotions of any kind, but this concern was important enough for him to say it flat out. Because of Brian Gallivan’s writing, Pamela Fryman’s directing, and Jack McGee’s acting, it’s not some jarring out of character monologue. It’s just Arthur really and truly understanding something about his son and about queer existence. From the moment I first heard about The McCarthys while checking out the new crop of network sitcoms, I knew it would be an important show simply by virtue of being the only show with a queer lead, important by default. This scene is what made me feel like it was important by its own merit.
So, while the plot elements of “The Good Coach” where extremely shaky, it still succeeds at what it does best: being a consistently funny family sitcom where the family dynamics are truly resonant and unique.