Sometimes late at night, visited by dread & shame, I lie in bed and think of someone else’s life . . . and in these moments, I feel empty and wanting.
I think the thing that I’m most loving about this show is the way that it handles what one might call the “inspirational messages” in the show. The show is about a woman attempting, and often failing, to live up to a high standard of mental and emotional health, so it is, by its nature, going to contain a lot of content that could easily be seen as clichéd and platitudinous. And the strength of the show is that it refuses to be just one thing in this area. Sometimes, when Amy is spouting these clichés, the audience is intended to laugh at how silly they are; other times, the audience is intended to feel frustration with Amy for being so pedantic and holier than thou. But those are easy things to do with clichés and platitudes. What really impresses me is when the show treats them seriously and manages to actually make them meaningful. This episode is about Amy’s journey in the way she views other people. As someone that’s struggled with mental and emotional problems in the past, I found this episode quite moving because it really is reflective of something very real in that journey. Namely, the point is to change the way you view other people. It’s very easy to see other people as they present themselves and to believe that you’re the only one with a completely ****** up life, the only one having a difficult time, the only one struggling to keep it together. And you have to journey to the realization that everyone, to one degree or another, has struggles and problems and awful days. And this episode treats both sides of that issue with total truth and resonance. When Amy feels totally alone in her struggles, the episode portrays her sorrow and despair in a real way. But when she comes to the realization that other people’s lives are also filled with trouble and pain, it feels like a genuine revelation. This is a theme that the show will later revisit in the best episode of season one, Lonely Ghosts, but they do a good job with it here as well.
I think one reason this show was essentially a flop is because of this kind of thing. Critically, it was a real hit and the people who did watch it really loved it, but in terms of bringing in a large audience it wasn’t a success at all and I think it has to do with the fact that, on its surface, the show feels like it’s going to be a very clichéd and platitude driven show. But it actually really earns those moments of actual inspiration and hope; the moments of optimism and hope here are hard-won, I guess. And I find that really compelling. This is the show’s first great episode.
And a word for Mike White, who entered the show as a co-worker of Amy’s in the last episode. He co-created the show, wrote every single episode, directed about a third of them and, since that wasn’t enough, also appeared in all but two episodes of the first season as a major supporting character. His performance is quite excellent. More on that later. Anyway, this episode’s a great one. 4 stars.
tl;dr – show finds genuinely resonant and moving emotion in what could be clichés in show’s most dramatic and first genuinely great episode. 4 stars.