The nice thing about a new show is that whatever else happens, you can usually count on the pilot to represent some weird alternate netherworld unrelated to the rest of the show, typically shot months prior the rest of the season. This comes as a relief when a show’s pilot stinks like so much cottage cheese in a dumpster under the noon day sun, such is the case with Traffic Light. Not that the second episode is gut-bustingly funny, but at least it won’t make anyone want to swing a floor lamp into their flat screen again and again until the rage subsides.
This week, Mike starts out being generally the worst as he plays doubles tennis with Lisa. Charity is for pussies, seems to be Mike’s general outlook as he dominates the court via technicalities and foot faults. Lisa strikes up a convo with Ethan’s tennis playing ex of several years, Alexa. Seeing his woman “going rogue,” Mike hisses and clenches and mopes, reminding his grown adult wife that she must abide by the Burn Notice placed against the woman years before. Alexa had been cast from the village; she cannot return or shit’s going to get super awkward for his boyzzzzzzz.
But! Just when it seems like the show is about indulge Mike’s madness by treating it like anyone on the planet would actually say, beautifully, miraculously, gloriously Adam and Ethan call him out on his foolishness. That was years ago, they tell him, who cares if the two women are friends now? It is clear that Mike lives amid a brittle web of byzantine rules about masculinity. It’s terrifically refreshing it is to see it addressed as the sheer stifling madness it is, and to watch Mike try to rationalize his panicky bros before hos edicts.
Meanwhile, romantic Frankenstein Adam wins his girl Callie a stuffed pup at The Pier, which Callie immediately uses to emasculate him, demanding he take it to work so it can cut off his balls as he types, or something to that effect. Trapped by the guys in Mike’s storage unit while trying to help move Ethan’s stuff, it is a true pleasure to watch Adam flail in terror in the darkened “spider hole,” as the strobe light flashes on Mike’s phone. Unfortunately Adam manages to drop the little dog without noticing. Since this is TV, Adam might as well have burned Callie’s parents house down, if the emotional shit storm that follows is any indication.
So many sitcom plots revolve around lost beloved objects (that or bachelorette auctions). When she finds out the doll is gone, Callie’s inner Baba Yaga emerges, predicting the lose of this 30 cent toy they’ve had for like 2 days will forever doom their relationship. I know I’m being silly but I’m a woman!, she whimpers. People on TV be superstitious! Unfortunately, because the guys didn’t finish cleaning out the storage unit, the entire contents were incinerated by the storage company, before Adam can go back to get the toy! The guys act like this is a completely reasonable thing to have happened, and Adam is forced to mumble his way off to the Pier.
The guy’s trip to the boardwalk seems like the oldest of hats, as is their predictably difficult time winning THE LAST REMAINING DOG TOY. A teenage couple manages to snag Adam’s precious, and the guys offer them anything in an effort to buy it off them. I smell a five-way! No, unfortunately the kids just want to drive Ethan’s ambulance around a parking lot, which makes me worry for the creativity of our nations youth.
After dozens of people hover at the edge of death waiting for their ambulance to arrive, the guys make their way to Lisa’s BBQ. Alexa has brought picture of the gang during Alexa and Ethan’s relationship (like you would bring to party attended by your ex, IF YOU LIVED IN CRAZY TOWN). Callie notices Adam’s then-girlfriend has her very own version of the little dog in her photo. NOOOOOOOOOO! Their whole relationship is based on a lie (I guess?)! She rushes to the kitchen and stares into her margarita cauldron to see what dark deeds such a revelation portends. When Adam arrives, dog and the deaths of several stroke-victims on his hands, Callie accepts the doll…only to jam it into the blender and chop it into a million tiny pieces! You go girl…right to the insane asylum! Callie’s feminine rage cannot be quelled despite the many millions of stutters Adam forces out of his mouth. “You and CJ can go to hell,” Callie spits, before marching to the bathroom to pout.
But even as it happens, there is something valuable in this fight over a toy dog. HEAR ME OUT, PEOPLE. Sitcoms so often deal with the tedious, easily surmountable problems that we know we’ll forget about in a few hours, but still stick in our craw when we remember them months later. Our hearts will move on soon, but until then all we can do is wish our partner would stop fucking up for like two seconds. To put it another way, aren’t we all just seizing wildly in the storage units of our minds, as the dogs of our hopes and dreams tumble out of our pockets? Well, you see what I’m saying. There is so much frustration and excitement to work with in every relationship; I believe we can get to those juicy nuggets without a prop dog. I hope we can.
After Adam and Callie enjoy a soda in the crapper (why were those sodas there? It was unclear), Lisa is distraught to learn that Alexa is bailing on Lisa’s big charity tennis tourney so she and Ethan can reunite during a romantic train ride. They have to go this very weekend because all the trains in America are being blown up next week, and then they can’t ever go on a romantic train ride again. Lisa waits all day and night for Mike to say, “I told you so,” because two people getting back together thus ruining a tennis match is something that inevitably happens when a Burn Notice is violated. Mike smirks and plots and finally wakes Lisa out of a dead sleep by screaming, “I told you so!” before joining her for the match, clad in the teeny pink tee Alexa was intended to wear. Which, I’m not going to lie, is pretty adorable. Over all, the second episode is infinitely superior to the first, which still leaves a bitter film on my brain. Now if they can only quit pulling plot lines out of that old mildewing chest Ray Romano forgot was in the garage, then we’d really be in business.