It never made much sense to me that Greg would be running The Breakdown, between his general ineffectiveness and the fact that he isn’t much older than Katie. But it turns out there’s a good reason: old-fashioned nepotism. Somehow, it’s managed to escape the notice of the entire staff that MNN is owned by Greg’s imperious grandmother, Mildred, who’s sort of a lady Rupert Murdoch type. (She’s also a panelist on the British Shark Tank, which in Great News world is called Pond Scum — in real life, it has the even dorkier moniker of Dragon’s Den.)
When Gran announces that she’s coming to visit the show, Greg reveals to Katie that his Loch Ness Monster–fueled misadventures in British news production not only torpedoed his career, but destroyed his relationship with his family as well. It’s a shame we’re only learning that now, as it would have been a nice angle for the show to develop earlier on, adding some depth and mystery to his character. But it’s still the meatiest plotline Adam Campbell has had to work with all season, and he sells Greg’s mix of exasperation and anguish nicely. (“It’s not fun eating Christmas dinner alone at the Olive Garden. They say that when you’re there, you’re family, but they don’t mean it.”)
Meanwhile, Carol and Katie are both struggling with procrastination on important projects: Katie hasn’t made much of a dent in her boxes of files about the Biscuit Blitz hacking scandal, and Carol is skipping her required community-college journalism classes to play The View slots in Atlantic City. (Again, that would’ve been a nice thing to foreshadow, even if it was only a couple of throwaway lines. The show never even indicated that part of Carol’s internship involved going back to school, but then has Katie desperate to find her after a bomb threat.)
The episode’s title is a bit of a fake-out: Carol thinks her professor is bullying her for not doing her homework or knowing what a PDF is, but in actuality, she’s her own bully, refusing to go to school because she’s too afraid of failure. Katie, always anxious for her big break, is just as afraid to go after it now that it’s here. And in an interesting twist, their mother-daughter co-dependency only leads to more failure: Katie stays up all night to teach Carol “fresh and funky raps” about journalism, only to lose the Biscuit Blitz scoop and have Carol still bomb her midterm. (“You know how Kanye’s a really good rapper, but whenever he tries to explain his music, he sounds like a raving lunatic? I get that now!”) This show is well-attuned to the exasperation inherent to how kids and parents actually fight, and Carol and Katie’s resulting blow-up is done thoughtfully, because both of them are right: Katie says that Carol didn’t do enough to build her own life instead of micromanaging her daughter’s, and Carol thinks that Katie isn’t appreciative enough of the sacrifices that parents have to make.
But their timing couldn’t be worse. Greg just managed to pass his Gram’s Willy Wonka–esque purity test, with the promise that he can run the company’s news division if he continues to prove that he’s a hard-ass. (Strangely, that’ll make it much easier for him to deal with Chuck, who seems to have a sexual fetish for bossiness, especially when it comes to “that hot chick who hosted The Weakest Link.”) When Gran fires Carol for not having obtained college credit, Katie stands up for her mom — only to have Carol reinstated and Katie fired instead. And despite being Katie’s best work bud, Greg does nothing about it, hoping to hold on to the ounce of family currency he’s gained.
The twist is that Gran has secretly been looking to fire Katie since the beginning of the episode, because she’s actually the one behind Biscuit Blitz. It’s a nice payoff that’ll set up some good stakes for the finale — and presumably an Olympic event in helicopter parenting for Carol, as she tries to get Katie her job back.
• Writing for the full ensemble continues to be a real issue for this show: Nicole Richie gets a few good lines but isn’t part of the plot, and like the last episode, Horatio Sanz only shows up for one scene, one line, and one Connie Chung Tonight–themed ensemble. I’m curious if his absence will pay off in some way, but even if it does, this season seems like a waste of a good performer.
• Christina Pickles, who’s probably best known as Ross and Monica’s mom on Friends, is really fun as Greg’s Gram. I particularly liked her impression of Gene Wilder as Willy Wonka, complete with “Pure Imagination” in the score.
• I straight-up guffawed at the reveal that Carol was secretly reading Sue Grafton’s S Is for Sex Murder. (The S in the actual Kinsey Millhone book is for silence, which is way lamer.)
• Bizarre revelations about Chuck’s past are one of this show’s most enjoyable aspects, and this episode had a couple of good ones: He’s a hardcore regular at Ripley’s Believe It or Not, and he may have been a gigolo for Joan Collins.
• I could watch a million cutaways to The Chip and Chet Report, the competitor show hosted by BFFs. This time, they managed to both scoop Katie and give each other surprise Phish tickets. No wonder they’re killing The Breakdown in the ratings.