In wrestling jargon, getting “buried” isn’t the same as being dead. It just means your momentum is temporarily on ice due to backstage politics, personality clashes, or the outsize influence of a cavalier peer. (Or, more literally, that you’ve lost to WWE legend the Undertaker in his signature Casket Match.) At the outset of “Candy of the Year,” Ruth is very much buried. Sam is still holding a grudge about that whole “you undermined my authority by filming an awesome title sequence at the mall without my permission” kerfuffle. Her Zoya the Destroya alter ego — a popular female-empowerment Halloween costume, apparently — has been sidelined while Liberty Belle, Welfare Queen, Beirut, and even the Beatdown Biddies get pushed up the card.
Not that everyone’s thrilled with the spotlight. Arthie’s had enough of playing a broad ethnic stereotype and plans to literally implode her character mid-performance and reemerge as the glamorous, glorious Phoenix. Alas, Stacey and Daw couldn’t help but overhear and beat her to the punch, auditioning their own transformational gimmick (a radioactive hairspray-triggered metamorphosis into the Toxic Twins) to Sam and Bash’s delight. Oh, and Debbie’s too, because she’s a producer now. Did you forget? Sam and Bash wish they did, laying on the chauvinism thicker than Sam’s ’stache and rebuffing all of Debbie’s efforts to pal around and brainstorm ways to keep people awake in the live audience and watching on TV.
No matter. The two idiots stand her up for dinner, but Tammé (maybe the best accented “e” in television) invites herself over in their stead, and she and Debbie bond over booze and woebegotten tales of struggling for respect, though even Debbie more or less acknowledges that her trials as a soap actress and now-single mom don’t measure up to Tammé’s seven years on a factory assembly line making barely edible Mongolian beef for airlines. She’s also worried about Tammé driving home drunk, but seems sufficiently persuaded that the sugar from a handy candy bar will set her straight. (Hey, it’s the ’80s.)
But lo, this was no ordinary candy bar. It was an epiphany. Debbie realizes that plying their paying ticket holders with boxes of Nerds (“They’re like Grape-Nuts, except instead of being healthy and delicious, they’re just … sugar,” as Bash babbles) will keep them energized, which will in turn motivate the women to put on better matches, all of which will translate to more compelling TV. Hey, as Debbie cites, they were recognized by a trade association as 1985’s Candy of the Year (true fact!).
That ham-handed development aside, “Candy of the Year” picks up where the season premiere left off and stays laser-focused on identifying a woman’s place in the Western world, both in California circa 1985, and in the launching of an enterprise funded by men but motored by feminine smarts, strength, and creativity. For Ruth, that means learning how to break-dance (oh, is she indefatigable!) alongside Yolanda, who we also learn is a very self-confident lesbian who now only dances once a week to make her ex — the bartender — jealous. The subsequent scene of Zoya and Junkchain finding common ground across the Cold War divide via hip-hop is silly and kind of cringeworthy, but works its magic and wins a bit of Sam’s favor back. (He also appears to be falling in love with her, but let’s discuss the middling prospect of an Alison Brie–Marc Maron will-they-won’t-they some other time.) More importantly, no-longer-creepy Russell likes what he sees, and Ruth — with a pep talk from Yolanda about hittin’ that thing — is ready for her close-up with romance.
Justine, however, is the future, and the future looks like she’s ready to fast-track her way out of the chauvinistic shadows and make a name for herself. Much as selling merch for Billy’s band, Shitpope (applause), fills a certain need to be needed, it’s coming up a bit short in Justine’s search for self-definition. Sam’s not a great deal of help either, more or less treating her like a rescue animal with special privileges to his wallet so long as she doesn’t force him to become a better man. So, rather than sit and take it for decades, she does what any true punk would: beats the crap out of some obnoxious onlooker at the Shitpope show, tells Billy where he can stick it, and knocks some sense into Sam about the fact that she’s at a crucial crossroads in her young life and needs a bit of support. And maybe a bit of gender-equalizing backup in the Chavo’s C-suite is best for everyone (when she’s not in school, of course). Now that Justine’s done listening to Shitpope, maybe — to address Debbie’s lament — the boys will at least listen to her.
Apart From All That:
• This show could still use more LOL moments like Russell’s ill-advised “tug job” come-on and Sam’s stumbling attempt at first aid.
• Speaking of which, a big LOL to the Biddies’ “portable Victrola” diss.
• Welcome back, Keith!
• Interesting that Sydelle Noel (a.k.a. Cherry) is still in the credits …
• More Yaz, please.
• This show could be retitled Everybody Hates Ruth.
• So, no Gregory?