One of the greatest joys of watching a sitcom over the years is watching the characters get to know each other outside of the most obvious groupings. In most of the best sitcoms, characters are developed so well that any two you can think of have their own distinct dynamic; Jeff Winger from Community, for example, has specific relationships with every other member of the study group, not just his main love interests.
In season two, Mythic Quest started incorporating more creative character pairings; instead of isolating Dana and Rachel in the testing room for most of the season, for example, the writers allowed them to mingle with the rest of the cast, especially Ian and Poppy. “The Two Joes” similarly spends time with some new partnerships, going deeper on Ian and Dana’s new bond and finally giving Rachel and Brad something to do by pairing them up.
That latter story is particularly useful, since both Rachel and Brad have been a bit directionless so far this season. We learn early in “The Two Joes” that Brad’s NFT plan failed, an outcome Rachel could’ve predicted; she has real gaming expertise and a good eye for how players would react. Hearing her ideas is enough for Brad to realize she has value after all; he ropes her into visiting the art team and suggesting a new project for them, a prize that players can earn rather than some pointless NFT money grab.
It’s still unclear what exactly Rachel’s role will be at Mythic Quest, if she does keep working on this project. But whether she stays at Berkeley or not, her reintegration into the workplace is a good move to keep this ensemble tight. Ashly Burch’s wide-eyed alarm pairs well with Brad’s shadiness, and I’m curious to see if his plans push her toward the dark side.
Dana and Ian, on the other hand, have no ulterior motives in hanging out; they’re just natural friends, with a shared interest in the metaverse and augmented reality technology. If Poppy grates on Dana in every way, shrugging her off and keeping her busy with meaningless tasks, Ian at least respects her a little and lets her have fun. And as the episode goes on, both of them are surprised by how much they have in common. “That’s weird,” Ian says at one point. “That’s almost exactly what I would’ve said in that moment.” And Dana not only understands Ian’s references but makes references herself, shocking him by bringing up Field of Dreams. She’s everything Poppy isn’t — something I expect to come up again later.
Poppy does give Dana a chance to play her new Hera prototype, but Dana makes it clear she’s done as a tester; that’s not what Poppy hired her for. So Poppy consults the two new MQ testers, who give her feedback much more offensive: Her game is technically perfect, but it isn’t fun.
It’s a great ending for an episode, one that reminded me a bit of Silicon Valley. We know Poppy has been hard at work for the last year, and we know she’s a brilliant coder, but we really know nothing about the game itself besides the ideas she used for her Mythic Quest expansion last season. The idea of Poppy’s game being “technically perfect but not fun” is unpredictable, but it makes total sense, and it opens up a lot of potential directions for her storyline, especially as it relates to her new dynamic with Ian.
“The Two Joes” introduces one new pairing and expands on another recent one, but it also lets us really spend some time with David and Jo, one of the core relationships of the series. This boss-assistant dynamic has shifted wildly over the course of the show, but in season three, they’re in a better place than ever, with Jo finally respecting and wanting to impress David. And despite his ever-present dorkiness, it’s easy to see why. The guy is putting his money where his mouth is regarding the “year of Brittlesbee” he announced last week, attracting the attention of one Joe Manganiello for the lead role in the Mythic Quest movie. Joe even wants to talk about it over lunch today.
In some ways, this story continues last week’s theme, pushing Jo out of her comfort zone and leading her to become a little bit more open-minded. This time, she has to overcome some serious prejudices about working in Hollywood; at one point, she hilariously bites her tongue so hard she bleeds to hold back her feelings about it. But she sets aside her feelings and steps up when David gets stuck in Cerritos traffic, stranding her in a lunch alone with Mr. Sofia Vergara.
Manganiello makes for a great self-parodic guest star — hopefully recurring character — with his extreme MQ nerdiness and eccentric ideas about the Masked Man. And it makes sense that Jo can’t help being charmed by his golden-retriever friendliness, even with the stress of David feeding her lines. (It helps that he looks like Joe Manganiello.) The earpiece conversation may be an age-old sitcom trope, but it’s reliable for a reason; Jo is inevitably forced to tell the truth about David’s absence and win Joe over with her own smarts. Of course, she still ultimately lies, telling Joe that David recently lost his wife. But what matters is that Jo improvised and saved a deal that could’ve completely fallen through. In fact, by the end, Joe wants to meet with David and talk about the script.
Jo’s final proud muttering about being a Hollywood producer — sorry, assistant producer — is another parallel to last episode, when she found herself surprised at her newfound success making friends. Before recently, getting brunch with gal pals was a foreign concept to Jo, but she made a change; now she’s even compromising on her disdain for Hollywood. This Jo isn’t the same as season one Jo. She’s quite a bit more human.
As is usually the case, “The Two Joes” doesn’t end with an overdose of sentiment. But David and Jo’s final interaction is still sweet and unusual for them, and there’s a genuine affection on both sides that would’ve been startling even a season ago. Like season three overall so far, this is an episode that thrives on newness. But while it’s important to introduce fresh relationships, it’s just as important to celebrate how far the oldest ones have come.
• Brad technically secures David’s “permission” to boss Phil around by tricking him into verbally approving Brad and Rachel’s authority over the phone. It makes for a very funny comedy of errors, with David, Jo, Phil, and Brad all on the line and Joe Manganiello very confused.
• My favorite line of the episode might go to Joe Manganiello during that scene, when he reacts to Jo’s lie about Brad Pitt with, “You know he’s five-eight, right? Hire a five-eight actor, get a five-eight performance.” (Of course, Pitt is not five-eight; he’s five-foot-11, which still makes him much shorter than Manganiello.)
• I see why Rachel’s NFT comments got Brad’s attention, but Sue warned him and Carol how gamers would respond last episode! Always listen to Sue.