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Lost Recap: Lost Wasn't On, Rules of Engagement Sucked

Rules-of-engagement-title-card This week on Lost! There was no Lost. Unless this week's episode was a symptom of Season Five's time displacement, I'm pretty sure that I tuned in to a repeat of "Ab Aeterno". So I watched Rules of Engagement instead.  And I discovered it's not as different from Lost as I supposed.

One of the most popular and persistent theories about Lost is that the characters are actually dead, and the Island is a version of Purgatory, a place where people sweat out their sins in a baffling tropical netherworld populated by button-pushers, hippie scientists and a column of animated homicidal smoke.  As theories go it isn't very comprehensive, but a couple of weeks ago we found out that it was kind of true - the Island is populated by whispering ghosts that can't "move on".

It turns out that Rules of Engagement is much the same: one of those weird TV purgatories where actors of middling-to-decent talent end up after a while.  These are invariably formulaic, boringly sexist sitcoms full of forgettable characters whose names and jobs are so interchangeable and irrelevant that you find yourself amazed that the writers bothered to assign them either.  I imagine the show's bible being full of post-it notes saying "Whatever".

Shows like Rules rise to the surface of our screens and pop out of existence all the time, but every so often one of them will remain, defying all sense and possibly the laws of physics.  Rules of Engagement is one of those exceptions, trapping its poor cast and crew in a bubble of awfulness.

So what happens in "The Score"? Episode nine? Of season four?  Practically nothing, even though the show has to follow three storylines in twenty minutes.  This is the other thing that kills me about a series like Rules: it takes serious skill to pack three stories into twenty minutes of TV time, getting laughs in the right spots and structuring the whole thing to rise and fall around commercial breaks, which are louder, flashier and faster than the actual show.  So why squander that skill on junk like this?  I know: because it's a living.  Most TV writers work their asses off to land a regular job writing a sitcom, and not every script can be a Stephen Moffat clockwork puzzle.  Rant over

Storyline #1 - Audrey (Megyn Price) is going to a party and needs to impress her new boss. Jeff (Patrick Warburton) wants to go to a hockey game.  Meanwhile, Audrey is taking estrogen shots to get pregnant (I always thought pregnancy worked differently, but what do I know?) and Jeff accidentally injects himself with a dose of hormones, or "lady juice" (again, I thought lady juice was something different, but I'm clearly out of my depth here).

The running gag here should be Jeff's anxiety over a massive jolt of estrogen in his bloodstream, but strangely that's underplayed, possibly because Patrick Warburton's face is only slightly more expressive than a plank of wood.  Instead, the gags focus on Audrey's hormone-induced hot flash sweat and Jeff's determination to avoid hearing about the game he's missing.  The payoff is kind of weak.  I won't spoil it for you because you'll forget it immediately after reading it.

Storyline #2 - Comic relief from the dude front. Russell (David Spade) and Timmy (Adhir Kalyan) go to the Rangers-Bruins game.  Timmy the token foreigner and dark-skinned Comic Other wears a Bruins jersey and incites the ire of Rangers fans.  He's probably the funniest thing in the episode, playing his very proper clipped Britishness off against explosive yob rage (my favourite exchange: "Hey idiot, why don't you go back to Boston?" "BECAUSE IT'S TOO FAR TO DRIVE TO HAVE SEX WITH YOUR MOTHER, YOU WANKER").  As usual in these shows, the characters in whom we are supposed to have the least investment are more engaging and interesting than the main show.  It's a shame that one of them is David Spade.

Storyline #3 - This one is just depressing in its effort to squeeze out all nuance in favour of the lamest stereotypes available to sitcom writers.  Adam (Oliver Hudson) has forgotten his fiancee Jen's (Bianca Kajlich) birthday again (ahahahah!), so he accepts the hockey game tickets from Jeff in the vain hope that Jen will appreciate them.  Why would she, though? She's a woman, right? And women don't like sports.  But it turns out that Jen loves going to Rangers games, because her dad used to take her, and she's touched and aroused by the thought that her fiance is imitating her father.  Aaaaaww.  That's like two baby pandas doing something really disgusting.

Which brings up the weirdest maneuver in the sexist entertainment playbook.  Women can only enjoy traditionally masculine pursuits (sports, fixing cars, hunting humans etc.) if it originated as a childhood bonding exercise with their fathers.  Then it's okay, because it's still tethered to traditional relationships.  It's one of those details that make the edifice of patriarchy seem even creepier than usual.

Anyway, they go to the game and Adam ends up in a hot dog eating contest with a thirteen year old boy. Then he throws up on television.  When is Adam ever going to grow up?  I get the sense that Never, until some Very Special Episodes when the skin of the series has worn too thin, and the whole thing pops all over us.  And then the souls trapped in sitcom purgatory will be free to move on.  To some other shit show.

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