Episode Title: More Than Friends
Season 02, Episode 16
Episode 029 of 344
Written by Carol Roper
Directed by Alexander Singer
Original Airdate: Thursday, March 19th, 1981
The Plot (Courtesy of TV.Com): Abby comes on to Gary, but then says she's kidding when she sees how uncomfortable he is. Everyone thinks Laura's having an affair with Scooter, because of all their flirting. Laura tells Scooter that they can't really have an affair, because they're both married. Richard asks Laura if she'd like to discuss his affair with Abby, so that they can start over. Val's night school teacher is Earl Trent. He invites Val over to work on a story, and then asks her to sleep with him to get even with Gary and Judy. Val refuses and he starts to force her, but then breaks down weeping. Gary comes over and apologizes to Earl for having an affair with his wife.more
There are 344 episodes of KL. That’s a lot. That’s really a lot considering the way TV shows are going nowadays (in my opinion, by the way, generally for the better). The last ten to twenty years with the fall of “big” networks like ABC, NBC, CBS, and FOX and the rise of highly artistic and cinematic quality shows over on AMC, HBO, and Showtime have been very interesting to watch, and what’s interesting now is how few episodes these shows produce. Breaking Bad went off the air with 62 episodes and Mad Men ended with 92 episodes. One of my all-time favorite shows, Six Feet Under (which, FYI, was allegedly pitched to HBO as “Knots Landing in a funeral home”), ended with 63 episodes. So nowadays, the actual length of time that a show is on is not indicative of a huge long run of episodes, unless you’re unfortunate enough to still be stuck on one of the regular original “big four” channels (a very, very sad place to be nowadays). So one of the delights of revisiting KL and all of its fourteen season, 344 episode glory is the fact that I know I will hit plenty of episodes that I have just plain forgotten existed, and the episode up for discussion today, More Than Friends, is definitely one of those.
Let me just say it’s so refreshing to be back to quality KL after the unfortunate accidents that were our last two episodes, Moments of Truth and Man of the Hour. Placed together, those two formed a really nasty turd sandwich, but now we’re back on track right away, and as we get closer and closer to the end of the season, we have an episode rich for discussion. This is also one of those episodes that perfectly exemplifies the best qualities of “early” KL (which you’ll recall I designated as seasons one through three), that real Scenes From A Marriage On A Cul-De-Sac quality that David Jacobs originally envisioned. Even within the very title of the episode, we are given the theme that will run start to finish for all the characters on display, all those characters who I love so very much (aside from Kenny and Ginger, obviously).
Watching these with my Beloved Grammy really enhances the experience as we find plenty of stuff to talk about and discuss with each show. It’s also fun to watch her mind work as we watch the show, because I’ll always say the title of the episode and the original airdate before we start (and we always, no matter what, watch the entire opening credit sequence in total). So this one cues up and we see that title onscreen, More Than Friends, and the titles are playing over a scene of Val walking through her college campus with some guy, presumably a guy from one of her classes. My Beloved Grammy goes, “Interesting, I wonder if this guy and Valene are going to become more than friends.” Well, that’s not what happens, but it’s fun to see her try and figure out what’s gonna unfold in the next magical 48 minutes. What really comes next is actually the only scene I remembered from this episode, and that’s the glorious return of The Other Paul Rudd, last seen drunkenly stumbling down the street and calling his ugly wife an adulteress back in Breach of Faith. See, we’re in Val’s writing and literature class and apparently her usual teacher is out sick, but in walks Earl Trent, that hilariously sassy, nasty, unpleasant, drunken asshole. This scene is unforgettable, it truly is, so it’s no wonder it’s the one part that stuck in my brain. See, Earl’s like, “Well, I graded all of your stories that you were assigned to write, and now I’m gonna read Val’s story and talk about how much it sucks.”
In all honesty the tone of my writing might sound sarcastic or dismissive, but it’s not meant to sound that way (at least not here; it is meant to sound that way when I discuss Land of the Free or Kristin or Man of the Hour). Make no mistake, this scene is crippling and the pain you can see in Val’s face and the pain we feel for her as an audience is absolutely real and very palpable. As someone who fancies himself a writer and as someone who took four whole years of college for writing and had many writing classes, I understand the feeling of sharing your work with colleagues, contemporaries, and authority figures and putting yourself out there. It’s a very naked feeling, and it’s always a bit uncomfortable to know you are sharing your own work to be an object of critique by others. However, nothing I ever experienced or witnessed comes close to what The Other Paul Rudd does to Valene here; it’s absolutely brutal and, quite frankly, unforgivable. If I saw this happening in a real classroom, I would report this drunken asshole to the dean right away (I would certainly do more than Val’s little friend does, which is raise his sissy pussy hand and say, “Uh, Mr. Trent, I really didn’t think it was all that bad!”). Val toughs it out and sits through almost all of Earl’s blazing criticism and nasty comments, but she finally does get up and leave the classroom, prompting a perfect and hilarious final line on the scene when The Other Paul Rudd looks sorta whimsical and then asks the class, “Was it something I said?” Just give this man his guest star Emmy right now; do it!
After that brutal and horrifying scene, we shift our focus for awhile to another story, this one involving Laura at the real estate office and her relationship with Scooter. But wait a minute, that’s not Scooter! I thought Scooter was a nebbish, Jewey-looking man played by veteran character actor Allan Miller! You know who I’m talking about; Allan Miller! He was a Transmorpher who played Jenna Wade’s lawyer over on Dallas for a few episodes (or maybe he was the lawyer against her; who the hell remembers; that storyline was so boring and stupid) and he was also in one of my favorite movies, Cruising. Mr. Allan Miller does not look at all like the man playing Scooter this week, who for the sake of brevity I am simply going to call The Second Scooter.
This bugs me. KL really doesn’t do this too often, and it’s one of the things I like about this series. Over on Dallas, characters were constantly being played by multiple actors (Jenna Wade was played by three actresses, and we all know the fiasco of the two different Miss Ellies, now don’t we?), but on KL, they don’t usually pull that crap. Even with the kids (with the exception of Brian, who morphs somewhere around 1986 from the kid from Tremors and turns into future 90210 star Brian Austin Green), they are played by the same actors for as long as ten years (Tonya Crowe as Olivia) or even twelve years (Pat Petersen as Michael). But here, we have Scooter played in two episodes by Allan Miller (those episodes were Chance of a Lifetime and A State of Mind) and he will be back to continue playing Scooter for five more episodes in the third season (starting with One of a Kind), but for this one episode and this one episode only he is being played by The Second Scooter! Ugh, it just bothers me, and it totally kills the realism of the show and your investment in the character. If Allan Miller wasn’t available for this week, why not just postpone the storyline or something?
In any case, The Second Scooter is actually played by some guy named John Considine who also happens to look nothing like Allan Miller. Gone is the Jewey-looking dude and in his place is some rather masculine fuck with a huge caterpillar moustache all over his face. Seriously, could they have picked a guy who looks less similar? I did some research and it looks like this guy actually has quite a resume, although none of it really stood out for me (aside from Free Willy 2: The Adventure Home, of course).
But how’s the guy as an actor? He’s probably fine, and if he had been the Scooter we saw originally and would be seeing throughout the third season, I’m sure he’d be fine. It’s just that bizarre morphing that really irks me. I don’t mean to begrudge poor John Considine. I also have no clue why he’s here; was Allan simply unavailable? Or perhaps the writers didn’t know he would be so important in the third season and this was actually scheduled to be his last appearance? Ah, who the hell knows; let’s move on.
The storyline with Laura and The Second Scooter is good for a variety of reasons. For one thing, and probably most obviously, it continues the running theme of the episode, the married people flirting with possible adultery. Secondly, it builds elegantly (aside from the morphing) from what we’ve seen established between Laura and Scooter earlier (remember that big ole kiss he planted on her back in Chance of a Lifetime?). Finally, and in my opinion most importantly, it’s realistic and relatable. See, the basic gist of the storyline between Laura and The Second Scooter this week is that he’s clearly got a boner for her, and perhaps he doesn’t even know it or perhaps he does. His wife certainly knows it because they have a very awkward dinner party where Richard is having a great time, being a fabulous host and talking about the wine he picked and yada yada yada. But then, Mrs. Second Scooter goes into the kitchen with Richard and is like, “The Second Scooter is just a natural flirt; he doesn’t even know he’s doing it, and I’m sorry if it makes you uncomfortable.” Well, at this point My Beloved Grammy started to tell me about how she had this exact same situation in one of her first jobs, where her married boss clearly had a big crush on her. Nothing ever came out of it, no affair or anything, and he never even came onto her. Rather, it was just obvious to her and to everyone around them that he liked her a lot and she said that occasionally made for awkward moments or uncomfortable dinner parties like the one on display here.
I think My Beloved Grammy’s story speaks volumes about what makes KL so special and so superior to Dallas. Dallas may have been fun to watch (for eight of its fourteen seasons), but I don’t think anyone would ever watch it and say, “That sure reminds me of the time I screwed a lot of people out of that offshore Asian oil deal!” or “That reminds me of the time my ex-husband died and then I woke up and he was in the shower and it had all been a dream!” But people can watch a KL episode like this one and remember real situations that have happened to them. Additionally, the interactions between the characters and the actors always rings true and authentic; in some ways the show achieves an almost documentary feeling, like we are peeking into their real, private lives.
What other storylines are going on this week? Ah, there’s actually an extremely significant scene between Abby and Gary. What’s funny is that I believe this is Abby’s only scene in the episode, and when the episode ended I turned to My Beloved Grammy and said, “Was Abby even in that episode?” and we both had to think on it for a minute before she reminded me of this fabulous scene. Make no mistake, it is fabulous, and the only reason we both sorta forgot about it for a moment is because it takes place early on in a rather dense and rich episode. But this scene is actually tremendously significant for the episodes and the seasons to come, because while they are driving at night together, Abby finally just comes right out and starts talking about having an affair with Gary. Oh my, it’s delicious, and the beautiful thing is that the two aren’t going to consummate their torrid affair until near the end of season three. The writers are playing the long game again and I love them for it; they are slowly turning the heat up and letting the water start to get a little hotter, but it’ll be awhile until it finally starts to boil. Perhaps in today’s attention deficit world where we all want instant gratification, this slow storytelling might annoy some (stupid) people, but I love it. I love waiting and this scene just sets up wonderful things to come.
I’d say Storyline A this week is Val and The Other Paul Rudd, so let’s return to that. After his horrifying treatment of her in class, he gets rather stalker-ish with her in the library (there’s a truly creepy shot of Val walking through the shelves and him peering through a bookshelf at her early in the episode) and then goes up to her and tries to justify how he treated her. He explains how he thinks her writing is great, or that she has the potential to be great, if she’d just hone her craft and let him work with her. Does he mean any of this stuff? I’m still not sure. Later in the episode we realize he’s sorta just trying to get petty revenge on Gary for sleeping with his ugly looking wife earlier in the season, but I do wonder if his comments and compliments towards Valene are genuine. Part of the joy of KL is these interesting character mysteries that the writers trust us to make our own minds up about.
I think it’s easy to see that Valene is the most trusting and inherently good-hearted person on the show. Even after the way Earl talked to her, she is willing to give him the benefit of the doubt and work with him on her own writing. She even seems to start trusting him and the things he tells her. This is naïve, yes, but I am not mad at Val for being naïve; it’s part of her charm and a core value of her character. I don’t think the idea of adultery even crosses her mind, and she certainly never thinks that Earl has ulterior motives because that’s simply not how she is programmed.
But we the audience get to see things that Val cannot see. For instance, one lovely night while her and Gary are getting ready to shag, the phone rings and it’s Earl on the line. We see that Earl is simply sitting home alone in his apartment, playing a Public Domain Record really loud. But what he tells Val is that he’s in a bar, contemplating having a drink, and that she should come and rescue him. Val rushes up to do so, much to the annoyance of a blue-balled Gary, who winds up coming with her. They find Earl in the bar he claimed to be at, contemplating some sort of brown liquor (is it bourbon?). Gary gives a nice speech about how, “If you wanna have a drink, have a drink, see what I care.” Personally, I’m on Team Gary right here. Even though Gary is the worst A.A. sponsor ever for immediately sleeping with the guy’s wife and then abandoning him, Earl is a manipulative jerk. He’s played brilliantly by The Other Paul Rudd and he has hilarious dialogue and delivers his lines beautifully, but as a character, yeah, he’s a real scumbag, so I support Gary in telling him to act like a man and take responsibility for his own actions.
But it doesn’t stop there. As we come closer to the end of the episode, Earl manages to lure Val to his apartment under the pretense that they will talk writing together. He uses the excuse that they couldn’t possibly do this at her house because Gary would have a fit, and naïve trusting Val does indeed go to Earl’s apartment, where things start to get a little bit rapey. Now this scene took me completely by surprise, much like the whole episode. Was I drunk the last time I watched this or what? I honestly just have no recollection of any of this shit occurring at all, so perhaps my first time through the series I started this episode, never finished it, and then forgot and simply proceeded to the next one?
In any case, Earl locks the door to his apartment, trapping Val inside, and then starts to talk about how they should screw. “Why not?” he argues. After all, Gary and the ugly broad did it (and at some point in the episode we officially learn that the ugly broad left Earl and moved back to wherever she came from), so why can’t they do it? Val says she’s gonna scream, so Earl turns on the record player and once again blasts that Public Domain Record. “Go ahead, scream,” he says. This is a tremendously interesting scene, because The Other Paul Rudd doesn’t play it totally rapey, necessarily. He plays it more pathetic, if that makes sense. When Laura got raped by that guy from that one episode of The X Files back in The Lie, that actor certainly played it rapey. Earl seems more like a guy who’s trying to threaten rape but simply can’t go through with it. In fact, he starts to cry like a little whiny bitch a few seconds later, and that brings to mind my only real problem with this scene (and this episode, for that matter). The problem is that this seems like a real repeat of the “I’m gonna get rapey on you and then just start crying” scene we got from Jeff Cunningham back in A State of Mind. I feel like maybe the writers should have reminded themselves that they just hit this beat a few weeks back and it might be better not to repeat it.
Gary does come bursting in to save the day after about a thousand calls to Val go out unanswered, but by the time he arrives, he just finds Earl crying like a little whiny bitch. Gary gets very stern and says, “I want you to stay away from my wife,” and Earl does do that because this is his last episode (sad). The scene also gives a real feeling of closure to a storyline that’s been going on since right near the start of the season, because Gary explains how he can’t take back what he did with Earl’s wife but that he has to move on with his life. Then him and Val exit and leave Earl to, I dunno, kill himself or whatever.
I’m really gonna miss Earl and his brilliant portrayal by The Other Paul Rudd. This guy only shows up in three episodes of the series but he feels huge. In my memories, he was in a ton of episodes and whenever I see The Other Paul Rudd in other shows (he’s in a Murder, She Wrote, for instance), I always remember him as Earl Trent. It’s amazing to think he’s only in three episodes out of 344 and can make such an impression in my mind, but it goes to show what a tremendous actor this guy was, may he rest in peace.
There’s a real feeling of catharsis and storylines finishing in all ways this week, because we also have Laura and The Second Scooter going out to dinner and finally addressing the big old adulterous elephant in the room. The Second Scooter pretty much says, “I’d have to be crazy to have not thought about it,” but they conclude that to have an affair would risk both of their marriages and probably destroy their friendship, as well. Laura gives one of her wonderfully mature speeches (delivered beautifully by Constance McCashin, by the way, who for some reason strikes me as extra adorable in this scene). The two will have an affair during the third season, but I honestly can’t remember when or how, but that’s what this blog is all about it, is it not?
Perhaps an even better scene comes later when Richard and Laura are in bed. Richard finally starts to try and explain why he had his affair with Abby, but Laura is just uninterested in hearing about it (or perhaps she just doesn’t want to dwell on the past). I always love me some Richard and Laura in their private moments and this scene is played so well by both McCashin and The Plesh. I love how The Plesh can be so vile for so many episodes in a row and then we feel for him and like him again just a few episodes later; that, my friends, is true acting!
I really liked this episode, obviously, and the good news is that I like the next two even better. We’re on an upward swing and I’m excited to be on it. In addition to the great writing, the great acting, and a solid culmination of storylines by the end of the episode, I also saw little flashes of directorial panache from director Alexander Singer here. For instance, an early scene where Richard comes to visit Laura at the real estate office and finds her and The Second Scooter chatting together was shot from the P.O.V. of Richard in a handheld tracking shot, and that really added a little element of style to the scene. I also believe this episode was completely free of the toxic bores Kenny and Ginger, and that’s always a plus (the smartest writers on the show are the ones who just abandon those two characters and realize there is nothing interesting they can possibly do with them). If I have a criticism of this episode, it’s that I would have liked more Sid and Karen. They’re around, and we do get a lovely scene of Karen going to lunch with Val at the college, but I wanted a little more of them. Thankfully the next two episodes will rectify this.
Next up is our last crossover of a Dallas character into KL for quite awhile. We won’t have a single one of these in the third season (although we will have two Brief Dallas Interludes during the third season, so get ready for those), and then we’ll just have two more in the fourth season, and then the crossovers stop altogether. Get ready for another visit from the inimitable J.R. Ewing in our next episode up for discussion, the penultimate show of season two, Designs.