The opening scene of “The Playdate” evokes the opening of “The Getaway” episode, in which Russ and Lina sat across from the doctor who would perform Russ’s vasectomy, and fired shots at each other. Here, Russ explains that he’s a sexual being whose needs are not being met, while Lina rolls her eyes and groans, “She doesn’t want to hear this.” Lina’s right: In a wonderful reversal, the woman across from them is not a doctor, and this is not couples’ therapy—but a parent-teacher conference. TMI for the PTA, Russ.
It turns out little Maya Bowman is not exactly a friend magnet, and Russ and Lina bear some responsibility for being antisocial with the other parents. (“I’m good friends with… the one who likes the Celtics,” Russ offers lamely.) In an attempt to “lead by example” (teacher tip), and help expand their daughter’s social life, they make a playdate with one of Maya’s soccer teammates through the girl’s wealthy, eccentric mother (the poor are merely weird; the rich, eccentric), whom Lina has never liked, with good reason.
When Russ, Lina, and Maya arrive at Stacey’s (Michaela Watkins) obscenely nice home, Stacey’s surprised, saying, “I thought you were the kind of people who don’t show up for stuff.” She passive-aggressively puts the Bowmans’ house down, then insists Russ and Lina take a dip in her pool, for lack of their own. She lets fly whatever rude or uncool thing floats into her head; besides happiness (this woman and her husband are plainly miserable), it appears money can’t buy a filter, either. Watkins’ delivery is stellar throughout, and she steals the episode.
And, in another nice twist, Stacey’s uninviting exterior belies a profound sensitivity, to her own loneliness and Maya’s. “I noticed that Maya has been having problems,” she says, empathizing with the kid’s ostracizing. Lina and the other mothers don’t return Stacey’s calls, it seems, for which Lina apologizes. They bury the hatchet by slipping into the neighbors’ house, swiping/popping a couple of expensive bottles of wine (which on-the-wagon Stacey must settle for sniffing), and chilling in the sauna. Lina says she thinks she made a friend, and given Watkins’ performance, we have to hope she’s right.
Meanwhile, Russ bonds not with Stacey’s husband (Patrick Fischler of Mad Men, great here as well), but with someone more on his level—their son, who’s worried he masturbates too much. (“My dad says I’m sick,” he moans.) Russ confesses to being a lifelong onanist, and when the kid asks why Russ would whack it when he can have sex with his wife anytime he wants, Russ looks the boy straight in the eye with a deep bitter-sweetness and says, “Stay gold, Ponyboy.”
The message here is fair and valid, albeit nothing earth-shattering: Men are roughly the same at 40 as they are at 14. It’s reiterated in the B story, in which Jess and Shep attempt to liberate A.J.’s bathroom of despondent 19 year-old girls so they can go to brunch. (A.J. describes the aptly named April as “an old soul with a tight hole.”) These scenes are the first to feature A.J. and Shep together, and the latter’s repeated judgments of the former are a highlight. A.J. also ends up being surprisingly sympathetic, given the circumstances: When Jess tells him to stop chasing tail, and pursue something real, A.J. says, “I had real. Real took half my shit.”
A.J.’s teenage tryst lends a funny, additional meaning to the episode title, and the closing scene—wherein he, Jess, and Shep have just missed brunch at the restaurant, and must now settle for the dreaded bar menu—is a solid one thanks to the server’s chipper offer of their famous “Slider Trio,” and Shep’s resulting gloom. For much of this episode, and “The Getaway,” Paul Reiser wears an expression that viewers sympathize with the more they watch Married. It’s a weary look that says, “Am I the only adult here?”
Evan Allgood is deputy editor of Trop. He lives in Brooklyn. Follow and maybe later unfollow him on Twitter.