In episode one of this Max original titled, “Let’s Try This Again”, Abe (Will Forte) and company are unfrozen and sent back to school. He’s determined to win Joan (Nicole Sullivan) back, though she’s not above entertaining taking JFK (Christopher Miller) out for a spin. I fuck with you, Abe Jr., but you’ve had an entire season to bite the bullet and deliver your speech. Ya shanked it. Ya shanked it pretty fucking hard.
Overseeing the uptaking of this new plan is Candide Simpson (Christa Miller) with Scudworth (Phil Lord) as her ottoman. Though looking down on someone through a literal glass ceiling does have its perks, this is her baby, so virtually all eyes are on her.
Cleopatra (Mitra Jouhari) takes the news with aplomb while Joan is unnaturally shaken. After a pop culture rundown, class president Frida Kahlo (Vicci Martinez) and Harriet Tubman (Ayo Edebiri) inform the student body of a mandatory Unity Week. So far, I’m really digging the bright styles of both girls as well as their personalities. Abe seems to be willing to embrace the new as well.
At the ribbon cutting, Confucius (Kelvin Yu) and Sacagawea (Jane Schmieding) introduce the first exercise of literally walking a mile in a fellow classmate’s shoes. Abe gets acquainted with an incognito (Chris)Topher (Colum)Bus (Neil Casey) and maybe could learn a thing or two from someone who just added a third C of “Canceled” to their name.
Besotted by the progressive, multi-hyphenate Harriet, Joan is assimilating just fine. She’s asked to join something for once, and what’s more something exclusively inclusive; Cleo need only apply makeup and walk the other way. “The more things change…” Abe, on the other foot, is still struggling. Not only is JFK praised for his lack of filter, but also rewarded for it with a seat at the table. “…The more they stay the same.”
At the Inclusivity Committee’s cordoned-off lunch area, Joan’s neck is on the line, having stuck it out for Abe, who proceeds to perform a masterclass in being canceled. This new high life of Joan’s isn’t guaranteed, so liabilities aren’t welcomed. That includes Abe. Even his apology video couldn’t escape public wrath. He is canceled.
Scudworth grows enamored with Candide’s ways upon finding out she wants him dead, leading to an unexpected Chuck Jones-esque moment of paraphilia. You do you, Scudsy. As usual, Abe starts a movement, with everyone wanting their own luncheon under the banner of unity. Joan’s canceled by the Committee. Yes, yes, the more things change and all that jazz.
Several paper cuts later, Abe’s reached the plateau of enlightenment on his dock (not like that time when he was puffin’ on a raisin doobie.) Is public humiliation the surefire way to Joan of Arc’s heart? Only time will tell, though I’m sure Caligula at least may have given him an “‘Atta boy.”
In the second episode, “Sleepover”, Joan’s caught in an Abe-fueled sex dream smack dab in the middle of math class. Ya just can’t beat the one-two combo of libido and boredom as a recipe for a rumor. Trying to outrun it, Joan stumbles upon a secret celebration. Poor Joan hasn’t had the rare luxury of sharing secrets, so Frida and Harriet propose the age-old rite of passage: the inaugural slumber party. Joan readily accepts as a means to avoid a bigger issue, encouraging JFK to hang out with someone outside of her, sending him into a tailspin. Thankfully, Confucius has his back.
With just enough exposition in the story sponge to squeeze into a shot glass, revelations of Candide as Joan’s new foster parent after Toots’ passing seem glossed over. A gecko acknowledging the laziness of writing was just beautifully textbook gilding the lily. She plans to inject a bit of truth serum into Joan’s plans, already off to a promising start. Frida and Harriet ain’t stupid. They know only a finely curated night will have Joan tipping her hand.
JFK’s trepidation of male bonding is stopped cold when Confucius introduces him to the world of social media. ADHD takes the wheel while the libidinal lizard brain kicks into siesta mode. JFK has found his artistic medium, working in Comments like Michelangelo worked in marble. This gains the attention and ire of Topher. The flame war is on.
At their sleepover, the snare is carefully pulled back by Harriet and Frida, for Never Have I Ever comes packaged with but one rule: don’t lie. The plan seems foolproof until it backfires when both girls admit to a homicide… not that Candide and company are capitalizing on the hot goss. They’re too busy drunkenly confessing.
Harriet proceeds to tell the tale of how she and her new friend Frida became bonded in not only training for singles-doubles tandem bike competitions but also in the death that it lead to and the reason for the anniversary. Before you can say turnabout is fair play, Joan rescinds her position to share, lest the girls weaponize her truth against their lie. But the night is young and stormy. To be honest, I question the sanity of those who don’t think that’s body exhuming conditions. The grave site comes up empty for the girls, but it’s too late. It wouldn’t be a sleepover without a proper horror film.
The inane trolling wages on until Topher gets personal, leaving JFK down for the count. It is in that shining moment Confucius makes his stance on friendship known, deploying one of the most passively stinging arguments in online history: grammatical correction. With their tender moment being slaughtered by a slap fight, maybe Confucius will be JFK’s sidekick. Heaven knows he’s got a lot of adapting to do.
The deceased ain’t really dead for the girls. In fact, this self-aware After School Special trope in jeans and a hoodie hearkens back to the chic cynicism that peppered early aughts cartoons. This leads Joan to show her cards. The Abe dream isn’t some small secret, and due to a fortunate misstep, with this coven, it shall remain. Welcome to your first real club, Joan.
Revisiting the first season of the Phil Lord & Christopher Miller (Spider-Man: Across The Spider-verse) with Bill Lawrence’s (Ted Lasso) cult favorite, I was steadfast that a second season wasn’t needed. Season One could be frozen for eternity, existing as a pristine specimen of a series masterfully “Leaving Them Always Wanting More”. Is that edging? Ya, and it’s goddamn selfish if more stories are waiting to be told.
In keeping with their seamless commentary on the passage of time, the jokes were mostly solid. I felt JFK’s signature lamp-shading is noticeably amped-up in this iteration, at least in the Pilot. Confucius seems the closest enough to Gandhi’s rubbery wild man personality, but he doesn’t overstep. Harriet is the new Queen and Frida lights up the goddamn room. Even Topher’s delivery, bone-dry like a fine wine had me saying Gandhi who?
Kidding aside, the absence of Michael McDonald’s portrayal of the well-intentioned if not misunderstood id-based Gandhi was deftly handled as an afterthought. The creators are well aware of their mistakes and right a few wrongs. Comedy’s all about knowing your audience. Old heads and new heads alike would be able to sniff out “cringe” from a mile away and lampshading Ghandi’s absence would have absolutely reeked of it. Thanks, showrunners, for treating your audience like they actually have minds, and using them with some regularity.
I did also enjoy how Abe was forced to join the likes of John Wayne, Marilyn Manson (former guest), and Mr. Sheepman (a former recurring character played by Andy Dick), all of which were voiceless. These showrunners aren’t wet behind the ears. They got some skin in the game and it shows. They know sometimes all the elephant in the room should get is a peanut, not a parade.
With that in mind, the next eight episodes should bring new towering highs and shattering lows. Sign me up.
4/5 Stars. (Both episodes)