The Wife:

Friday’s installment of The Ex List contained probably the show’s first fully-realized Ex of the Week: Shane Gallagher. Bella dated Shane back in 1995 when she was paying her own way through art school. Being a San Diego gal, Bella still enjoyed running away for surf trips and Shane was her companion for one of those. An aimless surf rat, all Shane wanted to do was ride waves, have sex in his tent and occasionally steal limes from farmers and participate in impromptu drum circles. Bella left him on that fateful trip when he went off to surf the big one. She broke up with him via taped message left on his video camera, full of helpful suggestions like, “You might want to try wearing shoes.” Bella reconnects with him when she runs into him at her local beach and he gives her one of his promo surf boards to replace her recently crushed board. Shane, it seems, has actually managed to make a life for himself as a professional surfer.

Bella Bloom blithely boards. Say that shit ten times fast.

Bella Bloom blithely boards. Say that shit ten times fast.

Bella initially admires the way that Shane took the thing he was passionate about and made it his life, skyrocketing to fame by catching a super monster wave and being caught on film doing it. However, as she goes out partying with him, she begins to notice a disconnect between the man Shane has grown to be and the persona he has to put on around his fans, a persona that is exactly the same as the man Bella left on that beach in Mexico. It turns out that Shane’s surf persona “The Animal” is carefully manufactured by his publicists in order to make him the kind of bro that young surfer dudes look up to. In other words, they have to make him as much like Matthew McCounaghey as possible. As The Animal, Shane has to swill pitcher after pitcher of Brandy Alexanders (the signature drink of a brandy company that sponsors him, and one that I never thought anyone would ever order in pitcher form) and tailor his life decisions about who he dates and what boards he rides based on corporate sponsorship. This revelation comes just before Bella is about to break up with him again, but she then realizes that the person she met at the beach is the real Shane, not the party animal she knew over a decade ago.

When Shane’s press handlers get ahold of a photo of him and Bella together with his nieces and nephews, they decide to redesign his image as a sort of older, family-man surfer and pitch him to a family surf company in San Diego called Home Front Clothing to be their spokesperson, which would mean that Shane would be hanging around Ocean Beach – and Bella – for at least a little while longer. Not wanting to be controlled by sponsors anymore, even if the image is a positive one, Shane decides to reject the offer and head off to El Salvador for a little while. There is a possibility that he will return, though, as Bella leaves a big question mark next to his name on her list.

Children! Adore your new surf god!

Children! Adore your new surf god!

I really liked Shane’s story as it felt like it contained the kind of emotional core you’d see on How I Met Your Mother. We’d all like to live a life where we can do something we love every day, but sometimes business takes over for pleasure, and that’s exactly what happened to Shane. Bella, as a small business owner, seems to have the kind of balance Shane would have liked for his life. I still wonder how Bella, who is far overqualified to be a florist, chose this profession, but she seems to like it enough and, as Cyrus observed, she seems to enjoy the freedom of owning your own business: “Why own your own business if you can’t take off in the middle of the day?”

This Shane story did make me realize one thing about The Ex List, however, that kind of bothers me. This show is supposed to be about Bella. She’s our protagonist. And yet unlike every other show with a single female heroine, this show is not about Bella at all. It’s about her exes. The exes are the characters that change, develop and emote. Bella’s just there as a springboard for their transformations. On something like Sex & the City where the female characters were searching for their soulmates (or whatever you want to call their various love affairs), those stories were about how the women responded to their partners. It was very much about them, not the men. I can say the same thing about Lipstick Jungle, which is not a romance-driven narrative, but is a female-centric narrative that is, at the very least, actually about the women. I don’t know how I’m supposed to feel about The Ex List in light of the fact that its one of the only female-centric narratives on TV that somehow isn’t about its heroine at all. Ugly Betty? That’s about Betty. Desperate Housewives? That’s about Lynette, Bree, Gaby and Susan. The New Adventures of Old Christine? Why, that’s about exactly what the title says.

I just had to rack my brain to think of female-centric scripted shows on television right now and that’s as far as I could get. That’s already a sad state of affairs that there aren’t more television shows with female leads, so to create a new one where the Random Man of the Week overshadows any development that its female protagonist has seems really, really odd to me. I like you, The Ex List, but you’re making me uncomfortable. Please, please, please break away from your formula and give Bella a good story arc of her own (and maybe another one for Vivian or Daphne, while we’re at it) so that I stop feeling bad about the state of female-centered television shows.

The Husband:

This is the first great episode of The Ex List, an opinion I’m finding out online that it almost entirely my own. People have felt that the show has quickly dropped in quality after the pilot (confirmed by the show’s plummeting ratings), has already worn out its welcome and hasn’t really found a place for its main character. I agree only with that final point, although not nearly as much as my wife does. Bella is in the straight man role – or is that the straight woman role – and is meant to be a catalyst to everything around her. I mean, that’s going to happen to your show if you hire the actress best known from Grey’s Anatomy as the amnesiac burn victim who Sloan gave a whole new face, done as she emotionally romanced Karev and started up a relationship with him, only to freak out and slit her wrists. Elizabeth Reaser is literally the faceless wonder, a shell on which to project a personality. I fear this will be her trademark for years to come, too.

But, Im a pretty shell, right?

But, I'm a pretty shell, right?

(I haven’t checked out Sweet Land, which is apparently Reaser’s best performance by far, but it’s on my Netflix queue somewhere. Ever since I saw Bernard & the Genie when I was young, I will watch anything with Alan Cumming in it.)

What I’ve greatly appreciated about this show is that in only four episodes it has established such a unique personality, thanks especially to its bizarre ensemble and so-hip-it-makes-you-feel-uncool setting, that even when the plots don’t work out very well – episode three’s cop-centered story as an example – you feel like you’ve experienced a good slice of life.

I also love that its characters have such a healthy sex life, which is especially surprising since this is CBS, the old person’s network. (Well, I guess ABC’s Disney ownership makes it the most unhip/square major network now.) It’s refreshing to have its characters allow to speak so freely about intercourse and masturbation, defending their right to promiscuity (how many goddamn exes does Bella have?) and allowing a modern sensibility to poke through into the Tiffany Network (and not done for stupid male-driven laughs like the revolving door of women on Two And A Half Men). For instance, Vivian’s story this week about her “experiences” with the showerhead wasn’t treated as a dumb running gag but an interesting topic/obstacle to her relationship with Auggie, an appropriate bit of story to the young world of this show. (Well, it was kinda silly, but in a good way. Point is, it was treated like something people just do.)