The Ex List

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.)

The Wife:

Bella and her friends are all moderately active Southern California denizens, prone to lounging at the beach in the late afternoons and heading out for early morning surfs. (For those not in the know, that really is the best time to catch some bitchin’ waves.) But when Bella and Co. attend their annual day of non-activity that involves watching the Ocean Beach Marathon while brunching, she is literally hit in the head by the Ex of the Week: Jake Tanner (Harold and Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay’s Eric Winter). Jake, a formerly lazy oaf that Bella dated in graduate school in her punk phase in 1996, has morphed into a hyper-active marathon runner. And mountain biker. And rock climber. And so on. In college, she could never get him to leave the apartment. All he wanted to do was either have sex or watch TV.

“The only reason people go out is to find someone to have sex with while they’re watching TV.” — Jake

Bella reconnects with Jake on a series of dates ranging from mountain biking to rock climbing to ocean kayaking to Ultimate Frisbee. Even his more low-key dates involve some form of competition: Trivia Olympics with his office on Thursday nights. He also has the weirdest girl-on-girl fantasy I’ve ever heard on TV: 5 Bella Clones hooking up with 5 Maria Sharapova clones . . . to play basketball against each other. (I guess he won’t be interested in this week’s upcoming episode of House, huh?)

“What’s the deal with the constant activities? It’s like camp without the kissing and alcohol.” — Bella

When Bella finally gets Jake to stop moving, he realizes that he hasn’t properly dealt with his break-up from his most recent ex, Celeste, who just happens to be his boss. Whom he plays Trivia Olympics with. When Jake decides to quit his job rather than be around Celeste anymore, Bella takes a step back and ends the relationship that was running her ragged.

Meanwhile, Bella has been cat sitting the lost Moo cat of one of her high school boyfriends, who is apparently super hot now. This inspires all of the roommates to invent the greatest drinking game ever: Google Ex Smackdown. I found a version of the rules here, if anyone is interested in making this your Friday night activity with some friends. I imagine the home game would still involve fun quips about friends’ exes such as:

“That girl so didn’t look like Natalie Imbruglia. She was a poor man’s Phoebe Cates at best.” — Bella

Oooh, yours is married with six children. I dont know if that deserves one shot or 9.

Oooh, yours is married with six children. I don't know if that deserves one shot or 9.

I do have a couple of questions about Bella from this episode:

1. If she went to graduate school, why is she a florist? Sure, it affords her the ability to close down her shop and do whatever she wants, but those flowers can’t be paying for her Master’s degree in  . . . whatever.

2. Who the hell would make an every-other-day custody arrangement for a child, let alone a dog? I don’t see why they couldn’t switch off weeks or maybe exchange the dog on Wednesdays and Saturdays? So that they both get a day of the weekend? The dog custody situation is all very odd to me.

Finally, I fucking hate the title sequence. It’s so horrible and jarring because it starts with that dialogue sequence and then just disintegrates into bad Photoshop work. If this show gets a second season, I need new titles. Seriously.

“Protect and Serve” might actually be my favorite episode of The Ex-List so far, in which Bella hooks up with her bad boy ex from high school who is now a cop after someone snatches her iPod from her apartment.

The flashback for this episode was great because it involved Bella’s dad, who until now has not done anything but removed a sign from Bella’s shop. I have fond memories of actor William Russ myself from 1991, as he played Corey Matthew’s dad on Boy Meets World. He’s done a lot of TV work since then, but I most fondly remember him from that particular show. And while he has aged a lot since the 90s, I’m happy to see him as a regular on a show like this.

Bella’s dad, Jimmy, a highway patrolmen, hated Ronnie, her boyfriend from sophomore year, which CBS insisted on spelling as “sophmore” for some reason. (Good job, CBS. Alex Trebek would school your asses by intentionally pronouncing that extra “o.”) Jimmy is none-too-happy that Bella is dating Ronnie again, even though he appears to have turned over a new leaf. Auggie isn’t a fan, either. As it turns out, Ronnie might not be such a good cop. He threatens Bella’s landlord to keep him from raising her rent and intends to do a sweep throughout the city to shut down minor criminals, such as those who sell knock-offs . . . like Bella’s psychic.

I did not hate the psychic this week, either. Probably because she was actually integral to the story and made Bella question her belief in the prophecy, rather than simply showing up to repeat the same shit we’ve all heard before and being a bitch about it.

Bella reverts to being like her high school self around Ronnie, sneaking out to meet him in the middle of the night and necking in his car at lover’s lane. Auggie, hoping to break up the pair, convinces Jimmy to start treating Ronnie as though he likes him. Jimmy takes Ronnie and Bella out to dinner and talks about how much he respects the force, reminiscing about his days as a highway patrolman and, more importantly, his days in the Navy. (Nice touch on San Diego authenticity there, showrunners. My dad was stationed in San Diego for a while, as many sailors are. In fact, at UCSD, all incoming freshmen receive a pamphlet called “Getting to Know Your Local Military.” They also, I’m told, receive a pamphlet called “Staying Safe in Tijuana.”) Because her dad likes Ronnie so much, Bella immediately wants to break up with him.

Meanwhile, I responded very positively to the B-story this week in which Vivian, the hot history teacher, is spotted by some of her students in her bikini at the beach one afternoon. Shortly thereafter, the principal receives an anonymous note concerned about Vivian’s “inappropriate behavior.” When she realizes that the note was written by the girlfriend of one of the boys who has a crush on her, she talks to the girl about how its neither one of their fault that the boy in question was being stupid. She reassures her students’ confidence, reminding her that she is a beautiful girl and that her boyfriend is stupid if he can’t see that. Out of respect for this girl, Vivian wears a cover-up over her bikini at the end of the episode. Ghandi or no Ghandi, Vivian is an awesome teacher.

Oh yeah, and “Protect and Swerve” totally is a great name for an all-male dance review in uniform . . .

The Husband:

Right now, I’m still a bit undecided on if I’m totally into the main romantic material — that is, Bella and her quest narrative for looooove — and am undecided if it would perhaps work better in a 30-minute format. Right now the stories have the potential to wear a little thin at 60 minutes (sorry, honey, I wasn’t into the “Protect And Serve” A-story nearly as much as you were — but I can tell you exactly what keeps me digging the show, and that would be Bella’s friends and family.

A very unique group of people in a very unique setting — that would be SD’s suburb Ocean Beach which looks positively awesome in the show — they are a delightful bunch of people, and for me the episodes live and die on their interaction with each other and with Bella. That’s what makes the Google Ex Smackdown so hilarious, not just that they’re tormenting Bella, but they seem like actual, genuine people.

It’s when they get saddled with dumb stories where I worry about them. Case in point, Cyrus (Amir Talai) and his third episode nonsense surrounding trying to con people into buying security systems and then getting ripped off by homeless people. I much prefer him just lounging half-naked in a dirty kiddie pool in Bella’s yard, firing off verbal tirades about how he’s so much better than everybody else.

Oh, and it also helps that sister Daphne (Rachel Boston) and best friend Vivian (Alexandra Breckenridge) are F.A.F. (If I may be somewhat crude, that acronym standing for Foxy As Fuck.) It’s just me and my waifs again, as usual.

The Wife:

I think its pretty well known by now that I’m the kind of girl who typically doesn’t enjoy the story of programming that’s marketed to women. There are, of course, a few exceptions, like my love of ANTM and my new-found appreciation for Gossip Girl. And yes, I like Sex and the City as much as any other girl and I’m starting to really get in to Lipstick Jungle in a serious way. But I don’t watch Desperate Housewives and I don’t watch anything written by Shonda Rhimes. Nothing personal, Shonda, I just like my hospital shows to be grittier than yours. I mean, you may have stabbed Sandra Oh with an icicle, but you certainly didn’t have one of your staff fuck Jesslyn Gilsig off a building. See what I’m saying here?

So, that brings me to The Ex List, an American adaptation of the Israeli show Mythological X, in which Bella (Elizabeth Reaser) learns from a fortune teller that she has only one year left to get married and that she has already dated the man of her dreams. Thus, Bella will ostensibly spend the rest of the series running through her exes to find the one that’s supposed to be Mr. Right. I already find the concept entirely unappealing. I think the thing that bothers me about it is that the reason Bella broke up with these men or they broke up with her is that their relationships didn’t work. While there is some merit in seeing whether or not people change over time (as it is true that sometimes people find each other at the wrong time in their lives), the fact that Bella seems to have no real filter about which of her old relationships would be worth revisiting is a little odd and makes her seem incredibly desperate. That’s totally not the right state of mind for a show that is a romantic comedy. I mean, it seems pretty obvious to me that the ex she shares custody of a dog with was a strong relationship that Bella might, in some months, consider revisiting as their issues can probably be solved. But the beach guitarist-cum-punk rocker she broke up with on his birthday back in 2001? Seriously, Bella, that guy is not marriage material. And she should know that simply by looking at the place he is in his rock career. That is to say, not the “settling down for a lady” place.

San Diego lends itself well to chilling in a kiddie pool all day.

The good news: San Diego lends itself well to chilling in a kiddie pool all day.

Concept aside, here are a few things I find odd about the show:

1. I so far know nothing about Bella other than that she’s a florist, is pretty, needs to get married this year and has a horrible mole – or “skin nugget” as Cyrus calls it – on her back that grosses everyone out. (I agree with Johnny on this one: she really should get that looked at. It sounds like melanoma to me. I should know. I had one removed from my arm this summer.) Oh, and she has a nice vintage Schwinn that she rides around Ocean Beach. I want to get a sense of who she really is, other than a girl desperate to get married.

2. All of Bella’s roommates seem cooler and funnier than her, but I don’t know anything about them either, except for Vivian, a high school history teacher who likes to groom her pubic hair in interesting ways, is funny and has a triskell tattooed on her shoulder. (Just like me and three of my friends! Triskell Club grows into the realm of TV!) As of right now, I’d rather watch a show about Auggie and Vivian and why they are together because he loves pubes and she doesn’t. That’s an odd couple if ever there was one.

I cant believe the Hitler is sexier to you than an Indian pacifist.

I can't believe the Hitler is sexier to you than an Indian pacifist.

3. I really hate that fortune teller. Bella needs to stop going back to her for guidance immediately. The prophecy has been given, so this character has already outlived her usefulness. Unfortunately, I get the feeling that she may have been on the Israeli version of the show and thus will be in every episode, just to irritate me.

What I do like about this show is the flashback introduction to the exes. I think these are great and rife with comic potential, especially seeing showkiller Eric Balfour cry into his guitar in the flashback and then show up later all leather-clad and guy-linered in the present. The guest stars will be the best parts of this show, and Balfour’s Johnny Diamant has set quite a precedent. When Bella sees him at the club, he’s singing his current hit single called “Bitch! You Left Me on My Birthday,” clearly citing the incident that turned him from John Mayer to Sid Vicious. (See? If he and Bella had stayed together, he would never have become a successful musician. They broke up for a reason.) He goes out with her just to use her for sex and tries to transform himself into the sweet dough-boy he was years ago, a tactic which Bella also uses (comically being the worst, most insane girlfriend ever) to try to drive this faux-rocker away from her when he gets to clingy. Bella’s strategy backfires as Johnny decides to stay with her instead of rehearsing with his band, which convinces her that their relationship might be worth a second try. (“Come on,” he says, “let’s go make raisin fingers,” to her whining and begging to stay in the bath with her.) Their ill-fated tryst, however, comes to an end when Bella takes all of her friends to Johnny’s next gig, trying to be the supportive rocker girlfriend, only to be publicly dumped, via song to the tune of:

“Revenge! You’ll be single forever! Revenge! Revenge! You’ll die alone!”

Some other lines I liked, mostly pertaining to Vivian’s pubic hair subplot, which includes the first mention of a merkin I’ve heard on television outside of The L Word:

  • “I’m sorry. You teach high school history. You should have pubic hair.” – Bella, to Vivian.
  • “Maybe it’s nature’s way of saying, ‘Hey, look over here, there’s something really cool over here but I just can’t show it to you yet.'” – Auggie, on why his girlfriend needs pubes. (That is, indeed, one reason why we have pubic hair.)
  • “I don’t know why I spend so much time on my abs when what really turns women on is indifference.” – Cyrus

The Husband:

Just as you are now aware that my wife is “the kind of girl who typically doesn’t enjoy the story of programming that’s marketed to women,” I am the kind of guy who atypically does like a good deal of programming that’s marketed to women. I definitely draw the line right after network soaps (and some cable soaps) and before the kind of reality television that my wife does indeed watch that I consider either simply out of my world knowledge (Top Design, Shear Genius) or stuff I find to be absolute junk (you’re never going to convince me that What Not To Wear is anything but an hour of two cruel psychos insulting women each week, woman. Never!). So The Ex List falls right into my predetermined boundaries of so-called “chick TV,” and its similarities (albeit fairly superficial) to an ABC show I loved a few years ago called What About Brian? make me want to stick around for the time being. It’s not the best new show of the year (you should be watching Privileged now, goddamit!), but as a fan of a good romantic comedy, this kind of show is right up my alley.

I agree, though, that the fortune teller is incredibly obnoxious so far, and I wish the show had decided against naming the character Bella Bloom. (Get it? She works at a flower shop and her last name is Bloom!) But as I mentioned in my most recent post on Brothers & Sisters, I like shows and movies where people are very, very aware of their own emotions and what they mean, and are capable of holding meaningful conversations about said feelings. This show is chock full of them, a series of late Gen-Xers who know their own neuroses but are still completely unable to get around them in order to be happy. That’s in essence what How I Met Your Mother is about, and while The Ex List doesn’t do it nearly as well as that show (nor did I expect it to), I appreciate the fact that the characters aren’t idiots.

I’m more accepting of the premise than my wife – seriously, it’s the conceit of the series, so we should all at least go along with it, much like Eli Stone and his prophecies – and that it’s not just about how people change from one year to the next, but the helpful yet terribly confusing concept of hindsight in each and every character. The show won’t be about compromising one’s ideals in order to find true love, because what kind of a message is that to send out in the guise of a romantic comedy, but about…

…Actually, I have no idea what it’s going to be about. But I can hope.

And showkiller or not (I can have my theories, commenters, and you can have yours), Eric Balfour showed off some acting chops I had not yet witnessed coming from that skinny bearded man, a man who spent some of his youth in a Northern California nudist colony (according to his interview on Conan a few years ago, at least).

The Wife:

I’d like to note now that I do watch Bravo’s cadre of reality shows like Shear Genius and Top Design along with Top Chef and Project Runway (which he will watch) because those are all things I am interested in: having sexy hair (I do), making my house pretty (it kind of is), being amazing in the kitchen (I’m getting there) and rocking some hardcore fierceness (if only I had the money). What Not to Wear is not as mean-spirited as my husband seems to think it is, although I agree that Stacy London is mean. I watch it because I really like clothing and I like the voyeuristic shopping experience. It’s exactly like spending an hour scrolling through shoes on, which I must admit I sometimes do while watching What Not to Wear in the mornings while my husband is still asleep.