Season 1, episode 26: “Scarlett Larry”

New week, new writers. “Scarlett Larry” was written by Amy and Wendy Engelberg, who have written for a lot of female-centered sitcoms as well as the DCOM Stuck in the Suburbs. They only wrote two Lizzie episodes, which is a bummer because this one is actually pretty good.

The episode begins with a square dance in gym class as Kate shouts out a rumor that someone’s got a crush on Lizzie. The dizzying swinging of the dance is a good visual metaphor for the spread of gossip, with characters repeating the rumor as they switch partners. And giving Kate a sing-songy annoying line is the perfect use of Ashlie Brillault’s sniveling delivery style. Points to this scene! Criticisms of this scene: I don’t know if any middle schoolers actually square dance in gym, Gordo suggests that Lizzie’s admirer could be the exchange student from Mali and we get a cut to a black kid as tribal drums play and Lizzie says, “Oooh, exotic!” and that’s a bit uncomfortable.

Anyway, it turns out the crush is Larry Tudgman, who asks Lizzie out on a date. She declines with the vague excuse “I have this thing,” which is pretty realistic. Hilary Duff is great in this episode. She nails that awkward mix of clearly disliking Tudgeman but trying not to hurt his feelings.

At home, Sam and Matt are playing video games when Jo storms in yelling at them. When Sam disinterestedly asks if she had a bad day, Jo retorts that she had a wonderful day until she came home and found that the stupid idiot men in this family have left junk all over the garage so she can’t even park her damn car. Oh, man, I loved this scene. The McGuire men just sit there with this look on their faces:

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Jo reminds them that all of their shit belongs in the tool shed but instead it’s overflowing to the garage because they have too much shit in the tool shed already. The McGuires have never had a tool shed before (or a garage, for that matter) but I’m fine with them inventing one so I can see the McGuire men taken to task for their asshattery. Jo looks to be on the verge of tears in this scene, and upsettingly, Sam even calls his poor suffering wife a party pooper for disrupting their video game with her insistence that he clean up his own fucking possessions. Sam’s avoidance of his fair share of household labor while shaming his wife for requesting his assistance is appalling, and he is modeling that behavior for his son. I consider his behavior a searing indictment of gender-divided domestic labor, and I wish this episode punished them more for it. DIG INTO GENDER ROLES MORE, AMY AND WENDY.

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Outside in the giant tool shed that’s definitely never been right next to the patio before, Sam tells Matt “Let’s just move some stuff around so it looks like we did something.” The audacity of these freeloaders!

Meanwhile, in the kitchen – you know, where women work – Jo is slaving over a hot stove while Lizzie asks her for help with a boy problem. Jo squeals, “Boy troubles? At last!” like she’s been wondering if Lizzie was a lesbian. Lizzie asks what to do if you get asked out by a boy you’d never want to go out with in a million years, and Jo responds that Lizzie can’t know she doesn’t like a boy if she doesn’t give him a chance. What? Jo, that’s horrible advice. That generosity of spirit is probably what saddled you with your dirtbag of a husband.

Said dirtbag finds his old soapbox racer in the tool shed and proposes that he and Matt fix it up and make it “Y2K-compatible,” whatonearthever that means, to take over Razor scooters as the next big trend.

Lizzie tells her mom that the guy pursuing her is a total geek, and her poor mother replies, “Well, in that case, you may have to marry him, cuz that’s the McGuire curse.” Oh shit! I knew Jo was trapped in a sad, loveless marriage. Sam gets trapped in the soapbox car and screams for help as Jo tells Lizzie that sometimes nice guys can come in terrible packages and also to keep in mind that weird boys like her idiot husband hate rejection. Was…Jo forced into this marriage?

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Gordo and Miranda end up hanging out on the McGuire porch in an unexplained situation that regardless looks likes the sort of fun friendship moment the show nails when it remembers to include one. Lizzie tells them she wouldn’t want to be rejected and Gordo is like “Exactly! Now you bitches see how us men feel!” and Lizzie says she might go on one date to be nice to Larry and Gordo says, “One dumb date for Lizzie, but one giant date for every boy who’s ever been dissed by a girl.” Boy, I do not want to read anything Gordo ends up posting to the internet down the road.

Miranda warns against Lizzie wrecking her social status, and Cartoon Lizzie says she didn’t even know she had social status, which is bullshit because she harps on it every other episode. I don’t know if Lizzie McGuire had a show bible, but if it did it must have been very vague and based on the ideals of these characters. It’s always clear when guest writers know enough about the characters to construct a meaningful scenario for this episode, but not enough to reflect the real facts of the show like that Lizzie is actually a self-centered brat most of the time.

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Our heroine is way more likeable with Amy and Wendy at the helm. She calls Tudgeman and says she’s free for that date after all, again nailing that mix of awkwardness and kindness.

Gordo starts helping the McGuire men on their soapbox racer, because he sucks and they suck so it’s a match made in heaven.

Tudgeman shows up for the date looking better than usual and Lizzie actually thinks he looks cute.

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Suspiciously, his hair wasn’t greasy like it normally is in the school scenes, which I took to mean that the costumers couldn’t find a way to justify him showing up with non-greasy hair for a big date and so they abandoned the look they’d established for his character so as not to deal with it. As ever, I hate them.

Tudgeman presents Lizzie’s mom with flowers, a custom I’ve never heard of and which confused and disgusted me, and takes Lizzie on a date that she actually enjoys at a science museum. At one point she says, “Larry, you have all this knowledge, and you explain yourself so well,” which seems more like damning with faint praise than a heartwarming compliment, but it’s supposed to be a nice moment because Cartoon Lizzie is impressed with Tudgeman for always being himself and feels a little guilty for only caring about her appearance and what people think of her.

At school, Lizzie tries to talk to Ethan – because sometimes she and Ethan talk a lot and sometimes he is an unapproachable god on high and this is one of the latter episodes – but Tudgeman grabs her to hug her and yell about how lucky he is that she’s his girlfriend.

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Miranda screams at Lizzie for telling a nerd he’s nice when he’s used to being blatantly rejected, because of course he’d end up clingy and take things too far. Maybe I like this episode so much because it’s extremely accurate in portraying my only interactions with boys for pretty much my entire school life.

Miranda says they have to tell everyone in school that Lizzie isn’t dating Tudgeman – which is fair and accurate – but Gordo says that’s a “Kate move.” So Lizzie decides to be the opposite of Kate and go out with Larry to be nice, and then break up with him at the end of the day. Do you see what I mean about a vague show bible? Whenever the show has guest writers who only come in for an episode or two, it seems like they always play up the Lizzie/Kate rivalry, which makes me think that it’s one of the only facets of Lizzie’s character that the show bible emphasizes. Further proof: somehow, Kate announces that Lizzie is dating Tudgeman over the intercom in a move that’s too nonsensical for me to excuse. 

One pretending-to-date-Tudgeman montage later, they all end up back in gym class. Lizzie has to ballroom dance with Tudgeman and asks him to meet her after school. Tudgeman tries to twirl Lizzie and instead throws her to the ground, because the show bible definitely insisted that Lizzie fall a lot.

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Sam, Gordo and Matt take their dumb fixed-up soapbox racer to an area that I think might be Lizzie’s school to test it out. Sam complains to Matt, “It’s too bad your mother refused to be here. I can’t believe she didn’t want to see this!” To me, this smacks of one parent trying to turn their kids against the other one. Especially because Jo does show up! She was just late! She sees her dumb husband wipe out when he accidentally falls onto the soapbox racer and speeds off a cliff.

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She checks that he’s okay, then reminds them all that they’re supposed to be cleaning out the goddamn tool shed and garage. I’m glad the show didn’t let them off the hook on that.

Lizzie meets up with Tudgeman after school and gingerly breaks up with him and gives him back the Star Trek pin that I hadn’t even noticed he’d given her because it happened during a montage and was given no significance. Tudgeman takes it really well, and says that he realizes they don’t have much in common. He says he needs a girlfriend who shares his love of science and nerdy fandoms, and Lizzie responds, “And I need a boyfriend who’s into….stuff.”

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In possibly my favorite moment of the series so far, Cartoon Lizzie says, “Maybe I should develop some interests.” I FEEL SO VALIDATED. I HAVE BEEN SAYING THIS ALL ALONG.

Tudgeman tells Lizzie that his one day of dating her was the best day of his life and she’s the nicest person he knows. And it works! It’s an actually touching moment. Cartoon Lizzie reflects on the lesson she’s learned about giving people a chance.

And then the episode ends on an extremely weird note, with Tudgeman asking Lizzie if he has a shot with Miranda and then smirking right into the camera, an image the camera freezes on.

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So…that was odd. But holy shit, I actually really liked this episode. It’s everything the show tries to be but usually fails at. This episode’s version of Lizzie seems to be the one that the showrunners actually want her to be. Here, she’s so kind and sympathetic that she’s willing to ignore the rampant social pressures of middle school to make sure she’s not hurting someone. The show usually tries to accomplish this by having Lizzie hurt someone, feel guilty about it, and then apologize in a cheesy speech about being a good friend.

The stakes on this episode felt so real. Lizzie didn’t become a famous model or accidentally end up handcuffed to her brother. A geek had a crush on her, she tried to treat him with respect and avoid hurting him, and she learned something about judging people by societal roles assigned to them. She also realized that she herself cares too much about what people think and needs more actual personality traits, not just a carefully cultivated public persona. That’s a hell of a lot of character development for one episode!

The other character beats all felt right, too. The mother/daughter navigation of puberty is something this show really wants to focus on, as established right in the pilot by a voiceover explaining that Jo is overenthusiastic about maintaining her relationship with Lizzie and helping her even though she’s growing up. But often that manifests in Jo embarrassing Lizzie (most notably on the bra episode) or just being a dorky, ignorable mom figure. Here Jo was the right mix of out-of-touch and sensible, even if I found her actual advice weird. Miranda, Gordo, and Kate all worked here as well. I mean, Gordo still sucks, but that feels right for his character at this point. And the show actually highlighted how useless Matt and Sam are!

I’m so upset we won’t see these writers again until season two, and then only for one more episode. This is the Lizzie McGuire the show could be.

Unnecessary references: I assume the title is a reference to The Scarlet Letter and not The Scarlet Pimpernel? It doesn’t really have much to do with The Scarlet Letter besides themes of shame. Note that the title incorrectly spells the word with two t’s, like the name, and not one t, like the color. Gordo references The Glass Menagerie by referring to Lizzie’s “gentleman caller.”

Notable fashion moments: Hilary Duff is a tiny little thing, and Ashlie Brillault often towers over her, so I’ve wondered if the show always puts Kate in heels for effect. I confirmed it this episode – Kate is wearing sneakers with lifts in them in the gym scene. I guess to make her more intimidating? Kate also modifies her gym outfit to look sexier like popular girls always do in movies and on TV but would not be able to get away with in real life.

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The show has finally settled on different looks for Lizzie and Miranda. For the first half of the first season, all of their ensembles were basically interchangeable. Now, though, Miranda is costumed in a much more punk/alternative way than Lizzie, whose outfits – while still bizarre and insane – tend to be girlier and more cohesively assembled.

Other interesting tidbits:  Disney Channel’s online video player is truly terrible. The quality is bad, and lately it’s been giving me a bug where the “pause” icon won’t disappear when I pause it, making screenshotting difficult. Also, its descriptions are confusingly awful. This week’s description is as follows, verbatim: “Lizzie finds out that the school geek, has a crush on her. Going on a date with him would be a social disaster. After a talk”

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The McGuire household has a framed picture that just says COFFEE on it. This feels exactly like the spoons in The Room. 

9 thoughts on “Season 1, episode 26: “Scarlett Larry”

  1. A good way for sitcom writers to deal with an “unwanted crush” storyline is to have the overbearing crusher acquire an unwanted crush of their own. This is not the kind of show I’ve ever been in the habit of watching so I have no idea if this has been done a lot.

    Unfortunately, because of established gender roles inexperienced teen boys typically need a whack over the head to recognize that a girl he’s not into has a crush on him.

    Like

  2. I noticed that framed ” coffee” pic, and found it even more bizarre that it’s not even in the kitchen. IIRC, it’s in the foyer
    area? Very strange.

    Like

  3. I always liked this episode because it’s nice to see Gordo wear something different from his usual clothes of course in this case it’s sweatpants, but it’s still refreshing to me

    Like

  4. Criticisms of this scene: I don’t know if any middle schoolers actually square dance in gym,

    Speaking from personal experience, sadly, yes :/. And we did so to the Corrs’ “Breathless”, too, which really doesn’t make any kind of sense, but go figure middle school teachers, I guess?

    I remember this episode! I agree on the way they had Lizzie handling the awkwardness of the entire situation. And I like your analysis about Kate’s height compared to Lizzie’s.

    Like

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