Review: Highly Gifted “Pumping Iron”

Dave and his friends strive to reach their full potential. This show’s writers should probably take a leaf out of that book.

Overview (Spoilers Below)

Today’s Highly Gifted finds our heroes locked in a struggle against one of society’s most daunting trials: the gym. Dave, Alan, and Jerry compare their bodies in the locker room and talk about how hard they’re going to hit those exercise machines. Then they relax in the sauna.

I enjoy that this episode centers around interactions between Dave and his friends. Highly Gifted can feel one-note when it focuses solely on Dave’s awkwardness, and there’s good comedic potential in the way that he, Jerry, and Alan bounce off one another.

As usual, though, some jokes here land better than others. Alan has exceptionally strong shoulders just from carrying his backpack around school, which is a funny commentary on a real struggle faced by high school students. Some background details are equally clever, such as a sign that reads “72-hour gym.” What differentiates a 72-hour gym from a 24-hour gym? I don’t know, but I enjoyed thinking about the possibilities. This show is funniest when it’s subtle—Josh Brener’s line delivery as he sweetly asks Alan to pour more water onto the sauna rocks made me chuckle more than some of the obvious goofs.

At other times, I didn’t feel like I was in on the joke being told—such as Dave’s assertion that he must have powerful forearms because he’s Jewish. I guess the punchline is that no such stereotype exists and he’s being ridiculous, but the connection between Jewishness and forearm strength is just too random for it to be hilarious. Dave later tells his friends that the gym has a jacuzzi and a gold plunge—what is a gold plunge? I don’t know, and a quick internet search didn’t tell me, either. And like in last week’s episode, the show’s format sometimes got in the way of my viewing enjoyment: one of the breaks between video clips falls in the middle of a line from Jerry, and I have a hard time making out what he’s saying. Confusion does not for good comedy make.

I appreciate, though, that Alan (a chubbier guy) is shown shirtless here, and the show doesn’t try to make a cheap joke at his expense. This episode seems to be trying to avoid a lot of really obvious cringe humor—watching Dave fail at another athletic task, watching Dave embarrass himself in front of cute girls, etc.—and I appreciate that.

But at the same time, “Pumping Iron” feels unfinished to me. A lot of airtime is taken up by small talk that doesn’t seem to be leading anywhere, from checking out girls to oohing and aahing at Dave’s vintage tracksuit. The gym is such an inherently awkward location, and it’s odd to me that we never see these boys actually use any of the machines. Sure, it’s funny that they spend so much time talking about working out and never do end up working out. But I also think it’s a wasted opportunity. These boys could be having a conversation about their bodies in any old location. If you’re going to take viewers to the gym, show us the gym!

After two weeks of pure cringe humor, this episode’s subtlety was refreshing. But I still think the writers could push themselves harder to create something totally their own, because this episode still fails to stand out.


Bodie Shanis

Bodie is a freelance writer based in Philadelphia. You can often find him in odd costumes, either because he's at an anime convention or performing in a musical. He's currently working on his first novel.

Bodie Shanis has 138 posts and counting. See all posts by Bodie Shanis