This season 2 premiere is far from a home run.
The premise of Highly Gifted is simple enough: Dave Alberts is an awkward, dorky teenager just trying to get through high school. In some episodes, his awkward interactions are relatable and funny—they reveal honest truths about high school and the world. I’m not sure this episode is one of the show’s successes, though.
We open on Dave, sitting in the dugout during a high school baseball game. This initially confused me, because season 1 offered no hints whatsoever that Dave was on the team. In the episode “Albertsauce,” Dave was horrified at the prospect of getting into a fight with a football player; this led me to believe that Dave is unathletic as can be.
And to be fair, my assumption turned out to be right. Dave stands out as the one skinny kid next to tall athletes with superhero-sized biceps, and the comparison is just a little too extreme to be relatable. Even so, Dave thinks he knows better than everyone else: he spends the game cheerfully chattering away, criticizing the other boys’ gameplay. Even when he cheers for his teammate Matt, it’s to congratulate himself for accurately predicting Matt’s success. When it comes down to actually batting, though, Dave sucks pretty bad.
The “joke” of this episode seems to just be that Dave is a hypocritical asshole. It’s definitely an example of cringe humor: Dave is being unlikable, so we’re supposed to laugh at him when he fails. To me, though, it felt more cringe than humor. People like an underdog story. This episode makes the underdog—the physically weakest person the team—seem like a jerk and then laughs at him. To me, that’s not very satisfying or funny. I alternated between feeling bad for Dave and just honestly annoyed by him.
One genuine moment of comedy occurs when Dave finally steps up to bat and basically blacks out—I laughed a little at his assertion that he must have “had a, like, stroke or something”—but otherwise, the episode is just all about laughing at Dave for being awkward and bad at sports. It also falls back a little too much on “gross” humor—certainly not to the extent of last season’s “Spartuchus,” but we’re definitely meant to laugh at the cheese dust on Dave’s shirt and the spitting, snorting baseball players. Apparently, the announcers for the baseball team have been saying his name as “Dave Alburps” for eight months, which would have been a lot funnier to me if I were five years old.
Overall, I think this show has the potential to make cutting observations about the world, but on that front, this episode struck out.