I dare this show to do something truly original.
On this week’s Highly Gifted, Dave once again takes the concept of awkward to new heights. Attending a party with his friend Alan, Dave gets invited to play truth or dare with some kids who are unmistakably way cooler than he is. After a blonde girl kisses him on a dare, Dave is forced to truthfully answer the question: Has he had sex? Panicking, Dave makes up a nonsensical story about the Brazilian girl to whom he lost his virginity, the ever-sexy Mango deFruta.
The experience of attending a party full of mostly strangers and struggling to discover where you fit in is pretty relatable for a lot of people. I enjoyed the interaction between Dave and Alan at the episode’s opening, where Alan teaches Dave that waving to partygoers will make him feel more included. Because this show spends so much time making fun of its characters’ lack of social skills, I was braced to watch Dave’s attempt at making friends end in abysmal failure. Instead, the cool blonde girl responds to his wave with an invitation to join her game. It was a refreshing subversion of our expectations that offered a little nugget of hope to any socially awkward viewers out there. In a show that’s so centered around mocking “cringy” behavior, it’s important to have some moments of success for the main character so the premise doesn’t just become depressing.
A visual technique often utilized on this show—a vertical split screen, with a close-up on top and a wide shot on the bottom—works well here, allowing us simultaneously to see Dave and the reactions of the group around him. I also really enjoyed the art on the walls of the house he’s in—there are mangos, of course, but also some weird cubist nudes and one painting that’s just a monochrome cube. I didn’t catch those details until the second watch-through, but they’re pretty funny. However, Highly Gifted episodes are made up of various short clips strung together into one longer video, and in this case, the format took away from my immersion in the plot. The video stalls between clips, often at crucial moments in the conversation. In a comedy show, where timing is so important, I’m not sure it works to have such jarring transitions between beats.
In general, this episode is okay but unmemorable. Jokes are varying degrees of clever: I sort of enjoyed Dave’s assertion that “if the scale goes to 11, she’s 121… which is 11 squared.” On the other hand, another joke is just the kids being grossed out by the concept of a woman with pubic hair.
There are a whole lot of shows out there about the awkwardness of high school, and this episode failed to do bring anything to the table that I haven’t seen before. Most notably, Dave’s increasingly desperate ramblings about Mango deFruta—with a steadily growing list of internal contradictions—brought to mind the song “My Girlfriend Who Lives in Canada” from Avenue Q. That musical did the same thing 15 years earlier, did it funnier, and did it in song. The name “Mango deFruta” made me chuckle, but a single joke carries the whole episode, and I found myself longing for a change of pace halfway through Dave’s awkward splutterings. High school is such a weird time for most people—I want this show to be little weirder, too.