Thursday, April 18, 2024

No More Fun and Games For Inconceivable

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In the first three episodes of its inaugural six-episode season, Inconceivable showed promise as a down-to-earth comedy with relatable characters in disconcerting circumstances. In the back half of season 1, however, the series has mostly ditched its light-hearted exploration of sexual identity for darker discussions around coming out, presumed heterosexuality, and the pitfalls of pregnancy and parenthood.

The tonal shift surprised me somewhat, though not in an especially unpleasant way. The show was already addressing some serious subject matter, so it was less jarring than it would have been from a mindless, straight up sitcom. The last three episodes each had their own distinct feel, and the variety was refreshing. Links to Episodes 4-6 are listed below in case you need to catch up before reading this recap/review.

Episode 4: “The Elephant in the Room”

The morning after the shrooms incident, Rita goes over to Adam and Mac’s place, wearing the gayest outfit (sans flannel) ever. Adam’s in the shower, so Mac makes Rita watch one of the horrible YouTube videos that Michelle’s new boyfriend puts out. She’s confused as to why Mac’s making her watch this and asking for confirmation that this guy sucks, until he mentions how he’s so much taller than Trent and she clues in. Mac asks who she would rather date, to which she wisely replies, “Ohhh, Mac, I’m gonna have to play the gay card on this one.”

Yes, that is indeed a unicorn.

Thankfully Adam comes out and provides her an escape. They head out for a walk, and Adam tries to start discussing the fate of Rita’s “cell clump,” as they referred to it in episode 1. Before he gets much of a chance, Rita swipes his phone and sets an alarm for midnight, because she just took her last free prenatal vitamin and she wants to decide today if they’re going to keep the baby. She’s already breaking her rule of not calling it a baby, which suggests she’s leaning to yes.

Rita and Adam display their extremely high maturity levels while making a pros and cons list that includes pros such as dressing the baby up in ridiculous outfits and harvesting its organs. The cons mostly involve the effects on their careers, though Adam does see one bright spot.

Rita: Con. What about your career? Don’t you wanna be a filmmaker?

Adam: Pro. Could be good for my image. Nobody wants to root for the straight white male bachelor anymore, so.

Adam recognizes a guy walking by with a woman and baby as a local filmmaking celebrity, and Rita calls them over and starts grilling them about parenthood and if they have any regrets. It’s a little awkward to begin with, but when they try to leave she doubles down and explains that she and Adam are pregnant and trying to decide and she wants to pick their brains. She realizes how weird she’s being too late, but the mother, Amy, takes pity on her and invites them over for tea.

At Tyler and Amy’s house, Amy gives Rita all the gross details about her pregnancy. The story includes feeling like a “sore, clumsy elephant” in the third trimester and her 40-hour labor followed by an emergency C-section.

My reaction too.

Tyler and Adam retreat to the kitchen, where Tyler gives Adam the inside scoop he only can in private. Fatherhood is a prison, and it’ll make him resentful of Rita and the baby. He asks how Adam plans to be a father, work a day job, and find time to establish himself as a director. Adam says he’s working on a web series, to which Tyler scoffs, “Nobody watches web series.”

Tyler: Look, people are gonna tell you a bunch of crap like this is the best thing that’ll ever happen to you or the most wonderful change ever. It’s not.

Back in the living room, Tyler pastes his happy dad face back on and chats with the ladies about the pregnancy app and baby’s progress while Adam looks on in dismay. The app says the baby should be due approximately September 17th, just two weeks after Adam’s 26th birthday.

Midnight arrives, and Rita and Adam find they are leaning 60/40 in opposite directions. Adam suggests they flip for it, a bad joke that Rita momentarily falls for. Picking up on his nervousness, she says he seemed so comfortable with the baby earlier and points out what an experience this could be. She tells him he doesn’t have to be involved if he doesn’t want to, to which he says, “I am not gonna be some deadbeat dad. If you’re all in, I’m all in.”

Adam asks what this means for them as a couple, and Rita admits, “I don’t know. Could we just be two super awesome people having a baby, and take it one day at a time?” Adam agrees, and they sit together absorbing the weight of this decision – one they still seem unsure of, but are running with anyway.

Episode 5: “Meet Your Makers”

While making a key new addition to her Dream Life moodboard, Rita ruminates on how every woman probably considers what she would do if she found herself pregnant. She’d always figured she would keep the baby, but she never thought it would actually happen to her.

At Adam’s parents’ house, Adam stalls on the steps, running through various strategies of how and when they could break the news to his parents. Rita eventually knocks, cutting him off. Adam’s sister and her fiancé are also over for dinner, but as the new “couple,” most of the questioning is directed at them. They find ways to sidestep the questions, answering in ways that conceal the fact that they are not exactly together. They must figure Rita being a lesbian would be too much for his parents to absorb on top of everything else.

Adam’s sister Carol stands to make a big announcement, hand resting softly on her belly. Adam low key freaks out, claiming it’s too early in the dinner for such big news (a callback to his monologue on the front stoop). Carol ignores him and announces that she and Mark have set a date for the wedding. Adam is relieved at not being upstaged until Carol tells them the date: September 17th.

Adam protests some more, asking Carol why she can’t have her wedding in the summer like a normal person. But this is due to an opening at their dream wedding venue, so they can’t just move the date. Despite the awkwardness of it all, Adam decides to go on with the plan, standing and announcing to his mom and dad that they are going to be grandparents. Disbelief and excitement wash over the room, and Adam’s dad jumps up to give him a hug.

The adorable matching sweater and sweater vest give me life.

Adam’s mom says they should throw a wedding next month, an idea Rita and Adam immediately shoot down. Shifting cultural attitudes give them an excuse to downplay marriage while once again avoiding outing Rita. The inevitable topic of the due date comes up, however, and Adam answers that frankly. “[September] 17th. Should be an exciting day.”

When it comes time to tell her parents, Rita’s really nervous. Coming out as gay was bad enough. Her dad blubbered all over the place while asking, “But what about grandchildren???” while her mom rolled her eyes in denial and claimed Rita was being controlled by her girlfriend (played in a cameo by co-creator and the original Rita, Rachel Kirkpatrick). Rita had to tell her mom in therapy because she was afraid she’d get kicked out, and the situation with her parents’ disapproval hasn’t improved much over the past five years. This should be the icing on the cake.

Expressing his sympathies, Adam assures her, “No matter what, I’ll be there for you.” Rita says she knows, and on the strength of that, exits the vehicle.

To Rita’s surprise (but not mine), her parents and stepdad are ecstatic when they hear the news. All but jumping for joy, they welcome Adam to the family. While he thanks them for being so supportive, Rita watches all this with an expression straddling hurt and disgust.

The ubiquitous straight white male argyle sweater makes another appearance.

Adam is still riding the high of relief when they pull up to Rita’s place, while she continues to simmer. He feels it went well, but that’s actually what’s bothering her.

Rita: I know this is gonna sound really stupid, but I’m kind of pissed my parents were so loving and supportive. How is me being pregnant out of wedlock better news than me being gay?

In a rather insensitive display of cluelessness and straight privilege, Adam tells Rita it’s insane that she’s mad her parents were supportive. So much for being there for her no matter what. That must have only applied to outcomes that he perceived as bad. Rita rolls her eyes and gets out of the car with a brusque “Good night.” Adam asks her to wait, and doesn’t she want to hang out to celebrate having the weight off their chests? She turns him down with a quiet and heartbreaking “I just wanna be alone tonight.”

Episode 6: “Here We Go!”

Rita’s staring at her updated Dream Life collage when there’s a knock from outside. Assuming it’s Adam, she calls out that she said she wants to be alone, but it’s actually Trina and Tony. Still obviously bummed out, Rita tells them her parents took the news really well, and Sarcastic Trina™ reacts similarly to how Adam did. Tony gets it, though – his parents were thrilled when he brought Trina over for Thanksgiving and they thought he was “cured”.

Rita: I’m all worked up and I can’t even smoke a joint or have a beer. I already hate being pregnant.

Adam’s on his way home when Britney, Michelle’s best friend/collaborator, calls and asks if she can come over because something horrible just happened. When she arrives at the house and promptly dumps her long coat to reveal lingerie underneath, Adam quickly finds out that said horrible thing was her boyfriend sleeping with Michelle. Adam’s hesitant to give in to her, though it’s not entirely clear whether that’s because of his entanglement with Rita or because he feels like he’s taking advantage of her, as he says.

She eventually wins him over, and informs him that he’s going down on her and then she’ll consider having sex with him. (As a lesbian, I could only shake my head and think “lol straight people.”) Apparently he performs just fine, because she asks for a condom. Adam tells her not to use the vegan ones, a chuckle-worthy callback to episode 1.

Meanwhile, Rita’s drinking the kombucha Tony and Trina brought her and still complaining about how she can’t get drunk. That and how her love life is sure to be down the drain if she keeps the baby.

Rita: How am I supposed to date when I’m all pregnant and fat?

Tony: Well, lesbians do like to move fast. Maybe they’ll be into it.

Trina says she’s a catch, considering how much lesbians usually have to pay to have kids, and that she’s a badass for keeping the baby. Rita decides she’s done pouting and gets up to use the bathroom. She’s only just gotten there when she collapses and violently throws up. She tells Trina and Tony they have to take her to the hospital, but neither of them can drive because they’ve never needed to, being lifelong city-dwellers. They try calling Adam but he’s… busy.

Instead of calling an ambulance, they look through Adam’s Facebook photos to ID his roommate. Tony finds “Mackenzie” and insists to Trina that he’s family, i.e. gay and doesn’t know it yet. They call Mac via Facebook and demand that he get Adam because it’s an emergency and Rita needs to go to the hospital. Mac reluctantly gets up and tells Adam, who immediately says he’s on his way and runs out of his bedroom naked to grab his clothes.

Adam lets the others out of the car at Emergency and starts driving around to find parking. There is none, and he grows more and more frustrated – far too relatable. He’s still looking when he gets a call from Trina saying it might be an ectopic pregnancy and they’re about to do an ultrasound. Adam has no idea what an ectopic pregnancy is or that a baby is supposed to grow in the uterus, apparently, but ditches his car in the middle of the parkade when Trina tells him it would mean the baby has no chance for survival.

Turns out, the baby is fine and the nausea and pain was just Rita’s uterus stretching. “She’s gonna be okay,” says Rita, flip-flopping on an earlier assertion in episode 4 that it was a boy. The ultrasound tech says there’s no way to know yet, but Rita claims it feels like a girl. Adam doesn’t care what it is so long as she doesn’t scare him like that again.

Staring at the ultrasound screen and listening to the heartbeat, Adam holds Rita’s hand and muses, “Okay, now this feels real.” Rita agrees, and they exchange a look of nervous excitement before returning their attention to the screen.

Writing and Acting

Katie Stuart continues her excellent work in the leading role in season 1B. Her physicality in character always strikes me – Stuart seems very comfortable in Rita’s skin and brings a suitable physical energy to a variety of situations. The glue stick flip in the episode 5 opener deserves a shout out all its own. And whether it was a directing or acting choice, Rita’s jazz hands and quiet “Ta-da!” following Adam’s announcement at the dinner table are hilarious. That was very reminiscent of episode 1’s “What’s got two thumbs and is super pregnant??” moment. Rita’s nervous mannerisms always amuse me, and she has this understated dry humor when faced with awkward situations. Stuart keeps capturing Rita’s more vulnerable moments too, such as her glum slump and lazy climb over the couch while talking to Trina and Tony in episode 6.

As for Bruce Novakowski, he also keeps up his worthy performances as Adam. It’s interesting watching Adam react to adverse or unexpected situations, almost trying too hard to stay cool. His sister’s announcements over dinner and Britney’s seduction were both situations that threw him, and Novakowski acted those situations well in a physical sense and delivered on the nervous dialogue in the script. I also thought his mannerisms in the latter half of episode 4 were very appropriate as he digested Tyler’s warning. Adam’s cluelessness that I found loveable early on irritated me more in the second half of the season, but that’s also a testament to the actor’s work, that his character can genuinely get on my nerves.

The two leads continue to work together nicely, their apparent comfort with each other translating on screen. Their chemistry is evident, and it’s one of the show’s strong points.

The core supporting cast who play Trina, Tony, and Mac do well with the material they have been given, as in the first three episodes. Mike Doaga (Mac) in particular has some great moments in episode 6. However, I was hoping we would see a bit more character development in Mac, who gets the most screen time of the three. The supporting cast in general is mostly stuck in tropey roles, actually. It’s fine for a comedy, but if Inconceivable wants to continue down this more serious path, diversifying those roles would add to the show’s strength. I realize it is hard to develop supporting characters in one season of six short episodes clocking in around ten minutes each, but it is something I would love to see in season 2.

That being said, the writers did dig deeper into Rita’s backstory, particularly in episode 5. That episode was excellent and gave us new insight into Rita, showing more of the woman behind the suave façade. Meanwhile, Adam didn’t develop a lot or show a new side of himself, and that caused some tension when he failed to react appropriately to Rita’s complaints about her family. I totally understand why he would react that way, though, since he has no experience like that to draw from. It was a nice little exploration of privilege and the often good-intentioned ignorance it stems from. Straight privilege is something that is inevitably going to come into play in a series revolving around a gay woman and straight man, and I applaud the writers for giving a hat tip to that without bashing it over our heads.

There are some great smaller moments in these episodes as well. For instance, in episode 6 Britney pounces on Adam on the couch and Mac suddenly speaks up, revealing his presence to both Britney and the audience for the first time. It was well played, and very funny. Then there was the moment where Tyler says nobody watches web series. This self-deprecation on the part of the creators also gave me a chuckle, but at the same time, it pulled me out of the story for the moment. Combined with the use of the existing Average Dicks series, I feel the show is flirting with being too meta (aside from the fact that it’s based on a true story). The odd self-referential moment works if it is unexpected, but it’s easy to overdo because it can be distracting to viewers. Though it’s not a problem yet, it’s something I’d caution the writers to be wary of moving forward.


These three episodes touch on a lot of topics, mostly relating to queerness and parenthood. Amy’s blunt description of her horrific birth seemed to deter Rita a bit, but ultimately it didn’t dissuade her. When she was puking her guts out in the bathtub, however, she may have been rethinking her decision. As though the getting fat and not being able to drink wasn’t bad enough.

Rita is less concerned about motherhood than she is the pregnancy itself, since Amy claimed she does everything she used to but with a wrap. But that’s where most of Adam’s fears lie. Though he gets a wake up call when Rita becomes violently ill in the finale, prior to that he is mostly worried about how being a father will affect his career and life in general. It’s possible that Rita is being overly optimistic about her prospects of becoming a psychologist while raising a child, but to be fair the pregnancy is a much more immediate and daunting obstacle.

Coming out is a prevalent theme especially in episode 5, and while the episode is essentially about coming out as pregnant it also juxtaposes that with coming out as gay. This episode hurt, guys. The coming out flashbacks were painful, as well as Rita’s admissions to Adam on how difficult it was for her. You can bet that was all understated, too – queer people can get very good at compartmentalizing our families’ bigotry and the grief it causes us. But the realization that her parents were thrilled that she was pregnant was so insulting and hurtful.

For one, there’s the thing Rita mentioned about how it’s awful that they think her being pregnant out of wedlock is better than her being gay. That is something that would typically leave religious and/or conservative parents aghast, and it actually involves doing something “sinful.” But they are treating it so much better than they did her admission that she is gay, something that a) she can’t control and b) is part of her identity, not just the result of doing something stupid/bad. The implication is that they are so happy about it because they think she’s “cured.” Plus, it gives them the grandchild they thought they’d never get.

Boo hoo, old man.

I really have no more patience for parents who make everything in their children’s lives about them, especially sexual identity and choices about whether or not to have kids. And there is also the squicky presumed heterosexuality thing going on here, where since she slept with a guy, she must be straight now. Or at least not gay. And that is worth celebrating. The homophobia is unspoken but deafening. No wonder Rita is angry and hurt. I would be too.

Presumed heterosexuality shows up in the other pregnancy announcement scene too, though in a different way. Now to be fair, it was totally reasonable for Adam’s family to assume Rita and Adam are in a relationship, seeing as he brought her home and then announced they were having a baby. But it’s a sign of things to come for Rita, the awkward stepping around of questions to avoid personal conversations.

Co-parenting with a guy, whether or not they are romantically involved, will lead people to assume she is heterosexual. This is something many bisexual women already deal with, but for someone who identifies as gay and has been proudly out of the closet for a while, it’s bound to be even more disconcerting and burdensome. Does she explain her identity all the time to avoid being mistaken as straight, or does she let it go because it’s too much work and/or she doesn’t think it’s anyone’s business?

One more thing about heterosexuality, I need to give a shout out to the production design and costume departments for their use of argyle sweaters as a symbol of the monotony of straight culture in episode 5. The implication was subtle enough that I missed it the first time through, as costuming choices should be.

Overall Impressions

Tonally, the show is starting to feel a little more like a dramedy than a comedy. Not that that’s bad – dramedy is one of the best genres, in my opinion. But it can be more difficult to pull off, because it requires multi-dimensional characters to be effective. Especially in a short episode format already packed with events, there is so little time left over for character development.

There is a possibility that the series will be either rebooted or continued as a television show. If we are so lucky, I hope the writers take the time to develop characters other than Rita a bit more rather than jam-packing the extra time full of more real-life events. Or at the very least, give the supporting cast more to do. Adam is surely more than a sensitive schmuck who makes movies, but we have yet to see much of anything beyond that. Mac gets enough screen time that he could have been developed a bit more, but instead “didn’t learn anything from his mushroom trip,” as Rita put it.

Mac needs more to do than whine and look forlorn.

However, the show still benefits from strong acting in the lead roles, and the extra layers given to Rita’s backstory were both poignant and relatable. I enjoyed the slightly darker tone to these episodes, especially given the subject matter, but they also managed some great levity to counterbalance it. The slow motion shots of the coming out as gay scenes, especially the one with the father crying in the restaurant, provided some emotional distance from such intense moments. That also set up a good juxtaposition with the slow motion close ups of the parental reactions only moments later in the second pregnancy announcement scene.

The natural dialogue continues to impress me, and I really enjoyed the dynamics around the dinner table at Adam’s house. That was the longest scene in season 1, and arguably its best. Trevor Lerner especially stood out in the role of Adam’s father, and was a terrific casting choice for more reasons than his eerie resemblance to Bruce Novakowski.

I am looking forward to hearing what the next steps are for continuing this show, partly because it’s great and partly because I want to know what happens next. The last shot provides a little closure and a distinct end to the season, but there is so much more to come. Despite knowing some of the answers to the following questions in real life, they are eating at me because they have yet to be answered on the show.

Burning Questions For Season 2:

  • Will Adam and Rita get more involved romantically, or fall into more of a platonic co-parenting situation?
  • Is the baby a boy or a girl?
  • Is Mac “family,” as Tony suggested?
  • Will the baby actually be born on Carol’s wedding day?

That’s all for season 1 of Inconceivable. Stay tuned for my interview with series star Katie Stuart, dropping on Monday.

Images courtesy of This Is a Spoon Studios

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