trying fails out of the school of hard knocks [apple tv+ recap]
★☆☆☆☆

Princess (played by Eden Togwell) gets busted this week on Trying. Photo: Apple TV+

Apple TV+ series Trying, the James Corden of sitcoms, invents some new fake problems for its characters to solve this week. Tyler bumps his head, Princess steals a solution to an outcast’s problem, Nikki and Karen don’t feel like moms, Jason is disappointed in his son’s taste, and there may be a new wrinkle in the couple’s decision to keep their kids.

The writers also show their Tory hand this week with jabs at all things lower class — except when it’s necessary for our characters to engage in them. Not even a special cameo from a great villainess can lift this week’s offering above pitiful.

Trying recap: ‘Pick a Side’

Season 3, episode 5: In this week’s episode, entitled “Pick a Side,” Nikki (played by Esther Smith) and Jason (Rafe Spall) are worried about different things. He’s still lying about his dad, Vic (Phil Davis), giving them a loan to buy their apartment before it gets sold out from under them.

Meanwhile, Nikki still hasn’t fired Jen (Robyn Cara), her best friend at work, who is also the worst employee. If she doesn’t fire her, someone meaner is going to. So she has a plan. Inspire Jen to quit on her own by giving her bigger dreams. This backfires. Jen confesses that she’s never been happier in her position than she is right now, so now Nikki has to fire her knowing that.

On the home front, their newly adopted daughter, Princess (Eden Togwell), starts calling Jason “dad,” which also activates most of Nikki’s complexes. She doesn’t think she’s being supportive or motherly enough, hence why they don’t call her “mom.”

While chaperoning Princess and some friends on a playdate in the city, the kids ask Nikki to sit away from them so they can be alone, which breaks her heart. I was almost suckered in by this, but how did she not know some preteen girls might want some privacy?

Some good advice

Anyway, a crazy woman (Clare Higgins, the evil stepmother from Hellraiser!) sits next to her while she’s being exiled (she gets in a joke about eating healthy) from Princess’ social time. The stranger fills Nikki’s head with ideas about the best way to parent in this crazy world.

The insights do Nikki a world of good when she finds out Princess stole a bracelet from a shop. She’s going to make a huge scene about it, but Princess gets scared and she relents.

“Things are tough enough,” Nikki says, letting her kid off the hook. Turns out Princess only stole the jewelry to cover up a birthmark because her friends made fun of it.

… and some lightweight annoyances

When Jason takes Tyler (Mickey McAnulty) to see a football match, he’s bummed out that his kid likes Arsenal over Tottenham. Nice to see the show dealing with real-world issues. Tyler falls and hits his head, so Jason takes him to the hospital, but he’s fine.

Elsewhere, Nikki’s newly pregnant sister Karen (Sian Brooke) and her boyfriend, Scott (Darren Boyd), try to plan for the birth of their baby. She demands that Scott be less of a wanker going forward. No more poetry, build a crib, that kind of thing.

Like the addition of alpha male political didacticism to this character’s arc, there weren’t enough loathsome and made-up identity crises. The couple has a scare at the prenatal doc’s office, but everything’s fine. Scott comes though for her.

Assholes Anonymous

trying fails out of the school of hard knocks [apple tv+ recap]

Freddy (played by Oliver Chris) makes a move that reveals Trying’s great failing.Photo: Apple TV+

One of Jason’s friends, Freddy (Oliver Chris) starts a group called Assholes Anonymous after his disastrous Alcoholics Anonymous visit a few weeks ago. He says that part of the problem is that nothing bad ever happened to him, and that was ruinous to his understanding of the world.

With this revelation, the Trying writers accidentally defined the problem with their show. Everything the characters wrestle with is the kind of everyday nonsense every human deals with. Fine enough, I guess. Except that, unlike on either version of The Office, but especially the original series, this isn’t the joke.

On Trying, the jokes are meant to be in the reflection of the nothingness. That means that the nonexistent problems of characters like Freddy and Scott are not supposed to just read like obnoxious trivialities … or rather, they might, but the show won’t say “get a load of how vacuous people are,” but rather, “Yes, they’re quite bad but we will be spending all of our spare time with them.”

That’s another way of saying that though they might be completely insufferable, their problems are important because these are the people in Nikki and Jason’s life.

This is no The Office

The Office was nakedly all about a building full of self-involved people. Trying, though, is meant to be heartwarming. But if Scott or Freddy showed up on The Office, you would hate him, and so would the writers who put him there — because he is so easy to hate. The difference is a crucial one.

This episode also delivered a million little conservative gestures that drove me batty, beyond the usual “Isn’t Scott a softboy liberal coward?” material, though there’s plenty of that.

The woman who assails Nikki also gives another mother grief for eating well with her kids. Turns out that the old woman is Tyler’s real mother or grandmother or something. And she’s clearly not a great person.

“I knew the Krays!” the woman tells Nikki, unprompted.

And, of course, Nikki and Jason are meant to seem like the obvious choice for better role models when compared to this hard-living old bat. We aren’t supposed to want someone like her to take the children from such eminently nice and cuddly people as Nikki and Jason, are we?

Trying fails to take the high road on class issues

For American audiences who don’t follow British tabloids, the Krays were twin brother criminal entrepreneurs. Tom Hardy played them both in a terrible film a few years ago, and the Kemp brothers from Spandau Ballet played them in 1990 for Peter Medak, but that’s neither here nor there.

The point is, Trying paints the woman as a degenerate crook lowlife so it can make Jason and Nikki seem like better parents. I don’t love that.

Plus, Nikki allows Princess to shoplift to fit in with her friends. (I’m sure every conservative pundit in London agrees, and would have no problem with shoplifting if they just heard the stories of every young kid who’s going through a hard time … oh wait….)

Then, to make Princess feel better about the birthmark she was covering up with the stolen bracelet, Nikki gets a tattoo in the same shape on her wrist so she and her daughter will feel closer. Again, this show wouldn’t hesitate to cast someone with tattoos to make a point about the grotesque lower class, but when Nikki does it (out of necessity, you see), it’s cute.

Every week, Trying tests my patience — and I’m only just halfway through the season. Make it stop, please.

★☆☆☆☆

Watch Trying on Apple TV+

New episodes of Trying season 3 arrive each Friday.

Rated: TV-14

Watch on: Apple TV+

Scout Tafoya is a film and TV critic, director and creator of the long-running video essay series The Unloved for RogerEbert.com. He has written for The Village Voice, Film Comment, The Los Angeles Review of Books and Nylon Magazine. He is the author of Cinemaphagy: On the Psychedelic Classical Form of Tobe Hooper, the director of 25 feature films, and the director and editor of more than 300 video essays, which can be found at Patreon.com/honorszombie.

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