Second Look: Two Guys, a Girl and a Pizza Place Season 1, Episode 5 – “Two Guys, a Girl and an Apartment”

Two Guys, a Girl and an Apartment

Two Guys, a Girl and a Pizza Place Season 1, Episode 5 – “Two Guys, a Girl and an Apartment”
Written by Liz Sagal & Paige Bernhardt
Directed by Marjorie Weitzman
Aired April 8, 1998 on ABC

After a pair of episodes trying on a few different comedic identities, “Two Guys, a Girl and an Apartment” doubles back on the show’s opening episodes to focus on its most middling components; Berg’s medical experiments and Pete’s relationship with Melissa. However, a pair of lackluster lead stories doesn’t completely obfuscate what is working with Two Guys, a Girl and a Pizza Place in these early entries, embracing sharp dialogue and some light physical comedy as a bit of a salve for its wildly unfulfilling, discordant narrative.

Though “Two Guys, a Girl and an Apartment” is a bit of a tonal disaster, its pair of stories boil down to a fairly symbiotic idea; as people in their early to mid-20s often do, Pete, Berg and Sharon are all idealizing the life they want to build for themselves. The genesis of this idea comes in a couple strange forms, however, with Pete freaking out over his one-year anniversary with Melissa, while Berg and Sharon fight over who is going to fill the apartment left vacant by their old stoner neighbor Mrs. Wexler. But both stories are about that idealistic pursuit of perfection; Berg wants a short-skirted, double-jointed applicant to move in, while Sharon pines for a hot dude – and Pete whines and squirms about, complaining about having to buy his girlfriend a gift and spend time with her on their anniversary.

Does it sound obnoxious? Because it certainly is, especially in the episode’s first act: even the script (credited to longtime TV writer Liz Sagal alongside Paige Bernhardt) calls attention to this, as the three of them talk over and around each other about their frustrations and desires. It’s not the most appealing form of comedy; and once Dr. Bauer steps in to recount the plot of Ghost, while Berg starts experiencing stereotypical PMS symptoms (on account of testing hand lotion he used a fake name to sign up for), it feels like “Two Guys, a Girl and an Apartment” is quickly falling off the rails.

Two Guys, a Girl and an Apartment

But when Pete returns to the apartment with a toaster to give his girlfriend for their anniversary, “Two Guys, a Girl and an Apartment” begins to shift tone, and pulls its two stories together into a single thread (Berg’s “womanly” behavior is still a constant runner; save for a joke about taping Guiding Light, it remains annoying). Melissa bypasses Sharon and Berg’s elaborate apartment showing ruse (they changed the phone number on the sign outside, which seems an easy way to get yourself into trouble) and rents the vacant apartment, surprising Pete on their anniversary with her new keys.

This, of course, sends Pete into an insane frenzy, especially when Bill teases him about this moment setting the course for the rest of his adult life to follow; in that moment, Two Guys, a Girl and a Pizza Place finally finds a way to ground Pete’s indecisiveness into something cogent, and meaningful. Pete’s personal and professional conflicts boil down to one thing; Pete’s scared he’s not going to have the perfect life he’s envisioned for himself – even if that life he’s envisioned is a bit blurry and short on details, the unknown remains a place of possibility (in turn, becoming a source of crushing anxiety and indecisiveness).

And to its credit, “Two Guys, a Girl and an Apartment” doesn’t shy away from the darker side of this decision; Pete’s behavior is treated as selfish and comical, someone incapable of being honest with the woman he’s dated for an entire year – there’s no point where Melissa’s choices are treated as irrational, and she even likes the anniversary toaster gift, an endearing sign that she’s willing to compromise a bit on how quickly their relationship needs to progress.

Two Guys, a Girl and an Apartment

But as Pete pleads with her to not move in the apartment and ruin their ‘normal’ routine, Melissa contends that she wants more, to have some sign that their relationship is moving forward, and not just headed back into their (supposedly) familiar cycle of dating, breaking up, and getting back together. As someone dedicated to their career (remember when teachers could afford to do that?) and ready to embrace adulthood, Melissa is in a very different emotional space from Pete – but ultimately, they both agree neither of them want stagnation, and Melissa breaks up with Pete, in what is perhaps the most somber, emotional scene of Two Guys, a Girl and a Pizza Place‘s first season (and the first time it dips its toes into plot-twisty rom-com territory, an identity that would become a major part of the show’s identity in season two and beyond).

Of course, Melissa’s underdeveloped character and Pete’s bullshit (while Berg is running around in full slapstick mode) don’t allow this to really be a big emotional crescendo for the series – in fact, Melissa would randomly return in other episodes at Pete’s girlfriend this season, proving neither of them are ready to escape the cycle (or more likely, this entire first season airs out of order, and this was originally the season finale – but hey, let’s not break the immersion here, right?).

Two Guys, a Girl and an Apartment

It’s a meaningful moment for the series, albeit one on a completely different emotional register than the hour and a half of material preceding it. But I think it works, as a moment of growth for character and series. For Pete, it is a stark reminder that if he wants to become an adult with a career and life path so quickly, he has to mature and be willing to commit – an inability to do so (as he’ll continue to learn), is only going to hurt himself and the people around him, preventing them from finding the happiness he self-righteously thinks he deserves without conflict.

For the series, it shows an interest in something other than its now-patented Manchild Shenanigans, that it was willing to contend with the more challenging, disappointing parts of becoming an adult and figuring out who you are; none of us are able to shape the world around us, to completely defeat the randomness built into the universe we inhabit. We won’t get things we want, we’ll learn to love things we never expected to… and sometimes, it’s a willingness to accept defeat, even if it means giving up something you ostensibly love. In that regard, Pete’s got a lot to learn; we’ve seen that in his pursuit of a career, but it really crystalizes when we see his reaction to Melissa’s surprise, and eventual exit.

Of course, Two Guys, a Girl and a Pizza Place doesn’t allow itself to be solemn for too long (again, this is an episode where lotion basically gives Berg a period); a quiet transition, and the episode turns back to the apartment building, closing as the trio joke with each other about Berg introducing Pete and Melissa on the front porch. And that’s something I can get behind; a sitcom willing to engage with relatable ideas and stories, but never taking itself too seriously, telling its stories with an even hand – and without the blind reverence of nostalgia, or unnecessary allegiance to portraying its characters as ‘good’ people plaguing so many middling comedies. Though “Two Guys, a Girl and an Apartment” isn’t a hilarious, mind-blowing episode, its nimble, thoughtful closing minutes are a bit of an eyebrow raiser, a sign Two Guys, a Girl and a Pizza Place still has a lot of potential to grow into as a series.

Grade: C+

Other thoughts/observations:

  • “Nothing says I love you like a pathetic lack of commitment.” On this, we can agree with Berg.
  • “how can you medical people go around palying fast and loose with something like estrogen… I’m in a bad way, I’m taping Guiding Light, man!” Ryan Reynolds is still refining his delivery of Berg lines like this in early episodes, but he absolutely nails this one.
  • Pete’s selfishness is hard to ignore here; but it’s a feature, rather than a bug, and a prescient reminder that having tangible flaws in your protagonists make them more interesting over the long term!
  • Berg and Sharon’s reactions to the double-jointed applicant are priceless.
  • “This gift says everything I wanted it to say.” “That you passed Sears on your way home?”
  • Liz Sagal’s writing credits always fascinate me; she was a writer and story editor on (among other things) Charmed, Sons of Anarchy, Banshee (shout out to my Banshee people), Lost in Space – and in 2024, two episodes of Law & Order: Organized Crime.
  • Berg, Dr. Bauer and Bill oddly begin lip syncing and dancing to “Unchained Melody”, in a moment unlike anything else in the series.
  • This episode also marks the first time Dr. Bauer has a line that isn’t a movie hallucination! It’s just one line, but we’ll take it!
  • Up next: Beacon Street Pizza gets into a heated competition in “Two Guys, a Girl and a Softball Team”.

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