Unanimous is sitting in the board room, waiting for the axe to fall, and it's taking a long time. Clay thinks Lisa is chewing Lou up. Clay would happen to be right - and Lisa comes through the door pumping her fist like a football player who scored the winning touchdown rather than like a person who was in danger of going home after losing her fifth task in a row. Clay questions the glee, as Lou is still a person, but Lisa tears him a new one because that is what Lisa does, pretty much, for a living. Then Aubrey talks trash about Clay in a confessional, because that is pretty much what she does as her only really consistent gameplay tactic.
Clay can't figure out if Lisa is so negative and bitter because she loses all the time, or if she loses all the time because she's so bitter and negative. Either way, she's a bitter, negative loser - and a crybaby, too, although we will get to that later.
Aubrey hopes that Clay and Arsenio get put on different teams, because if she doesn't get to play with her BFF all the time, nobody else should, either.
Teresa gives her prize money to Matthew, a little boy who has to take fifteen pills a day to fight his kidney disease. He gets $60,000. That probably won't cure him, but maybe his parents won't have to take out a second mortgage on the house to buy his medicines. Debilitating sickness can cause bankruptcy.
Trump brings everybody to FAO Schwartz, a toy store so fancy I thought for a second they had guards from Buckingham Palace available to open the doors. They may be in a store for children, but they are going to be working with Jim Henson's son on a puppet show for grownups. Brian Henson has an improvisational puppet group called Stuffed and Unstrung. The celebrities will build puppets and perform an improvisational show with some professional puppeteers. They have to even out the teams, since Forte is down to three people. Who gets to change over to the hotbed of hatred and hostility that is Lisa? OK, Aiken, get a move on. Bring some earplugs so you can tune out the whining
Lisa figures that this task is about improvisational comedy. Maybe, just maybe, she's going to be cut out for this, so she steps up for Forte. Unanimous makes its first of several terrible decisions of the night when they allow Paul to take the reins for a task about which he has not one clue as to how to execute. You see, the puppets don't have any motorcycles. Paul appears to be a nice man and an excellent mechanic, but I suspect he'd rather change everybody's tires than run a puppet show, and it shows. He figures that people who do improv don't know what they are doing anyway, right?
Not really right, sir, Winner gets only $20,000. Apparently, no mega-corporation is looking for a tax credit for charitable giving this week.
In the Forte car, the world finds out something that we never knew. Clay knows how to use puppets. He used to use them in church. Clay tells the camera that he's not sure how the folks at Forte operate, and he hopes they will all get along. So, of course, that's the cue that a fight is about to break out. Dayana, who is still trying not to get marginalized, says that she did improv for a year, and Lisa slaps her down by reminding her that Lisa has been doing it for 23 years. Atta girl, Lisa, Don't give Dayana the idea that you respect her opinion and her contributions matter. I would like to know how long people work for Lisa before they quit in fury. Lisa is not, under any circumstances, going to allow Dayana to perform in this task. This is actually the right call, since she's completely surrounded by people who are aggressively good live performers and Dayana is a very pretty live model. However, Lisa did not need to be so bitchy about it. Lisa proposes that they will have a whole task without fighting; she does not understand that this cannot happen as long as Lisa is on the team.
In the Unanimous van, Teresa thinks they should make puppet versions of themselves, and makes the brilliant observation that Arsenio's puppet would be black and hers would be white. Uh... in the muppet world, that's not necessarily the case, but thanks for playing. Aubrey was talking trash about Clay fifteen minutes ago, but all of a sudden she realizes that Unanimous has suffered a really potent talent drain. Aubrey herself dares not take a prominent role here because she's been such a consistent self-serving pain in the ass she'll get called out again if she doesn't shut up.
Unanimous arrives at the puppet studio and everybody begins playing like a little kid except for Paul, who is feeling his bad back like a grumpy old man. Aubrey shows the others video of how Stuffed and Unstrung does their show and then they begin to distribute roles. Arsenio almost wets himself, he's so happy at how much better she's behaving as she tries to get along with everybody else. Arsenio declares her, suddenly, a a great team player. Arsenio and Teresa will be the puppets, Aubrey will host, and Paul will sit in a corner and curse growing old as his back renders him immobile.
Brian Henson arrives, and Paul learns to his dismay that they can't manipulate the audience into coming up with ideas for them that they've already rehearsed. They've got to fly by the seat of their pants. Teresa thinks that might be fun. She does not yet understand that she has no talent for it at all.
On Forte, Lisa has figured out that broader puppet characters will be able to do more things effectively in improv, and she's also figured out that they need to keep their humor fairly clean. Let's put it this way: she ultimately remembers one of these two things. Lisa knows the fine line between risque and dirty, and she will stomp all over it eventually, and coax Clay into doing the same.
Penn has figured out that he's roughly the size of a small house and might have some trouble holding a puppet at the same height as Lisa; they decide he needs to host this thing. Now, I can comment on this first hand; Penn Jillette is extremely skilled and effective at chatting with an audience. He once pulled my husband on stage for his Vegas act. He's the hostey host that ever hosted, and that part had his name all over it. It's a given that Lisa will be one of the puppeteers for the comedy improv act, but who is going to be the other one?
The American Idol guy who was in Spamalot, whom Lisa can't stand because he stands up for people?
The Venezuelan beauty who has 18 months of training in improv, whom Lisa can't stand because she's pretty?
(Aubrey has Paul and Teresa. Wouldn't she just love to have the Forte people to choose from for this? Dayana would probably have been better than either.)
Lisa just can't bear the idea that she's not the Fairest of them All, and takes her chances with the Raleigh Puppet Wrangler because after all, Lou is gone regardless of how much decency Clay radiates his direction. Besides which, some members of the audience may not be able to understand Dayana. Which is... uh... well, yeah. Listening to an accent requires a little respect and effort. This audience may offer neither in an improv setting. And of course, nobody has yet figured out how startlingly good Clay was going to end up being at this.
Once they've established that Dayana's accent is too pronounced for her to be an effective improv performer in English, ( I bet she'd rock the house in Caracas) of course, the very first segment they have to rehearse is the scenario in which a foreigner arrives and blabbers gibberish at the English-speaking person in the room. Clay, who might have shown a bit more tact at the moment, suggests that Lisa impersonate... not German, not Japanese, not Swahili, but of course... Spanish. So Lisa starts rattling off a bunch of Latin American stereotypical tropes, and Dayana, who could do the entire skit in real Spanish, looks like she wants to murder both of them. I am not sure Dayana quite caught that it was the actual puppet improv task that required bad impersonations of non-English languages; but maybe she just hates Lisa's guts. Can't imagine why. At any rate, she'd like to do something, please, so that when they end up in the Board Room Lisa can't scream "LAZYANDSTUPIDSPICCONTRIBUTESNOTHINGHAS NOIDEASANDHOWDARESHEBETHATTHIN?" every time Dayana's name is mentioned. By the way, Dayana's impersonation of Lisa saying this stuff has got to be one of the funniest things that's happened all season. Who says this gal can't do improv? In English!
Clay gently suggests that puppet design is an important part of the task. Because... it is. They are at least editing Clay as one of the stand-up good guys this season, and I am relieved to see it. I don't know how Lisa is going to salvage her career after this.
Unanimous heads down to the puppet workshop to play with the characters they are about to create. The beginning puppets, as Arsenio so helpfully explains, have no features - no eyes, no hair, no boobs, not genitalia...and we can hope they never will... keep it clean, people! With that, they are off to give these puppets G-rated features.
Teresa makes a crucial mistake that I completely understand. She's a warm, maternal person with little imagination, so... she creates a Mini-Me (although it's actually a little taller than she is.) She bonds with her puppet. It's her avatar. It's her baby. It's a reflection of her - sweet, naive, warm, tacky as all hell. Boobs! Makeup! Low cut dress! The Puppet Housewife of New Jersey!
Dayana, the woman who spends so much time in the fashion world, turns her hand to sewing puppet outfits, and it takes me a moment to realize why she's going to excel at this. Of course. She's creating beautiful faces. Yes, she's going to be extraordinary at it. Because Dayana is so good at creating these puppets, Lisa and Clay are able to leave her to it while they rehearse. I call that effective teamwork using the considerable talents of everybody for maximum efficiency. Lisa calls it busy work to shut Dayana up and stop her complaining. Ocuupado, por favor?
Vete al infierno, Lisa.
Over at Unanimous, Teresa spends more valuable time searching for the perfect thing to name her precious little mini-me, with whom she is bonding, when they've got a tight deadline. Paul, the Project Manager, realizes she's spending too long on this. Look, housewife, you are rich. Buy the damn thing after you are done rehearsing the improv and build it a little mansion for it if you want, but now they need to move on. Of course, it's Arsenio who actually names it. Thanks, Arsenio. If not for that, we might still be here waiting for the christening. Oh, let's get in a plug for Teresa's cookbook while we are at it!
Aubrey has figured out that the characters these two puppeteers are creating are not going to be very versatile for the improv, but Paul just goes along quietly with it all. Aubrey thinks he's lazy. I think he's probably either paralyzed with pain or stoned with pain pills. Still, Aubrey has been warned to shut up, so... she shuts up. To the others. The camera gets an earful.
Clay and Lisa begin to learn how to use generic puppets so that they can be seen effectively on camera. They are further ahead on the task than Unanimous is, because Dayana is in charge of the puppets and leaves them free to work. Aubrey frets on Forte because she knows damn well that Teresa needs a lot more rehearsal time than she needs craft time. Paul isn't moving ahead fast enough. This is probably because Paul can't move. Arsenio, who has not earned a universal reputation for being overbearing, is the person who is able to coax the group, finally, to get off their duffs and hit the rehearsal area.
Teresa begins to work with her puppet. Every time you say a syllable, you need to open the puppet's mouth: this concept does not come easily to her. Teresa may be a little slow. No, wait! She's not slow! She's the opposite of slow! Whatever that is! I have to say I was a little floored when this mother of four did not know any nursery rhymes. Did the nannies do ALL the bedtime stories, Teresa? Arsenio is... awfully nice about the whole thing. He sounds like a proud papa who is ecstatic that his little girl learned how to flush the toilet. Well, I have to say I prefer his approach to that of Lisa and Aubrey. I am glad that he is the person Clay bonded with.
Over at Unanimous, one of the professional puppeteers is teaching Aubrey when to stop a skit, how to make it seem more fun through her reactions, that sort of thing. She informs us firmly that she always impresses herself with her performance ability, and I think, "Well, at least you've always impressed one person."
Forte - the professional puppeteers have created the We Love Dayana Mendoza Fan club. The fan club features banners that say "Come work for us!" and "No, You are NOT worthless!" Dayana's really good at this. Penn's contemplating suicide, for reasons I am unsure of, and I am sincerely glad he didn't follow through, but Dayana's the star of the Puppet Makeup Room. Penn, who seems to be a bit skeptical of Lisa's take on Dayana, says that he does not trust what people say in the Board Room as fact... that's a wise comment, sir. We will keep it in mind all season long.
Eric arrives to get the lay of the land and see how it's going. Clay says it's happy happy joy joy. Lisa says it's happy happy joy joy. Penn is not polled. Dayana makes puppets and lets her resentment stew and bubble in sarcastic little snips. Eric notices.
When Ivanka arrives, Paul is in really obvious pain. Aubrey is really obviously keeping a lid on her bossiness. Ivanka hopes Aubrey can find a way to be creative without being obnoxious. I hope Aubrey finds a way to get fired soon.
It's rehearsal time at Forte, and Clay and Lisa begin really working with their puppets. Penn has a stunned revelation. Clay is good at this. Clay is REALLY good at this. His squeaky voices and clever connections stay completely up to speed with Ms . Twenty Years in the Business. However, Dayana sits sadly on the sidelines. She has nothing to do. Clay thinks quietly that he might have tried to give her a way to belong if he'd been Project Manager, but Lisa does not care. When the rehearsal turns to an improvisation about vapid, superficial models stuck in Hawaii during a snow storm, Dayana looks so sad I want to hug her. I suspect that Clay and Lisa are not really talking about Dayana - at least Clay is not - but Dayana seems, with this edit, to be taking their cracks to heart. Of course, the editors lie like rugs on this show. For all we know, Dayana might have been cracking up at this sequence.
Rehearsal time at Unanimous is a bit more worrisome. Aubey admits that Arsenio is doing well, but Teresa doesn't get it. She's trying and trying, but her instincts are limited, her reactions flat-footed, and she thinks "Monsters" is an adjective. She can't remember from one minute to the next what the point of any given skit is. Paul... is sitting quietly. What kind of fear are these folks feeling? Is there any smell to this fear?
The following morning, Arsenio is still trying to coax some understanding of improv into poor, hapless Teresa. How might a pencil be a device used to keep in gas? Shove it up your tailpipe, Arsenio. Aubrey hopes that Teresa's childlike sweetness will somehow charm everybody into enjoying her despite her lack of skill.
There's an anecdote about Debbie Gibson and a four-alarm dump that I find quite easy to skip. Guys, Debbie lost WEEKS ago! She's not fair game anymore! They are laughing and having a good time until Clay makes the mistake of being kind. Dayana feels left out. Could she, uh, maybe, uh... hand us stuff?
Good to see she's maintained her sense of proportion. Clay is worried that the tension will hurt the performance. Clay, Clay... strife is mother's milk to this woman. Unfortunately, it isn't really, for Clay. Lisa is just warming up. Somehow, she decides that the beautiful work Dayana did on the puppets was nothing more than frivolous busy work that she had to dream up for Dayana because Dayana is so selfish and childish as to want a task in this assignment. Yes, Lisa... one of the roles of a supervisor is to find meaningful tasks for the people you are supervising. That's one of the responsibilities you accepted as Project Manager. May I suggest this as a better way of answering Dayana's complaints that she has nothing to do? "Dayana, I will tell you what. We don't really have an on-stage task for you today, but don't feel bad about that. You are onstage with us because you created these puppets, and they make us look really, really good. You did your thing. Thank you so much for your hard work."
Would that really have been so hard?
Clay and Penn look like they want the floor to swallow them up whole as Dayana walks out in tears. Lisa then tearfully screams at them, aghast that they do not regard Dayana as being as difficult and useless as she does. Lisa appears to be under the impression that she's the only one willing to face the horrific problem that is Dayana... but it appears far more likely that her own irrational hatred is the problem. Clay actually says that Lisa's reaction could be caused by jealousy of Dayana's beauty. Mirror, mirror, on the wall, who is the most insecure of all?
In one of his finest hours in this series, it is Penn who quietly seeks Dayana out and lets her vent. He does not try to solve the problem or give her advice. He just allows her to be angry and hurt, and that helps immensely. It is the rare and wise person who understands this. It's nice to see somebody being genuinely kind in a show about backstabbing.
So, how did all this fighting affect the performance? Forte killed it. Penn led the festivities with infectious energy. The first skit was about having the puppets discuss an activity one could do in a foreign country. The result was Bjork ice-fishing in Iceland and Clay, who had the more difficult task of being the lucid one in the skit, was... wonderful. That's not just my Claymate heart talking. That's the concensus all over the internet. If he ever decided he just can't get any decent original songs for his albums, he could join an improv troupe and be just wonderful at it. He was better than Lisa was, and that's not a snipe at her. In fact, he was so much fun that... uh... Penn was having too much fun watching, and he blew a cue to end a skit. And then.... do you all remember that demure mama's boy on American Idol who came across as so innocent he seemed to be incapable of a dirty thought, let alone a raunchy joke? Well, this ain't Simon Cowell's Clay Aiken. Somewhere in the middle of the PVC commercial, they turned the air blue.... we ask all impressionable children to please leave the room as Clay's puppet does THAT to Lisa's.... my eyes may never recover.
Now, it's on to Unanimous. No pressure for Paul. He's chilling on his meds. Aubrey's squeaking "Puppet Up!" at the audience and getting very impressed with herself. Arsenio gets to be a Norwegian dentist and does pretty well, probably because he was working with a professional puppeteer and not with Teresa. When we get to the historical figure skit, though, it's Teresa's turn and... she forgets that you must never argue, deny or reject the idea that another person comes up with in an improv. She's falling very flat. I dida little improv in college and I agree... this is painful. She does get better during the pantyhose skit. I couldn't help wondering why Teresa did not work at all with Arsenio. Aubrey praises her own ability to end the skits at the right time. She always impresses herself. She thinks they've won... even if they didn't. Because she knows they didn't. The execs don't even pretend that the winner isn't clear.
In the Board Room, Trump confronts the conflict between Dayana and Lisa. Lisa still thinks that Dayana's issue was about being in front of the camera; Dayana just wanted to participate. Penn was too big to puppeteer. Ivanka agrees that Lisa chose the right people to be puppeteers. Lisa feels that Dayana should have accepted that her skills were limited. Dayana feels disrespected. Then Lisa considers the idea of having to bring two people back, and she begins crying. It's obvious that Lisa can't handle the idea of losing this comedy task to ... Paul... and Trump blathers some nonsense about her being a nice person which seems grossly out of place. Maybe he just wants her to stop blubbering.
Paul admits that he didn't understand much about puppets. He stepped up because somebody had to. He does admit that he'd bring Teresa to the Board Room if necessary. She really took a long damned time to choose that name. Ivanka reminds everybody that Paul was injured. Aubrey agrees that it affected his mobility. Arsenio praises Paul for being a trooper.
And the winner is... It's Forte, of course. This is not close. Lisa finally gets some money for her charity. Only Aubrey has never been the winning Project Manager.
The remainder of the conversation is basically a debate about whether Paul or Teresa was the bigger liability in this task. Teresa worked very hard, and performed pretty badly. Paul, too injured to move, barely did anything at all. I would be OK with either of these two people going. However, once again Trump choses an odd critieria for his firing that seems very random. Paul has to bring two people back. He lets Arsenio off the hook instead of Aubrey, and Trump feels that Arsenio should have been in the Board Room because he made a puppet that was too specific. Given that Arsenio was stronger than either Teresa or Paul, this should not have been an issue. He was not going home regardless.,, but it's a good enough excuse for Trump.
Paul may have been too stiff to move and too lethargic to make decisions, but he gets fired because of a personal loyalty to Arsenio Hall. Maybe Trump just didn't want to blame the bad back for Paul's demise.