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What I Watched Last Night

It's Monday night, undisputedly the worst night of the week for TV watching. So I figure: Screw it - if you can't beat 'em join 'em. Next thing I know, I'm sitting high atop the nation's TV programming landfill with ABC's Wife Swap. It took awhile for the dog with the brandy keg around its neck to lead me back down, but I can tell you this: I have been to the mountain, and if bad TV was bread raining down from the heavens, I'd have enough yeast to give every woman in the Northern Hemisphere a really uncomfortable infection of some sort for months. Or the ability cure every case of the clap that arises during the next 150 years, whichever.

In case you've been living on the moon for the past year or two, Wife Swap follows two families with values as mixable as oil and water in a two-week exchange of husbands, children, and lives to discover just what it's like to live in the other woman's world. Fourteen days, which is four more than the washed-up celebrities on VH-1's The Surreal Life have to endure without strangling each other in their sleep. And the wife swapper folks are real people with real lives, so a lot less slack gets cut.

Anyway, here's the stats on Monday night's mismatched families with behavioral habits you should be glad you don't have:

Family 1: The Hamiltons. They live in Ohio. There's mom Angie, husband Tim, and 14-year-old daughter Chastity. Angie believes all girls (and wives) should be treated like princesses. Literally. She even holds - and participates in - "princess parties" for Chastity and her friends, and believes that princesses (including princess wives) don't do chores. Or anything much else constructive, either. Shopping, designer labels, manicures, and pedicures totally rule, dude.

Angie could probably pull off that brand of nonsense if she and her daughter didn't look and act like they were from Winnetka - if Winnetka had the kind of train tracks to be from the wrong side of. Hell, even the Hegewisch social register would dust these two in a heartbeat if Hegewisch was classy enough to have a social register. Oops, almost forgot: Angie's an obsessive-compulsive clean freak, and on any given day Chastity spends up to five hours idly yacking her monthly cell phone bill into the $300 stratosphere. Which her parents gladly pay.

While I was debating who on which side of adulthood ought to be smacked with a big stick, we were introduced to dad Tim. He snores like hog at bedtime, so he's been banished to a separate bed in Chastity's room with the dog while Chastity and her mom share their "princess bed" in Angie and Tim's room. Tim has also been brainwashed into enjoying a lifetime of servitude as beck-and-call chauffeur, bag lugger, housecleaner, cook, and Lord-only-knows-what-else the program didn't bother to show. He smilingly accepts the whole arrangement, and does it all while working a full-time job. In fact, Tim is incredibly offended by the notion that there's something distinctively unusual about his role as houseboy.

Good thing Tim doesn't live in Alabama or northwest Florida. I've lived there, and men down there don't cotton to such nonsense. He'd be at the bottom of a swamp somewhere just on general principles.

Family 2: The Lowes. These beefy, overalls-and-Beanie-Weenies folk live in Pennsylvania. There's mom Anita, husband Rick, 19-year-old daughter Brandie, and 17-year-old son Brandon. When Anita's not busy outfitting the family with incredible bargains from the town resale shop, the family's existence centers around the household serving as Ohio's clearinghouse for the hunting world's supply of deer piss. They have a backyard corral where they collect deposits from their herd of deer (thankfully, the program didn't show how the whole process works), and Anita wakes up at 2:30 a.m. every day to spend 20 hours of her day alternately waiting on Rick hand and foot (she lays out his clothes, makes his lunch, heats up his car, cooks, cleans, washes their clothes by beating them against a rock in the middle of a creek, and so on) or hunkered down in the basement funneling deer piss into bottles and labeling them for deer hunting consumers.

Not surprisingly, Anita and Rick think nothing of the fact that their house - and everything in it, including them - smells like a giant piss factory. They also kill, dress, cook and jerky their own fresh deer meat because, well, have you seen the prices they're charging these days down at the Jewel for just a stupid fucking head of lettuce?

So in true Wife Swap fashion, we watch both families spend a two-week shipwreck cruise shoving square pegs into the round holes their lives are becoming:

Deer Woman Anita ("I really hope this family likes deer meat, or it could be a problem") and Spoiled Princess Chastity square off immediately over makeup and resale shop clothing issues.

Chastity: "Can we check out the clothes you brought?" After seeing them: "They're hideous."

Which sets up an Anita-Chastity "mother-daughter" shopping spree to the nearest thrift store.
Chastity (fingering clothes on a rack): "It's gross." And, "I've gotta touch 'em? These are crappy clothes."

Anita: "What's this?"
Chastity: "It's eyeliner."

Anita and Chastity (after Chastity notices that Tim missed a few crumbs while cleaning the countertop):
Chastity: "(Mom says) you can always be cleaner."
Anita: "You know, there's counseling for people like this. You know, neat freaks."

While Anita was off teaching Chastity the value of housework by confiscating her cell phone and making her prepare deer meat dinners, Princess Mom Angie and Deer Girl Brandie were grating on each other's nerves over assorted princess and shopping issues:

Brandie (trying on a dress during a "mother-daughter" shopping spree): "I like jeans, and these aren't freaking jeans."

However, crass consumerism wins out in the end when Brandie discovers the mall is full of really bitchin' makeovers and clothes that didn't once belong to dead people or crackheads when you're hanging with someone who has a no-limit credit card. A few states over, Anita's finding the whole princess thing "kind of strange." Says she: "I think someone's on crack with all this princess (shit)."

The women have their jobs of whipping their newly-acquired men into shape cut out for them as well. When she's not approaching the preparation of deer meat dinners like she was just plopped into the middle of an autopsy, Anita's busy disinfecting the biohazard that is the Deer Family Robinson's basement, and browbeating Rick and the family into moving the whole deer-piss operation into the backyard - where there's moving air - into a plastic shed someone has purchased from Menards. When Angie's not doing that, she's browbeating Rick into getting off his dead ass and maybe start moving some dust around. Which naturally leads Rick to comment, "If I had to pick between a wife like her and prison, I'd pick prison."

Fortunately, Rick is able to head off any sort of prison experience by forcing Angie to clean out wooden deer coop stalls for a few hours every day and learn firsthand how people who actually work for their money spend their daylight hours.

In the meantime, Anita busies herself with her own project of browbeating Rick into a life of being waited on hand and foot, making time for golf, and having nothing expected of him beyond taking a nap in the La-Z-Boy whenever and wherever he pleases. But this Life of Riley comes with a price: Rick has to grow a spine. Especially when the impulse to coddle Princess Chastity kicks in:

Anita, to Rick: "You're the man of the house and you're supposed to stand up for yourself."

Anita: "Act like a parent."
Rick: "I am the parent."
Anita: "Then say 'no' to her once and awhile."

Anyway, the whole thing wraps up rather anti-climactically by everyone finding out that the cure to everyone's ills lies with everyone spending more time with each other. Tim connects with Princess Chastity after she carts him around a snow-covered golf course, and the Deer Family connects with each other while assembling the plastic backyard deer piss factory shed from Menards. Rick admits that it wouldn't kill him to lift a finger around the house, and Tim discovers that the world doesn't erupt into flames when he takes an afternoon for himself at the golf range.

Curiously missing from most of the program was Deer Hunter son Brandon. Either I missed something while taking notes, or nobody mentioned why.

-

See the What I Watched Last Night archive.



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Posted on February 27, 2007


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