Monday, July 19, 2010

Gamboling With Hogs

Television in the UK can be pretty diverting. If there isn’t a brat show, in which a plucky nanny will transform an incorrigible little monster into Mummy’s Lovely Little Gentleman, there’s often a medical marvel one with a title along the lines of The Boy Who Gave Birth to Himself. There are the Gordon Ramsay Unhinged shows, in which himself screams at failing restauranteurs or young chefs who aspire to work at one of his 7500 restaurants around the world, and other, kinder/gentler fix-it shows in which, for instance, a purported expert explains to a hotelier why he’s going bankrupt. On a slow night, you might have to settle for marveling at how poorly other Brits eat, or how filthy their homes are, or even try to content yourself with a real estate show in which disgruntled couples from Scunthorpe are shown properties for sale in parts of the world where the sun actually shines for more than 20 minutes at a time some days.

‘Twas in the UK, among all the above-referenced riches, that I first saw Wife Swap, which I remember now is available in this country too, and more than diverting enough for an evening on which you’d planned to watch the latest episode of Friday Night Lights, but NBC didn’t broadcast it for reasons no one bothered to convey to you.

The idea’s very simple — and, I’d have thought, apparently wrongly, deeply offensive to feminists. For two weeks women of very different styles and circumstances, live with each other’s husbands and children. During the first, the transplanted wife is required to act as a surrogate for the departed wife, and to abide by the husband’s rules. In the second week, she theoretically gets to rewrite the house rulebook as she sees fit. As you can well imagine, what almost invariably happens is that, after a week of having things pretty much as he’s accustomed to having them (except, in many cases, for Surrogate Wife’s frequent expressions of horror and disgust), Hubby snorts, “No [bleeped] way!” when presented with new rules. At this point, he and Surrogate Wife start slamming doors and calling each other names and making the children whimper piteously, and we out in Videoland are wonderfully entertained.

Commonly, the two hubbies are able sometime after the second commercial break to glimpse some small trace of wisdom in what their Surrogate Wives are telling them, and the kids come to love their stand-in moms nearly as much as they originally loathed them. Finally, the two couples sit down face-to-face, the two hubbies — meeting for the first time — give each other looks that say, “If you so much as touched her, I’ll pull your fucking esophagus out through your fucking ear,” the two wives bristle at each other’s suggestions that they’re imperfect mothers, and everybody snarlingly denies that he learned anything at all from the experience.

In this past week’s episode, a snooty rich black woman social climber who gave her two terrified daughters a daily grade on, for instance, how expeditiously they got from the car into the house after school, moved into the home of a body shop owner whose womenfolk liked to roll around in the mud. Meanwhile, White Trash Mama, at the home of her snooty rich black temporary husband, had to wear pantyhose for the first time in 20 years for dinner, and later to teach a class in ladylike deportment. Over at White Trash Towers, Mr. Body Shop was literally burning in the fireplace the Nice Clothes Ms. Snooty had tried to insist he and his two fat daughters wear to dinner the second week. Sparks a-plenty flew, and make no mistake!

Are you thinking what I’m thinking — that the whole thing would probably have been a lot more interesting, and maybe even led to actual bloodshed, if white folks had been the snooty ones, and the blacks those who enjoyed gamboling with the hogs? But the actual football scenes in FDN are comically unconvincing, and the main character in Breaking Bad — the meth-cooking chemistry teacher just trying to do right by his loved ones before the cancer finishes him off — is aloof and humorless. I’m finally learning, after all these decades, that it’s a chump’s game to expect perfection from even the best TV.

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