' Cinema Romantico: Recap Vomit: Trophy Wife (The Big 5-0)

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Recap Vomit: Trophy Wife (The Big 5-0)

I have a deep, and what will no doubt prove to be an everlasting, relationship with the Wilco song “California Stars.” I first heard it in my earliest twenties in Iowa when I yearned to see California. I remember when it inexplicably came on a jukebox at some Iowa City watering hole on Halloween night when I was a week away from moving to Arizona and my friend Andrea and I, without even discussing it, simultaneously stood on our barstools, played air guitar and sang along. (She and I were young and we would Live 4-Ever.) I vividly remember thinking of it when I first saw a California license plate in Arizona and suddenly realized “Hey, I’m a six hour drive from L.A.” I remember listening to it the first time I was actually in California. I remember hearing some no-name cover band no one was listening to in some sparsely populated bar in Iowa after I had returned post-West Coast move suddenly play it and thanking them afterwards for playing it and then thinking to myself “My God, what am I doing back in Iowa?” In those days, so many years ago, the song presented to me a sort of romantic hopefulness. Now, a decade-plus having slid past, it presents to me a sort of romantic weariness. We change, and songs, even if they stay the same melodically, change with us.

Pete, see, is a day away from turning, as they say, the big 5-0. Yikes. But yikes because Pete believes his birthday is cursed. Because every birthday he has ever had everything has gone drastically wrong. So now he celebrates his birthday the day before his birthday, and he’s cool with it. Kate doesn’t seem quite so cool with it. She wants him to celebrate getting older, not run away from it, so against his will she decides to make his actual birthday a day to remember. You can probably guess how it goes.


Well, there’s hijinks, sure. If you center an episode around 1.) A Birthday (a fiftieth birthday!) and 2.) A Curse, hijinks are required in accordance with WGA Law. So, Kate winds up dressed in a coat……with nothing on underneath……which leads to her entering Pete’s office and talking pseudo-dirty……when other people are in the room she didn’t see! (Two things. 1. My favorite throwaway moment in the episode was Pete ripping up a document at the mention of the Department of Justice, suggesting “Trophy Wife” could really go to some darkly funny places if it wanted. 2. I won’t complain about clothesless-beneath-her-coat Malin Akerman, per se, but I really missed the previous episode’s pants.) And Pete is driving when Kate reveals her clotheslessness which causes him to hit a police car which causes him to go to the DMV and, well, you know how things at the DMV go. And so on.

But “Trophy Wife” is always just a bit more sly with its conventionalities, and Bradley Whitford does a notable job playing the episode in a way that makes clear he expects all this to happen, has resigned himself to it and is now just trying to wait out the rest of the day. That’s terribly tragic, really, and made more so because Kate is so insistent he ENJOY HIMSELF! In other words, she refuses to let him resign himself to what he already knows is his fate, which is merely her dealing with her own fate to which she is resigned.

Coming to grips, that’s what “The Big 5-0” is all about. Precocious Bert, home alone with Hilary and Warren and Pete’s mail-order lobster birthday gift, is forced to come to grips with the fact that the majority of the food he eats doubles as animals on his pajamas. Harsh, man. Dr. Diane Buckley is forced to come to grips with the fact that she can be rude, brusque and unaccepting when she and our old friend Jackie “pal” around all episode on the prowl for a birthday gift for Pete in the form of wind chimes he doesn’t want like a Californicated, Obama-era Kate & Allie. Kate is forced to come to grips with the fact that although the media mumbo jumbo is all about how 50 is the new 40 and 40 is the new 30 that, in her case, 30 may be closer to 40 (even though she’s closer to 30). And this might make eyes roll and sighs emanate and prompt exclamations of: “Malin Akerman has it bad? Suuuuuuuuuure.” But that’s simplistic nonsense and I will not stand for it.

Malin Akerman or not, we all age, we all change, we all must come to grips. Like when I was recently not IDd for buying a beer when I’m always IDd for buying beer despite being my mid-thirties, and getting home and analyzing myself in the mirror and realizing “Oh crap, the bartender saw those grays in my hair, didn’t she?” and collapsing into a theoretical pool of tears. It made me feel like Kate feels, but then I realized that, dammit, it was okay. So what if I’m getting old? Getting older has so many perks. It does! Because I like going to bed early and I like getting up early and I like drinking at home and I love wearing pajama pants. And (not) coincidentally, these are things Kate says she likes in “The Big 5-0”.

And so Kate realizes she doesn’t need to force celebratory action on her spouse, and instead they retire to a quiet bar for a cozy drink and Pete sidles over to the jukebox and I was so feeling in the episode in that moment that I literally said aloud to the TV “Don’t let me down, Pete.” And, lo and behold, son of a gun, miracle of miracles, the dude played “California Stars.” And I smiled and I laughed out of bewilderment and I cheered and I nearly fainted, and all within the space of a half-second.

Look, I don’t watch much TV, but I felt so close to “Trophy Wife” in that moment because in that moment it knew the secret. You can be young and feel old and you can be old and feel young and you can feel both simultaneously, and that songs, like us, live and breathe and grow and expand and that birthdays are awful and fantastic (they give us really good excuses to watch “Top Gun” without ridicule) and that coming to grips is as refreshing as it is depressing. And that then you awake the next morning and have to deal with the sound of the damned wind chimes you didn’t want from your two ex-wives.

Epiphany or not, life goes on.

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