' Cinema Romantico: Recap Vomit: Trophy Wife (The Punisher)

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Recap Vomit: Trophy Wife (The Punisher)

When I was home for Christmas, my sister asked me if I was actually enjoying “Trophy Wife” or if I just recapping it out of Malin Akerman-prompted obligation. I replied that, yes, I was actually enjoying it, though I could tell she remained skeptical, and so I launched into a diatribe. Basically it’s like this, so many American family-centric sitcoms employ the kids as mere props, a means-to-an-end, plot devices, and the real rough-and-tumble nature of parenting – the I-don’t-know-what-I’m-doing panic, the grit-your-teeth-and-get-through-it obligations – remain on the sideline for antics and one-liners. But “Trophy Wife” never forsakes its whole family, and this has never been proven better thus far in it short run than in “The Punisher”, its best episode yet. In a very real way, it echoes the sentiments of an article by Jennifer Senior for New York Magazine (unwittingly, I assume, as the episode aired two days after the article was published), albeit comically. To borrow the phrase of the esteemed Pat Benatar and tweak it – Child-Rearing Is A Battlefield.


At episode’s open, Warren is about to jump off the roof and into the pool as Hillary films it with her smartphone. Kate, however, catching this stunt in the nick of time, orders Warren off the roof. Warren obliges. By jumping into the pool. Kids. So Kate sits them down with the intent of doling out punishment, only to realize she has utterly no idea how to dole out punishment. Thus, she phones Warren’s and Hillary’s real mother, Dr. Diane Buckley, the Dolph Lundgren Punisher to Kate’s Thomas Jane (pop POP!!!), for punishment-doling advice, eliciting the episode’s first masterstroke – that is, Dr. Diane Buckley as Kate’s Qui Gon Jinn.

It’s killer to watch how the teensiest of commands like “Kids, go to your room”, purposely delivered by Marcia Gay Harden with little-to-no effect, wield such authority, but the episode refreshingly refrains from overplaying Dr. Diane Buckley’s role. She’s there for Kate, despite her dislike of Kate, and will offer brief council (in person and then by phone and then in person again), but she will not make Kate’s bed and clean Kate’s room. Kate has to make her own stand, which she does by confiscating all “screens” (phones, laptops), but “screens” are Warren’s and Hillary’s lifeblood and they will fight back, making life hell for Kate if she makes it hell for them.

Remember, Hillary and Warren are Dr. Diane Buckley’s kids, so they think just like her, and one delightful moment finds Hillary copying her mom’s mannerisms down to the tee. I mean, you can see Hillary as a teenage Dr. Diane Buckley (or vice-versa) and that is as awesome as it is terrifying. Back and forth they go, and it is all heightened, yes, but what makes it so exhilarating is to see the very real struggle Kate is going through in attempting to figure out how the hell to parent. The stress, the agony, the moments when she thinks she has it figured out and then realizes she doesn’t, and this is all builds to an instant when “Trophy Wife” recycles a standby sitcom trope – Something Falls Into The Garbage Disposal And The Garbage Disposal Gets Turned On. Usually it’s a wedding ring, but smartphones are really the new wedding ring, and so it’s Kate’s smartphone that goes into the Garbage Disposal on account of Warren and Hillary, and so Kate turns on the disposal and her phone gets chewed up and even though she was trying to impart stepmotherly wisdom by taking away their phones, when her phone gets taken away…..

I know nothing of the Emmys and I’m not saying Malin Akerman should be nominated for an Emmy. What I am saying is that if the Emmys have a Best Bleeped Cursing Award, it’s Malin Akerman’s to lose. Because at the sight of her chewed up phone, she loses it, and she loses it by unleashing a bleeped-out curse-ridden monologue that is cut short by a commercial break but actually continues going when the show returns from commercial. Now the show is not making light of swearing in front of your kids, but reminding how close parents are at every second of every hour of every day to blowing their f*&%ing gaskets.

Speaking of which, Pete and our old friend Jackie are summoned before precocious Bert’s teacher who explains he has been sending signals that he is unhappy with the distance between his parents. Thus, Pete, despite seemingly be around Jackie all time despite not being married to her, puts on his game face (sort of literally) and braves a game of mini-golf with ex-wife and son. It’s pirate-themed mini-golf and so, naturally, they have to speak in pirate voices, and while at first it’s amusing, it really doesn’t go anywhere. Yet, that’s okay, and it’s okay because, I suppose, as a parent that’s what you do. You mini-golf and you talk like a pirate for as long as you have to make your kid happy, and even if you feel as if this outing is going nowhere, well, look at the smile at your kid’s face. Isn’t that enough?

Tags over the closing credits are typically meant to be humorously inconsequential, but I think “The Punisher’s” tag is vital. It is Pete hard at work on a vaguely defined writing project ("Is it a short story? Is it a trilogy?") called "The Magistrate's Lover." It sounds awful, which is to say it sounds fabulous, but what’s really crucial is what this short story/trilogy represents – namely, Pete’s outlet, his escape from the mini-golf and ex-wives and the parental ordeal. “The Magistrate's Lover” is Pete’s coping mechanism. Just let him have it, man.

Best Line: “I have the peripheral vision of a hammerhead shark.” – Dr. Diane Buckley (stated by Gay Harden not as braggadocio, but as mere fact)
Episode MVP: Malin Akerman’s Pants (but that goes without saying)

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