How to Live with Your Parents (For the Rest of Your Life)
Episode 4: How to Not Screw Up Your Kid
By: Carlos Uribe
How to Live With Your Parents (For the Rest of Your Life) is a show about a single mother who moves in with her parents right after a divorce.
I think How to Not Screw Up Your Kid is a very mixed episode of the show. It's so mixed that it makes me believe that this series could sustain itself in the long-run while making me doubt it at the same time. It's a contradiction but it has to do with the vast differences of how much I cared between the main and the sub plot. The main plot is a simple plot that actually builds around Natalie. She doesn't take the spotlight but she's not just an important character in the background. She's relevant to the plot in a way she hasn't been before. The sub plot deals with Max and Elaine trying to deal with some of their issues. It is the main plot that I cared about and I think that's the heart of the series. Natalie doesn't have to be key to the plot but she has to factor in somehow. The strongest episode this series has so far delivered, the second one, is so strong partly because it was all about the cost of taking care of Natalie. The arguably only good element from last week is that it justified Julian's presence in this show because of him trying to be a good father. Natalie doesn't have to get a lot screen time like in this episode to work but she's ultimately what grounds this show. To prove my point, I don't think there's a single plot that has worked when she's not a part of it. Polly dating was a wash while the whole brother sub-plot from last week was arguably the weakest element of the Academy Awards episode. It comes as no surprise that the Max and Elaine sub-plot this week didn't really work. Why? It didn't have an actual heart. Oh, it tried but it all came out as forced. How to Not Screw Up Your Kid is a perfect example of when this show works and also when it doesn't. Future episodes should use this one to craft themselves as they can learn from it.
The main plot deals with Natalie trying to cope with her parent's divorce. She doesn't really understand what's going on because neither of her parents have been able to explain it to her. She wants her mom and dad to live together but this manifests itself into an imaginary bully. The whole imaginary bully idea was pretty genius but it's disappointing that the series never really did anything with it after it was introduced. The only time we got to see Natalie interact with this bully was to follow her imaginary “friend” into watching television rather than having a play tea party with her parents. What's more confounding is that the bully seems to turn into a normal imaginary friend rather than the writers using it to insult the parents or something. It's disappointing but that's not the point of the episode. The point is that Natalie is trying to deal with her new family situation. When her parents realize what's up, they realize they have to sit down with her and explain to her what's going on. The heart of the episode is ultimately their relationship with Natalie. They're trying to be good parents and they might stumble. It helps that Rachel Eggelston remains adorable and she does prove she's able to take on more screen time without becoming annoying. The whole trying to raise Natalie is providing a strong heart for the series. This is where the emotions feel earned and where the writing tends to be it's sharpest. I could see myself watching the characters trying to figure out how to ensure that Natalie grows up properly on a weekly basis.
That is good because I can't see myself watching this show if it removed that element. The Max and Elaine plot doesn't work. I mentioned this in last week's review that family should be introduced in the second season when we know the characters. I think the writers are mistaking bringing in family members as sufficient character development. It's true that we learn something by how characters have been shaped by family members but I think it remains crucial to know who these characters are first. This week, Max has to deal with an aunt who was meant to him. I think it's also implied that she raised him but I wasn't sure. This wouldn't be an episode of How to Live With Your Parents if there wasn't at least one moment where I was confused by the backstory. Anyways, this aunt is dying and Elaine forces Max to confront her. I'll grant that the morgue scene was funny but none of the emotions ring true. It might be because we're just learning about this aunt but it's also because don' really know Max very well. It's these kind of sub-plots that make me doubt the future because it's becoming increasingly obvious that this show falls apart when Natalie is removed from the equation. How to solve this? I think concentrating on the premise and ensuring Natalie is a presence is necessary until such a point that the characters are developed enough to stand on their own. Frankly that takes a lot of time-at least the first season-but I'm not surprised that the writers have started to branch out. The pilot was an attempt to have a standard episode without any of the establishing bits that are necessary for a first episode. It makes sense then that the writers are going to pretend like they've already done all the work to flesh out the characters but this isn't something they can fix. In attempting to appear like we dropped in a future season, they are seriously undermining the show.
How to Not Screw Up Your Kid is an episode that could easily be titled How to Not Screw Up Your Episode. It's a sign that Natalie needs to be within a plot's equation in order for these early episodes to work. This forcing random weekly family members into the show this early on feels forced and manipulative. I understand wanting to skip all the first season work but it needs to be done for a reason. All in all-there remains a version of the show I like and a version that doesn't impress me. Let's hope it follows the one where Natalie has some kind of presence even when she isn't actually dominating the scenes.