Wednesday, May 29, 2013

How to Live with Your Parents (For the Rest of Your Life)

How to Live with Your Parents (For the Rest of Your Life)
Episode 8: How to Live with Your Parents for the Rest of Your Life
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.

Spoilers Ahoy!

How to Live with Your Parents for the Rest of Your Life is pretty good. The episode, I mean, not the series. Well actually the series as well. Gah! Who had the genius idea of having an episode and the series share the same name. I'm not sure whether they were trying to be clever or they just couldn't think of an actual name for this installment. It's true that the title for the episode fits the plots of this episode but then again shouldn't it basically fit every episode? This is a show about living with parents. I guess I should move on from annoying episode title to tackle the actual contents of the episode. This is a show that has quite two themes: the generational gap between parents and putting your life together. The latter has generally worked best when the characters try to improve themselves because of their relationships with the other characters. Elaine wants to improve when she notices how her actions influence her daughter and granddaughter. Julian and Polly are trying to figure out how to raise their daughter. It can lead to some strong material. The former isn't explored as well, largely because the series doesn't offer anything new to say on the subject. What about the generational gap? It exists to create conflict but it frustratingly never really goes anywhere. It exists to create self-contained conflicts that don't lead to character growth or any revelations. It exists to provide some easy laughs to see the characters try to navigate the gap. This is an episode that largely explores the theme about putting your life together. Polly temporarily moves out of her parent's home to be a responsible adult with her own place. Julian temporarily moves into his girlfriend's place so that Polly can do this. It sort-of fits Max as well. He's a bit different because his life is already put together but it's threatened to fall apart at any time. Max temporarily freaks out when his financial stability is jeopardized by a lawsuit. As for Elaine? She's largely just there to act as a life coach.

The thing about life is that it's always throwing obstacles at you. A good example is Max. He's making a profit with his comedy club and his life is stable. He's largely figured it out and he's happily living with his wife. His life isn't perfect: his step-daughter is living with him, her ex-husband keeps showing up, and he's worried that his life might fall apart at any time. His life might be stable but that only makes him insecure. He's terrified that life is going to give him a terminal illness now that he's a successful comedy club owner. He has become so accustomed to being worried and having an obstacle to overcome that he'll invent one. In this case, he concentrates the energy he used to worry on money on worrying about his health. Life throws him a curveball when he gets a lawsuit from one of the comics who performed there. He starts to freak out that he's going to be financially ruined until he remembers that they signed a contract with him. His crisis is resolved only to be re-ignited because Polly had accidentally thrown them out. Her defense is that she didn't think anybody would hide important papers in tacky shopping bags. There's a huge point about how she's never really lived on her own and her justification for throwing out the contracts sort of backs that up. It might not be a good practice but I believe it's more common than Polly would like to think. Even if it isn't, she knows her parents. She should have realized that Elaine is just the kind of person to leave important documents in shopping bags. Anyways, her actions create a big conflict with Max that basically boils down to him resenting having her life with them. At the end of the episode, Max takes it all back and reveals he likes her presence. It's an easy way to resolve the plot so that the status quo must be maintained. In order for this series to continue, she has to live with her parents. Of course she's going to move back in with them. It's an easy way out but did the series really have to take it? Polly could have easily continued to live with her parents even if Max is disappointed. He could have still accepted the situation but still resented it.

This is what makes the Polly plot so mixed. She moves out of her parent's home but it was obvious she would be back in by the end of the episode. On the one hand, it feels like a fake plot development that's going to inevitably go back to the status quo. It mostly went down a predictable road. The stakes of the plot can't really work because any viewer should have known that she would return home. There are early episodes in some series that give characters an “out” on the premise but they rarely work because no writer is going to go through with it. The characters might temporarily break out but they'll always return to the intended status quo. The audience knows this which means the plot feels like a waste of time. This is where the Polly plot gets something right. It's true that Polly might move back in because she didn't want Julian to sacrifice his happiness for hers. It's true that Max realizing he actually likes Polly living with him was predictable. No, what I like is that it gives Polly a different perspective on staying with her parents. She's no longer living with them because she left Julian and she has nowhere else to go. She's no longer living with them just because her life has collapsed around her and she needs time to pick up the pieces. She's going to college, she has a job, and she's an adult. She could move out at any time. She didn't necessarily need a reason to stay beyond having to live with her parents because of the state of her life. She doesn't really get one this episode either. The reason she moves back in is pretty similar to the reason on why she moved in with them in the first place. No, what changes is that she now wants to live with them. She's not living with them just because she has to but partially because it's her will. This should temporarily remove any question of how long Polly is going to live there (at least until she graduates college) as well as ensure that the audience doesn't want her to move out.

As for Julian? The episode that had set him up with an attractive lawyer turned out to lead nowhere. Julian doesn't really love her but he's not going to break up with her. He even decides to move in with her so that Polly could have his place. This sacrificial move doesn't sit well with Polly. She doesn't want to be happy at his expense. Not that he's even aware of this. When she confronts him about how he feels about moving in with the lawyer, he basically rebuttals that he has no idea what she's talking about. It isn't until the two kiss that the lawyer breaks up with him. He has to move back into his apartment while Polly goes back to her place. It's an okay plot but it was a difficult one to really care about the lawyer. I still don't care all that much about Julian. I care even less about who he's dating. The way she was introduced, with Polly acting like an idiot by setting him up, was rather weak as well. It's not like this plot really stands on it's own as it's used to reinforce Polly's moving out plot. I had no reason to really care about this plot and it wasn't as funny as the other two. It was kind of a dud but that's okay. The other two plots were funny enough that they compensated Julian's weak relationship arc. I'm also wary about that kiss because I'm not keen on Polly and Julian getting back together. They don't have the sexual chemistry to really make them a couple that I could ship for and I like them better if they're trying to find a way to live apart from each other.

How to Live with Your Parents for the Rest of Your Life has an annoying title. It makes it difficult to tell if you're talking about the series or the episode. Just because it fits what's happening in this episode doesn't justify it's use. The actual plots were largely solid. It's hysterical to see Brad Garrett freaking out about nothing. The plot took the easy way out when it didn't have to but it was good otherwise. The Polly plot felt like a waste of time except for the fact that it made her want to continue living with them. The whole relationship arc with Julian was a bit tough to care but it's use to prop up Polly's plot basically meant that it couldn't drag down the rest of the episode.

Other Notes:

The episode quickly removes the threat of financial instability when it's revealed that Natalie had kept the bag along with the contracts. A move I predicted as soon as the flashback scene of Polly throwing it out was shown.

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