How to Live with Your Parents (For the Rest of Your Life)
Episode 9: How to Get Involved
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.
How to Get Involved is a surprisingly layered episode of How to Live With Your Parents because it actually states something about the consequences of Elaine's parenting style. There is a part of the episode where a young Polly compares herself to Rhoda. Her parents aren't happy with this because they think that she's more like Mary. In case you're lost, the series is making a reference to the classic sit-com The Mary Tyler Moore Show. This belief that Polly is Rhoda pervades throughout her life until her mother finally questions it. Why does Polly think she's a Rhoda? The answer is simple. Her own mother was Mary and there couldn't be two in the same household. So Polly became a Rhoda because she had to. Her parents were constantly outshining her because they wanted all their attention on themselves. They never sacrificed their lives for their daughter so she had to grow up independent but without any confidence because she was never treated as important by her parents. They might have claimed she was a Mary but they never canceled an event for her. They didn't pick her up from summer camp amongst numerous other things. Polly had vocal support but it had no backbone to back it up. What's worse is that they simply didn't let her shine. She's a capable human being but she doesn't believe it because her parents always stole the spotlight. Elaine might believe that her daughter is actually a Mary but she never acted on that belief until this episode. This is largely because they're afraid that Polly is holding herself back because she doesn't believe in herself and because they think that Natalie is developing the same self-confidence issues. After all, Natalie didn't want to be the lead but a background player in a play her dad is directing. In other words, Elaine and Max are confronted with how they might have an independent daughter but one whose holding herself back from success because of their own actions. Polly and Julian might be figuring life out but this is very much a redemption story for Max and Elaine. Their daughter living with them and Natalie gives them a second chance to act as proper parents. So I like how the show used The Mary Tyler Moore Show to comment on Polly's upbringing.
The title How to Get Involved is basically about how Max and Elaine decide to get involved in the lives of their granddaughter and daughter, respectively. The two are happy when they find out that there is a job opening for Polly and that Natalie is in a play. Their happiness quickly turns to disappointment as they learn that Polly isn't going for the job opening and Natalie is a hill with no lines. Max decides to head to the school to see if he can get his daughter a better role only he's surprised to learn that the director is Julian. He loses his focus on getting Natalie a leading role and concentrates on trying to salvage the production. This is because Julian is exerting little authority over the kids and is assuring them that it's okay if they forget their lines. Max takes the theater very seriously so he doesn't like how the production is being chaotically managed. This disagreement over how to direct a school play leads to a scene where Max insults Julian in front of the whole class. Natalie gets mad at him which leads to Max apologizing to Julian. To make it up to him, Max has to go out and take over the role of a kid who gets stage fright right before the play opens. It's a nice funny moment as Brad Garret is able to sell that moment perfectly. Overall, the Natalie plot was good for some solid laughs but it wasn't as strong as Elaine and Polly. That's because while Max's relationship with Natalie should have been the focus, Julian's presence hindered that. Julian didn't steal the focus on purpose but the friction between Max and Julian slightly overpowered the Max and Natalie plot. This could have been a good plot to better establish the Max and Natalie relationship but Julian's presence meant that the series couldn't actually do this.
The Elaine and Polly plot do work really well. Elaine convinces Polly to talk to her boss about the cheese and wine manager job. Polly is a bit awkward at first because she has butterflies. Elaine tries her best to encourage her daughter but she steals the spotlight when a customer asks about wine. Elaine is trying to help Polly but she inadvertently did what she always does: she became the Mary. She became the star. Elaine was so good at being a manager for that department that she was offered the job. Polly gets frustrated by this because she realized that she did want to manage cheese and wine. Once Elaine apologized, Polly stormed into her boss' office with the confidence and will she needed to get the promotion. It's a strong plot because of the Elaine and Polly relationship. Elaine gets to see the consequence of always being the star in her own life and how this has impacted Polly's ambitions. She gets involved to build up her daughter but she stays too long. She could have easily gone away after the morning pep talk and Polly would have gotten the job fine. She might have taken a while to warm up but she did have a clue of what she was talking about. She does stand up for herself and take the job that she was convinced was hers for the taking by her mom. She has now been able to graduate from Rhoda into Lou Grant. She's still placing herself as the star of characters who had their own spin-offs but she is slowly promoting herself into a Mary. Which is great progress that her mom managed to make, even if accidental.
How to Get Involved is an episode that makes me sad because this is a show that's almost over. There are only four episodes left and then this show will be gone forever. It might have started out rocky but it's managed to become a funny, good show with a strong heart. How to Get Involved is a good episode of this show that is funny, has a great heart, and is able to actually explore the results of parenting through Mary Tyler Moore. I think that's a pretty good accomplishment for a show that completely failed at having a pilot.
The show having to explain it's Mary Tyler Moore references was a bit annoying because I've seen a few episodes of the sit-com. On the other hand, I'm probably in the minority amongst my generation. Basically the show should have picked a more recent reference that it wouldn't have been compelled to explain.