Wednesday, July 10, 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 13: How to be Gifted
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!

The series finale of How to Live with Your Parents is focused around one singular goal: getting Natalie into a really good school for gifted children. She's a smart kid and she's given the opportunity to apply. Everything that happens in this episode is to either help or be an obstacle in this goal. The three major characters of the show (Polly/Max/Elaine) have their own separate desires and fears that ultimately conflict or help the goal. Polly's desire is to help her daughter get into the school but she worries that she might be subconsciously hurting her daughter's chances of getting in. Max's goal is to put in a performance of the autobiographical play he's just written. It's a play that becomes a plot vehicle for allowing Natalie's application to be considered by the school. His fear is that Elaine is going to steal the spotlight away from him and the play's purpose of allowing him to express his feelings towards his mother figure. As for Elaine? She's largely there to act as an obstacle. She doesn't like it when her role gets cut to a single line which leads to her expressing her outrage at anybody who tries to object to her behavior. It's a really tight narrative that is filled with enough laughs to make this a good outing. It could have been funnier but it was a good note on the series to end on. This is because we ultimately do get a happy ending: Natalie gets into the school. She's going to have the education she deserves, her family is going to be there, and it's the best chance of a happy ending the audience is going to get. It's not a lot of closure but it's sufficient to close out what turned out to be the only season of the show. Of course, it's the kind of ending that ensures there could have been another season if fate had been in it's favor. The finale is therefore able to act as a series and season finale. Which is a good approach for any freshman show to take.

How to Live with Your Parents had three characters at it's core. There were a few others but they were largely supporting players. The most important one was the narrator, Polly. She was her best when she was trying to improve herself. The character wasn't perfect as she remained a little bit one-dimensional but it's easy to root for Sarah Chalke. Polly's desire for this episode is one that is present throughout the series: her desire to be a good mother. She wants Natalie to get into a good school but the problem arises when she doesn't get the application in on time. She tries her best to ensure that her daughter is considered for a spot on the school. It's a strong desire but she becomes her own potential obstacle because she's afraid she's sabotaging her daughter's chances subconsciously. It's a strong fear for the character to have as it relates to her self-esteem issues. She's a thirty-something year old whose living with her parents. She's “working” a minimum wage job while attending college courses online. She doesn't exactly have her life together. It makes sense that she would think that she's not exactly the best parent for Natalie. She might love her but can she provide the best life for her? Getting Natalie into that school is an opportunity to provide her with the best education possible. It makes sense that she thinks that she might mess up and jeopardize that. When she does, she tries her best to get their way. She jumps through multiple hoops to fix her mistake. In the end, that's always been at the core of Polly's character when she was written the best: a desire to be a good mother despite her major self-esteem issues.

The character that Polly largely blames for her troubles is because of her mother's parenting skills. Elaine is one of the central characters on the show. Elaine has always been a two-dimensional character of an over-dramatic actress and life coach. She takes everything seriously and likes to be the spotlight. This habit of putting her desires first tends to become an obstacle in her relationship with other people. This episode provides a perfect example of this when Elaine's role in Max's play is significantly reduced. She goes from having a long, power monologue to a simple line. She tries her best to handle that in front of Max but it infuriates her. It gets to the point where she takes out her frustration on the person Polly is trying to impress to get her daughter considered for the good school. It's a bit obvious she was going to do this but that's largely because it fits exactly who Elaine has become. She's bothered when she can't be allowed to have any spotlight on the play, It's ironic that the only solution to this problem is to completely remove her from the spotlight. She can't be in the play just in case the principal recognizes her. So Elaine has to give up her role in the play but she's willing to do this-a huge sign of growth for the character. She accepts her daughter taking over the role. She might finally be ready to start growing up and realizing that the world doesn't revolve around her. Whatever the case, it's a strong plot for the character to end with.

The final core character is Max. I have to admit that he's my favorite character but that's largely because I like Brad Garret. He's very similar to Elaine in that they share the same interests. He remains his own character because he likes structure. He's happy when he finishes his autobiographical play that clearly is a way for him to express his feelings on his childhood. When Elaine threatens to steal the spotlight away from him, he reacts negatively. This is because the play is about him, not Elaine. He's always felt insecure she's the better actress and this is his time to shine. He cuts her role down which causes a chain reaction where Elaine flips off the principal they need to impress. I'd say that his is the only plot that doesn't really reflect a conclusion of sorts of a character arc. Polly wanted to be a good mother, Elaine wanted to grow, but Max has largely been content with the status quo. It's not like this episode is about him confirming that. If anything, his fear of being upstaged is one that actually challenges it. I'd say the closest is the way it dealt with his resentment towards his mother figure but the season had only spent like one episode on that. It hasn't been developed enough as the other plots. Still, it is nice that he's able to express his feelings towards that in the play in the finale. In one way, it really concludes the only serious plot thread that the show had for him. Which is smart but I wish that hints of his own childhood resentment had been evident throughout the season. It would have been especially strong if the series had done an episode that tied his resentment with Polly's own resentment towards her mother.

How to Live with Your Parents (for the Rest of Your Life) ends on a strong note that provides just enough closure to satisfy any fans this show might have earned itself. The season started out rocky. The pilot was confusing as it refused to properly set up the characters. It was hard to know what was going on at time. It struggled in the early episodes but it quickly found a strong, core idea to build the episodes around: Natalie. She might not have been a main character but she was one that was integral to the narrative nonetheless. This is because she's what helped drive the desires of the core characters. She was essential despite her small role she directly plays in most episodes. The series was able to improve to the point where it could deliver good episodes that weren't driven by Natalie. Overall, How to Live with Your Parents earned itself a second season. It didn't get one but that's because of how weakly it started out. The strong episodes have really aired in the summer, after most people have already abandoned this show. It's no surprise then that this show isn't coming back...despite the promise that the second season would have had if the writers could have spent the summer hiatus getting rid of the elements that never really clicked (Julian, Polly's work friends). Still: I might have wanted a second season but I got enough closure that I'm not devastated there isn't one.

RIP How to Live with Your Parents (for the Rest of Your Life). You defied my expectations and became a better comedy at the end of the first season than I was anticipating after that dreadful pilot.

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