The Johnston Family: Johnston Family Vacation
LG., your usual recapper, is giving Santa a hand putting packages under the tree this week, and I've offered to watch and write about this week's episode of Nanny 911.
At first blush, I may seem like an unusual choice. LG. has deftly handled this show with good humor and grace. I watch and write about shows like $25 Million Dollar Hoax and My Big Fat Obnoxious Boss (typically, any show where someone is playing a cruel practical joke). LG. has a child. I have no children, but I did take a semester of Introduction to Psychology. I seem to recall one or two lectures about child development; I think I was hungover those mornings, but I caught the gist of it.
While it may seem like I'm doing a LG. a favor, believe me when I say that she's the one doing me a favor. This episode features the appearance, at long last, of the much-anticipated, never-before-seen Hot Young Nanny Yvonne. (Henceforth known as "HYNY" because I'm lazy about typing too much.)
I don't know if it's because I watched Mary Poppins way too much, or if it's because I spent my study-abroad in England, but I'm slightly gaga for any woman with an English accent. HYNY could read me her grocery list, and I would be enrapt.
Speaking of accents, this week, the viewers encounter the Johnston Family of Long Island, New York. As an American, I had some trouble understanding them, so I could only imagine how poor HYNY will fare. Maybe we need someone from the Midwest to act as go-between.
Meet the Johnstons
Scott and Kristen Johnston live on Long Island and have seven daughters: Olivia is 8 years old and is the oldest of the brood, and then there's Hannah (6), Kaeley (5), Amelia (4) and Molly, Rebecca and Natalie, who are all 2 1/2 years old. Don't worry too much about the names because you'll rarely hear them spoken again. These seven little hellions all started to blend together, anyway.
Scott tells the viewers that when he met Kristen, he knew she'd be The One. Well, Scott, when Morpheus met Neo, he also thought Neo would be The One, and look where that got him: in an Agent torture chamber, that's where. And if it came down to an Agent torture chamber or your home, I don't know which way I'd go, buddy ol' pal.
Kristen tells the viewers that she and Scott always knew they'd have a large family. "Large" is an understatement. She and Scott have the equivalent of an all-girls Brady Bunch (plus Oliver), except their situation is not as cute as a sitcom.
When the viewers see the Johnston family home, it's a, shall we say, hellhole. Did you see Lord of the Rings? Remember the Battle of Helm's Deep? Yeah, it's like that, except there's a lot more fighting and chaos.
One of the key issues around the Johnstons' home is that they share one bathroom (again, not unlike the Brady Bunch).
Kristen takes on too much responsibility while Scott loafs around the house, making demands on her.
To top it all off, Kristen is a wee bit of a control freak: Everything that goes on with the Johnstons is calendared. From the quick glance we see of her calendar, it seems fuller than a Los Angeles trial attorney's.
Scott has a tendency to raise his voice when he's frustrated, leading to even more stress around the house. Kristen lets the weight of the family fall on her shoulders and admits that because of the stress, she doesn't eat or sleep right. She also has crying jags.
One morning, Kristen tells us, she woke up and her heart was racing out of control. She was hospitalized, and the doctors discovered that Kristen has arrhythmia, a heart disorder. Kristen was placed on medication but soldiers on under incredible strain.
Yvonne Her, Ya Got Her
Meanwhile, at Nanny Central, HYNY (again, that's "Hot Young Nanny Yvonne") is dispatched to the Johnstons. Yvonne is tapped for this gig because of her "loving nature." Whoa, whoa, whoa. Wait! Heh heh. Sorry, folks, I think I popped the wrong nanny tape in the VCR. Is this my other nanny tape, Nanny Given Sundae?
No, wait. It's the right tape. Whew! Let's forget I said anything about another "nanny" tape.
HYNY, after viewing a profile on the Johnstons, decides that Scott needs to control his temper while Kristen needs to learn to feel comfortable putting the charge of the children in Scott's hands.
When HYNY arrives at the Johnstons' door, she's greeted by Kristen, who finds her very formal in her outfit and her manner of speech.
Yvonne introduces herself to the children and asks if she can take off her shawl and hat and "stay awhile."
Now, while I welcome the sight of Yvonne "getting comfortable," I would have to say no to her staying if she behaved like this with me. In my worldview, cape + asking to be invited in = VAMPIRE.
As with the nannies that preceded her, Yvonne takes no action and says nothing but merely observes. (I'm strangely gratified to see that the nannies of Nanny 911 follow the credo of the Prime Directive from Star Trek, just as I do.)
It's not looking good for the Johnston Family, though, as Yvonne observes that the Johnston girls are "overwhelming" and that Scott does what he pleases while Kristen tries to maintain some semblance of order among the girls. Even worse, although he doesn't lift a finger, Scott does find time to bellow at them.
Yvonne reassures Kristen that together, everyone will come up with a plan to help Kirsten recover her health as soon as some changes are made around the house.
Nanny firmly tells Kristen that she needs to take better care of herself and the best way to do this would be to let Scott take on some of the responsibilities.
"His way is not your way, but it's good enough," Yvonne reminds Kristen gently, in hopes of coaxing Kristen into ceding some control of the household.
Yvonne tells Scott that one way he can connect more with his daughters is to pursue more girls' activities with them, and I'm sure this piece of advice went over great with Scott's co-workers at the police department.
Yvonne even has advice for the girls, who she feels are old enough to take on some responsibilities and chores for themselves.
Surprisingly, it's not Scott who objects to these suggestions but Kristen, who claims she will try HYNY's ideas. Yvonne says she feels a little resistance from Kristen.
HYNY watches the Johnstons at dinner, and, c'mon, Mrs. Johnston--you could have at least offered your family's savior some tea. Scott tries Nanny's suggestion by asking Olivia, the oldest, to get the napkins.
Olivia pretends like Scott hasn't said anything.
Nanny Yvonne steps in and reminds Olivia that her father has just asked her to perform a chore. When Olivia slides out of her chair, Yvonne chirps, "Good job!"
Scott tells HYNY that, uh, no, Olivia hasn't gone to help but rather has hidden under the table. Nanny peeks under the table and, sure enough, Olivia is quiet and still under the cover of darkness afforded by the tablecloth, as if she's planning a military ambush.
Yvonne tells Kristen to stop repeating herself to the girls, to stop engaging them when they're being fussy.
"If [they're] not listening, that's it for the day," Yvonne suggests, meaning Scott and Kristen should excuse their children from an activity rather than go around in circles with them.
Intrepid Kristen tries asking Olivia to take out the garbage, but Olivia throws a tantrum and begins screaming.
"I wanna pack! I'm moving!" Olivia insists.
When I was five years old, I got into it with my younger brother over whose turn it was to play with our Kentucky Fried Chicken playset. (Yes, a Kentucky Fried Chicken playset...with drive-thru window and everything. And we wonder why we have poor eating habits in this country when we start our children out on fast-food toys. "I'll have a bucket of extra crispy with a family size order of cole slaw, please." But I digress.)
When my mother stepped in to mediate, she awarded the KFC toy to my brother. I marched to my room, gathered my belongings and wrapped them up in a handkerchief. I put my bundle on a stick and over my shoulder like a trainyard hobo from the cartoons. (My earthly possessions, by the way, were comprised of a slice of bread, 27 cents and a yellow block, which, coincidentally, was exactly my same net worth when I was, oh, 23 years old.)
I got as far as the front lawn before I realized that (1) I had nowhere to stay (and very little chance of securing a lease or mortgage) and (2) my employment prospects were grim. I turned around, went back in the house, and ate some Oreos and watched Bugs Bunny. And that was exactly where I stayed and what I did for the next 20 years.
Olivia, I must say, makes it as far as the front lawn. I don't know if she continues on because the cameraman loses interest in this spat, but all seven children are accounted for later in this episode, so I can only assume the rift between her and her mother had been repaired.
And, here, I have a small problem. I think a day passes. I'm pretty sure a day passes, but, to use a term coined by Colin from The Amazing Race Fox gives the Johnstons a "bad edit." I'm not clear on one day from the next.
Anyhoo, let me use "the next day" with some poetic license.
So, the next day, Yvonne decides that Olivia, as the oldest, should be setting a better example, while Mom decides that she's even more stressed out today from trying to change her, her husband's and her children's behavior patterns.
At 3:20 pm Fox Central Time, Kristen finally settles down for the first time all day. Yvonne tells her to give herself five minutes to decompress. If by "decompress," Yvonne means "huge, wracking sobs," well, mission accomplished.
Kristen begins bawling, and frankly, who can blame her with everything going on around her. Nanny embraces her and reassures her. It's very touching, and I know I shouldn't think this, but hey, Nanny Yvonne, if I get upset because I can't control my two dogs, will you come over to my house to (finger quotes) reassure me, too (wink, wink)?
We see HYNY's "loving nature" powers in action.
"You're a great mom and a great wife," Yvonne reassures Kristen. "You're doing a brilliant job."
A note to our American friends on the FoRT: By "brilliant," Yvonne means to say "cool" or "all right"; not "brilliant" like Einstein or Hawking. (Although seeing Albert Einstein handle this brood would be vastly more entertaining: "E = M see what happens if you make me get off this couch and give you a time-out, you little freak...!")
"It was very upsetting for me to see that," Yvonne confesses, while Kristen admits "I get pushed to my limit."
Who's Your Daddy?
Yvonne gives Kristen the rest of the day off and tells Kristen to give the household work over to Scott.
Kristen wonders out loud if she can do the dishes during this respite.
One of Scott's first major hurdles is to get all the girls to the ice cream truck humming down their street. (I would find this a challenge, too, with that cornball "Italian" music playing in the background that Fox chooses--for some unfathomable reason--to overlay this segment with.)
The rocket scientists at Fox call this the "Ice Cream Challenge." I had an Ice Cream Challenge of my own, once. I challenged myself not to eat the whole pint of Cherry Garcia sitting in my freezer. I made it (barely), but three innocent bystanders died in the effort.
Things are relatively calm under Scott's watch. I say "relatively" in the same way that a man who's about to have his arm amputated to escape a bear trap isn't going to get worked up about losing his watch...relatively.
Then comes bedtime.
You remember the first 20 minutes of Saving Private Ryan? When all those grunts hit that beach? Under Scott, bedtime at the Johnstons' is kind of like that, except with more screaming and yelling.
I could give you a play-by-play on this next segment, but why bother. Suffice to say, it's a lot of shrieking interspersed with Scott running back and forth from room to room and degenerating from coaxing his daughters into bed, to threatening his daughters into bed, to finally doing some voice-raising of his own.
Kristen plans to spend a few days away to visit some friends, and she's going to leave a little earlier than had previously been discussed.
That's right--Scott's going to be working with his daughters without a safety net.
And, oh, dear fans: The Johnston girls are hair-pulling and teeth-gnashing and wailing as if Scott and Kristen have told the girls they're being sent to live in a convent.
Scott pulls up to find Kristen and seven of their daughters sitting on the front porch, despondent.
Not the most auspicious of beginnings for Scott's home-alone routine with the girls.
All of this is nothing compared to the havoc that ensues when Kristen gets into the family minivan and prepares to pull away.
Hannah is staging a sit-in. Hannah sits inside the van and refuses to exit the car so that Mom can leave. The Johnstons are forced to remove her bodily.
Kristen finally leaves, and even before she's out of sight, one of the girls throws a large ball at Scott's head. That's going to be characteristic of his first day with the girls. Before you know it, they're carrying around sticks and whacking each other. Snacktime is bedlam. Scott nearly begs for help in cleaning up the mess they've made of the blocks scattered in the living room. Bath time/shower time is unmanageable when one of the girls refuses to vacate the shower so that the others can use it.
Nanny Yvonne decides she has finally seen enough and asks Scott to step outside. No, they're not going to engage in fisticuffs. It's not a "Why don't we step outside?" invitation like you see in a bar (the kind that I usually say "Okay" to, slowly slide off the barstool, and then run like the wind from). Yvonne is English and civilized, after all. Fisticuffs...um, "is going to be" or "are going to be"? Is fisticuffs singular or plural? Well, if they're going to engage in fisticuffs (Ha!), then someone would have stepped in by now to lay down the Marquis of Queensbury rules.
Yvonne tells Scott in no uncertain terms that she will no longer tolerate watching him bellow at the girls. She says some other stuff, too, but damn if I don't have a Pavlovian response to lecturing and stern tones that causes me to tune out, even when the lectures are directed at someone else.
I mentally tune back in when Scott barks, "What do you know?!" at Yvonne.
Yvonne responds "I know your way isn't working!" which effectively shuts Scott up for the first time since I began watching this episode. It's a nice zinger which almost caused me to stand up and say, "Oooh! Faced!' at Scott's image on the television.
It's a brilliant, brilliant tactic (and here, I mean the American "brilliant," which does mean, like, rill, rill smart) on HYNY's part. (Sigh. Not only beautiful, but a genius, too.) Nanny has correctly deduced that Scott is one of those people who needs things spelled out for him in black-and-white.
And wouldn't you know it? The next morning at breakfast, a miraculous change takes place. There is no yelling at the Johnston breakfast table. Scott handles grumbling and small disagreements using a calm demeanor, grace and humor. I don't know what's happened except perhaps the they-yell-so-he-yells-so-they-yell-even-louder vicious circle seems to have stopped turning.
Bath time is calm and relaxing for Scott and the kids. Olivia is recruited into helping feed the dog (making only its second appearance this episode) and setting the table. I'm bug-eyed when she asks her father how to set a table properly...
A Fans of Reality TV Dot Com Public Service
And, now, because it is the holidays and because proper place settings are the subject of so many second-rate sitcoms, I present a FoRT Public Service: Dining Etiquette and the Use of Silverware. (I had to look it up.)
On your left, from outermost to the plate: salad fork, dinner fork. On your right, outermost to the plate: soup spoon, beverage spoon (??), salad knife (!!), dinner knife. On top: dessert spoon and fork.
So now you're ready to accept that dinner invitation with the Queen at her winter residence. Ooh-la-la.
(Back to our regularly scheduled recap.)
Mr. Mom, Take 2
...Most shocking of all, I hear the girls say "Thank you." I'm so stunned that I rewind my tape just to make sure I heard them correctly and it's not the alcohol I consume finally causing me brain damage.
By the time Kristen comes home, Scott has the situation in hand admirably. Later on, Scott even takes Yvonne's suggestion to spend time painting his girls' toenails, a scene that I'm sure Scott will be living down at the precinct for a long, long time. ("Yoo-hoo, Scott! Do you think I need a manicure? Will you do it for me, sweetie? Har har har!")
Bedtime is a very calm affair, with Scott even reading the girls a story and doing a pretty damn good job of it. Kristen watches and beams, "Good job, honey!"
Let's Get This Party Started...Right?
Kristen has become so comfortable with Scott taking over with the children, apparently, that she's headed off for a massage while Scott gets the house ready for the pah-tay.
But wait! Like an item you buy as-seen-on-TV, there's more! Scott takes the girls shopping for new dresses while Mom gets her massage. He--or, rather, I should say the producers of this show--think this will be a wonderful surprise for Kristen. (I think Scott's the one who's going to be surprised.)
All goes fairly well at the boutique...until Scott loses Amelia. There's a frantic search (and a dramatic commercial break) while Scott and his six remaining daughters look for Amelia (called "Mimi").
Then, suddenly, she jumps out of a dress rack and yells "Surprise!", like a little Viet Cong.
The party is a big success, and Kristen loves seeing the girls in their new dresses. The biggest surprise of all is the gift made to the Johnstons by Nanny Yvonne (or, I should say, the Fox TV people): an addition to the Johnston home of a second bathroom that may prevent so many frayed nerves.
And, like, Mary Poppins, Yvonne leaves discreetly, having restored love and order to the Johnston household.
Until next time, then, as we continue to hold out hope for another appearance by Yvonne and more of her hot young nanny action.
Next week: Looks like a rerun, but if it's not, I'll be subbing in again as LG. recovers from her work at Santa's Workshop