(Registered members may comment here)

In typical reductive style, Fox brings to us tonight the paring of a family that prizes playfulness and one that prizes discipline. The first half of this trade comes off as more trying to blend oil and water than elemental sodium and water mixing, but we can always hope for next week.

Monkeys in a tree…it’s only natural

The first family we are meet tonight is the Sturz-Manavit family from Fairview, North Carolina, which appears to be a fairly rural place with lots of mountain views. Mom Lisa is a professional puppeteer and ascribes to the view that every adult should spend time with his or her inner child on a regular basis. She is quite the accomplished puppeteer in that she sculpts, makes, voices, and performs with her puppets and has worked for Henson and Lucasfilms. Given that I’ve still got a little Star Wars fangirl in me (despite those last 3 movies), I find this fairly cool. Lisa is married to a Frenchman named, predictably, Francois. He even admits he’s the stereotype of a Frenchman. He’s a baker, has a thick accent, likes passion and the ladies, and—and I’m not kidding you—he wears a beret. Think Sacha Baron Cohen in Talladega Nights to the tenth power. Lisa and Francois met in France and were married with Lisa wearing a white monkey suit and Francois wearing nothing. (I could not make this stuff up if I tried!!!!) They’ve got two kids: daughter Manon is fifteen and is said to be the typical “angry teenager” but to me comes off more like a generic Winona Ryder character. Immediately I like her for her declaration – apropos of nothing – that she doesn’t believe in true love because it’s a crock of *bleep*. Manon has a little brother called Theo who is ten and is the funny man of the house. The Sturz-Manavit family seems to thrive on having a good time, enjoying each other’s company, and exploring left-leaning politics.

The second family we meet are the Cramer-Morgan clan. They reside in McHenry, Illinois, which looks to be a suburb of somewhere. Mom Stella loves America and spent 24 years in the Marines. She said she came from a tough, poor childhood and joined the Corps right out of high school. She had a tough time of it, as she was the only woman, but she toughed it out and learned a great deal of discipline and order. She met her husband, James, in the Corps, and has been married to him for ten years. He’s now a compressor mechanic, and out of the Marines as well. James admits that Stella runs the household. She’s louder than James and keeps their one kid, Breanna, in line. She’s ten and has chores (as does James) to accomplish. Stella runs a tight ship, and the family works hard to have a good life. All in all, this trio also seems to get along with each other and doesn’t seem too particularly odd, especially in light of no monkey suit/naked dude wedding snapshots with this family.

In the darkest hour of the night

It is 0-dark-hundred at the Cramer-Morgan household on the first day of the trade, and Stella wakes up James and Breanna to say goodbye. Stella, like any Marine, is fairly stoic about the whole affair, saying that if she can do 8 weeks of boot camp, a week away won’t be all that tough. James thinks all will be well, as long as the new Mom doesn’t trash talk the military.

Things are a tad bit more dramatic over at the Sturz-Manavit abode. Lisa gets dressed and Manon promptly and justifiably asks her if she picked out things that purposefully didn’t coordinate. Someone needs to turn the reins of the family over to Manon; she’s got her head on straight. Lisa doesn’t appear to change, but goes out to meet her taxi. Francois views Lisa’s walk to the cab to be like the last walk into the gas chamber on execution night. Dude needs to lighten up; if you can’t spend a week apart, it’s not a marriage, it’s a codependency.

Don’t leave me here alone

Once again, it’s time wasted on the airport pickup scene. Eventually Francois and Stella meet and Jim and Lisa find each other. When Stella meets Francois, she says the first thing she noticed were his beret, his black & white stripped shirt, and his funny way of talking. In the car ride, Francois has an “oh no” reaction to Stella having been in the Marines for so long. Then she guesses he’s from Iraq. Way to put together those clues, Stella. Eventually he confesses he’s from France and then lets a large fart rip in the car. Stella is disgusted and Francois refuses to put on the air conditioning to flush the smell. Stella’s olfactory organs are again assaulted when they arrive at the house. The dog is wet and stinky and Stella has a sensitivity to smell. If I were her, I’d be praying for olfactory fatigue to kick in ASAP. Francois gives Stella the tour of the house and shows her the room she will be staying in. Throughout the house, there are piles of dirt, dust, and dead bugs. Bottles are covered with mildew, bacteria, and possibly mold. Stella is disgusted, and I’d be willing to bet it’d take a lot to thoroughly disgust a Marine.

Jim and Lisa similarly got off to an awkward start. Lisa finds Jim to be a macho guy and that’s something she’s not used to. She’s put off by the military service and is bored by Jim’s nervous chatter in the car about the places he was stationed throughout his career. They get to the house and Lisa meets Breanna and is astounded by the shy nature of the girl. Maybe she’s got sense not to act the fool on national television, after all, she was brought up in the reality TV age. Jim shows Lisa the bedroom she’ll be staying in and Stella’s “war room” which contains her guns and other Marine accoutrement. Lisa finds the military service completely distasteful and visibly winces when Jim says he likes Bush. Perhaps he was talking about Reggie Bush, the one all of New Orleans can agree upon.

It felt like a lifetime

On the second day of the trade, Francois wakes up at 4 a.m. to start baking bread. He gets Stella up as well so she can witness the progress of the wheat to becoming bread. (Wasn’t this a plot of a Little Golden Book?) It appears that there is a full-sized baker’s kitchen behind the house where Francois works on his bread all day long. He annoys the crap out of Stella, who cannot take his high-level energy so damn early in the morning. His crazy energy sustains the entire day, as they spent 12 hours working on the bread. Finally, when they are shaping the bread, Francois makes a joke about the phallic nature of the shape, and Stella gets further annoyed.

The second day of the trade isn’t any less weird in with Jim and Lisa. She says she really wants to get a handle on the military life, so she tries to role-play with Jim, making him the recruiter and her the potential recruit. Jim isn’t a recruiter, so this isn’t entirely fair to him, but he tries to explain that people join the military to protect and serve the country. She wants to serve the country through arts education, and Jim says that’s on approach but the went military for another approach. Lisa can’t see that distinction and just is put off by the gun stuff.

Taste for guns

Lisa’s disgust with guns is fed further when Jim takes her to a gun shop and firing range for lessons. It’s a real gun shop, and the lessons are taught by a police instructor who bears a striking resemblance to George Wendt. The instructor says that the point of shooting a dude coming at you is to kill him, not just wing him because otherwise there’s no guarantee that you’ll stop the bad guy. She fires off a couple of shots, both of which were pretty good. Jim says that it’s important for Marines to know how to shoot, but deadly force is the last resort.

Stella finally broke free of the baking Frenchman long enough to pick some flowers and be accosted by the stinky dog. She chastises Francois for letting the dog get so dirty, but he doesn’t think that the dog should be washed…a real laissez faire approach to doghood. Stella ultimately says that she’s going to wash the dog and storms off.

Don’t look down, you might fall

After a long day of stinky dogs, dirty house and kitchen, and bread shaped like genitalia, Stella just wants to go to bed. She gets in, and then, upon the ceiling, is a gigantic spider. She flips out and calls Francois to come and kill it, undoubtedly embarrassing Marines and women around the globe. He grabs a cutting board, a slotted spoon, and a chef’s knife from the kitchen then jumps around on Stella’s bed like a loon to get the spider down. Then he tries smashing it into the bed, until she protests, saying she’s going to have to sleep there. He scoops it up and jumps off the bed and goes to the kitchen where he chops it into tiny pieces. Then he goes around the house climbing up on things to kill all bugs to make it safe for Stella. If there are this many bugs in the house, maybe it’s time to call an exterminator.

Victim of another’s war

In a last-ditch attempt to make Lisa understand about military life, Jim decides to take her to the VFW museum. But it really turns out to be the National Vietnam Veteran Art Museum, which really is an art museum, not a collection of tanks and guns and other stuff like that. From what we see of the art, it’s very powerful and poignant commentary on the horror and honor that accompany a unpopular war, such as the 58,000 dogtag piece representing all the American lives lost. Lisa starts to get it, or so it seems, that there’s more to military life than just randomly killing people and it’s not all about the glorification of violence. Jim, however, has a much more technical view of the art, noting the types of aircraft and ammunition shown in the pictures. Lisa decides that she’s going to have to make it her mission to help Jim find his emotions, which she feels he pushes aside so he doesn’t have to deal with them.

So far, no major explosions and only one spider met an untimely fate. Next week promises to be more explosive, with no one happy over the division of the dollars.

If you *recognize* the lyrical inspirations for the titles tonight, you too may have been at HOB in New Orleans catching BTE on New Year's weekend. If so, drop me a PM.