*knocking on door* Hello? Anybody home? It's Hepcat here. Mind if I come in? I was looking for a place to crash on the recap couch for a while, and I confess to being a secret watcher of this show. After all, I may never make it onto a show like Survivor or The Amazing Race, but I would definitely qualify to be a contestant on Trading Spouses. Let's look at the requirements: one, you have to be married and have a family - check; and two, you have to have something odd in your home life that the rest of America and the free world can have a good chuckle over. Now about the second requirement, let's just say -
*fifteen minutes later* I beg your pardon, I had to rescue the cat from being made to "dance" by my pre-schooler. What was I saying?
Tonight's episode will mesh the Famiglietti family from Peabody, Masochist's with the Thibodeaux family of Lithonia, Georgia. For Peabody, think suburb of Boston; for Lithonia, think planned community outside Atlanta. From the opening introduction, we learn that one mom has a “fun-loving, free-wheeling” personality she will unleash on the “uptight” family from Georgia, while the Georgia mom will be dealing with a family that’s twice the size and ten times the trouble of her own. From the quick snippets shown in a montage, we can see that this union will result in a lot of finger-waving and name-calling on the part of both moms.
Let’s Meet the Folks
The show opens with a scenic view of the Atlanta skyline, cutting to a shot of the Thibodeaux homestead. They live in a planned community with wide streets, landscaped yards and to my California-housing jaded eyes, huge, gorgeous houses. Sure, they look exactly like one another, but with a hefty yard on either side who cares? You can always go nuts and paint your own Buttercup Yellow if you want to stand out.
“The Queen Rules,” declares Veronica, the ruler of this well-to-do African American family. Sovereign she may be in her own home, but in looks she reminds me of a squeeze toy with her round cheeks and jolly red-tinted hair. This queen rules her palace with an iron fist. She requires that every item in the house be coordinated with every other item, and must meet with the queen’s approval. She herself says that her belongings define her: “everything has to say Verrrronica.” Her fifteen-year-old daughter Brittney describes her mom as independent and self-sufficient, but with a teen’s moral indignation she laments that her mother likes everything spic and span. Veronica compliments her husband Alvin by running down the chores he does in the house, such as laundry, ironing, cleaning the bathroom, and you know what? “He does a damn good job.” It seems Alvin, who is a custodian by trade, takes his work home with him. Between the two of them, the house is squeaky clean and organized.
From the land of manicured lawns, the scene morphs into a vacant lot with a less-than-scenic barbed wire fence. This obviously isn’t the next family’s home, but it serves to create a general atmosphere of an older, junkier neighborhood. We peek in on the Famiglietti family from their backyard, which is a nice size and includes a deck stuffed with patio furniture. The family is eating dinner, and it’s a raucous event. In our first view of Diane, oh-she-who-would-be-traded, she is laughing so hard that she is balancing penne pasta precariously in her mouth while she tries to regain enough control to swallow. We hear Diane telling us that people either love her immediately or start running, never to be heard from again. She describes herself as a loving mom but not a good housekeeper. While we ponder these words, she playfully slaps one of her kids in the face, and throws a boxing glove at another kid because it’s not put away. First impression? Thanks to the magic of FOX editing coupled with the same soundtrack writing team that synthesized their way through Joe Millionaire, Diane appears...a little flaky, to put it kindly.
The Famiglietti household is not very well-lit, and is painted inside in a variety of cool colors, making it seem darker than a basement; but from what I could see of the furniture, the house is cozy and cluttered without being a messy clutter. Sure they have several wine goblets on their mantelpiece, but they resisted the temptation to throw on the beersteins and ceramic kitties, both hallmarks of the true clutter maniacs. Still, they are stuffed like sardines in their ranch home that contains only one bathroom for six people. As the father tells us that the home has no room, we watch the youngest son take out from under his bed a stack of baking sheets - yep, you heard that right, muffin pans, cookie sheets and the like - and transfer them to a better storage place, the oven. I guess if they ever plan on making cookies again, the muffin tins will end up back under the bed. Not since we saw the washer and dryer in the kitchen have we seen a family using their storage space so creatively. But it can’t compare to the news that the only way to make the single bathroom work for multiple people is to relax the normal social taboos on sharing the private sanctuary of the privy with anyone else who needs to come in at the same time. Yes, this family showers, pees and brushes their teeth simultaneously, which I really didn’t need to know. Just telling us they had one bathroom for six number of people was enough to gain my sympathy, but it wouldn’t be FOX without that something extra.
Diane tells the camera that someone coming from a background of privilege would not do well in her house because they would not understand the chaos. Cue the tape of Diane telling the family they’re going out, does anyone need to use the potty before they leave? Except that instead of the pre-schooler language, she uses a term more likely to be heard in some all-male enclave that I don’t frequent. “Number two” still works fine for me. Next, we’re shown some quick snippets of family life: Diane calls her daughter a smartass, the siblings roughhouse and wrestle with each other, throwing objects at each other. Diane continues her assessment of her family, saying that they don’t “do things by the book .” I’ve read that book, and folks, she’s right.
The Royal Family
Back at the Thibodeaux, Veronica confesses that her children take a lot for “granite.” We see a typical morning over breakfast, and Veronica asks what’s the plan for the day. “We could go shopping,” pipes up a child, not the teenager, but the ten-year-old son. Veronica lists the possessions her children have that she didn’t have in her childhood: their own televisions, phones, and the means and opportunity to go shopping at the drop of a hat. She herself did not have this kind of childhood, leaving us to wonder if she is motivated to provide her children everything she never had, or just gives in to their whining a lot. We learn one thing for sure, that AJ, again, the ten-year-old boy, is demanding the family purchase a Ford Escalade. And not just any Escalade, it has to have “spinners on it.”
Veronica asks her children what they think about her taking off for a week. I’m a bit distracted by her bright orange t-shirt that is making her hair look more pumpkin than rose, but I manage to glean that there will be much rejoicing at mom’s departure. Ah, there’s nothing like the love of a teenage girl for her mother. Brittney tells us that there’s nothing good about her mother, except she calls her by her first name a la Bart Simpson. Veronica tells her she would love to trade Brittney off instead - no argument from Brittney. Instead, Brittney gives her the teen daughter hex and wishes her mom is sent to a farm to milk cows. Veronica tells her the new mom will be just as strict, and Brittney smirks in a “we’ll see about that” manner. We cut to a confessional with Brittney, who complains that they never do anything fun. In Veronica’s confessional, she is quick to point out that Brittney does not take after her. If only Jay McGraw were here to heal the rift.
Back with the Famigliettis, we learn that Diane had a heart attack four years ago. With the health problems came the realization that her children and her husband are the most important parts of her life, and she has spent the time since doing everything together as a family. The oldest son Marc says that everyone had to pick up more chores to ease the strain on their mom, and the experience brought them together as a family. Diane reiterates that they appreciate every moment they have together, and Rich, her husband, gets teary at the thought of Diane leaving for a week. He says he can’t stand the thought of being out of contact with Diane, but you can see the unspoken thought on his face that he nearly lost contact with her forever and doesn’t want that to happen again. We see the kids toasting marshmallows on the deck, and passing one up to their mother standing on the second floor balcony. Despite the unorthodox language (not to mention storage spaces), the love is palpable in the Famiglietti family.
Make With The Swapping - I Mean, Trading - Already
It’s become a staple on this show that the trading spouses must rise before the sun in order to maximize their traded time, and to test the grumpiness factor versus display of affection from their sleeping families. Honestly, catch a later flight; we wouldn’t mind. Diane gives hugs and love to her children, who look half-awake but still come up with the “I love you”’s. Diane tells Rich not to like the new mom better, and he tearfully hugs and kisses her goodbye. Rich tells us that the best case scenario would be for another car to pull up and his wife to pop out. I suppose if FOX put a wrinkle in the space-time continuum it could be accomplished, but if they’re still using the same synthesized background music they used in Joe Millionaire, I’m guessing the budget is too puny to pull off any time travel. Don’t blame me for making a science fiction reference, blame Rich, the imaginative little bugger.
Veronica also greets her family in bed, giving her daughter a pert little slap. As we watch Veronica direct her husband to properly place her suitcases in the van, Brittney tells us that she’s excited about her mom being gone, but would give this advice to kids in the other family: don’t - but don’t - make her mad, get on her nerves, or aggravate her in any way. Miss Pumpkin head (as she’s wearing orange again, casting orange on the coiffed poof topping her head) tells us that she wants to make it clear: she will not miss her family. Er, okay then. As long as we all understand each other.
Both women have no idea where they will end up. Veronica worries she will be in a “nasty” house, while footage of dirty dishes and what looks like a bag of trash in a kitchen sink are shown. Diane is worried about being someone else’s mom. We have the usual airport scene, where they wonder who will be meeting them, what they will look like, and where they will be going. It’s been shown several times with suspenseful music, but since we’re all human beings capable of thought we know that it’s probably the one getting off the plane with the camera crew. And while we’re at it, the guy holding the sign while a camera films him is most likely your destination. Veronica figures it out, and we watch rusty-haired, round Veronica hug an equally rotund middle-aged Caucasian man in khaki shorts. In Atlanta, the only moment of interest is the wide-eyed stare of a random woman in the waiting area; she tries to look casual, but can’t take her eyes off the sight of Amazon Diane towering over Alvin and pulling him in for a hug. That’s a pretty big chunk of television time reduced to a few sentences. There was even a commercial break in there to build the “suspense;” for all we knew the moms would circulate in the baggage claim for hours, never finding the man with the sign.
As Rich takes Veronica speeding away in his mini-van, they talk about houses. Rich finds out that Veronica’s house must be larger than theirs, and defends their homestead by saying they all “fit.” When they arrive at the house, Rich cautions Veronica not to make any sudden or jerky moves around the dogs until they have sniffed her. Veronica greets the kids with a smile, and everyone makes nice. Alone with the camera, Arianna, the eighteen-year-old daughter, comments that the first thing she noticed about Veronica was her red hair. Then she noticed that her skin was darker than “normal”, finally coming to the conclusion that Veronica is “black.” I told you the hair dyed a color never found in nature was distracting. Justin, 14, was “stunned” by Veronica, just “stunned.”
Diane is a chatty cathy in Alvin’s van, but Diane quickly notices something about Atlanta suburbs she is unprepared for - the lack of white folks. As they pass some neighborhoods that look to me on par with her own neighborhood back in Peabody, except for the residents’ skin color, Diane looks a little worried. Suddenly, we’re in the fairy land of manicured lawns again, and Diane relaxes when she realizes this is their destination. She gushes about the view and gorgeous houses, but adds awkwardly that she didn’t expect, you know, from where they just were, you know. Alvin nods, and she’s encouraged enough to ask if it’s a “mixed” neighborhood, which Alvin confirms. Alvin tells the camera in private that it seems like Diane does not have any experience “being with black people.”
Diane walks into the Thibodeaux’s house saying it looks lovely, until she rounds the corner and recoils in horror. The Thibodeauxs (gasp) have a cockatoo - you know, those cute little birds with the fancy plumes on top of their heads - and we all know what vicious creatures they can be. It turns out that Diane has a fear of birds, even when they are safely caged up and looking perky but harmless. She says as long as she takes her heart medicine, she’ll be okay. Other than that moment of terror, the evening starts out with friendly greetings, but quite soon Diane has talked the Thibodeauxs into submission. We watch as the kids gamely sit at the kitchen table with their dad, while Diane tells one story after another. Both the junior and senior members of the Royal Thibodeauxs sit with eyes glazed over, wishing they were anywhere else.
When Diane is given the grand tour, she’s thrilled by the number of bathrooms, the sumptuous four-poster bed she will be using, and the overall beauty of the house. When Veronica does her tour, she’s not so thrilled by the single bathroom, the futon guest bed, and the overall uncleanliness of the house. Later, with a dramatic drumroll, we see the mothers’ reactions to being told that they will be responsible for spending the fifty thousand dollar prize for the traded family. They are shocked, and begin to think about the possibilities.
A new day dawns, and Veronica is up and dressed before the sun has come up. Determined to lay down the law as she would in her own castle, she fusses at the kids to get up when the house is clearly still dark. Justin tells the camera that their normal wake-up time is about 2:30 in the afternoon, so I’m guessing it’s a Saturday. Arianna doesn’t care if they waste the day away, she wants to sleep. Across country, Alvin and the kids wake up Diane in a room where the sun is ostentatiously streaming in. Diane’s a trooper, though, and sleepily goes to cook up a large breakfast for the kids without a complaint. Unfamiliar with turkey bacon, which as a heart patient she should have a passing acquaintance with, she burns it to an inedible crisp. She also burns the biscuits and I’m not liking the looks of the scrambled eggs. Still, instead of politely trying to swallow a biscuit out of courtesy, AJ and Brittney are mad and won’t eat a bite. AJ vows to make breakfast the next day.
Veronica whisks Arianna off to a spa for female bonding, which has somehow become a staple of this show. I like the time off to get my hair done as much as the next woman, but I’ve never asked a friend to go along and be subjected to the harsh chemical smells of a professional dye job. Arianna notes that the salon is really more Veronica’s scene, while Veronica makes ominous comments to the camera about making Arianna more girly-girly and sending her to modeling school. The salon experience is completed sans bonding, and I once again am grateful never to have been in front of a camera while getting my hair worked on. You can’t help but look like a dork what with the wet hair and the tinfoil.
As Veronica and Arianna pull away, in which I can’t help but notice that they both look exactly the same as they did driving up, Arianna yawns. With a friendly chuckle, Veronica tells Arianna that she’s a little lazy. Despite the little pat on the hand that accompanied it, Veronica doesn’t come off as very friendly, especially when she repeats it several times, and refines it to mean that Arianna is lazy “around the house.” Arianna defends herself, but no matter what she says, Veronica continues to call her lazy. It’s the kind of thing you might resent from your own parent, but from a stranger who arrived the day before, Arianna is understandably peeved. It begs the question: does name-calling work with teenagers? I guess it depends on what you’re trying to achieve. If you’re trying to motivate them to clean the house, probably not. If you want to fuel the fires of teenage rage and angst, why yes, name-calling is quite effective.
Go Ahead, Reinforce My Stereotypes
If you’ve ever been to New England (I haven’t), you know that it’s chock-full of crusty fisherman with accents dating back to colonial times (I assume). The Famiglietti family (quick: say that five times fast) takes Veronica on one of their favorite outings - a day of deep sea fishing in cloudy, overcast weather. Veronica remarks that she’s never been on a boat except to take a ferry once. I have an uneasy feeling in the pit of my stomach; if there’s any fish guts, or seasick puking, I’m out of here. Your fearless recapper has an exceptionally tender tummy, and will turn the boat around if it gets out of hand.
We know it can’t end well when Veronica is grossed out by the bait, and is unwilling to sit down on the damp vinyl seat cushions. Next thing you know, they’ve snagged a couple of big shiny fish and are ready to “clean” them. For those of you without siblings that used to fish every Saturday morning, let me tell you - “cleaning” the fish is the nastiest, smelliest, most disgusting part of fishing. If ever a euphemism covered an ugly part of life, “cleaning” the fish is a whopper.
The big waves and swells have started, sending my finger for the fast forward on the remote. I watch enough to see Veronica tell them she’s feeling sick, while the others give her helpful advice, like to pretend she’s on a rollercoaster and to “aim overboard.” As a fellow seasickness sufferer, I can testify that this kind of encouragement does not help. Veronica begs the captain to turn the boat around, and the others are disgruntled.
Back on dry land, the siblings top off the day by toasting a few marshmallows, but Veronica refuses their offer to toast her a few. She stays and watches their toasting technique, though, which was downright companionable of her. Soon, the toasters turn to smearing ash on each other’s faces. Veronica tells us that she’s unused to dealing with so many kids, while Arianna calls her “little Miss Priss” in a voice over. It serves as a reminder that Diane would have no doubt been out there, smearing ash with the rest of them just to be doing something as a family.
Back in Lithonia, Diane is sad that the Thibodeaux don’t seem to plan activities as a family. Never fear, she’s making mounds of sandwiches and rousting them out to a picnic in the park. AJ is enthusiastic, and assembles a swath of toys, while telling us the only place his mother takes him is to the dentist. They make it to the park for their picnic, but the fun is slow to start, as the park seems to be populated by four humans and four hundred thousand flies. Eventually Alvin breaks out the “caahds”, as Diane calls them in her Boston accent, hardly a picnic activity in her book.
Diane says that the family needs her to learn how to lighten up and have some fun. Next thing we know, it’s an all-out water fight with super-soakers and water balloons. Fun is had by all, and Alvin is grateful for Diane’s influence. Still, cynical me thinks that since they owned a veritable arsenal of water-squirting weapons, the Thibodeauxs can’t be as fuddy duddy as we’re led to believe.
Mark Cuban Would Have Had a Blast
Diane knows that Brittney wants to go shopping, but Diane is determined to find another way to spend the day. Brittney does not take the news well, pouting and fighting the whole way to their destination - a family fun zone type of place with the usual batting cages, go karts, video games, and no doubt a miniature golf course. Diane leads her to the batting cages, but Brittney is sullen and reluctant...until Diane tells her to imagine the balls are Diane’s head. After a few misses, Brittney is hitting them solidly. Afterward, Diane asks her how many were her head, and seems a little taken aback when Brittney replies, “all of them.” She was just doing what you told her to do, Diane.
Next Diane pushes her into “enjoying" the bumper boats, which Brittney didn’t want to do because she didn’t want to get her hair wet. Growling at strangers who squirt her, Brittney is incensed but reaches her boiling point when Diane squirts her in the head, precisely what she promised not to do. Brittney storms off, and Diane tells us that she’s as spoiled brat. At least she didn’t tell Brittney to her face, right?
Wrong. In the next scene, over a platter of chicken fingers and fries, Diane tells Brittney she’s acting like a “spoiled rotten child.” Brittney wants to be rewarded with a shopping spree for putting up with such a lousy day. Diane taunts her by saying her dad offered Diane his charge card and asked her to buy Brittney something, but she (Diane) turned him down. “I would have gotten something then,” wails Brittney. “We got a fun day,” Diane shoots back. Later, Diane confesses that she’s disappointed that she couldn’t break Brittney out of her materialistic snit.
Home Cookin’ or Restaurant Fare?
Rich wants Veronica to learn how to make real Italian gravy. Why? No seriously, it seems out of the blue. Veronica flat out says she doesn’t like to cook, and gets out of it whenever she can. Alvin does the real cooking, and she does “box food.” In an exasperated tone, Rich directs Veronica to get something out of a cabinet, but each time she makes to open the one he indicates, he changes his mind, sounding more and more put upon. Veronica dutily follows his directions without smacking him on the back of his head, like I would. As she carries a cutting board covered with yellow onions, he tells her to put them on the table. One stray onion plops to the floor, and he finishes his sentence: “...but you don’t want to drop them, Mom.” Add a sarcastic sneer to his voice, and re-read that sentence. Now you understand why he needed a head smack. As we see Veronica making meatballs out of an enormous bowl of meat, Rich tells us that she needed to stop her bitching and complaining. It looks like all the participants are earning their fifty thousand dollars one complaint at a time.
Diane, the heart patient, is excited to be going out for a greasy barbecued rib dinner. At home in Peabody, they don’t eat out; instead, they cook - say it with me - as a family. The real meat of the dinner is the conversation, however. AJ shows his greedy side by demanding his father provide him a CD to fill his empty CD player. Alvin says something neutral like when they have extra money, they “gonna get it.” AJ stops the hard-working father right there, and tells him scathingly that he’s heard his broken promises too many times. He needs new stuff - he’s tired of playing on his three Game Boys from a couple of years ago, he wants to be brought into 2004. Diane watches and listens, clearly appalled by AJ’s lack of respect for his father. The display of greed is ugly, but I can’t help but think that establishing a regular allowance or payment for chores would be a blessing for both parent and child.
Diane is moved by the need to “humble” AJ, and tells him the story of her heart attack, and the bills they could not pay when she and her husband were both out of work. Her son’s Nintendo was bought on credit, and ended up being repossessed. AJ is clearly disturbed at the description of the Nintendo being taken away, and suffers through the lecture about appreciating his father and what he provides humbly. He even gives Diane a hug at the end, then goes around the table to hug his dad and tell him he loves him. Brittney watches with the more jaded eyes of a teen, perhaps feeling the lecture was meant for her. She doesn’t comment on the story.
Back in Peabody, the daddy gone mad with chef power is ready to explain the massive quantities of meatballs they have assembled: they are throwing a surprise party in Veronica’s honor. Some surprise; he just made her cater her own surprise party. Veronica, without missing a beat, tells the Famigliettis that she has a surprise as well. If she is hosting people in her home, she cleans from top to bottom - well, she calls it cleaning, but it’s really more like supervising the worker bees (i.e., Alvin). She vows the house will be so clean that they will be able to lick the bathroom floor. Let’s not put that one to a test. Both dad and four children look aggrieved at the cleaning orders, and I can smell the rebellion brewing. “What is wrong with this woman?” fumes Arianna. “Tell her to mind her own business!” Veronica counters in her camera confessional that she’s the queen, and the queen always rules. “Deal with it.” We watch Veronica laugh evilly at the thought of working all the laziness out of her new charges.
Next week we learn how the money was allocated, but before that, expect some finger waving, name calling, and doughnuts strung up on a line.
If you need me, I’ll be deep sea fishing and letting my catch go free, but you can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org.