Welcome back to Trading Spouses, the show that doesn’t so much break for Christmas as it disappears for weeks while rumors of lawsuits and cancellations fly fast and furious on the internet. It’s enough to make recappers dream of covering other shows...maybe a show where innocent children aren’t forced to live with adults exhibiting borderline personality disorder just so their parents can rake in some cash. Nah, that would be boring. Wouldn’t it?
Living the Clean Life
Meet the Hammonds: a family of four living in Minneapolis, Minnesota. That innocuous sentence will be the last normal description you will read of the Hammonds. Here’s the nitty gritty - Mia (the matriarch of the Hammond clan) is the kind of neat freak that gives your average neat freak a bad name. We can’t get through the family introduction without the loud whine of a vacuum cleaner drowning everyone out. Sure, they could have picked footage of Mia enjoying a cup of coffee with her husband and children at the breakfast table. Except that they couldn’t, because the woman cleans incessantly, all hours of the day and night. As for the rest of us, her philosophy is that “living in filth is a choice.”
We see Mia choosing to scrub her floor, then turning suspiciously to the bottoms of her fuzzy slippers. You guessed it; they do not meet her exacting standards, and must be scrubbed furiously. Boy howdy, this woman has a lot of time on her hands. I don’t think I’ve ever noticed the bottoms of my fuzzy slippers before. I can’t help but ponder to myself for all of .03 seconds: clean the bottom of my slippers, or ignore them? That’s easy, I choose filth! *waving hand skyward*
Mia’s husband Tim describes his wife as someone who vacuums the house five or six times per day. Tim, though, thinks of himself as a “party guy” who has given up a lot to be in his marriage. While Mia is the no-nonsense partner in the marriage, Tim approaches life with humor - a trait that seems to inspire disgust in Mia. We’re shown Tim in the kitchen cutting carrots. Mia nags him not to cut himself (what, is he five, Mia?), and Tim responds by pretending the knife slips. Mia is not amused; she sourly shakes her head and calls him a “dork” - and not in a playful, “you dork” kind of way, more like “I hate it when you make fun of me but there’s a camera on me so I’ll storm off” manner. So now we know that Mia reacts badly to pranks about bodily injuries. Remember that, folks.
Tim says delicately that they “have two kids in the house” - Bria, 9, and Caleb, 7. Mia blathers on about the importance of structure while we see endless footage of cleaning, followed by more cleaning. Bria is the kind of child who gets down on the floor to straighten up the kitchen rug, so the clean gene has been passed to the next generation. It is strong in this young one.
But we learn the reason for Mia’s deep-seated obsession with structure: she herself was a teen mom. Her oldest daughter is twenty, and has already accrued two children. Somehow, the way she says it, I don’t think we’ll be meeting the grandkids on this show. Mia is determined that Bria will not find herself in this situation, and consequently prays fervently every night with her hands wrapped around Bria’s head for Bria to remain a virgin until she is married. No word on whether Caleb gets the same nightly prayer session.
Filthy Family or Fun Family?
Let’s scurry on over to Tennessee, where we meet the Howards - Angie and Bob, and their three children. Angie, who looks like she’s on the verge of bursting into laughter in all her closeups, tells us that the most important thing in life is to create good memories. Although she might have wondered why the producers were asking her so many questions about cleanliness, Angie plays along, freely admitting that her house could be cleaner. It’s not like they never clean house - in fact, the family smokers (mom, dad and grandma) smoke in the garage, never in the house, citing cleanliness as the primary reason. What does the Howard household look to an outside observer? It doesn’t look dirty so much as cluttered. The rooms are filled with knickknacks and random items; even the bathroom looks like it doubles as a storage facility. The clutter level is high enough to send a feng shui master screaming into the night. Something about “energy drains” and “sharp edges?”
But the Howards aren’t low on energy, just high on fun - family-style, that is. In sharp contrast to the endless scenes of Mia vacuuming, we see all the Howards - including grandma - playing dodge ball on the lawn together. On the less heart-warming side, Bob is revealed to be the kind of guy who is proud of his smells. What red-blooded American male isn’t, I want to know? So that I can start my own spousal swap.
Angie tells us that she has three children, Brandi, Candy (16) and Kyle (7). Only two of the children live at home. Wait, that sounds familiar. Brandi, we learn, was conceived when Angie was a tender eighteen years old, and is old enough to live on her own. Ka-ching! We have a match, and not just based on the first letter of their last names! With the shared experience of teenage pregnancy, these two women should get along smashingly when they finally meet.
As the youngest, Kyle is a hyper child who tells his mom that he “loves caffeine.” Candy, described as “fun and outgoing” by her mom, pops out her glass eye for money in the school cafeteria. You heard that right; a childhood injury resulted in the loss of her eye, which she has turned into an icebreaker at parties. I say, that’s awesome, possum. It’s morbidly fascinating to watch her pop that eye out, and lucky me had a tape to rewind.
Mia is nervous that she won’t be in total hamfisted control while she is away. How does she regain her composure? You guessed it, a quick run with the vacuum will feed that monkey on her back. Never mind the taxi driver honking his horn impatiently in the driveway, momma’s gotta clean!
The taxi takes Mia to the airport, and hey, we finally we learn how the contestants are informed of their destination. A new one to add to the official Trading Spouses Drinking Game™, friends! It’s not that exciting, actually; they’re handed an envelope that contains a sheet of paper telling them where they are going. Mia reads hers aloud: “You are on...” She stops, visibly choked up, her eyes rolling back into her head momentarily as if she’s about to faint. She recovers, and continues bravely: “You are on your way to Chattanooga, Tennessee.” Mia turns to stare soulfully out the window, while a “sad” soundtrack swells. “The one place in the world I did not want to go was Chattanooga, Tennesse.”
I prepare myself to hear a tale of personal sorrow involving a mysterious stranger and the Chattanooga choo-choo, but instead, Mia tells us point-blank that “the South” is filled with “redneck hillbillies”. Her disgust is palpable, as if she’s talking about child molesters. It’s immediately apparent that Chattanooga was not the “one” place she didn’t want to go - more like, Chattanooga is one town that she equates with one-third of the country. She is consumed with fear, hiding her face in her hands and telling us that she “literally thought [she] was going to die.” Oh no you didn’t, missy. Not unless you thought being Southern is a communicable and instantly fatal disease, you didn’t.
Meanwhile, in her pit of hillbillydom, Angie bids goodbye to Candy and Kyle without drama. Kyle gives her his stuffed monkey to keep her company while she’s away, earning a hug from mom. The goodbyes are heartfelt, and it’s clear that (normal) Angie will be missed by her (normal) family.
Meet N’ Greet
Angie meets Tim, describing him as “different” than her husband. Oh, I’d say he’s nigh onto opposite of your husband, seeing as he’s a tall, fit, mocha-skinned male, unlike Bob, a pasty-white pot-bellied good ole’ boy. Mayhaps you will get through the week without having to smell his feet, even, Angie. And let’s face it: in the lexicon of this show, finding your new spouse to be “different” means that you found him or her to be of a different race from yourself. We all know it. Heck, it’s worth two shots in the official Trading Spouses Drinking Game ™.
In Tennessee, Mia has arrived and is officially breathing Chattanooga air. Her nervousness and fear of All Things Chattanooga is pouring off her in waves. Apparently, a sign in the airport reading “Chattanooga” mesmerizes her, and she is having trouble getting past it - and by that I mean physically walking past it. One thing is clear - this woman has Issues with a capital “I.”
Eventually Mia finds Bob, who greets her with a friendly hug...or does he have an ulterior motive? Mia’s tiny brain is reeling at the physical contact. She inputs the facts (strange man, an unsolicited hug, he knows my name) and comes up with the conclusion that he wants her to cheat on her husband. *sob* Her beautiful husband! How dare Bob give a one-armed polite hug and violate her rapidly-shrinking bubble of Minnesota-ness?
In the car, Mia is unable to keep her uneasiness about the “foreign” situation to herself, emoting about clean houses and how she can’t “rest her head” in unclean places. Really, it loses all meaning when it’s repeated several times, since we all know that unless she’s greeted by a robot family with a Dirt Devil in each hand, it’s not going to be clean enough. Bob is starting to catch on, noting that it seemed rude of Mia to ask if his house was clean, then rambling on about filth. Rude, but illuminating, Bob.
When Hillbillies Attack
In Minnesota, we are getting to know the Hammond children. Bria shares what would be her worst substitute mom ever: a hillbilly with straw in her teeth, wearing a belly shirt and teeny tiny shorts. Did they make Deliverance into a Saturday morning cartoon when I wasn’t paying attention? It’s hard to imagine that nine-year-old Bria could come up with such a laughable stereotype on her own.
Enter the hillbilly, Angie. She immediately lunges into an attack hug, showing her untrustworthiness. Or at least, that’s how the Hammond children treat Angie’s friendly greeting when she enters the house with Tim. Heck, even the family cat perched on the top of a couch swipes an irritable paw at Angie. Tim tells Angie politely but forcefully to remove her shoes before walking on the carpet. She’s already crossed the precious carpet with her shoes on, so the comment has a little bite to it. Personally, I would have been more concerned for making sure my children were polite - nay, barely civil - to a guest to worry about a minor carpet infraction.
Prompted by their father to take Angie on a tour of the house, the kids lead Angie around unenthusiastically. It’s not long before she can read the writing on the sterile, bare walls. She likens the house to June Cleaver’s...noting that her own house looks more like Rosanne Barr’s.
In Tennessee, Mia has arrived at the Barr complex. Without warning, she is savagely gang-hugged, four times over. Mia is still hashing out the hugging at the airport in her head, clearly feeling that it’s dirty and uncalled for, but thrown by someone as unprepossessing as Grandma Sue swooping in for a hug. She tells us the whole situation made her uncomfortable. Oh boy, we’re only at the hugs on the front lawn. *sigh* It’s going to be a long week.
Mia enters the house, all aflutter from the terrifying Gauntlet O’ Hugs™ she has endured. What follows is a festival of horrors. The Howard’s tiny Yorkie has pooped on the indoor carpet. Filthy! Dirty! Mia tells us, and I have to agree. We also see shots of flies, a spider, and an icky-looking worm, but I hesitate to take them at face value, since they looked like they were either in the garage or even outside (how many of you have aluminum siding inside your house?). But it’s clear that the poop situation would be a terror for most of us, much less a germ-paranoid guest.
Night of the Living Filth
This is a Trading Spouses first: not content to starting filming after a good night’s sleep, we see Mia in the wee hours of the night, unable to drop off by counting leaping toilet brushes or whatever she does normally. The problem, Mia tells us, is that she’s unable to lay her head in filth and dirt. There’s only one solution for this kind of anxiety - get vacuuming, pronto! Bob looks disgruntled at being awakened by a pre-dawn vacuum cleaner, but you can’t get five or six vacuums done in a day by sleeping in until ten a.m., Mister. As Mia vacuums, Grandma Sue sweeps in the kitchen with quiet dignity. Mia stops her, though, telling her to take some time off so that Mia can do the cleaning for her. Unspoken but nevertheless ringing loud and clear is the message that only Mia can clean correctly. Grandma defers to Cleanzilla, for the moment, at least.
Meanwhile, Angie is finding her new environment just as stifling. She greets the day with enthusiasm, striding out the guest room to find...everyone cleaning? There’s Tim, folding laundry. Bria has already begun the day’s first vacuuming, and even young Caleb is wiping down counters like a seasoned Merry Maid. Tim intercepts the interloper and guides her to a table, where he has laid out clipboards with paper so that they can map out the structure for the week. Couldn’t it wait until after the lady has had a cup of coffee, Tim? By the time Caleb moves on to scrubbing toilets - this is the seven-year-old, mind you - they have divided the chores for the week. Angie plays along, but tells us she feels like she’s entered the Twilight Zone. Silly woman, can’t you see they are robots - robots who are programmed to clean the world? It’s the only explanation that makes sense.
As in every episode, the moms are told of the show’s twist - that each mom will decide how the other family’s money is spent. As in every episode, the moms are shocked and pretend to be worried about the responsibility of spending another family’s money, when you just know they are wondering what that bitch will be doing with their money. This show has been on for months now....when are we going to find a family that knows about the twist?
Eyesbreakers for the Fuzzy-Challenged
In Minnesota, Angie prepares a feast of bacon and eggs in the hopes that a family meal will get the children to relax a little in her presence. Angie offers to french braid Bria’s hair, but she can’t muster up so much as a shake of the head in response. A hot breakfast can’t combat years of being trained to fear hillbillies, it seems. The children sit silently and eat sullenly, only nodding in response to Angie’s questions about their activities. Angie is disturbed by the Hammond kids being completely unable to express their likes and dislikes. If only she had a gimmick to break the ice.
While Angie is struggling to carry on a basic conversation, hundreds of miles away her husband has decided to play armchair social scientist. Bob sits back on the couch to observe Mia in her role as substitute mom. How will she get his son out of bed, up and dressed for school? Mia uses the direct method - you know, waking him up and telling him it’s time for school. Bob takes this to mean that Mia isn’t “warm and fuzzy” like he and Angie are; they like to wake Kyle up with hugs and tickles. Aww, how sweet. To be fair, would you wake up another person’s child of the opposite sex by hugging and tickling him? And we already know how Mia feels about hugs. Kyle survives the ordeal of a hugless wakeup, and trots off to school. Bob notes that Mia is too governed by her need for structure. He’s still in his pajamas, by the way. His analysis would be more convincing if he would throw on some pants.
Remember Candy, the perky teenager earning pin money at school for popping out her glass eye? On the advice of her father and grandmother, Candy plays a prank on Mia. Rubbing her eye, she approaches Mia and asks if she can see anything in Candy’s eye. When Mia is good and close, pop! Mia screams and falls back on the couch, covering her face with her hands. Kyle climbs on Mia’s lap and tells her his sister had her eye shot out with a BB gun. It was a nice thought, but the explanation doesn’t help Mia relax. No, she was about to die! she swears to us (again).
The Howard clan think the joke is hilarious, but it’s obvious that Mia is mortified beyond speech. Eventually she runs out of the room, calling the group “runts” for playing the trick. Yeah, I don’t get it either.
Phobia, Multiplied by More Phobia
The Howards take Mia on an outing, and Bob is mysterious about the destination. Mr. Armchair Psychologist has decided that the only way to combat Mia’s need for structure is to plan a spontaneous trip to the local aquarium, followed by a trip to a carousel. Harmless fun. Unless you’re afraid of activities beloved by preschoolers the world over.
While the Howard children ooh and aah over the marine life in the Tennessee Aquarium, Mia stands with arms folder, her face a study of disgust and disapproval. When the kids move to a touch tank, predictably, she refuses to participate. Oddly, though, not from a fear of contracting germs, but because she was convinced a fish “she couldn’t see” would swoop through and gnaw her finger off. Candy points out that the fish don’t have teeth, but Mia’s not taking any chances with the chaos of a children’s touch pool. It’s kind of sad when you consider that she has three children, and has probably - no, has most certainly - kept them from this kind of experience.
After Mia acted like a wet towel at the aquarium, Bob tries for a milder form of entertainment, a carousel. Once again, Mia is plunged into nervousness, saying the motion makes her sick...and yet, she really seems fearful of the ride itself (as the cameraman shows us close-ups of evil-looking carousel animals). She finds out that the ride is four minutes, and tells the operator she will ask him to stop it if she gets sick, and next thing you know, there she is, perched on a black horsey, looking pale and grim. It’s a kids' ride, there’s no shame in bowing out if it makes you sick. But can you really blame it on motion sickness when you’re on one of the horses that don’t move up and down, and you claim nausea when the ride is only fifteen seconds in? After much whining, the ride is stopped, and Mia strides off with a spring in her step to the safety of the outdoors, where she holds her head and looks pained. It doesn’t quite add up to motion sickness, no matter how many times she tells the camera that it does.
Back in Minnesota, the Hammonds are suiting up for an excursion without Angie. We’re not told where they are going, or why Angie isn’t going with them, but the mood in the room is strained and tense. The Hammonds communicate in low, emotionless tones, and Angie confesses to us that she doesn’t know how to interact with people who seem to possess no affection. She feels unwelcome, but can’t figure out why or where it is coming from. It’s clear that the Hammonds are very aware that Angie is only a temporary substitute for the usual drill sargeant, and that deserters from Mia’s Army will be punished upon her return. She’s got her crew trained well. Angie, who hasn’t yet met Mia, doesn't understand; she can only sob to Kyle’s stuffed monkey in the privacy of her room.
It’s a Great Day for Awkward Conversations
Angie has gotten over her self-pity, and is ready to show the Hammond children that there are other ways to live. Over a breakfast of eggs and bacon (again?), she announces that she has tried to adapt to their way of life, but that now it’s time for the family to do things the Angie way. What, does she think she’s on Wife Swap? In particular, Angie wants them to stop focusing “their whole life” on keeping the house clean, and to have some fun. Bria is shooting her father looks, waiting for a smackdown that doesn’t come. “Don’t look at me, look at her!” he quips. “I never thought we would be so tense from somebody telling us to have fun.” Bria looks increasingly hostile, especially when Tim shows that he’s getting into the spirit of change by tossing his toast on the floor. Bria’s eyebrows are hitting her hairline, she’s so shocked. Angie likens the Hammond children to plants that need just a little water in order to blossom. She’s got her metaphorical watering can ready to pour.
In Tennesse, Mia is laying down the law to the Howard family. Like Angie, she is sick of adapting her host family, she wants them to adjust to her. Again, I’m struck by allusion to a rival reality show where the families have to follow the visiting mom’s rules. It’s not going to fly on the free and easy world of Trading Spouses, Mia!
Unfortunately, Mia’s not one to couch her judgmental views in diplomatic phrases. Bob isn’t happy with Mia’s implication that the family members are filthy. Mia tries to argue for the sanctity of carpets and why everyone should be shoeless; Bob counters that his notion of hospitality allows a guests to walk around in socks or muddy boots, if they so choose. He invites his friends to put their feet up on his couch, if they want. Mia counters that she won’t let visitors to her home wear shoes. Period.
Up until now, the conversation has been civil, but Mia is not happy to have her authority questioned. “I’m the mom,” she declares. “If I’m finicky, then that’s the way it is.” I can see Grandma Sue getting a hard gleam in her eye. She tells the camera that if you ask her folk for anything, they will give you the shirt off their back, but if you charge in and start bossing people, you’re not going to get anywhere.
Grandma Sue says that she cleans the house, and she’s highly offended by Mia telling them they live in dirt. Mia backtracks, telling them that it doesn’t mean she’s better or worse, but that she has different standards, and her life (Mia’s) has to be perfect. Grandma Sue counters that Mia is not the “supermom” she thinks she is.
Next week, Angie gets the kids dolled up in trash bags for the “world’s messiest party.” Mia sees some toy soldiers, and feels empowered to criticize the Howards for letting a family member serve in the military. Mia returns to her family to find her kingdom in a state of disarray. Let the bloodletting begin!
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