Welcome to the season premiere of Trading Spaces: Meet Your New Mommy. This is the best swapping family members show out there, on account of the large amount of cash involved. On this season premiere, a wife and mother from Kentucky will swap places with another wife and mother from Massachusetts for one week. At the end of the week, each family will be given $50,000 but the new mommy will decide how that money is to be spent. Seven days of discomfort and a couple of nights of public humiliation on national television might just be worth $50,000. It sure beats looking at Howie Mandel’s bald head.
We are introduce to the first family, and they are the Martin family from Olympia, Kentucky. The mom to be swapped is Sharon, who is a registered nurse in a hospital and also works a second job at the local health department. She says they are proud of their Appalachian heritage and are big on Christian values. They live in a fair-sized ranch style house in a fairly rural setting. At the time the show was shot, it was winter and snow was on the ground.
Sharon’s husband Dale is a correctional officer and says that there are three big things in Kentucky: religion, politics, and basketball. The Martins have two children; Ashton is a 20 year old daughter who goes to the local college, and Aaron, the 17 year old son who is still in high school. Aaron says Ashton is smart and everybody picks on him for not being like his big sister. He likes to hang out, play video games, and hunt. He says he’s not a redneck, but a mountain man.
Completing the paring are the Shatz family from Brookline, Massachusetts, a suburb of Boston. Lisa is the mom to be swapped; she teaches electrical engineering at a local college. Her husband Michael is a physicist, who also teaches on the university level. They have four children: Aryeh is 20 and the only boy in the family; then there’s Esther who is 17 and in high school, Adina who is 15 and also in high school, and then there’s little Kayla who is 8. The kids are all very driven by their parents and by themselves to do exceptionally well in their school work.
The Shatzs are also strict Orthodox Jews. They keep kosher, down to having separate dishwashers and plates for dairy and meat. They live close to the synagogue so they walk on the Sabbath, and they all pray often in Hebrew. We should all now have had the big “a-ha!” moment and know what is going to be the main source of conflict in this swap.
Both moms get up early on the day they jet off to their new homes. Sharon hopes she can make it for the whole week. As Sharon gets into the taxi to take her to the airport, her daughter calls after her, “Don’t argue about Bush!” Meanwhile at Lisa’s house, her husband says it will be a bit of a challenge for her to be incommunicado for so long.
A bit later, both husbands head to their local airports to pick up their new “wives.” Of course, the husbands have no clue what the new wives look like and vice versa. Either the guys are prohibited from doing it, or they’re too clueless to think of bringing a sign that says “Trading Spouses” on it.
After what seems to be forever, the husbands and new wives find each other and head home. Commenting on first meeting Michael, Sharon says that she noticed he wears the “uhhhh…uhhhh…ya know the little hat.” Yarmulke, Sharon; surely you’ve heard of it before.
But then again, maybe not, because when Lisa first meets Dale, she asks him what Kentucky is known for. Hmmmm, Lisa, ever hear of that lil’ ole horse race called the Kentucky Derby? Maybe heard of whisky? It’s really not that hard not to sound like completely clueless while making small talk.
Amazing degrees of cultural isolation.
Step right up, ladies and gentlemen and behold the Amazing Martins and the Astounding Shatzs. Either they are awesome actors or they’ve never read a book, watched a movie, or seen a television show about people other than Appalachian rural people or Orthodox Jews, respectively. Sharon, after nearly breaking into giggles at the notion that Michael was a physicist because the word sounded funny (what kind of RN program did she attend, anyway?), she is off-put by the idea of keeping kosher, saying with disdain, that she’s “never been involved in that”. You’d think Michael asked her to ritually sacrifice puppies or something.
Lisa, on the other hand, immediately starts bagging on Kentuckians’ education—or lack thereof—as an entire state. For not knowing jack about the state twenty minutes earlier, she sure can make some wild leaps. Meanwhile back in her house, her daughters are anxious because they’ve never met anyone from the South before. I hope that both of these moms earmark some of the $50,000 for US-based travel; the isolation of both sides is staggering.
A fake-sounding rabbi saves the day.
On the first morning in the new houses, both moms are greeted by new sights. Sharon wanders into the room where Michael and Aryeh are saying prayers, and she’s never seen anything like that before, with the yarmulkes, the yallit, and the tefillin. She is sure that this does not go on in the South.
Turns out she may be right, at least for her part of Kentucky. Lisa wakes up on her first day to find everyone gone and nothing kosher in the house to eat. She searches without success on the internet and on the phone, but can’t find anything that will fit her requirements. She finally calls a rabbi somewhere in Kentucky who recommends Kosher by Phone, who can FedEx her some food. The entire telephone conversation seemed entirely made-up off camera, with the rabbi sounding like he’s on some kind of campy movie, but Lisa is happy because she won’t starve.
Sharon, Middle East Peace Negotiator Extraordinaire.
After the guys are done with their morning prayers, Sharon tries to get a handle on the whole Jewish thing. She wonders if the Jews believe in God. I wonder how a self-professed Christian wouldn’t already know the answer. She struggles with the concepts and ultimately concludes that all this kosher business is just plain un-American.
Sharon also doesn’t know what to cook because she’s an American and cooks American food. Michael says she can make pretty much anything as long as it’s from the kosher grocer and is prepared properly. So off they go to a local kosher grocery store, and Sharon is perplexed by all this “Arabic” stuff….or is it “Hebrew”? She’s not quite sure. Clearly the Roadmap to Peace did not have a whistle stop in Olympia, KY.
Never irritate an angry teenager with a gun.
Back in Kentucky, Dale and Aaron take Lisa out at night ‘coon hunting. Lisa is opposed to hunting in all form and fashion, saying that Jews don’t hunt. She doesn’t see the point in hunting, and if an animal needs to be killed for food, it needs to be done in a merciful way. Lisa, who may be book-smart, lacks some social skills, as she continues yakking about how stupid hunting is when she’s out in the woods with the guys, the dogs, and the guns.
The dogs find a raccoon, chase it up a tree, and Aaron shakes the tree so the raccoon will come out. Presumably the raccoon meets its fate, but we don’t get to see it. Lisa finds the hunt intolerable. Aaron takes Lisa’s disgust personally, and feels that she’s attacking him.
Back in the house, Lisa asks Dale about the kids’ education. She again insults the entire state of Kentucky, saying that maybe you can survive in Kentucky without an education, but you can’t in Boston. Unfortunately, Dale did not rejoin with a citation to the Wahlberg brothers.
The perfect time for a Kevin Bacon cameo.
Around the dinner table, Sharon asks about the kids’ personal lives and wants to know if they are dating anyone. Aryeh is 20, so you’d think maybe he had his eye on a girl. The kids get really quite and Michael gets really tense, because they just don’t speak of things like this at the dinner table or ever, really. Esther pipes up and says that she knows better than to be running around having copious amounts of sex. Well, ok, but that doesn’t exclude the notion of conservative amounts of sex, now does it? Michael says that the family is very straight-laced.
One person’s “straight-laced” is another person’s “emotionally and socially isolated” and that’s exactly what Sharon thinks the kids are. She wants to see how the kids interact with their Jewish and non-Jewish friends so she decides to put on a party, a party with boy and girl dancing. Michael is completely put out and will not tolerate mixed dancing at all, and isn’t keen on same-sex dancing. Michael is perturbed and Sharon is not thrilled either.
Is it a persecution complex if you really are constantly attacked?
Poor ole Aaron. He already gets crap for not being as good at things as his sister. He was harassed about hunting, and he now has to face Lisa’s indictment of his study habits. Lisa has noticed that Aaron is not really all that motivated school-wise, and never seems to have homework. Lisa thinks kids should have three or four hours of homework a night. She suggests to Dale and to Aaron that they get a tutor for Aaron to motivate him and get him on the right path. She says she thinks he is a smart kid but need a push. Aaron gets extremely upset at this suggestion, storms off to his room, and has a good cry. Aaron will summarily be beaten by his friends this weekend for being such a baby on national television. It gets worse—his big sister has to comfort him, and that doesn’t work so well, so he calls his grandmother. The grandmother sounds like a crazy person on the phone and threatens to come over and physically settle the whole matter. Ultimately, Lisa tries to apologize and feels really bad for having brought up the whole thing.
Queer-eyed by a lady.
Back in Boston, Sharon is dead-set on having the male and female party. She concedes there won’t be any dancing, but she still wants to have something fun for the kids. She decides to take Aryeh out and give him a makeover. She thinks he is very immature for his age, and I have to agree at least in appearance. The guy says he’s 20, but if I saw him on the street I’d think he was a very young 14. Sharon gets his hair cut, some cooler new frames for his glasses, and dresses him like a regular kid, not like someone whose ultraconservative dressing mother buys his clothes. Aryeh isn’t going to win any male model competitions, but he does look a lot better and more age-appropriate.
In Kentucky, Dale informs Lisa that Sharon’s mother, two sisters and friend are coming over for dinner. Lisa is quite nervous and she prepares a kosher meal for them. It looks like baked chicken, potato salad, and some side dishes. The chicken looks a little too done, but it’s not anything that should weird these folks out. As the minivan carrying the guests approaches, Fox throws at us Jaws-like music to up the suspense or giggle factor. It’s a cheesy ploy, much like the overuse of subtitles when anyone from the Martin clan speaks, but this is Fox after all, and it could be worse.
So in come these relatives of Sharon. Her sister has bugged out eyes and really straight long hair, like she ironed it for hours. The friend looks fairly normal. The grandmother is kind of craggy and has long grey hair with bangs. She’s got one of those unfortunate 80’s poodle ear perms, that didn’t look good then and certainly don’t look good now. All of these women eye Lisa with suspicion and are fairly hostile. The food is ready and Ashton tries to explain the kosher rules, but realizes her relatives are dullards and just lets Lisa go first in the service line. The grandmother enforces the grace-saying, and Lisa feels awkward at the dinner and eats alone.
After dinner, Lisa and the grandmother get into a discussion about Lisa’s religious beliefs. She explains that the dietary restrictions come from Deuteronomy and Leviticus as well as oral tradition. The grandmother seems perplexed at first—could this be the same Deuteronomy and Leviticus that are in her bible?!?! She asks if it is the King James version that Lisa follows. Lisa, amazingly, doesn’t slap her across her eyes and tell her to buy a clue, but explains that the Jews have had those books for a long time, a time before King James. She says that her ancestors have always been Jewish, as the religion goes back a long time. Conversely, the grandmother’s ancestors were probably pagans. The grandmother says that they are Pentecostal and believe Jesus came back and died on the cross and that Jesus saves and delivers, of which the are walking proof.
Sharon’s friend asks Lisa about Lisa’s kids—do they go to regular school? Can they date outside their religion? Lisa says they go to a school where they learn religious things and secular things, but she does not want them to marry outside of their faith, because having two different sets of values in a couple is bad for the marriage and for the kids. Somehow this wins over the grandmother, who finds respect for Lisa and her strongly held convictions. All is well in Olympia tonight.
The most ironic use of the theme from Shaft ever.
In Brookline, Sharon has the party started. There are a bunch of girls there, and some guys who are Aryeh’s friends. None of them have seen Aryeh’s new look, so, in true Queer Eye style, he makes a grand entrance. In slow motion. To the theme from Shaft. It turns out the makeover is a big hit with everyone, and the kids have a great time partying. Michael is there to make sure no girls and boys dance. He should have hired some nuns to do that; it’d have provided great cross-religious value sharing moments. Alas, no nuns drop by, but the rabbi does. The rabbi conveniently has to come around in the evening to collect a check from Michael for an orphanage. That is the most contrived thing I’ve seen in a long time, and I’ve seen a lot of contrivances, including that fake rabbi phone call Lisa had. Michael is embarrassed that kids were having fun at his house, so he shuts down the party. Sharon is perturbed; nothing untoward was going on and not liking fun is plain un-American.
Lisa still feels like crap over the tutor episode and tries to make amends with Aaron. Aaron likes to kick the soccer ball against an out-building, so Lisa goes out to talk to him and join him. I doubt this is anything his mom would do (she doesn’t look like the sporty type), and eventually he warms up to her. Then, before she leaves, she shows him some small science experiments, like creating an electromagnetic field with a magnet and some copper wire. Aaron is impressed.
Sharon too has a bonding session with Aryeh in the car. She tries to draw him out about his and his sisters’ social activities and lack of dialog with their parents. She says that she can talk to her kids and they can talk to her. Aryeh says that his family doesn’t talk like that, but he does have a bit of a wild side, as he gets drunk with his buds from school and knows guys who get high a lot.
Mysterious Mansion Meeting
It’s the last day and Lisa and Sharon pack up and say their good-byes. Both sets of kids will miss the new moms, but the husbands look like they are ready for things to get back to normal. They’ve separately written out the instructions as to how the $50,000 should be spent. The moms meet in a big mansion to swap envelopes and stories.
Sharon breaks the ice and says that Lisa needs to talk to her kids with a more open dialog. Lisa tells Sharon that there needs to be more of a focus on education. She says Ashton was great, but then brings up the incident with Aaron when she suggested a tutor. Lisa tries to explain by saying she comes from a community of very high achievers but understands that in Sharon’s community, not everyone is educated.
Sharon fires back that she finds Lisa’s comments disrespectful. She does value education but family and social development is equally, if not more, important. Sharon then tells Lisa about Aryeh’s drinking and his drug-using friends. She says that Lisa’s kids are socially isolated and there needs to be a more open relationship between the kids and the parents. The moms swap envelopes, and then they head home.
Money, money, money.
Lisa gets home to big hugs, and Michael is more than thrilled to have her back. Sharon is thrilled to be home to “real people;” Dale is glad his wife is back because, although she’s a great wife, it’s more important that she’s a great cook. And they say romance is dead.
Finally the families find out how the money is to be spent. Lisa’s family gets: $5,000 for debts; $1,000 for the kids to go clothes shopping; $5,000 to pain the interior of the house; $1,000 for bed linens; $5,000 for new carpet; $5,000 for living and dining room furniture; and $20,000 for a new car. Now, I was educated in the South, and maybe it’s just my lack of education beyond a professional graduate degree, but that comes only to $42,000. Where the other $8,000 went is beyond me. Michael is upset with the allocation because he wanted money for college tuition, as he’s got four kids to put through college. Somehow I doubt that will be a problem; the kids have good grades and he and his wife teach at colleges. Professors get discounts, everybody knows that.
Lisa doesn’t know what to do with the $5,000 for debts because they don’t have any. But more pressing is the Aryeh situation. She confronts him about drinking and knowing people who smoke pot. Aryeh points out he doesn’t drink until he throws up, and he’s in college, so what did she expect? Lisa now sees the value in talking with her kids about these issues.
Sharon’s family also is excited to see how the money is allocated. They get $2,000 for bills and living expenses; $15,000 for investment in mutual funds; $15,000 for home improvements; and $10,000 for a cruise vacation. Again, that’s $42,000…are we accounting for taxes or something? Dale doesn’t know what to make of the $15,000 to be invested in mutual funds because he doesn’t really know about mutual funds, which leads me to believe they need to get to a financial advisor immediately. Sharon isn’t thrilled about the $2,000 for debts because they have more debts than that. She concludes the show by saying that she was just glad she got out of Brookline before the Sabbath, while Aaron continues to play with the electromagnet Lisa showed him how to make. Maybe there’s hope for that kid yet.
Know where that $8,000 went? If so, send me a PM.