Ok, let me just kick this off with an apology to anyone who came to “Wife Swap” expecting a very, very different kind of show. I can see how the title might have misled you. But the primetime, network time slot should have given you a clue that that sort of swapping would not be going on. I know, I was disappointed too. I mean, that could have been a lot more fun. In theory, at least. Once we met these couples, though, I realized that nobody, but nobody wants to see the Bradleys take their clothes off. Oh, they’re nice people. But not all nice people should be naked.
I’m Lucy by the way, and I’m neither nice nor naked. I’m sarcastic, and thus my recaps of this show will be somewhat sarcastic, and if you’re going to read them and then whine at me that I’m being “mean,” well – let’s just say I would strongly discourage you from doing that. Now, if you too are of a sarcastic, snarky turn of mind, we’ll get along fine. Just as long as you, too, keep your clothes on.
The Two Most Dissimilar Women in the Entire World
The premise of the show is that the wives of two families will trade places for two weeks, abiding by the other family’s rules for the first week, then imposing their own rules in the second week. This may sound very much like Fox’s “Trading Spouse,” but let me assure you, it’s extremely different. This one is on a different network.
This week, our swappers (or swappees?) are the Spolanskys and the Bradleys. The Spolanskys – who I immediately hate for forcing me to type “Spolansky” even once, must less try to do it numerous times – are an uber-rich power couple in New York city. Jodi, the wife, is a pampered little princess who has a maid, a chauffer, and four – count ‘em, FOUR – nannies for her three kids. I’m not trying to put some poor au pair out of work here, but isn’t that a bit much? Anyway, Jodi spends her days working out, shopping – she spends about $4,000 a week on clothes – and otherwise reveling in her “me time.” Her “kid time” averages about an hour a day. Frankly, I’m amazed she was willing to go through the bodily strain of giving birth to three children. I’d lay money there’s a surrogate mother around somewhere. Jodi and husband Stephen eat out six times a week – she hasn’t cooked in eight years and has never held a job. Stephen tells us Jodi “really is driven. But the only way she’s driven is by a chauffer.” He seems to recognize that there’s an element of the ridiculous in his wife’s cosseted life, but seems to be content to laugh at it rather than try to change it.
The Bradleys, on the other hand, are a blue-collar family in Rome, New Jersey. Wife Lynn gets up at 5:30 a.m. every day to drive a school bus, after which she chops wood for six hours a day. Yes. Seriously. Six hours of wood-chopping. Evidently it’s like a side business for the Bradleys. Lynn and her husband Brad – oh no. Do NOT tell me this man’s name is really Brad Bradley. Good lord. – built their own house. Brad tells us Lynn only missed her bus run once, when she accidentally chopped off the tip of her finger. “She would have made that run if they weren’t so long sewing her finger back on,” he says proudly. Um, ok. Lynn does all this work and still does all the cooking and cleaning for her family, which includes two daughters. The daughters say they basically expect to be coddled till they move out. Lynn says caring for the family is her role, but she wishes Brad showed more appreciation for her, and helped her out a bit more.
We’re Not in Kansas Anymore
Jodi arrives at the Bradleys’ house in a limo, and is unimpressed by what she sees. “I’m in the middle of nowhere,” she says, before realizing there is no doorman at a house like this and she must haul her own (considerable) luggage up the walk and onto the porch.
Lynn, meanwhile, arrives in New York, also in a limo, and stares up at the buildings with a look that makes me wonder if she has ever been in a city at all. Even one like, say, Wilmington, Delaware, has a few tall buildings. Anyway, Jodi’s doorman is on hand to help Lynn get her stuff inside.
The two women get some time alone in the respective houses before they have to meet the new families. Jodi wanders through Lynn’s house, noting that “it’s neat, it’s clean, it’s fine,” but muttering “yikes!” under her breath. I’m going to go out on a limb here and guess that she objects to Lynn’s country-cottage style of decorating. When she gets to the kitchen, Jodi is grossed out by the remains of the morning’s coffee in the coffeepot – evidently her maid cleans that out right away. Soon enough, Jodi is in tears over where she is. She says the bus and the truck out in the driveway are things she only sees in movies, and doesn’t have to see in real life. Oh my god. You have to be kidding me. I understand that some people with lots of money lead completely different lives than the rest of us, but the idea that anyone could be this sheltered just floors me.
Lynn, by the way, says she feels like she’s in a department store window in Jodi’s big, upscale apartment.
Both women left “manuals” on running their household for the other women to read. I’m guessing Jodi’s consists of a single, typed sentence: “Ask the maid and the nannies.” Lynn’s lists her bus route and her wood-chopping routine, and Jodi, aghast, declares, “I’m not going to work.” Then she looks up at what must be an unseen production person behind the camera. “I’m working?” Evidently so.
Jodi may be abnormally sheltered, but she’s not stupid. Going on down the list of Lynn’s chores, she quickly spots something missing. “Where is Brad in this whole thing?” she asks. Good question.
Lynn is amazed that Jodi is not a “traditional wife.” Really? I’d have said Jodi was following a time-honored tradition – of Vanderbilt wives. “She goes shopping. Almost every day,” Lynn says, stunned. Then she realizes that Jodi’s schedule only allows for that one hour of time with the kids, and she starts to cry. “Is she selfish or what?” she asks, rhetorically. “These poor kids.”
Poking the Creature
Having settled into the new houses, it’s time for Jodi and Lynn to meet the other’s family. For Lynn, that means meeting the staff as well. She corners one nanny and asks if the kids are neglected by their parents – the nanny looks like a deer caught in headlights and delicately tries to balance the truth with her continued employment by explaining that in New York, it’s not so uncommon for parents to rely on nannies for child-rearing.
In Rome, Jodi is trying to explain her household staff to a dumbfounded Bradley family. It’s not long before Jodi’s life of privilege gets Brad’s back up. “That’s not the kind of people I care to be around,” he says, and tells Jodi a little work won’t kill her. We’ll see about that – he wakes her the next morning at 5:30 to start the day, telling us he doubts she can appreciate how hard real people work. In some ridiculous camouflage stretch pants, Jodi heads out to chop wood. She lasts about 15 minutes and gives up. She really reminds me of Nicole Richie, by the way. This is like “The Simple Life” for adults.
Meanwhile, Lynn is sleeping in while the nannies get the kids ready for school. They only wake her when the kids are gone and it’s time for her to eat breakfast.
Breakfast back at the Bradleys’ isn’t going so well for Jodi. She is attempting to fry bacon, and drops at least one piece in the floor and puts it back in the pan. On a scale of 1 to 10, says a daughter, she’d give Jodi’s cooking a -5.
Jodi’s toilet-cleaning skills appear to be non-existent as well. She is completely grossed out by the idea of cleaning the toilet – I believe she gripes about other people’s hairs, which I can kind of understand – and she calls it “putrid” and says she’s never had to do it before. Well, there’s a first time for everything, honey. It’s not even lunch time and Jodi already feels sorry for Lynn and her routine of drudgery. Jodi sure doesn’t feel appreciated in the Bradley household either.
While Jodi cleans toilets, Lynn gets to live a day in the life of Jodi. That means going shopping with Jodi’s best friend and Jodi’s clothing allowance. Lynn manages to spend more than $700 on clothes – I think – and is forced into a $500 haircut (which is no worse than the tired perm she had, but isn’t much better either), and a manicure, and a $180 workout with Jodi’s personal trainer, who also happens to be Cindy Crawford’s personal trainer.
Back in Rome – where things are much more interesting, which I guess is why we’re seeing a lot more of it – Brad has learned of Jodi’s 15-minute effort at wood-chopping. He is incensed, and fumes that he doesn’t know how 15 minutes a day constitutes doing someone’s job. He’s very big on the idea that Jodi is there to do his wife’s job.
In New York, Lynn finally sees the kids, for the first time all day. But quickly, Stephen swoops in to take her out to dinner. He praises her new look. She thinks he likes to be seen out on the town. At dinner, which they’re having with several of Stephen’s friends, he starts asking Lynn questions like she’s some exotic new creature of a sort he’s never seen before. I think he’s just never met someone with her rural, working-class background, and his reaction is to poke the creature. I have a friend who regarded me in a similar fashion – he and I were very different and he had never met anyone like me before, and I always said his reaction to me was that of an anthropologist who has just discovered a new creature and his response is to say, “Well, let’s get a stick and poke it, and see what it does.”
What Lynn does is get pissed off. Stephen’s questions, unlike those of my friend, range from snide to offensive. He has trouble believing that Lynn would not want his money and lifestyle if her family had it. He probes further, asking if she wouldn’t feel she’d gone “up the food chain.” In the social standing food chain she might, Stephen, but in classiness and the social grace not to make a guest feel like a peasant food chain, I’m thinking being like you would be dropping several rungs.
In Rome, things are taking a similar downhill turn. Jodi is an hour late getting to the wood-chopping pile – that means 6:30 a.m., still an ungodly hour in my book – and she does nothing about actually chopping anything. Instead, Brad finds her inside, gossiping with one of Lynn’s friends. He’s pissed, and they get into a downright screaming match. Brad again claims she’s here to do his wife’s job – what, does he think they just hired her to do exactly what Lynn does? – and Jodi yells back that he’s done nothing to help her, such as show her HOW to chop wood. What, that isn’t taught in New York society charm school?
Brad then takes things to a more personal level, saying that Jodi pretends to be such a good mother but really it’s the army of nannies and the maid who do all the work. He calls her high and mighty and says she’s done nothing in the house. Jodi fires back that Lynn wrote that she feels unappreciated by Brad and that he isn’t romantic. She thinks Brad is selfish, that she’d never live with him and that Lynn is getting “a raw deal.”
“It isn’t even a question of different worlds, it’s different planets,” Brad fumes, while Jodi has a cigarette and a cry. She says she’s never been spoken to like that.
Payback’s a Bitch
Well, week one flew by in less than half an hour. Now it’s time for week two, in which the wives are in control.
Jodi plans to make Brad take on some more household responsibility – he expects she’ll do it just to spite him. She informs him he will clean, will take her out for dinner and will learn to make romantic gestures, although not to her. Brad asks what Jodi will be doing while he does his wife’s job – she sweetly informs him that she’ll be jogging and doing the things she does at home. Brad fumes that she’s a “useless woman” and I think he suggested to his daughters that they’d be the ones vacuuming.
Lynn starts off with some changes to the house itself – she lays down a kitchy welcome mat and a floral countrified tablecloth. Um, yeah, Stephen’s going to *love* those additions to his multi-million dollar apartment. He tries to be diplomatic, commenting on her redecorating “with very different taste” than his wife. (or, more likely, his wife’s hired decorators.) Lynn also wants the family to spend time together, so she forces Stephen to dismiss the nannies. He looks petrified. “Are they taking the kids with them?” he asks. No, sugar. YOUR kids are staying with YOU. Lynn also wants him home by 6:30 every night, a condition Stephen finds laughable. His job, which pays for the nice apartment, won’t allow such early hours, he says.
In a private moment with the cameras, Stephen notes that he’s used to a different lifestyle than Lynn is. “She comes from hillbilly land, and they do things differently out there,” he says. Oh no he didn’t. This is the second time I’ve used a recap as my personal soapbox on this issue, but I just feel compelled to point out that “hillbilly” is a pejorative term, and is not looked kindly upon by people who are from the country or, indeed, from the hills. Also, I never heard of New Jersey being “hillbilly land.” End rant, but Stephen’s on my bad side now.
For that reason, I take a certain measure of glee in watching his discomfort during the family dinner that Lynn insist he come home for. It’s the first time in years they’ve had a home-cooked meal, and he has no idea how to feed his children. He is forced to look to Lynn for advice. The little girl wants out of her high chair, and Lynn says that’s fine, but Stephen muses that then someone will have to watch her. Obviously, it’s easy to let a nanny spoil you. Lynn, exasperated, tells him it’s only for five days and surely he can survive that. But Stephen stays an hour and then heads back out to the office.
In “hillbilly land,” – humph – Brad is cleaning toilets, vacuuming and chopping the wood. He’s even cooking. Meanwhile, Jodi is teaching his daughters about “me time.” They bond over manicures. The girls are thrilled. By dinner, Brad is practically in tears, missing Lynn (or, missing her doing the work. You be the judge).
As the week progresses, Stephen stops abiding by Lynn’s rules. He does not come home for dinner – although he does call – and he is not there to read the kids a bedtime story. Lynn complains that he treats her like part of the staff, and has no respect for her or her values.
We cut to Stephen, who has chosen to work-out at the gym rather than go home. He says there’s no sense in rushing home when Lynn’s there waiting to force family time on him. He’s eager to see her out the door. At the home where he is not, one of his children tells Lynn he’ll miss her and that she’s a good mom.
A Separate Peace
It’s time for the sappy “I’ve learned so much” part of the show.
In New Jersey, things have taken a sudden turn for the better. Brad’s outburst at the dinner table seems to have softened Jodi toward him. She helps him with the woodchopping, and he says he judged her too harshly and expected too much. Nobody, Brad says, can fill his wife’s shoes.
Jodi makes cookies with the girls and their friends, and says she’ll be more open to cooking now. Well, not *right* now. She and Brad go out to dinner for her last night there. Brad says he’d like to go back to the start of the swap, because they got off on the wrong foot, and he regrets that fight they had. They stumble over each other trying to apologize.
In New York, though, relations are disintegrating fast. It’s the last night of the swap, and Lynn appears to have allowed the children to eat peanut butter. Stephen bitches about whether peanut butter is good enough for her own kids, and snidely says he’d have expected something better from her on a Saturday night, such as franks and beans. Yeah, Stephen, that’s all we eat out in the wilderness surrounding New York. Punk.
Stephen goes off and orders takeout, while Lynn fumes that he enjoys criticizing her and putting her down. Well, it doesn’t look like it was hurting him, that’s for sure. She tells him she’s decided to sleep elsewhere that night, rather than stay in the house. Stephen says he assumes its because they chose not to eat her dinner. Lynn says that no, actually, it’s because he’s an arrogant snob. Ok, those were my words. Lynn’s words are “sarcastic remarks” which she does not appreciate. Stephen says she’s so far off the mark “it’s disgusting.”
Close Your Eyes and Click Your Heels Together Three Times
The two weeks are up, and it’s time to swap wives back. Stephen and Lynn are so estranged that they travel to the meeting place in separate cars. Lynn says she has learned to stand up for herself, and wishes that she had told Brad years ago that there were things she wasn’t happy with. Despite Brad’s faults, though, she loves him, especially compared to Stephen.
The reunited couples hug, kiss and cry. Yadda yadda. In a parking lot. Accompanied by cheesy music.
They then must sit at a table together and rehash the experience. Lynn says she feels badly about leaving the way she did, but explains that she feels like Stephen looks down on her. He says he’d hoped to learn something from her about close families, or something. I don’t know how he thought he’d learn that by working out at the gym.
Lynn also tells Jodi an hour a day with the kids isn’t enough, and Jodi agrees tearfully. She also says she has some prejudice, but that she and Brad worked through that and became friends. Aw.
Brad says he learned how much he loves Lynn, and hates that the 10 days she was gone is 10 days less that he’ll have with her. He’s realized he doesn’t show his appreciation for her enough. Damn, who would have pegged Brad for such a sensitive, sobbing guy?
Just to wrap everything up, the show checked back in on the families a few weeks (or days, or months, I don’t know) later. Life in both families has changed. Jodi and Stephen are spending more time with the kids, and Jodi crows that her daughter now calls for her, instead of the nanny, in the mornings.
Brad says the show experience has changed his life. He wants to be a perfect husband, and he’s doing a lot more to help out around the house. And, of course, with the woodpile.
Another swap, which looks to be equally contentious, as we hear one person called a “devil woman,” and another threatens to strangle someone. Oh, goodie.
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