February 7, 2005 -- 'Wife Swap," ABC's reality show, is like my favorite documentary, "Hands on a Hard Body."
Both sound like dirty Internet sites, but are instead hilarious, touching, maddening human studies that can teach you everything you need to know in life - including how to install a 50,000 BTU air conditioner.
The producers of "Wife Swap," have a genius for picking the perfect women to be "swapped," and an even better knack for picking the perfect families with which to swap them. The hippy-dippy, animal-activist wife gets swapped to a family that's never met an animal it didn't want for the wall.
They even had husbands change households - a vegan husband living in an upscale, spiritual, meditation housing development (yes) swapped with a motorcyle-riding wildman.
But this week's show will go down in the books as a stunner. A white, liberal lesbian wife and mother, Kristine Luffey, switches lives with an ultra-conservative, very uptight, Republican evangelical African-American woman, Kris Gillespie, married to an equally uptight white man.
The most astonishing part is how blind to any change and intolerant of any other kind of life Kris, the Christian, actually is. She opens by describing her wonderfully opulent life (including her 9-karat diamond ring!), and sees nothing even slightly weird about not allowing her children - 12, 14 and 16 - any freedom whatsoever.
Kris, shocked to find she's moved into a lesbian household, wants very much to impose her values on Kristine's family, calling the two women's living arrangement "depraved" and arguing that living with Kristine's partner's 8-year-old daughter, Elizabeth, did not make them a "family" unit.
Kristine, meanwhile, tries to loosen up Kris' family - forcing the husband to take dance lessons at the local Texas gay gin joint.
Shockingly, the uptight husband - who says things about his wife like, "It's like having a diamond; you always know the value of the diamond but you still want to have it in your possession" - actually begins to enjoy having a little fun.
Kris, who must know that even 20 years ago, her interracial marriage would have been considered as "depraved" to many as Kristine's lesbian relationship is to her now, goes so far as to imply that because Kristine is gay, she could possibly be a sexual predator. She believes that it was immoral for her to be in the same household as her 12-year-old daughter because the child may be in danger.
When Kris left home, she exclaimed: "Excellence is a journey, so if I find a way to make it more excellent, that's very valuable for me."
After the 10-day "journey to excellence," Kris denounces Kristine's lesbian lifestyle - saying, "I think you are, according to the word of God, depraved, and I don't want anyone depraved near my kids" - making Kristine cry hysterically.
Kris' kids had a great time being allowed to have friends over for a sleepover for the first time. Meanwhile, Kristine's adopted daughter, 8-year-old Elizabeth, loved being treated by Kris to "princess day," when she got to wear a tiara and do girlie things with her stay-at-home "mom."
The parents might not have learned anything about life - either from each other or from their kids - but we sure do!