Episode Title: A New Family
Season 04, Episode 16
Episode 069 of 344
Written by Robert Bielak
Original Airdate: Thursday, January 27th, 1983
The Plot (Courtesy of TV.Com): Mack moves into Karen's and Eric has a hard time dealing with it. Gary finds out about Abby's contract with Richard and starts to drink. Diana tells Abby the rumors about Ciji and Gary at Ciji's recording session. A drunken Gary bursts into the session and yells at Abby that they're hurting people and ruining lives. Abby yells at Ciji that she knows about the affair and to stay away from Gary. Jeff tells Val that Thornwall leaked the story. Lilimae confronts Chip, who apologizes and cries, so Lilimae relents and lets him stay. Ciji cries on Laura's shoulder about everybody hating her. Richard is mad about how much time Laura spends with Ciji. Abby and Gary make up, and he says he doesn't want her hiding things from him. She says she was only trying to protect him. Abby then brings him to the lawyer, who has drawn up a contract making Abby an equal partner. Gary walks out, and later, he shows up at Ciji's, extremely drunk.
Welcome back to Knots Blogging. I wanna explain something right off the bat before we dive into the episode up for discussion today, A New Family. As I believe I’ve written in the past, a visit with My Beloved Grammy always includes one solid disk of KL entertainment, however many eps are on that disk. Usually it’s five, but sometimes it’s less, like three or four, but we have never exceeded five eps at one time aside from when we have squeezed in a Dallas Interlude along with the KL eps. Anyway, it’s sometimes hard for me to sit down to write these essays and remember all the details of five episodes in a row, right? But I want to say that, in this instance, we had just seven episodes left in season four, five on one disk and then two on the other. Well, I certainly didn’t wanna watch five episodes, get all excited and into the stories and then be like, “Okay, we’ll watch the last two eps of the season next time we hang out.” It would be a bit of a boner killer. So, we picked a good day that worked for both of us, I showed up with food and coffee and we powered through the final seven episodes of season four all in one sitting, spanning A New Family through the season finale, Willing Victims. Obviously this was a lovely day, and I can’t think of a better way to spend over six hours than watching KL (I’m not being facetious, by the way; I honestly think a solid day of doing nothing but watching KL is just about as great as life can possibly get). But I am just putting that information out there so that you, my lovely readers, know that as I sit to write about A New Family, there are also six more episodes I watched and need to write about to follow. Basically, if I forget some of the small details of the eps, or if just seems like I’m not doing as good at keeping track of what happens to whom, it’s because we watched more eps in one sitting than we’ve ever watched before, and they do sorta start to blur (blur into a blend of sheer genius, of course) in my mind, so cut me a break, okay? Okay, good, moving on!
We last left off on an exciting cliffhanger, hardcore alcoholic Gary standing at The Beach House, looking at the ocean, with a glass of bourbon in his hand, about to drink. Now, I sorta expected this episode to start with him all drunk and messed up, but it actually doesn’t, which leads me to question: Did he take that drink or not? We didn’t physically see him take the drink at the end of To Have and to Hold, did we? I’m pretty sure we didn’t, so does that mean Gary threw that drink away, didn’t have any alcohol, and managed to abstain a little bit until we get to this episode? This is one of the only things I found a bit confusing regarding this ep, because when we first see Gary this week, he seems sober and okay, and shit doesn’t get real until he starts drinking in this episode. Anyone have any ideas?
We open at The Beach House and Abs is still fuming mad about that tabloid article from last week. She’s walking around, all angry, talking about suing, but Gary has an interesting line here, a line that says a lot about his character. It’s hard for me to put into words, but I said it out loud to My Beloved Grammy and it sounded smart when I said it, so here it is: Basically, Gary has this strange ability to be somewhat self-actualized while also being a total mess and having a super fucked up life. See, here, when Abs is all mad, Gary is all calm and is like, “Everything Val said is true; I am a drunk and I did run off on her.” It’s interesting to me that Gary recognizes these bad traits in himself and just flat out says them to the woman he’s currently sleeping with, but he also, at least at this juncture, doesn’t really seem to do much to change it; he’d rather wallow in his own misery. Anyway, Abs makes a very poor choice a few minutes later when she decides to run off and do her thing (go shopping or something; I can’t remember) and she leaves Gary all alone in the house in the middle of the day with a fully stocked liquor cabinet. Hell, it’s not even a liquor cabinet, for Christ’s sake; the booze is just sitting out there on the bar right in the living room. What the hell do you think is gonna happen?
But wait, before I talk about Gary drinking again, let’s pause to talk about how fucking well this scene is shot. Ladies and gentlemen, Bill Duke (pictured above) is back, and I’m so delighted he is. You may recall that the last time we spoke of Bill Duke, the legendary black actor/director who you may recognize from such movies as Predator or Commando (“This Green Beret’s about to kick your ass!”) was when he directed Power Play from season three. I remember enjoying that episode very much, but I don’t remember it being nearly as stylish as this little masterpiece of television. See, when Abs and Gary are standing in the living room chatting, they do so in front of these venetian blinds, in a real extreme close up, with the slants of shadow and light from the blinds creating cool lines across their face, almost like a scene from a film noir or an old Hitchcock movie or something. Seriously, this scene is shot great, and way better than I would expect from a network show in 1983 (certainly better than any scene shot on Dallas ever). I don’t know if I should credit Bill Duke with bringing the style or if the show is just inherently so much better than its contemporaries that the directors come in to do an ep or two and bask in the glory of getting to do little stylish shots and cool angles. I kinda vote for the latter since I’ve been spotting cool stylish tricks all the way since Pilot, but I think season four really ups the game even more from the previous three years. Anyway, as soon as Abs leaves the room, the ghost of Bernard Hermann suddenly shows up to haunt The Beach House (Bernie's ghost has been popping up a lot lately) as shrieking violins take over the soundtrack while Gary walks over to the bar, pours himself a big old glass of bourbon, and drinks the entire thing in, I think, one solid gulp. Yup, we all saw the two-part Bottom of the Bottle from season one, and we all know this is not good news for Gary.
The next time we see Gary, he seems to be in happy drunk mode. In fact, he’s in that perfect drunken state where you’re kinda cheerful and you seem maybe a little drunk, but mostly you’re just friendly and you could probably pass for sober if you tried. See, we are in the kitchen at Daniel, where Richard is preparing food or something, when Gary comes in, all happy, and starts making chit chat with Richard. Things are casual until Richard mentions how the check is in the mail, and Gary’s like, “Ah, no big deal, you don’t have to pay me until the restaurant starts turning a real profit.” At this point, Richard is confused, and finally lets the cat out of the bag when he says how Abs threatened him with a foreclosure if he didn’t pay all of his bills right on time. I guess for the entire last batch of episodes, Richard has been assuming that Gary was aware of this and had agreed upon it with Abs, but this is actually the first Gary has heard of it. He gets mad and rushes out of the kitchen, and Richard does that classic TV show thing where he chases Gary only as far as the door, shouting Gary’s name, but then gives up as soon as he reaches the threshold, as if Gary has disappeared into some vortex that Richard can’t enter.
Next up is the greatest scene of campy Gary in the history of the series, and maybe the greatest scene ever put on television. I’ll try to find a link to this scene or perhaps figure out how to insert it myself (I figured it out and you can now see it right below; please watch it immediately), because everyone in the world needs to see it. Again, a quick reminder that I love KL more than life itself and I love Gary and I love the whole experience, and that includes the camp value of certain moments, so remember I’m not making fun; I’m expressing my love for KL in all its aspects and all its emotions. Anyway, Ciji and Abs and, um, Munson (sorry, I fell asleep in the middle of typing his name), along with a myriad of other folk, are at the recording studio, getting ready to record a new song. I’m not sure what this song is; it didn’t jump out and strike me like Ciji’s others when I recognize it as an obvious cover. I think I’ve heard this song before in my life, but I can’t remember. Oh yeah, and also, I was originally planning to keep track of all of Lisa Hartman’s songs on the series, but I think it’s clear that it’s a lost cause at this point. She sings so many, and I’m so often just enraptured by the show, staring wide eyed at the screen, that I forget to write down what song she was singing and add it to the roster. So it’s official; as of this moment, I am no longer attempting to count her songs or rank them; I’ll just sorta point them out when I point them out.
The scene is, as I’ve already pointed out earlier, shot with tremendous cinematic style, because just as the song kicks in, we cut to outside of the recording studio as Gary speeds up, all pissed off. Then the song continues for a little while before he comes bursting into the session, so drunk he can barely even walk, screaming Abby’s name. He spots Abs behind that window that separates the singers from the observers and he hangs his hands against the window and starts screaming at Abs. He’s all like, “Why are you doing this? We have to stop! We’re ruining people!” Then he delivers the best part, which is “We’re ruining lives!” Written out, it obviously doesn’t look as amazing as it is on the show, because Shack manages to enlarge the word ‘lives’ to last about seventeen minutes, and his mouth gets so wide as he screams. It’s a beautiful thing and every time I’ve seen it, I’ve peed my pants from laughing, and this time was no exception.
The beauty of KL is that we can have an undisputed camp classic right before our very eyes and then, within seconds, I’m totally invested in the drama and feeling sad for Gary again. Cuz after his little speech, he stumbles and falls down onto the ground and Ciji comes to help him up, and he’s now in pathetic drunk mode, where he can hardly even talk, and he just keeps saying, “I’m sorry, Ciji, I’m sorry,” and right there I suddenly felt really bad. I’m sad for Gary because he’s ruining his own life and I want him to get better and be able to improve it. On another show, a scene as campy as “We’re ruining lives,” would take over the mood of the entire episode, but on KL, I can switch right back to being legitimately invested in the drama just a second later. I don’t know how the show manages to do it, but it does.
After a commercial break, Ciji is helping Gary out of the studio and they’re sitting on the sidewalk. Now would be a good time to mention that Chip’s little lie from last week, the one about Gary and Ciji sleeping together, is making the rounds and now everyone is starting to talk about it. Abs herself has gotten wind of this little rumor, so she bursts out onto the street all angry and tells Ciji to stay away from Gary, adding something like, “It’s bad enough that you’re sleeping with him.” Yup, shit is getting real here.
I’m gonna skip to the final scene of the ep, in which Gary shows up at Ciji’s door, totally drunk, and simply asks if he can come in. Again, this sounds boring on paper, but how can I explain how exciting it is when you’re watching it? It’s the last scene and the “Executive Producers” credits seem to pop up over Gary’s face even before he’s finished his words. It’s one of those endings where you just gasp and go, “Omigod, the episode is over!” Everything was zooming by so fast and I was enjoying it so much that when it’s over, I’m unable to believe 48 minutes have already passed. It’s also just a good cliffhanger ending: Will Gary sleep with Ciji or not? Okay, so that about does it for Gary and the beginnings of his cataclysmic bender, so let’s move on to some other characters. How are Karen and Mack doing this week? Well, this might be the least interesting portion of the episode, but I still liked it. When we last left off, they had ditched having a big, fancy, expensive wedding and run off to Vegas to elope along with Dick Miller and his trashy bride. This week, they return home to a loving welcome from the three Fairgate kids, who have even gone to the trouble of making a nice “Welcome Back” sign to hold up. At first everything seems rosy, but then it becomes pretty clear that something pretty big and jagged is lodged up Eric’s butt, since he spends the majority of the episode acting like a whiny little bitch, acting more like Diana, in fact.
What’s the problem? Actually, I understand and sympathize with Eric and I’m glad that he’s the sorta lone voice of reason in this ep when it comes to Karen and Mack’s marriage. When we watched To Have and to Hold, even though I was glad to see Karen and Mack get married since I love both of them, I did think it was maybe a bit inconsiderate of them to just run off and elope after all their friends were ready to go to their wedding. The weirdest thing about A New Family is that they return home from Vegas and pretty much nobody seems to care that they ditched, nobody, that is, except for Eric. I mean, don’t you at least expect Val to express some disappointment that she wasn’t able to see her good friend get married? Everyone’s just sorta okay with it, even though that was kinda douchy behavior on their part, and I find that a bit vexing. But anyway, that’s what’s bothering Eric. We have a few scenes where they’re, like, sitting down to dinner and then Eric storms off and is like, “I’m not hungry.” We also have one scene where he’s working on an engine in the garage and when Mack comes out to try and help, Eric just tells him that he’s distracting him. At first I thought that maybe Eric was mad about the idea of Mack replacing Sid (even though Mack gives a pretty terrific speech to all the kids right at the start of the ep about how he has no intention of replacing their father), or that just seeing Mack in the garage, that space where Sid spent so much of his time, was bothering Eric. However, Mack finally sits down for a man-to-man with Eric to see what the problem is. Eric starts by saying how, after Sid died, he had to take over doing certain things around the house, like carving the roast, and he liked doing those things. Mack says they can both alternate doing things like that, it’s no big deal, but then Eric says how he was mad that his mom ran off to get married in Vegas and he wasn’t even able to see it. Even though I made fun of Eric a bit and said he was acting like a whiny little bitch, I do feel bad for him and I do see where he’s coming from. The only flaw of the ep, for me, is that nobody else expresses similar feelings, which seems unrealistic.
Okay, so that’s it for Karen and Mack this week. How are things going with Laura and Ciji and their lesbian relationship? Quite swimmingly; thank you for asking. With this ep, I paused and specifically asked My Beloved Grammy if she was sensing the lesbianic undertones, and she said yes, but she also said she was only just starting to sense it, whereas I sense it pretty much right off the bat. In the case of this ep, I remember a scene where Laura is on the phone with Richard and Ciji is hanging out in the background. Laura basically rushes Richard off the phone and is like, “I gotta go,” and then she steps out of the camera’s view just a second before the scene cuts. What’s going on there? Obviously she hangs up the phone and then steps out of frame to go have lesbian sex with Ciji, duh! Also, we get another wonderfully uncomfortable bedroom scene between Richard and Laura where she’s lying on her side and he starts trying to get frisky. He starts by rubbing her back, but Laura doesn’t want it, saying how she just wants to go to sleep. Richard starts to get pretty mad and yell at Laura about her relationship with Ciji, but the conversation is interrupted by Jason 3 busting into the room to see what all the commotion is about. Thanks to this, their fight only hints at the thoughts that are racing through Richard’s head; they are not made explicit.
This is so fucking great, and watching it again, I’m in awe of how skilled the writing is and how delightfully subversive this all is. Again, nobody liked us gay people back in 1983, especially not regular straight white people who would be watching network TV, so the show somehow manages to perfectly balance this implication of the possibility that Laura and Ciji are shagging alongside the possibility that they are just good friends and Richard is a paranoiac. Just because I firmly believe that the two are muff diving does not necessarily make it so; I would respect the opinion of someone who thinks Laura and Ciji are just close. It’s this bizarre and delicate balancing act that the writers and actors have to pull off to keep everything just sorta beneath the surface, and it’s done so skillfully and I’m really in awe of it along with the fact that it managed to air on TV at all.
Val’s present in this episode, but I don’t remember her doing a whole hell of a lot. However, Lilimae has a pretty important scene where she confronts Chip and asks him directly if he was responsible for giving the pages of Val’s manuscript to Thornwall. Chip manages to do his usual Chip thing and spin a lie up right and quick and still come out seeming somewhat genuine. Remember that Lilimae has a bit of a crush on Chip (which, if I haven’t mentioned it before, I find really adorable as well as rather touching and sad, all at the same time), so I think she’s dealing with weird mixed emotions in this instance. She’s mad at Chip for what he’s done, but she also wants to believe his lies because she just plain likes the guy. When he asks if she can ever forgive him, she says how he can stay in the house (which I still find pretty bizarre, but whatever), but that she’ll be “Watching him like a hawk.”
Okay, and I think that about does it for our character stories in A New Family. So, how did I find this episode? Well, I thought it was fucking great, and it was kinda this weird surprise that I wasn’t expecting. Follow me here, because you all know that I love KL and that, aside from a few kinda blah eps near the middle of the season (Emergency, Abby’s Choice, and The Block Party), I have found season four to be incredibly brilliant and gripping up to this point, so why would I be surprised at how much I enjoyed this one? Well, it’s because I put the disk in and I saw that the third ep on the disk was Celebration, and I was like, “Ooooh, that’s a big one,” and I was sorta thinking about how excited I was to get to that ep, right? But then, right off the bat, this ep grabbed me by the balls with a style that I did not recall. I thought this was one of the most well shot episodes we’ve seen, not just in the season, but in the whole series, and it moved at this rapid fire pace where there was something happening every single second, and it had that amazing ability to mix the high camp of “WE’RE RUINING LIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIVES” with legit drama that I feel totally and 100% invested in. Finally, the episode just booked along. Like I said, when it was over, I sorta snapped out of a trance and was like, “Jesus, it’s already over?!” Those 48 minutes zoomed by and I didn’t feel them at all; I was so enthralled that I would have sworn we had only watched fifteen or twenty minutes but then BOOM, the ep was over.
Okay, so that about does it for A New Family, so let’s move on to what comes next, The Morning After.