Episode Title: Parental Guidance
Season 08, Episode 28
Episode 188 of 344
Directed by Nick Havinga
Original Airdate: Thursday, April 30th, 1987
The Plot (Courtesy of TV.Com): Laura has a baby girl - 8lbs, 3 oz! Anne goes back East. Mack asks Greg if he could be Paige's father, but Greg insists he never slept with Anne. Jill intercepts Olivia's letter for Peter and burns it. Paige thinks she and Peter are getting married. Peter tells Abby that he'd rather marry her. Abby tells him to dump Paige. After he does, Abby tells Peter to take a hike. Mack and Karen tell Paige that Greg may be her father. Crying, she says Anne was just being vindictive, but thinks this is why Peter broke it off with her. Ben tells Val that his obsession is ruining the family, and she thinks he has come back to his senses. Ben makes plans to leave the country, but tells Val he got a job in South America. Ben asks Mack to keep an eye on the family, and tells Gary that he's glad that the twins have him as security, in case something should ever happen to him. Ben leaves for his "job" in a taxi, but one gets the feeling he is really leaving forever.
When we last left off, Anne had been humiliated via Mack and his invitation to dinner and his “Kiss the Cook” apron. Spurned, Anne announced she would be returning to New York or wherever and then also threw a plot twist our way by telling Mack that Anne is Greg Sumner’s daughter. Hmmm, is that true? We shall explore this question a bit more as we discuss Parental Guidance.
Actually, in truth we don’t explore this question all that much this ep, although it does come up. Mostly it seems like the writers want to draw this mystery out a little longer, keep it going over the summer and not resolve it until we get started with the ninth season. For the purposes of this ep, we have some footage of Mack wrestling with his feelings on how Anne was such a manipulative liar (“The more I spend time with Anne, the more I feel I don’t know her at all,” he opines in a scene that I have already forgotten about but which I put down in my notes as, “Good acting from The Dobsonator”). Also, we get a little bit in which Karen and Mack try to tell Paige that she ain’t Mack’s daughter, but she’s having none of it. Paige is more familiar with her mother’s manipulations and can see right through this little charade. She tells Mack that Anne only invented this little bit of information after she got burned by him, that it was self-defense and nothing more. That’s about all we get for this storyline this ep, and I do have to admit that while there’s nothing wrong with this story, it’s not really compelling me in any special way. Is it because of my 20/20 hindsight vision and the fact that I know how this is going to turn out? That’s a possibility, but I also think this just isn’t a particularly exciting story. MBG seems to find it compelling, however, and she started talking about how she isn’t sure who the real father is, that this is a good plot twist and all that, but I think I disagree. Mostly it’s the fact that Paige has only been on the show for a year and yet we’ve already seen so many examples of her being used as a plot function. She’s introduced and the first mystery is, “Is she really Mack’s daughter?” Then after we got past that, we saw the Paige Matheson headstone and the mystery became, “Is Paige actually dead and this girl is just an imposter?” Now that we’ve added Anne into the equation and then sent her packing (for a few years), we are now faced with the new mystery of, “Who is Paige’s real father?” I remember really liking the Paige character a lot and I have the feeling that I will still like her once we move a little further away from this year and she’s become more established, but I have to say the season eight Paige is not really doing it for me the way I remembered. Part of it is the fact that she shows up to the series and immediately starts getting so much attention and so many stories built around her, while at the same time old veterans I love like Laura and Lilimae are getting absolutely nothing to do. Part of it is that I just want this character to be; I want to get nice and settled on who Paige Matheson is and what she’s like and what makes up her core and then let her go about having her stories from there. Instead, the writers throughout this year have been so eager to keep her shrouded in mystery, her true origins always cloudy or unknown, and it’s just getting old at this point.
Hey, I just mentioned Laura and how she’s got nothing to do and, wouldn’t you know it, she actually kinda sorta does have something to do this ep. Now, before you get too excited, I should mention that Laura’s entire story pretty much remains offscreen this week; in fact, off the top of the head, before doing any research to confirm, I have the suspicious feeling that Laura doesn’t even actually show her face this ep, that rather we just get a lot of offscreen Laura being mentioned by other characters. I just took a quick look at the (probably wildly inaccurate) IMDb page for this episode and Constance is credited just like normal, none of that “(credit only)” business like they sometimes do. However, I’ve got the ep pulled up in front of my on my computer and I can definitely confirm that Laura is nowhere to be seen during the biggest announcement of the ep, which is that she has given birth yet again. Seriously, this is awkwardly done, because we start the scene with Mack in the bathroom (he’s just standing at the sink in his robe, not taking a shit or anything like that) and then the phone rings and we cut to Sumner on the other end, standing in a hospital and looking proud while that bad music I’m always complaining about this year plays over the soundtrack. As soon as Mack answers, Greg is all enthused and is like, “Laura just had a little girl!” Oh yeah, and a little later we get to add Cigar #28 to the Sumner Cigar Counter (in a scene on his ranch in which he’s talking with Mack).
I’m happy for Laura for having this little girl (and for finally getting a girl after the double whammy of boys that was Jason 4 and Daniel), but Jesus, couldn’t we have at least seen….something? This feels like footage was chopped out for syndication, but I’m pretty sure that’s not it, since I watched the ep via my DVDs and then again via my top secret internet measures, in which the eps are all original broadcast versions. It’s just odd how we don’t get any footage of Laura going into labor, or making the journey to the hospital, or doing the whole “Push push” thing that’s so popular amongst women giving birth; we get none of that. Instead, we just have Greg making a phonecall, in a static and boring shot of him standing in a hallway in which it appears the director (this week it’s Nick Havinga, who has done some very fine work for us in the past) decided to just plop the camera on a tripod and let the filming commence. The fact that Laura is so disrespected by the writers at this point that they can’t even bother to give us some small bit of footage of her giving birth just shows that this character is better off retired. I think I might have said something like this before, but fuck it, here it comes again. Understand that when I say Laura is better off retired, it doesn’t mean I don’t love the character, because of course I love this character, and I have since the Pilot. But we will be losing Laura very soon, just a few eps into season nine, and right now I think that’s the right decision, because why bother having her in the show, in those scrolling squares, a main cast member who’s been around since 1979, if you’re not gonna give her anything to work with? I again remind you that neither J.B. nor Peter (nor Paige, for that matter) are main cast members right now; they are also credited as guest stars or recurring or whatever, and yet they get major, significant storylines that span all year, so why is Laura sitting off on the sidelines? It seems disrespectful to the character, but it also reeks of the writers not even wanting to write this much for her. I definitely get the sense that Constance got pregnant in real life (which I already knew, but I even went and double checked and confirmed that she gave birth to Marguerite Weisman on February 25th, 1987) and the writers just had to scramble to write this pregnancy into the story. You get the sense that they just don’t care, that they’re maybe even resentful at the real life Constance for having the gall to get pregnant yet again (remember she was pregnant in real life the last time Laura had a baby on the show). In my memories, this pregnancy and the baby and what winds up happening with the baby over the next six years provide us with great material and tons of exciting stories, but at this exact moment, only focusing in on this eighth season and how Laura’s pregnancy has been handled, it kinda sucks. Laura’s an original series cast member and she’s a very interesting and funny character and she deserves more respect.
We get an interesting bit of business between Olivia and Abs early in the ep. If you’ll recall, our last ep showed Olivia catching a towel-clad Paige romping around Peter’s apartment, and that’s got her all upset now, so she shows up at the start of this ep to her new house with Abs (if I haven’t mentioned it yet; the two have now settled in a fabulous new place which I believe they will inhabit for the rest of Abby’s time on the series), all upset and distraught. Abs asks her what’s wrong and then Olivia pulls a joint out of her purse and hands it to Abs. She’s all crying and tells Abs how she wasn’t going to smoke it and doesn’t even know why she got it in the first place, and Abs says it’s okay. I like that, by the way. I like that Olivia stumbled and went and bought the joint but now she’s giving it to Abs and being direct with her, and I like that Abs doesn’t get mad at her because of it. Also, even though I support Olivia’s path to sobriety and all that, I kinda like to imagine that as soon as Olivia gets to bed, Abs is gonna call up a boy and have him over to blaze up the doobie and hop in the hot tub together for a nice stoned shag.
I gotta say, as we are moving closer and closer to our season finale and the end of our discussions of season eight, Olivia is really coming out smelling like a rose this year. It seems that no matter what’s going on in the series around her, Olivia always delivers, proving my point once again that Tonya Crowe was a very underrated little actress. I’ve loved watching her grow from the little nine year old girl she was when first introduced and start to become a much more important part of the series. This year they gave her the big cocaine storyline to work with and I thought she did great, and I still think she’s great right here, even in a small scene like giving the joint to Abs. I always believe in Olivia as a real person and I like that she’s allowed to be flawed and sometimes a little brat, but there’s a certain core goodness to her. A lot of the stories this season have been wildly problematic, but Olivia has looked good the whole way through.
You know that whole letter that Sylvia wrote and that she wanted to be given to, you know, somebody or other in the event of her death? Well, I’m not compelled by this plot arc either, but it’s still here and we’re still dealing with it. Last ep, Olivia got angry and mailed that letter to Gary, information she volunteers to Abs in this ep. As soon as she hears this, Abs kicks into action, calling Gary up and saying how Olivia was so upset and all that, and then she makes up a fib right and quick by telling him that Olivia wrote an angry letter and mailed it to him, but she regrets it and doesn’t want him to see it. She suggests that Gary send the letter back to her and she’ll tell Olivia she destroyed it, to which Gary agrees, although I do have to question this. As I’m watching this play out, I feel two ways. I continue to marvel at Abby’s ability to swoop in and clean up a situation with some lies, but I also question whether these lies would still work on Gary. After three years of marriage and another year or so before that in which they were shagging a lot, I’d think Gary would be able to recognize Abby’s manipulations when they come his way. I’m not so sure I believe he would just believe Abs about this letter and agree to send it back; he’s seen her work before and he knows how she operates, how she’s able to talk in a way that sounds so gentle and genuine, even when every word she says is dripping with falsities. At the same time, I can see how complicated these things are, that their long marriage would make Gary familiar with Abby’s lies but also with her moments of honesty, those times when she lets her guard down and just speaks the naked truth.
In any case, Gary never sees the letter because J.B. gets word of its impending arrival and nicely takes care of it. She shares a short flirtation with Gary, something about going off to sunny Acapulco to shag a lot, and then as soon as he vacates the room, she grabs the stack of mail and goes through it, finding nothing. Fortunately, a little later the letter arrives and J.B. throws it right in the fireplace, making me wish I had a fireplace of my own. In fact, since this story isn’t all that interesting, let’s just take a detour and talk about how great fireplaces are and how I wish they were still standard in all houses. How amazing is it to just light a total fire and have a fire blazing inside of your home, but nicely self-contained in this little area made just specifically for the purposes of having a fire? And why is the heat from a real, true fire so much better than the heat you get just by pushing a button and turning it on? And why are fires so unbelievably romantic? Why is making sweet love in front of the fireplace just so unbelievably appealing? Finally, how awesome would it be to have a fireplace that you can just throw paper into whenever you feel like it? If I had a fireplace, I would burn all my mail just for the sheer joy of it.
Let’s talk about Ben and then we’ll wrap it up. Ben is achingly close to leaving the series forever, and in fact, this ep marks his penultimate appearance. Watching it, I actually thought this might wind up being his very final appearance, because it sure feels that way, but he gets one small scene over the phone in our next ep, so that’s the truly last appearance. Anyway, as we catch up at Val’s house this week, we see that Ben is becoming more and more unhinged, more and more of a paranoid maniac. Sure, things looked bad when he was attacking Lilimae and nearly breaking her neck in the middle of the night, but I’d say they’re looking worse now. Things kick off when the ever popular ice cream man comes rolling up to Seaview Circle and Lilimae gets ready to head out with the kids. Val tells her to pick up a pint of ice cream for the grown ups later, making me wonder why Val doesn’t just walk the five steps required to go out to the ice cream truck alongside her mother and children, but whatever. As soon as Lilimae opens the door, Ben appears at the top of stairs screaming and throwing a hissy fit, saying how it’s insane to think the kids can go outside, questioning whether anyone is listening to him, going on and on about all the planning they’ve been doing, and so on and so forth. After a moment, he sorta snaps back and starts rubbing his forehead and going on about how weird he’s acting, then he takes the kids outside to get their ice cream.
Throughout the rest of the ep, we get a lot of Ben telling Val how he’s getting back to work, how he needs to get back to work “working for a crusty old alcoholic journalist” and not working with Abby or Gary or whoever. Val is very pleased to hear this news, but I think us viewers should all be getting that sinking feeling in the pits of our stomach. We all remember how Richard made his evacuation from the series, and this has a familiar ring to it. Similar to Richard’s M.O., Ben acts casual about how he’s gonna have to go off to somewhere far away (I think South America again, but I wasn’t paying that much attention) and it’s no big deal, but then when he gets private moments with characters like Mack or Gary, he somewhat shows his hand. In the case of Gary, he goes on about how it’s good to know Gary’s around in case something bad ever happens to him, that Gary will be around to take care of Val and the kids. Really, this feels like Ben giving permission to Gary, that he’s admitting that Gary is Val’s true soul mate and the one she belongs with.
Our final scene of the ep brings us even stronger flashbacks to Richard’s final moments on the show, as Val walks Ben out to the curb and helps him climb into the cab and drive away. They hug and Ben says how he’ll call her every night at nine, and she’s being all nice and supportive and everything seems nice, but when Ben gets in the cab and begins to depart, we hold on his face and we all realize what’s going on. Ben is blowing town and he’s never coming back. Now, if this was really Ben’s truly final appearance, I’d start going on about how great Douglas Sheehan was in this role and how much I’m gonna miss him and what qualities Ben brought to the table over the course of his four years, but we still have one more teeny tiny appearance from him next ep, so I’ll save my thoughts until then.
I’d say that’s about all I’ve got to discuss with Parental Guidance. Overall, it was pretty good. With these last few eps of season eight, I find myself enjoying them much more than I enjoyed anything that was going on concurrently with Hackney running around and spraying diarrhea all over the series, but I still think these eps are a little weak, a little lighter and fluffier. I think the show is improving itself as we get closer to season nine, but I also think the season has been so inconsistent that it’s hard for me to get too excited about these eps, even if they are significantly better than most of what we’ve been given throughout this last year. I think it will be easier to lighten up when we start season nine, a whole fresh year of television, and I can just officially leave all my traumatic memories of Hackney in the past.
Okay, we've got a mere two eps left to go before we finish this year, so let's move right along to an episode with a very long title, Do Not Fold, Spindle, or Mutilate.