Welcome back to AVQ&A, where we throw out a question for discussion among the staff and readers. Consider this a prompt to compare notes on your interface with pop culture, to reveal your embarrassing tastes and experiences, and to ponder how our diverse lives all led us to convene here together. Got a question you’d like us and the readers to answer? Email us at email@example.com.
What pop-culture family would you want to join?
With Arrested Development on the immediate horizon, I’m tempted to say that, if I were forced to abandon the Eakin clan (God forbid!), I’d want to be a Bluth. But if I spend more than a second pondering that prospect, it seems like a horrible idea. I wouldn’t want to deal with Lucille’s bitchiness and Buster’s whining. Even the sanest Bluths drive me a little batty. While that’s often par for the course for families, I don’t know if I could handle being the glue holding the whole clan together, even if Michael does need a little help occasionally. Thus, rather than being a Bluth, I’d want to be a Wrigley. I know it’s a little obvious for me to talk about The Adventures Of Pete And Pete again, but the Wrigley clan seems to have its shit pretty much together. The parents are appropriately wacky, but still loving. Given that I’d be the only female child, I could buddy up with Joyce and her plate to do lady stuff, like prancing through fields looking for places to go to the bathroom on long road trips. Plus I’d have two solid, red-haired brothers who could land canoe with me and hook me up with my very own WART radio show. Other than being an Eakin, what could be better?
It might be because of my childhood, but I’m partial to pop-culture families brought together by choice, rather than by blood or marriage. It’s why workplace shows appeal to me, and why shows like the just-departed Go On—which shows people from disparate backgrounds growing and bonding together—ring my bell. Of those groups, the one that always appealed to me the most was the gang at the 4077th in M*A*S*H. Would I want to be in the middle of the Korean War? Absolutely not. But there’s something undeniable about how being in the thick of battle, especially for an extended period of time, can turn former enemies into a special kind of begrudging friends. Hot Lips and Hawkeye, complete opposites in the show’s first seasons, respected each other—and understood each other’s perspective—after having a brief romantic interlude. Regular Army Col. Sherman Potter was embraced by the wacky docs as a fatherly authority figure, even though he replaced Henry Blake, who let his docs get away with anything. The writers were able to translate the bonds the cast members forged over 11 years to the screen, and it made for a warmer experience in the show’s later years.
I should have been a Lannister. I really think I could have hit that one out of the park. Watching Game Of Thrones, it seems as if the Lannisters are a pretty miserable lot, but I think that’s propaganda for the people in the audience who want to believe being born inhumanly rich must come with a terrible price that sucks all capacity for enjoying life right out of the privileged buggers. (Oh, there’s absolutely some deep, dark truth there. Donald Trump and George W. Bush just sit up all night, every night, looking into the mirror, wondering when the anguish will end!) If the Lannisters are unhappy, it’s because they have ambitions that can never be quenched. These include Tywin’s desire to wake up one morning and find that his children have become properly functioning members of society, and that the rabble will do as they’re told without forcing him to send them to bed without supper. The ambitions also include Tyrion’s dream of a world run by intelligent wonks who can carry out sensible plans for the betterment of all, without petty bickering and office politics, where a man of the world can be free to marry the hooker of his choice. I’d have been the Lannister who never went anywhere or asked anything of anybody, besides a no-show job at the docks (with pay in the high six figures) and an unspoken agreement with Dad to maintain a joint checking account as long as I stay the hell out of Page Six and promise not to date Lindsay Lohan. The common people would refer to me as “the nice asshole” and tell stories about the time I killed an entire bucket of KFC in one sitting. But the truth is, this is a trick question; we don’t choose our families, real or imagined. And that is why I think whoever wrote “The Family” sketches from The Carol Burnett Show owes me some royalties.
Part of what I love about Freaks And Geeks is how sympathetically Lindsay and Sam Weir’s parents are written, even though the show is about the kids. We see their struggle to challenge and yet nurture their kids, to allow the children to be themselves despite the parents’ desire to keep Lindsay and Sam close. They’re trying, and even though Lindsay chafes as she tries to define herself, we see that she loves her parents and will probably come around to really appreciating them in a few years. Meanwhile, I love how close Lindsay and Sam are. They keep an eye out for each other (like when Sam and his friends replace the beer at Lindsay’s party with non-alcoholic beer), they joke around, and they seem to respect one another despite being in two different cliques and times of adolescence. The Weirs are a loving if flawed family, which makes them appealingly real, so—just like Nick Andopolis—I wouldn’t have minded joining them for a while.
I think I would have made a good Tenenbaum, from The Royal Tenenbaums. Growing up in a stylized New York with a strong mother and absent father, I’d have been left to my own devices to start writing novels at the age of 5, and possibly co-writing some musicals with my adopted sister, Margot. Richie is the athletic one, but I’d probably take him to the house if we played basketball. Hell, just growing up in that amazing brownstone would have been fantastic, as well as having my life narrated by Alec Baldwin. All of the Tenenbaum children are deeply traumatized by their adolescence and troubles with their parents, and I suspect I’d fit right in with that as well. (Who isn’t a little messed up after growing up with their parents?) That being said, my real family is similar to the Berkman clan from The Squid And The Whale in many ways, but that’s another AVQ&A.
Although there’s a side of me that wants to echo the sentiments of The Huntingtons, I started thinking about joining the Keaton clan from Family Ties after NBC announced its fall schedule and the return of Michael J. Fox to the network. The Keaton family’s not a bad way to go, really: Steven and Elyse successfully survived the ’60s and ’70s, and they brought their ideals into the ’80s about as well as anyone could. While they didn’t necessarily pass their philosophies on as successfully as they might’ve hoped—and, so, regularly butted heads with their kids—they always had their kids’ backs. Plus, as much as I love and respect my father, who was a career railroad man and remains devoted to trains to this day, I’m sure I would have had an equally strong bond with a dad who worked for the local public television station. The more I think about it, the more convinced I am that, as long as I could avoid falling victim to the same pitfalls as Uncle Ned, I would have made a damned fine Keaton.
I first discovered The Addams Family TV show and cartoon series back when I was in elementary school, when the Barry Sonnenfeld movie with Raul Julia and Anjelica Huston hit the theaters. My penchant for dark humor with a hint of bad taste was budding, and Chas Addams’ twisted family dynamic fit into that growing love at just the right time. These days, the Addams family members’ gleeful smiles at the sounds of a car accident, or their standing ovation for Wednesday and Pugsley’s blood-soaked sword fight scene from Hamlet, seem almost quaint compared to the death jokes performed by Anthony Jeselnik or the bloody accidents incurred by the kids in Tucker & Dale Vs. Evil. It wasn’t their love for the macabre that made the Addams so endearing, though. It was their ability to completely brush off and embrace the inevitable folly of death, rather than fearing or preparing for it.
Plus, it would have been cool to live in a house with a mountain of cash hidden in an underground vault and where the kids’ room has its own secret escape chute to the backyard.
Mother’s Day just came and went, and I took my dear old mom out for lunch at our favorite local soul food restaurant. (That’s Welton Street Cafe, for those in Denver who may not already know.) While reminiscing about our family, as a mother and son do on such occasions, my mom brought up my difficult teenage years—specifically the time between ages 16 and 19, when I was a vegetarian. (This while I tore into half a fried chicken and a shitload of catfish at lunch.) Funnily enough, she pointed out, I ate all kinds of animals when I was a little kid. She wasn’t kidding. When we lived in Florida in the ’70s and ’80s, I tried everything from alligator to rattlesnake. Before that, we lived in backwoods, small-town Connecticut and Vermont, where I heartily sampled all kinds of game, from venison to rabbit to squirrel. Yes, squirrel. With that in mind, I suppose I feel a certain affinity for the Clampett clan from The Beverly Hillbillies. I reckon I wouldn’t balk too much if Granny whipped me up a steamin’ bowl of her owl soup and plate of mustard greens and possum innards. That’s assuming, of course, I could wash it all down with a swallow of her nerve tonic. You can take the boy out of Bug Tussle (or its Florida/New England equivalent), but you can’t take the Bug Tussle out of the boy.
Like Joel, I’ve always connected more with pop-culture families united by circumstance rather than biology. I’m always reminded of a moment in the Buffy The Vampire Slayer episode “Family,” when Tara’s father tells Buffy, “We are her blood kin. Who the hell are you?” Her response: “We’re family.” While I have a soft spot for the Scoobies, the family I would most want to be a part of is the Runaways, a group of teens living in the Marvel Universe who run away from home after finding out their parents are evil. (Joss Whedon also briefly controlled their lives when he wrote their comic for six issues.) Despite their rather high mortality rate, the Runaways’ life is always a hell of a lot of fun. I would have lived with a wizard, alien, mutant, and telepathic raptor, traveling around in a giant mechanical frog, and seeing a world of superheroes from the point of view of a bunch of teenagers living life their own way. Some of them might have codenames and extraordinary powers, but the Runaways are much more of a family than a superhero team, relying on each other to survive when their blood can’t be trusted. It’s an adolescent fantasy, but one I would still love to be a part of as an adult.
It’s got to be the bunch from The Cosby Show. (Not Cosby or The Cosby Mysteries—what a nightmare those would be!) Dad was rich, mom was cool, everybody got along most of the time, and lessons were learned. Sure, it’s kind of boring, but isn’t a relatively boring childhood actually what we want for our children? I had a little bit of Cosby upbringing anyway—my dad was pals with a lot of jazz greats, and he’d bring them over to the house. He did not, however, deliver babies in our basement or mug at the camera with any regularity.
To watch Friday Night Lights is to love the Taylors and the seemingly unbreakable central relationship between Coach Eric Taylor and Tami “Mrs. Coach” Taylor. They’re good people: practical, fair, intelligent, caring, and fun, and Kyle Chandler and Connie Britton make the characters’ life seem natural and believable. Sure, their daughter Julie (Aimee Teegarden) can be a brat, but she’s headstrong, like her mom. Speaking of headstrong, the Taylors’ baby Gracie Belle has the most enormous head you’ve ever seen on a baby, which would perhaps be distracting, but I could deal with it. Because I grew up in Texas, so much of Friday Night Lights feels familiar, and the Taylor family members seem like people I knew in real life. Hell, their house could’ve been in my neighborhood. It’s like my childhood, only more idealized.
As written in J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter novels and portrayed in subsequent screen adaptations, the Weasley family is a warm, welcoming, loving bunch by necessity: They’re meant to be the converse of the protagonist’s relations and home life, their sprawling-yet-shabby country digs a stark contrast to the suburban cabinet in which HP’s cruel-to-a-Dickensian-degree aunt and uncle force him to live for years. So, having affection for the Weasleys is a matter of feeling exactly how Rowling wants you to feel about them. But they’re a fun bunch regardless, and to grow up in The Burrow (as their ramshackle seven-story house is called) would be to grow up among flying cars, sentient garden gnomes, the practical jokes of twins Fred and George, and family vacations to visit brother Charlie and the dragons of Romania. Yeah, the whole “magic” thing probably factors into the decision as well—and it probably wouldn’t hurt to be buddies with the savior of all wizardkind, either.
Damn, it would feel good to be a Lannister. Wait, wait. Hear me out: Before you say “incest,” “child-defenestrating,” “but they killed Ned Stark,” or whatever else they did this time, let me try to explain myself. Yes, the Lannisters are flawed—like, largely evil and/or batshit crazy. And yet, over the course of the Song Of Ice And Fire books, and through the excellent casting and writing in the show Game Of Thrones, they managed to worm their way into my heart as the family with the problems that feel the most like what I struggle with on a regular basis. It is part of George R.R. Martin’s genius that he introduces them first as villains before slowly revealing their humanity.
And they are human. The Lannisters are desperate, sad creatures—hungry for power, obsessively ambitious, and unable to enjoy the riches they have because they constantly want more. You’ve never seen an unhappier successful family—Cersei’s the queen and she’s still miserable about everything most of the time. Beneath all of their grandstanding is an insecurity, a need to be heard (their words, fittingly, are “Hear Us Roar”), a need to be loved, even. The middle generation of Lannisters—Cersei, Jaime, and Tyrion—are surprisingly motivated by love and loyalty even more than they’re motivated by money and power. I know I’m projecting like crazy, but the Lannisters feel the most like my dysfunctional but loving family. (Incest aside! Get your mind out of the gutter!) If the Starks are the model family with the white picket fence, the Lannisters are the dysfunctional family with too many secrets down the street. (The Baratheons are the drunk ones with a car up on cinderblocks in their front lawn.) I would have no idea what to do with a normal family, anyway. And think of all of the crimes I could commit in the name of Lannister family honor!
One of the joys of watching and reviewing Bob’s Burgers from the beginning has been seeing the slow development of the Belcher family. They began as a fairly typical TV family, with a father confused by his weird adolescent children and butting heads with his wife about the in-laws. As the series has gone on, though, the relationships have become more delightfully integrated. Bob and Linda are no longer confused by their children; they’re delighted by how clever the kids are. If they drop a clever line in the middle of a public argument, Bob whispers, “Nice one!” The family revels in weirdness and one-liners. Who wouldn’t want that?
To be fair, my own family isn’t so different—my mom’s variation on babysitting me with the TV involved sitting me down in front of Monty Python reruns, and we still can’t really figure out why my sister is so relatively earnest. Perhaps that’s why I find the Belchers so appealing: They’re totally supportive of the best kinds of geekery.
In the ’90s, I was an awkward kid who wore lots of flannel, band T-shirts, and combat boots, and I did nothing but listen to music when I wasn’t being an academic geek. To say I related to My So-Called Life—with its setting that looked a lot like the quaint-but-boring suburb where I lived—is a vast understatement; I was an achiever like Sharon, a hopeless (and hapless) moody romantic like Angela, and a good girl who harbored secret desires to be as uninhibited as Rayanne. Naturally, I’d want to join the Chase family. Although Patty and Graham Chase were exasperated and bewildered by raising a teenager, especially one who was just beginning to assert her independence, they gave Angela a wide berth to grow and make mistakes. (And they didn’t harass her too much about her music or hair experiments.) The fights between Angela and her mom were typical spats, not relationship-ending arguments (and those fights seemed very similar to ones I had during my adolescence). The Chases weren’t perfect, either. In fact, their personal lives were kind of a mess. In that way, they were perfect parents, as they were painfully real role models instead of out-of-touch adults. But despite the turmoil, their home always seemed warm, loving, and stable. You get the sense that no matter how bratty you were acting, you could go to the Chase home, curl up on the couch with some popcorn, and always be welcomed with a hug and unconditional acceptance.