“The Wedding” (season two, episode 13; originally aired 3/31/2002)
“Little boy, have you been under some stress lately?”—Doctor, “The Wedding”
The last time a medical professional asked Brendon Small a question like the one above, his response was an epic tantrum, a fit that eventually swept up his father and soon-to-be-stepmother in its path. In “The Wedding,” however, the best he can muster is an elongated, searching “Uhhh.” He needn’t come up with an answer himself; the 13 episodes of Home Movies’ second season provide the definitive “Yes.”
Even without the preceding six hours of animated evidence, the answer is written quite plainly on Brendon’s face—and running all the way down his back. The narrative of Home Movies’ second season finale is traced by one of the series’ grossest visual gags: The red, blistering inflammation that Brendon nicknames “The Crab.” Beginning as a crustacean-shaped blotch on his back, the rash eventually takes over his whole body, a physical manifestation of a particularly rough spell in the kid’s life. “The Wedding” is the type of Home Movies episode where the filmmaking interludes spill into everyday life: The metaphor of Brendon’s transformation from mild-mannered ring bearer to hideously deformed wedding saboteur is right in the young director’s allegorical wheelhouse.
As much as this season delights in piling on Coach McGuirk, he actually gets off easier than Brendon, whose personal downward spiral doesn’t conclude until the final scene of “The Wedding.” In a nice bit of role-reversal, while Brendon takes actions that only end up hurting himself (like the McGuirk of “Writer’s Block” and “Pizza Club”), his soccer coach tries to squirm his way out of something he doesn’t want to do (like Brendon in, well, pretty much every other episode of Home Movies). McGuirk’s quandary is decidedly more adult than the average Brendon plot, however: Ducking the advances of Paula’s free-spirited buddy Stephanie, who’s ostensibly in town to make sure Paula’s practice of throwing suction-cup darts at Andrew and Linda’s wedding invitation doesn’t continue during the wedding itself. The way she conducts herself around McGuirk, however, you have to wonder if she isn’t also around to pick up on the desperation pheromones radiating from the Small nuptials.
“The Wedding” does an excellent job of tying up the second season’s loose threads, but it’s also a great standalone piece of Home Movies. Much of that is attributable to the way it subverts the expectations of a TV wedding, Stephanie’s prowling being just one example. (Because in a lesser series, McGuirk would be the one acting this way.) Paula plays the “jealous ex” role at a few key moments, but she’s not out to disrupt the ceremony—her emotions are played levelheaded and realistic. (Though I’m not sure how realistic it is that she actually attends the ceremony.) Neither Andrew nor Linda get cold feet, but Brendon Small and Bill Braudis’ script tweaks that cliché nonetheless through a wonderful tangent from Walter and Perry. Standing at the back of the sanctuary, the show’s happiest couple pledge their undying love to one another, playacting at an engagement, a runaway-groom situation (“Why are you getting scared?” “Because it’s a big step, Perry!”), a wedding, and a honeymoon in the space of a minute and change. “The Wedding” is noticeably fixated on the consummation portion of the marriage equation; as Walter and Perry, Small and H. Jon Benjamin get a lot of mileage out of the phrase “crossing the threshold.”
There’s a renewed sense of pep to this finale, possibly owing to the way it was written: According to DVD commentary, Small and Braudis’ shared the scripting process on an every-other-scene basis. (Not entirely unheard of in screenwriting circles, but apparently a first for a collaborative Home Movies effort.) As the episode escalates to its climax, it’s evident that the Brendon scenes originated with one writer and the McGuirk scenes with the other, still Small and Braudis manage to find an interlocking give-and-take that helps “The Wedding” maintain a head of steam. While Brendon finds himself in a monster movie he can’t direct, McGuirk’s in his life-imitating-art scenario, a subtle parody of The Graduate where he’s framed Dustin Hoffman-like by Stephanie’s legs.
The season-long threads, meanwhile, effortlessly take care of themselves: After overcoming hurdles like a double-booked church (hence the casket on the altar) and a disappearing officiant, Andrew marries Linda. In another example of the script taking the path-less-traveled, Linda’s less of a bridezilla than you might expect: understandably upset about the funeral crashing her wedding, but compassionate enough to postpone the ceremony until Brendon is back on his feet. Overall, the happy couple takes a back seat on its big day. Andrew and Linda are mostly around to react to Brendon’s ailment—and give appropriately sideways glances to Melissa’s attempt to pass herself off as a strangely deep-voiced Brendon. There’s no tomfoolery about either party not wanting to go through with the marriage, but Louis C.K. and Laura Silverman do get in a hysterical (in more than one sense) bout of pre-ceremony jitters. “It’s a great story to tell the divorce lawyer later,” Andrew wisecracks about the casket and the bare saplings, before C.K. and Silverman erupt in a shared, nervous laughter that’s all the more impressive when you take into account that they recorded the scene from opposite coasts of the United States. You could call “too convenient” on the successful wedding or the way in which Paula gets her old job back—but the latter opens the door for an Arnold Lindenson cameo, so who cares? Andy Kindler has a real Bob Newhart-like gift for phone conversations, and Lindenson’s finest moment arrives in the deluge of acronyms (“ASAP,” the less urgent “ACTASAP,” and the nearly ignorable “WSGAFM”) he dumps on Brendon.
In a nice bit of parallelism, when Brendon attempts to relate Lindenson’s messages to Paula, he can only muster the same “Uhhh” he later gives the doctor. “The Wedding” does an excellent job of managing the storylines that come from within and without the episode, which, as Small jokes on the DVD commentary, demonstrates that he and the rest of the Home Movies team truly were paying attention to all the balls they kept in the air throughout the second season. The resolution of Paula’s unemployment returns the character to the position in which she started the season, but she’s there as someone who’s been humbled by a lack of job opportunities, all the while coming to terms with the fact that her ex-husband has moved on.
More importantly, “The Wedding” comes back, as Home Movies always does, to Brendon and McGuirk. The second season often reinforces the bond between these two characters by pushing them apart, and the season finale is no different—they only share a pair of scenes, and the second one involves Brendon disinviting the coach to the wedding. But Brendon can’t do that any more than he can stop treating life like a movie that’s under his supervision—or anymore than he could disinvite McGuirk from that life. These are fundamental facts about Brendon, and they contribute to his defeats as much as his victories. They’re as central to that character as the softness beneath McGuirk’s surliness, or the humor of sweet, considerate Melissa yelling like she does at the end of the Land Stander movie.
The first season of Home Movies, bifurcated as it is, provided enough character-based grounding that a second season could’ve consisted of 13 half-hour variations on the same traits and quirks and still made for enjoyable viewing. But the actual second season began with those qualities and built up the show’s storytelling muscles; they aren’t the tightest 13 comic tales of 2002, but episodes like “The Wedding” or “Class Trip” demonstrate why Home Movies is remembered as more than a series of clever movie parodies or shouted Coach McGuirk catchphrases. In TV comedy, it’s important for some things to stay the same, but the truly memorable laughs come from shows that allow themselves to evolve as well. That goes extra for the ones that turn up the stress on their protagonist to a degree that requires medical attention.
- One scene of note that doesn’t fit above: Brendon Small, Melissa Bardin Galsky, and H. Jon Benjamin do some of their best work as a trio when Melissa and Jason try to coax Brendon out from behind a closed door at the church. The sequence is their characters in a nutshell, with Brendon indulging the histrionic side of his artistic temperament, Melissa trying to bring him back to earth, and Jason doing the Jon Benjamin thing by elbowing the conversation into “Is Brendon a werewolf?” territory. I especially love Brendon talking about the door separating the characters as if it’s a telephone: “Melissa, put Jason on the door!”
- More from the commentary: You might assume that Land Stander is a pun on Skywalker (Loren Bouchard certainly did), but it’s actually derived from The Dark Crystal’s stilted beasts of burden, the Landstriders.
- Jason and Melissa attempt to diagnose Brendon’s rash: “Could be diaper rash, Brendon.” “On his neck?” “I’ve seen it in stranger places.” “Like what?” “Like my butt. Did someone put their butt on your neck?”
- This week in “Coach McGuirk says more about himself than he realizes”: “Trust me: In the world of rashes, that is not a rash.”
- And that does it for Home Movies, season two. Thanks as always for watching and commenting along—Home Movies was never the most popular show on Adult Swim, and it’s certainly not the most popular feature within the TV Club stable, so the continued passion of its fans comes through in concentrated form through every page view and comment. Look for coverage of season three, my favorite stretch of Home Movies, sometime in the early fall; in the meantime, I’m hoping to use this space to fill in the blanks on a TV Club favorite whose early seasons predate the episodic-review boom. Stay tuned for more details.