One of the things I love most about meeting a friend or significant other's family for the first time is just how much more you're able to understand that friend or significant other after meeting their parents or siblings. You get the kinds of stuff they put up with as a kid, the kinds of emotions they were steeped in growing up, the kinds of people they grew up around. See the quirky, artsy girl with the straight-laced, country club member parents, and you get a whole story in one image. See the insufferably tightly knit family in their matching sweatshirts, and you get a completely different story. The first time I met the parents of the woman who would become my wife, so much about her that I just didn't understand snapped into place, and I can only imagine what the friends of my future kids will conclude about them based on meeting my wife and I. Honestly, I'm kind of terrified.
An episode where we "meet the parents" as an audience, even as the rest of the cast is meeting said parents at the same time, is the sort of thing TV has been doing for almost as long as it's been in existence. Most of these episodes revolve around stunt casting and obvious sorts of gimmicks, where we see that the kindly man had awful parents or the old curmudgeon was made that way by a guest star father who treated him like a right bastard as a kid. It's all predictable and about as uninteresting as any long-standing TV plot can be. These episodes propose simple formulae of parental cause and effect. If your dad was a jerk, you will either follow in his footsteps or run so hard away from them that you will become the exact opposite.
This trend is even more problematic on teen shows, where the parents have to be presences, to some degree, but also can't dominate the storyline. The teen shows with more interesting and believable parent characters tended to be the teen shows with more interesting and believable teen characters as well. It was immediately obvious just how Angela Chase came from Grant and Patty and just what about them she was running away from them as fast as she could, even as they were obviously pretty good parents. Similarly, the relationship between Buffy Summers, her single mother, and her absent father colored in so much of just why Buffy always sort of felt she could go it alone but also felt compulsively attached to her friends. And the Weirs on Freaks and Geeks could only have come from their parents, who provided a loving home the other characters could be jealous of, even as Lindsey and Sam were sort of embarrassed by them.
The interesting thing about Huge is that it's a teen show that has all but figured out a way to completely get rid of parent characters. They're all off-screen, and while we hear about them from time to time, we don't get to meet them. Instead, Dr. Rand is the only adult we've really gotten attached to, and the show is playing out the story of a child and parent learning how to deal with each other as human beings, rather than as a dad and his daughter, via Dr. Rand and her dad. It's an interesting gambit, and I think it's mostly worked out. Dr. Rand is a cruel oppressor to some characters, the caring parent that was never had for others. And all the while, she's trying to patch things up with her own dad.
In tonight's episode, Huge unleashed just about everybody's parents on the scene and let us get to know more about the characters by observing the people who raised them. Trent and his dad, of course, have a good relationship, but it's strained by the presence of his stepmom. Chloe and Alistair's dad is a heavyset friendly guy, who seems like the kind of man Alistair will grow up into, and their mother is an enthusiastic woman in a wheelchair, who's willing to dive in to just about anything she can. Suddenly, so much about just why Chloe is trying to distance herself from her family and just why Alistair's so enthusiastic about everything snap into place. And, of course, Will's parents don't come, opting, instead, to send her a Parisian postcard and a jumpsuit from their gym, saying how happy they'll be to see her in it. The cruelty of Will's parents has ramped up to such epic heights at this point that it becomes the one sour note in an otherwise beautifully observed episode. At this point, so much is riding on the first time we meet her mom and dad that I almost wonder if the show can deliver.
But never mind that. One of the hardest things about adolescence is when you turn 14 and realize, abruptly, that your parents are human beings too, that they led full and satisfying lives before you came along, that they are fallible and human and capable of making huge, huge mistakes. Obviously, much of adolescent longing to break out from under parental control is about asserting one's own independence, but there's also an element there of realizing that, shit, if you can't trust Mom and Dad to be perfect, well, you probably can't trust anyone else and should stop trying yourself. There are numerous scenes that play off this dynamic in this episode, and nearly all of them work.
Take, for instance, poor Ian being so baffled as to just why his parents are getting along so famously and having helpful conversations with each other. They argued all the time, he said, and now, they seem to be like the perfect couple. Maybe, we think, he was exaggerating for effect, and they really are like this, and he's just embarrassed by that fact. But, no, they're getting along because they're going to couple's counseling. And, furthermore, in their counseling, they've realized that they need to be apart to be happy, and they'll be getting a divorce. The scene where Ian slams around the laundry room, letting out the emotion he represses to keep his parents at ease when they tell him, is one of the better scenes in the show's run.
And then there's Amber, who falls into a fairly cliche storyline where she almost has to be the mother to her mother, but the show still finds a way to play off this old, old idea and figures out a way to make everyone in it more nuanced than they would normally be. Amber's mother is a frustrating, confusing figure to her daughter, and the way that she seems to constantly send messages that are the opposite of the ones that Amber sends herself (like how she brings Amber the cookies that become a loose throughline of the episode) is another sly way the show is suggesting to us who these people are. The best thing about Huge has been just how slowly it's let us into the headspace of its characters, and with this episode, it shows us how far these people have come. An episode like this wouldn't have been possible even three episodes ago, but that it is this early in the show's run is yet another example of just how terrific this series truly is.
- ABC Family is advertising next week's episode as the summer finale, which gives me hope that we'll find out about a pickup for the back half of the season. Even if we don't, though, I'd like to think these 10 episodes will stand on their own.
- Oh and hey, that whole cliffhanger where Amber and Will ran off together was pretty lame, honestly.
- "That shirt is pretty polarizing."