“Lice And Beary White” is on the broader end of the Trophy Wife spectrum—get a load of all the wacky stuff in Warren’s bed! The school doctor (by all accounts a talking clown-suit who is nevertheless a human adult) not knowing even the basics of how to deal with lice sets us up for an episode that stretches really hard to make that classic family sitcom problem into a comedy engine. Over-the-top can be funny, but Jackie’s not such a dip that she can’t carefully reach for the iron on top of her hair on, at most, her second try. Trophy Wife strains so hard sometimes, and these actors are already perfectly delightful as it is.
But whatever exaggerated goofiness there is, “Lice And Beary White” is mostly the successful next step in the first-season project to split up the cast into different combinations and see what happens. It all starts with Bert getting lice, which means everyone else in the family needs to get shampooed just in case, which is about where I prayed to the heavens that this wasn’t about the lice slowly spreading through the family or cycling through the households or something. My scalp cannot take any more itching. The lice are just the catalyst, though. See Kate’s the mom on duty when the school doctor calls, so she’s trying to handle it, by which I mean successfully picking up the lice shampoo and rounding up the kids and other family members for their treatment. But when she gets home, Diane’s there and takes control, and Jackie is in the middle in this funny, illuminating way. Naturally the shampooing is over quickly, and from there it’s just Kate and Jackie and Diane hashing it out.
So while the moms fight over who’s in charge here (but really about the general states of their relationships with each other), Pete sets about laundering all the bedsheets when he stumbles upon a lost hand-me-down, Beary White. Apparently Warren had given it up to Bert too soon (“I had to cuddle with a Transformer, and when I woke up, it was a car!”) so he secretly stole it back some time ago. Pete’s problem-solving is, once again, lawyerly: He makes each son state his case, just like when he presides over the trial of the alleged Halloween egger. Relatedly, Warren again misuses big words presumably from his PPSAT prep. Nods like these to continuity help “Lice And Beary White” feel like a logical extension, like Trophy Wife isn’t trying things out but building on itself.
Needless to say I have been dying to see the wives alone together and Pete parenting. That second plot is mostly just for jokes, but just the simple fact of showing Pete interacting with his kids reveals their relationships, the way he speaks to them, the way they try to appeal to him. Bert and Warren are so enthusiastic and confident, and Pete is so, well, tired, that the combination is delightful. Eventually he asks if they’ve ever heard of the Judgment Of Solomon. “Is that a videogame?” “No.” “Then no.” Again they confound Pete, both kids totally okay with cutting Beary White in two. Pete gives up—and it’s starting to hit me that Pete really is kind of world-weary this week. There’s a scene where he’s at work, and it’s just him at a conference table with two other lawyers being silent and bored together. At the end Bert and Warren realize his job is silly, and he can’t help but agree. He’s not worn out in an existential way. He just has exhaustingly happy children. Who, by the way, decide to share custody of Beary White, restoring Pete’s faith in them in the process.
But the real hook here is seeing Kate, Diane, and Jackie square off. Jackie isn’t in the middle, really. She resents Diane’s control, but she just can’t bring herself to confront Diane, who looks immaculate even with wet, lice-infested hair in a towel on her head. But Kate has never had a problem speaking her mind, and she keeps bucking. For plot purposes she has to do something wrong first to keep the war going, so she switches Diane’s lice shampoo for non-medicinal shampoo. Jackie says, and I stress that no part of this is onomatopoeia, “Your turn, Diane. Here’s the bottle of the lice-killing shampoo, giggle giggle.” Which leads to this fantastically over-the-top scene (see, it can happen) at school where Hillary, whose hair was treated with the non-medicinal shampoo, is rehearsing a scene from Hair, in a cluster of people shaking their big, hairy wigs together. The teacher says, “Good, now give your wigs to the understudies,” at the end for just the right button as Kate and Diane back out of the room.
The relationships among the moms are more than worthy of the focus. During the shampooing, Diane tells Kate, “Cappuccino isn’t coffee. A former barista should know that.” “I was never a barista.” “Oh, I thought you had a job once.” The lines could read like the tight-lipped ice queen Diane from some early episodes, but Marcia Gay Harden plays them like fly-paper, sweet enough to trap Kate. Later Jackie vents like crazy about Diane, and she tells Kate that Diane called her a hologram, nothing but light and color (which is a pretty good burn, Patrice). Then when the plan goes awry, the characters really start bouncing off each other: Jackie playing lackey, Kate telling Diane things Jackie said about her, Kate play-acting her original argument with Diane. As Diane and Kate enter the school, Diane admits that Kate can handle responsibility, which she’s known all along but can only admit now. What’s more, they agree that backing out of rehearsal and hoping some other kid gets blamed for the lice is the best course of action. Giving the moms their own story is a clear success. Now if we could just get Diane on a date, Hillary in a plot of her own, and Meg on-screen in any capacity.
- Kate to Diane: “Before you even got here I was kind of running this bitch.” Everybody freezes as Diane turns. “What did you just call me?”
- Kate tries to tell Jackie that Diane isn’t perfect because perfect-seeming people are rarely perfect. “Just look at Lance Armstrong” “Oh, do you think she’s juicing?”
- That push in on Beary White covered in lice is scarier than anything in the Halloween episode.
- Warren tries to mimic Bert’s simple transitive argument: “Fact: I’m hungry. Fact: I want a cookie. Fact: I am a cookie.” “You’re not a cookie.” “I can be anything I want to be.”