The commercials for the new Cosmos that thread through this episode tend to put a viewer in a cosmic state of mind, which is appropriate. Think of it: While the continents split and drifted apart and the stars shone, flickered, and died, while the human race has wept and rejoiced and written and rewritten its own history and proclaimed the death and apotheosis of its own culture, the universe has patiently awaited the moment when it would get to see Cloris Leachman and Tommy Chong together. Tommy makes his entrance astride his “pimoed-out Get Around”, wearing a Peter Fonda-style American-flag helmet and with Maw Maw sitting behind him. Immediately, you know two things: This show is not looking to shuffle off into syndication quietly, and Cheech Marin did not return the producers’ calls.
The theme of this episode is the tension between accepting the responsibilities of a mature adult and longing to still feel as cool as an adolescent, living in the moment and sure of one’s immortality. The nice thing about this is that it’s a theme that everybody can play along with, and for once this season, all the various story lines come together and carry roughly equal weight. Just to start with, there’s Burt’s inability to refuse a dare—a side of his character that I don’t remember ever noticing before, but it sounds plausible.
It’s explained that it all goes back to the night when, during Virginia’s pregnancy, she and Burt tried to race another pregnant girl and her boyfriend to the top of the Natesville radio tower. Burt choked. (“If we fall, it’s not gonna be like in the cartoons. Sure, we might flatten out or leave a hole in the shape of our bodies, but we’re not gonna survive it.”) The rival couple became the first teenage expectant parents to kiss at the top of the tower, and Burt earned the cruel but pleasantly rhymey nickname “Scaredy-pants Chance” and has been over-compensating for it ever since. The many dares he has taken on since then have left him sore and physically debilitated, so he’s too worn out even to work up much indignation when Tommy Chong practically moves into Maw Maw’s bedroom and shares his medical marijuana with her. Virginia is indignant enough for both of them, but her lectures to Maw Maw about not mixing with the wrong crowd fall a little flat when Burt, having been rapping with Tommy, interrupts to ask if he knew that Jerry Garcia had been a musician before he got into ice cream.
As for Jimmy and Sabrina, they have become paranoid about their teenage babysitter, who Jimmy suspects of “having the sex with our daughter watching” after he finds a blanket on the living room couch. Sabrina points out that teenagers aren’t yet ashamed enough of their bodies to need to have sex under a blanket, but she soon gives in to the fever. The two of them use hidden cameras to spy on the babysitter and discover that she’s not only innocent but a spirited and creative playmate whose visits are a source of pure delight for Hope, which naturally makes them feel much worse than if they’d learned that she was using their home to perform Satanic ritual sacrifices.
So they try to make themselves feel better by climbing the radio tower, where they run into Virginia and Burt, who are doing the same thing for much the same reason. (After scolding Maw Maw, Virginia is struck by the contrast between her present self and the coolest girl in town she used to be: “A wine cooler in one hand, a cigarette in the other, and a bun in the oven. The looks I used to get!”) In the ensuing discussion, Virginia has a happy realization: Burt didn’t bail on climbing to the top of the tower all those years before because he was chicken, he did it because something in him balked at taking a chance on leaving his wife and unborn child without someone to provide for them. It was, she says, the first mature, responsible decision of his life. The expression of awestruck wonder on Garret Dillahunt’s face as he says, “Maybe that’s why it felt so weird!” is very winning.
- Tommy Chong’s recreational activities set off what he calls “this little robot thing.” Virginia informs him that it’s a smoke detector. “Oh, cool,” he says, “I’m looking for some smokes.” It seems unaccountable that no one has made this joke before, but damned if this isn’t the first time I’ve heard it.
- I don’t know if Tommy was pitching them in from the sidelines, but for some reason, tonight’s episode features a special preponderance of good Viagra jokes. I laughed when Maw Maw said that Tommy has some little blue pills that, as Virginia says of the gateway drug marijuana, lead to harder things, but my heart belongs to Burt’s reverie about taking as his role model for cool older people those folks on the TV commercials who flaunt their disregard for society’s plastic hassle social mores thing by sitting in bathtubs out in a pasture. Virginia tells him that those are commercials for people who need medication to have sex. Burt is disheartened by this, but also enlightened: “I was wondering how bathtubs could lead to dizziness and four-hour erections.”