One thing I admire about this show, though I don’t think I’ve ever really addressed it before, is how much restraint it usually shows in not milking Hope for cuteness. Tonight, it went there, in an episode that was largely about Hope’s developing an “attitude.” This attitude manifests itself in Hope’s throwing things at the dinner table and refusing to eat her peas. It also manifests itself in the cuts to the Cregut twins making adorably quizzical expressions when Virginia is talking about Hope, as well as the funny little squeak the character utters when she overhears the word “spank.” Because the show doesn’t usually shove cute reaction shots like these in our faces, it can get away with them as an episode requires. I probably would have liked “Spanks Butt, No Spanks” fine without such shots, but it was probably the ideal episode to go to town with them.
Because Jimmy is an indulgent (not to say baffled and ineffectual) parent, Hope’s misbehavior only escalates. Jimmy comes home from work to find that his daughter has broken one of Virginia’s beloved pigurines and drawn on the wall with markers. Virginia explains that she washed the marks off, “but then the wall had a big clean spot. So now I’ve got to decide whether to clean the whole wall or make the clean spot dirty again.” Burt suggests that from now on, they should only buy markers that are the same color as their walls. (He also proposes putting the broken pieces of the pig statuette “in the urn with Paw-Paw,” figuring that Paw-Paw will appreciate the company.) It is also mentioned that when Burt scolded Hope, “She didn’t use her fingers, but her eyes were flippin’ me the bird.”
Virginia is quick to identify the roots of Hope’s attitude problem in Jimmy’s own childhood. He went through an ugly spell of his own as a child, steadfastly refusing to eat his vegetables and spurning early bedtimes in favor of late nights spent in the warm nocturnal glow of The Arsenio Hall Show. To adjust his attitude in a more desirable direction, Virginia urges Burt to spank him—just once, you understand, to put the fear of God into him. Appalled, Burt tries to beg off: “I thought we agreed to be the do-nothing-but-hope-for-the-best parents,” he says. In the end, though, he agrees to punish the boy after a heated negotiation in which Virginia agrees that, if he will take spanking on as his special designated chore, she will always be the one to get rodents out from under the house.
As Virginia recalls it, this one-time-only spanking incident was enough to get young Jimmy to straighten up and fly right. As soon as we see the flashback in which Burt takes Jimmy into the bedroom and shuts the door behind him before paddling his behind, long time viewers, who will have likely detected a pattern forming in Burt’s crisis-management style, will be suspicious. And, of course, it does turn out that Burt never really spanked Jimmy, which the adult Jimmy, to his horror, now sees as the reason he still never eats his damn vegetables and has the troubled sleep patterns of a late-night TV junkie. (It turns out that the fake spanking was only the half of it, since Burt proceeded to keep Virginia in the dark by making it seem that Jimmy’s bad behavior had disappeared overnight, when in fact it hadn’t. There was a whole “Kerkovich Way” thing going on in the Chance household.) Virginia is even more horrified, since it means that, as the price of having trusted her husband when she should have known better, she’s spent the last several years on rodent detail. Do you know, she asks Burt, how many varmints she’s gotten out from under the house over the years? 46, answers Burt, who proceeds to proudly itemize them. “I got rabies!” cries Virginia. Burt is unmoved: “When’s the last party we were at where you didn’t have half a dozen people around you, listening to your ‘How I Got Rabies’ story?”
Somehow, at some point, this episode turned into a story whose moral was that it’s better for couples to do things together and then divide up the chores and try to inflict them on each other. A subplot involving a raccoon that Virginia is trying to get out from under the house at first just seems like an excuse to have Virginia soak a stuffed raccoon on a stick in “Jennifer Aniston,” by Jennifer Aniston, and cram it under the house. “So you’re just going to lure him out and trap him humanely?” asks Sabrina. “No,” answers Virginia, “I stuffed a bunch of razor blades in here. He’s gonna hump this thing to death.” (The raccoon doesn’t bite, and Virginia sighs, “Another rejection for Jennifer Aniston.”) Things get more complicated after Sabrina brains the critter with the guitar she’d been using to serenade it and is overcome with remorse.
She and Jimmy camp out at the vet’s to await the verdict. (The doctor thinks it may have a concussion, but if it seems all right after 24 hours of steady, close observation, it’ll probably be okay to let it go. “And what if it doesn’t seem okay?” asks Sabrina. The doctor shrugs: “I would still let it go.”) I know this show brings out the romantic in me, and that the romantic in me is turning out to be some kind of weirdo, but I confess to seeing something sweet in the image of Jimmy and Sabrina spending time together by babysitting a concussed raccoon. It helps that being with Jimmy seems to have liberated something completely winning in Sabrina, unless it’s that having a certain amount of screentime guaranteed every week and an excuse to be hanging around the Chance house at all hours has liberated something in Shannon Woodward. At the start of this season, I was entertaining the notion that the show might be better off without her. Now I sometimes wonder if she isn’t too good for her new boyfriend.
- Virginia on the right degree of aggression for a good spanking: “Somewhere between Mary Poppins and Precious.”
- Virginia’s ruthlessness toward invading animals does not extend to insects for some reason, and the thought of the tiny corpses piling up in the light fixture fills her with sorrow. Burt ain’t having it. “They’re flies, Virginia. They’re born in poop. Every day after that is a gift.”
- I love the uptight, proper-adult voice Burt assumes when he and Virginia decide that it’s not too late to start bringing their wayward boy up right. (“There is no more TV. Not after 8 o’clock”) Amusingly, it’s not that far removed from the attempt at a snooty British accent he puts on when he and Virginia are mocking Sabrina for having dared to ask if they have any tea in the kitchen.
- Nary a sign of Cloris Leachman tonight. I assume that it was decided that to add her to an episode that already had cute baby reaction shots and an animatronic raccoon would have made for more awesomeness than the time slot could support.