Money tends to be taken for granted in Chatswin. The Royces and the Werners (may they rest) are wealthy on the order of exotic pets and the attendant hides. The Shays never want for anything. Even the Altmans are covered by George’s apparent job (HGTV host?). Critique used to be central back when suburbia was a crazy playground for the leisure class, but now that the protagonists are Sheila-tested Chatswinites, wealth is just a fact of life. Sure, the Royces and the Shays sink their money into ridiculous enterprises, but that just makes them more lovable. I can’t remember the last time money wasn’t a magical, merciful, fun good in Chatswin. That is, until “Brown Trembler.”
It starts with Noah and Opus living it up in a hotel penthouse complete with premium tuck-in service and black-out curtains. Never mind the fact that Noah’s not liquid thanks to a pit-bull divorce (I’d expect nothing less from Jill). When management asks Noah to leave, on account of Noah’s emotional promiscuity in response to a whole staff of women who are his type by virtue of taking care of him, he makes a snooty house-guest for George, demanding the proper thread-count for the sheets on his living-room mattress. The plot is overtly about a lot of things—Noah’s psychology, parenting, finding Noah and Opus a new place to stay semi-permanently—but his inability to downsize is an overwhelming background.
In fact, it’s kind of hilarious how Tessa’s voice-over contrives to tie everything into some parenting fable when wealth is right there. Noah can’t downsize, Dalia won’t, and the Shays are going to have to unless someone finds a cushy job. Dalia’s been “hoarding,” which in this case is not a symptom of anything but idleness, and Dallas never noticed until now. “Dalia, this closet is bursting at the seams like a Christina Aguilera dress, which is not a comment on her weight but rather the tightness of her attire.” This after her closet’s been enlarged four times already. The bed’s even worse/more awesome: A doll peeks out in a Dutch angle set to the distant sounds of children laughing to give the scene that special serial-killer reenactment vibe. A little resistance and half a subplot later, Dallas and Dalia both purge some of their ungodly excess. They even exhume Panuch, fat on espadrilles and finally free from Dalia’s closet, but that’s nothing next to the discovery of a hilarious, proactive, and self-sufficient Dallas.
What’s really weird is the reminder that the Shays are taking in half as much as they’re used to. Money just always seemed to be there, but Sheila is getting antsy for Fred to get back on top. They practically have to sell time to Subway to make ends meet. Naturally Fred goes to Tessa instead of his absent children for advice on appealing to young-skewing hiring managers. It’s a good thing all adults look hilarious when they’re trying to look young. Fred tells an interviewer, “I’m anti-social socially but I’m super-social social media-ly?” in that up-at-the-end, unsure way. The shot of Fred’s interviewer through the gauge in his left ear justifies the entire venture. But like the other subplots, this is just comedic whipped cream. The actual substance is Sheila’s realization that she’s the lion in their family and should be the one with the high-powered job. In the beginning, when she goes on a rant to George about giving up her own “exciting theoretical career plans,” it sounds like a joke. In retrospect, it’s the most obvious thing in the world.
So after three diverting little stories, Noah finds a sublet, the Royces clean up, and the Shays switch roles. That’s another delicious cherry: “Brown Trembler” results in lasting change. Okay, some of that change is the Royces sacrificing possessions we’ve never seen before. But “Brown Trembler” takes an electronic lambo to Chatswin tradition. Noah doesn’t magically find himself back in the money by the end, and Fred doesn’t find a way to get his old job back. Sheila’s going to become her family’s sole breadwinner. Dallas even rebukes greed! It’s a broad critique, friendly and ultimately half-hearted. None of these people are seriously downwardly mobile. There will always be enough money to fund Fred’s next wardrobe reinvention. But for once, great wealth isn’t just a status quo. It’s a property to be discussed and interrogated. It’s something people actually have to strive for.
See? The Shays make everything better.
- Dallas asks Dalia, “Who in their right mind needs this many purses?” The demon inside her answers, “I DO.”
- I won’t pretend like I’m not disappointed we’ve never seen the two toddler-sized helicopters on the roof of the Royces’.
- There are some parenting-related moments. For instance, Dallas with zero boundaries: “George isn’t into role-playing so I no longer need my crotchless firefighter outfit.”
- Fred tells his interviewer, “Sleep when you’re dead, amirite?” The guy politely chuckles and says, “I hope not.”
- When Sheila gets the idea to switch roles, Fred asks, “Are you trying to have it all? Because I thought we’d agreed that we’d each have some.”
- I love the progression of this joke. Sheila says she’s the lioness bringing home meat and Fred’s job is to make something that goes with gazelle. But Fred explains to Tessa, “You don’t really need a side-dish for gazelle. It’s a very rich, flavorful meat. But I’m doing a minted couscous nonetheless.”
- Fred again (and here I initially thought this episode wasn’t very funny): “I even let my phone die. Along with my dreams. JK. Hashtag: not really.”