Trophy Wife: “The Minutes”
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Trophy Wife: “The Minutes”

Presenting the Olivia Pope of family sitcoms

I’ve never seen a full episode of Scandal, but the version of Olivia Pope that’s trickled down to me from online commentary, Saturday Night Live, and gifs is exactly the kind of TV character I see appealing to Dr. Diane Buckley, who is a doctor who went to doctor school to become a doctor. The way I see it, they’re both powerful women who get the job done, only one is outside the high-pressure crucible of Washington and mired instead in the banal daily life of an average (wealthy, white, Californian) family. So it’s all the funnier to see haughty Diane find her hero by hunkering down on the couch in her white silk pajamas with a glass of wine and Success magazine at her side. As a covert “power of TV,” episode, “The Minutes” really nails the vicarious thrill of watching a show just through Marcia Gay Harden staring dumbstruck at her set while slowly seducing a baked cheese puff, itself in the running for funniest snack food even before you read the small print and discover it’s actually a Baked Hot Fried Cheese Puff.

It takes Kate taking over the PTA to get Diane into Scandal, but it’s worth it. Even when choking on dry granola, Diane is too good for everyone in the room. Between gasps of air, she responds to Kate asking for a doctor with, “I...am...a doctor,” getting up to Heimlich herself on a podium before Kate touches her with those grubby, little barista hands. The Heimlich bit isn’t very funny—I blame the constant cutting, but that might be designed to disguise the weak physical performances—but the way this scene and “The Minutes” as a whole broadcasts Diane’s personality and moves past the reflexive Kate-hate we keep dealing with into an actual, almost no-questions-asked conspiracy between the two of them satisfies all of my Trophy Wife desires.

Also not funny is what happens once Kate takes over PTA. She ingratiates herself accidentally (or not?) by making fun of people, including Diane, and gets the PTA to vote to send Diane home to rest because they’re just so concerned about her health (while plotting her demise). Okay, it is pretty funny when one of the moms makes a motion that Diane take a leave of absence, and Kate and Jamie Denbo’s Iris raise their hands, and then suddenly everyone else in the background, who had previously been off in other conversations, raises her hand and looks toward Diane. But then Kate gets a little too loose with her insult “comedy,” and Iris blackmails her by noting that it’s all recorded in the minutes. (That’s another great moment, that push on Kate as everything closes in on her.) First of all, with the caveat that I don’t know the targets of her jokes except Diane, approximately nothing Kate says in her routine is funny, but the crowd erupts, which puts me on the outside of this plot instead of drawing me in. Most importantly, Iris erupts, which isn’t immediately false. But her blackmail does not hold up to a tenth of the level of scrutiny I assume Scandal, or at least thrillers of its alleged status, must endure. First she barely alerts Kate to the fact that the minutes are sent to the whole “school community.” She waits for Kate to come to her about redacting the minutes, she almost leaves before Kate gets there, and at the end, she’s ready to publish the minutes just like that? No tightening of the screws? Just skipping to mutual assured destruction (Iris doesn’t get a squash team for her daughter, and Kate gets publicly humiliated)? I fear I wasn’t supposed to think about this too much, but I’m not the one who brought espionage to Trophy Wife.

Anyway, it’s all worth it for the climactic Scandal homage montage. Diane is watching Scandal with her maid Claudia and her husband, who came to pick up his wife but Claudia’s work wasn’t done because Diane won’t let her vacuum during Scandal. They get hooked on Scandal, too, so that makes it totally okay that Diane’s throwing her economic weight around. At least they get to participate in the scheming. Kate comes to Diane for help, and Diane immediately knows what to do. She doesn’t even make Kate grovel, which I count as a win. She tells Kate to tail Iris the next morning, and she tells Claudia to talk to Iris’ maid to get some dirty laundry. “Claudia’s husband, I want you to look up Tony Goldwyn’s filmography online. I know he’s been in something, and it’s driving me crazy.” Cue montage: Kate breaking into the school files, the camera zeroing in on her folder, Diane turning her window into a bulletin board, Claudia receiving a bag of literal dirty laundry in a covert park hand-off. Diane stands around looking imperious and making sense of everything, and then she’s got it. There’s great misdirection in the final scene when the camera orbits Iris at her laptop and then turns to the screen as she squints at something. I thought we were supposed to be looking at what’s on the screen, and then all of a sudden a gloved hand slams the screen down and an ungloved one—even in fashionable, functional handwear Diane outdoes Kate—puts a paper on top. The counter-blackmail (threatening to expose Iris’ scheming to her daughter’s potential future college admissions) doesn’t make much sense either, but I wouldn’t cross Diane. And all that really matters is it’s convincing enough to get Iris to delete the minutes. Which she does with a click of her keyboard, disappearing an open word processing document on her screen, and before you can say, “That isn’t how that works!” Diane flips over the laptop and rubs it with a magnet just to be safe. Exciting visuals, silly plot, and a step forward for Diane and Kate. Not even television’s pervasive misunderstanding of the machines television is written on can stand in the way of Dr. Diane Buckley.

I never realized how unusual it is to see Pete and Jackie in a plot together, let alone with Hillary, so that’s another win for mixing up the characters. It’s also revealing of their personality: Hillary’s upset because the boy she likes can’t go with her to the semi-formal because his parents won’t let him, and Pete and Jackie assume that it’s about their petty feud with the parents over a hose years ago. Both of Pete’s ex-wives are pretty into themselves, but Jackie really brings selfishness out in Pete as well. As usual, Jackie gives some good jokes and gets out, like when her penchant for trash talk runs into a 15-year-old boy in front of his parents: “Oh, hey, Evan! Nice nose! These two drop you on your face when you were a baby?” At the end, there’s a little dollop of feel-good parenting, but it barely makes an impression up against a clandestine Diane Buckley operation.

Stray observations:

  • The feel-good moment that does land, though, is Bert pinching Warren’s cheeks and telling him Vanessa Hudgens doesn’t know what she’s missing by not taking him to the semi-formal. Long story (involving a video proposal accidentally in the style of Make A Wish), funny C-plot.
  • For example, Bert and Warren suddenly start jumping around and screaming their heads off. Hillary rushes in. “Did you finally finish Charlotte’s Web?” Warren says, “Not even close!”
  • Diane: “I reserve the word love for my children and for chocolate above 70 percent cacao.”
  • Bert’s looking for potential dates for Warren: “How do you feel about the Fanning sisters? I’ve got dibs on Dakota.”
  • Claudia recovers the Scandal DVDs for Diane. “You must have put these in the trash by accident.” “I never do anything by accident.”
  • At the end, Kate says she knows Diane will never need her help, but with a caveat. “If you ever do, I’ll be there for you.” Then she sees the look on Diane’s face. “Or I’ll just stand there and watch you die.”
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