The final scene of “Mother’s Day,” except for the charades tag, is a touching end to a touching show. Everyone’s in robes at a fancy hotel suite intended for Diane and Jackie’s Mother’s Day getaway. Bert and Warren are jumping on the bed having a pillow fight. Meg’s curled up next to the mini-bar. Diane and Hillary are playing chess. It’s all tastefully colored and delicately balanced, the camera panning one way to find one clump of people and then the other way to find another. It’s like a magazine spread, Kate and Pete clinking their glasses in the middle surrounded by the zany supporting characters. There’s even a goofy chicken attack. It’s sweet, it looks kind of funny but isn’t, and it’s a nice, long curtain call for the cast. They’ve earned it.
The rest of the episode—not to kick a show while it’s down—isn’t very funny or moving. That’s not why Trophy Wife was cancelled by ABC this week. From where I sit, the network doesn’t look like it’s interested in making quality television anyway. But the fact remains that Trophy Wife is a solid sitcom in a world full of solid shows. It never quite found sustainable greatness. Maybe it could have blossomed in season two, like so many other sitcoms. But Trophy Wife never became indispensable in season one.
“Mother’s Day” entails Diane and Jackie fobbing the kids off on Kate so they can spend a relaxing Mother’s Day at the hotel. But Kate and the kids figure out where they went and show up to ruin their vacation. Meanwhile Pete’s law firm makes him play the public face of an oil spill, and he has a mild heart attack. For a show that’s usually pretty good with sentiment but sometimes goes overboard, this event is totally drained of feeling. A text message sound interrupts the moms arguing, and Jackie says Pete had a heart attack. After a moment, Kate says that’s a pretty strange thing to say, which is itself a pretty strange thing to say. We just heard the text message! Anyway, it’s true—at least for the moment—so they rush to the hospital, where Pete is fine. (Better than fine: He wakes up with Meg staring at him in the funniest part of the episode. “Warren, Hillary, Bert, and I were so darn worried… Who’s Kate?”) He actually just had indigestion. Later Kate tells him when she got the news, she couldn’t imagine her life without him. None of which really comes through, mostly because we’re just hearing about that moment now. Which is possibly for the best because it was really wasn’t a life-threatening heart attack anyway? The point is, this emotional event in the lives of the Harrisons plays as a muddle. Except for when it actually happens, that is. Bradley Whitford’s pale, sweaty, dazed performance is plain funny—even when he collapses, yanking the blue-screen down with him.
On the other hand, the characterizations are all very clear, with everyone leaning in. Warren is extra dumb this episode. “He was using a finger of speech,” he says. Remember when he was misusing SAT words? Now he doesn’t even know “figure of speech.” Sad Steve is extra sad, introduced with a pan from his Star Wars action figures to the framed studio portrait he took with his dog. “Best Friends Forever!” it reads, “2006-2010” embossed on the bottom. Then Bert, who is extra Bert-like, preys on Steve’s paternal emotions to find out where Jackie and Diane are. He runs out screaming, “I already have a father!” Steve asks his assistant to move up his therapist appointment, preferably to today. Hilarious. Diane and Jackie are so confused on Kate that they require a wrap-up feelings jam at the end just to get a sense of where they really stand. There’s even a Siri screw-up joke, where the computer misinterprets “chicken” as “Kevin.”
What “Mother’s Day” does best is remind us what’s great about Trophy Wife in the first place. In the opening scene, Pete and Kate are in bed, and he is desperate. She says, “Oh my god,” looking at the news. He’s nestled in her neck, and says, “I don’t mind if you fake an orgasm, but at least try and sell it.” Bradley Whitford is basically the straight man for the entire show, but Peter Henry William Harrison has been on fire lately. Later Kate tries to brainstorm great Mother’s Day gifts for the moms, starting with Jackie. “Boxed wine,” Bert screams. She’s speechless. Bert says, “Boxed wine. Am I saying it wrong? Boxed wine.” What does Diane like? “Yelling at waiters,” suggests Hillary. “Yeah, but that’s how she helps them get better at their jobs,” says Warren. “Mother’s Day” isn’t a great episode, but it does have a funny moment for everyone, and these characters are why the show has been such a pleasure.
And now it’s over. It ran a full 22 episodes, and it’s a feather in the cap for all involved. Emily Halpern, Sarah Haskins, and the cast and crew should be proud of their work, and now they can go on to other projects, like The Comeback and Childrens Hospital and whatever Ryan Lee wants to do. And maybe if we’re lucky, the legal erotica of Theo Legaleagleton.
- Kate: “Aw, those pelicans are coughing up oil.” Pete: “Oil is a totally organic substance.”
- When Jackie first saw Kate, she thought, “Wow, Blonde Jackie. Real original, Pete.”
- Sad Steve comes to Pete with a question about Jackie’s Mother’s Day gift. “H.R. was supposed to talk to you about talking to me about my ex-wife’s panties.”
- Loved the sight gag of Pete’s “What else can we blame this on?” whiteboard: “Human nature, eco-terrorism, tiny submarine.”
- Jackie has a pretty useful silent code for the hotel room with Diane. “Panties on the door, don’t come ashore. Panties on the floor, could use one more.”
- Hillary at her dad’s office: “They dumped the kids and Kate on me, and now my day is ruined.” The sentence was practically over before I realized what she was saying.
- Warren walks into Pete’s office as he’s getting made up for his news appearance. “Is this what you do at work? I want to be a pretty lawyer.”