Life at the Murphy house is such that even minor gains deform the status quo enough to jar everyone else. Frank is actually happy at his new delivery job, telling former co-worker Bob Pogo (real last name revealed as Pogrohvich here), “I got a job now where I’m appreciated!,” as he spurns Bob’s secret plan for his reinstatement. Sue, her “salad-tosser” prototype laughed out of the office by her male bosses, is summoned to a ladies’ room stall meeting by Vivian, who also has a secret plan, here to commission an actual working prototype not made from a rusty washing machine and take the invention over boss Tracy’s head. But success and fulfillment aren’t in the F Is For Family DNA, or maybe it’s the Murphys’ DNA, and, more even than the narrative roadblocks that look to derail Frank and Sue’s advances here, it’s the gnawing inevitability of failure that makes “This Is Not Good” so tough to watch.
There’s a touch of the old Frank Murphy crowd-pleasing assholery at the start, as the sleep-deprived Frank reverts back to the invective-yelling, slur-tossing Archie Bunker he was introduced as. He even threatens to put Kevin “right through a fuckin’ wall,” for old times’ sake. But, as amusing as Bill Burr can make Frank’s cathartically obscene outbursts, F Is For Family has always been more about the whys of Frank’s anger, especially in this second season. Things are just more complicated. There are too many interlocking pieces for an old-fashioned Frank tirade to fit neatly into his family’s life, and, when he falls asleep on his feet, it’s to the sound of Sue’s renewed, heartfelt plea for them to be “a team,” and the expression on her face takes the air out of the gag. Same goes for Frank’s ranting at his kids (including Maureen, although he calls her “Princess” and apologizes once he realizes she’s not Bill). The fast-cutting opera of angry, admonishing, and apologetic name-calling among Frank, Sue, Kevin, and Bill as the elder Murphys rush off to work works in its dizzying crosscut of hurt feelings. (Also, neighbor Goomer’s oblivious, “Hey guys. Sayin’ each others’ names?” punctures the tension with a big laugh.)
But, like I mentioned, the road forward is not paved with gold for the Murphys, as a rule. (If it were, it would be impossible to pry up and spend, and expensive to maintain, and the family car would spin out on wet gold every time it rains.) Frank, taken aback at having to fill the vending machines at Mohican, finds the expected showdown with Bob turn, instead, to a tearful reunion (at least on Bob’s part) thanks to Frank’s replacement Scoop Dunbarton being a complete psycho. David Koechner keeps bringing the laughs as Bob, here weeping out the line “He calls it suitcase spasketti!” (referring to Scoop putting bags through an airplane engine) with the true commitment to weirdness that it requires. Hiding in Bob’s truck once Scoop’s Mohican owner father comes looking for him, the desperate middle manager pitches for Frank to help drive out Scoop and get his old job back. Frank, still smarting from how he got shafted in the Mohican labor dispute, cites Smokey’s appreciation for his efforts and turns Bob down, sending the dieting Bob Hulking out in a stolen-candy-devouring vengeance frenzy. Frank, responsible for Smokey’s wares, is out $150.
Sue, told by Vivian about a rogue (and pervy) plant worker who’ll fabricate their prototype for $300 (or some intimate Polaroids), tries to get ahold of Frank so he can bring her the $160 she’s got squirreled away in the fridge. Instead, she comes home to find the house destroyed and abandoned, and an IOU from Frank in place of her money. Frank took it to pay back Smokey after finding that Kevin has left him with a stack of scribbled IOUs in the place of Frank’s stash of beer money behind the fridge. Sue, looking at the shambles, takes the prized locket Frank once gave her, and pawns it. It’s like The Gift Of The Magi, except that everyone justifies stealing from their loved ones with their own rationalizations, and vague promises of something nice later on down the road.
Left to their own devices thanks to Frank choosing an extra shift over watching his kids and driving them to their activities, the young Murphys’ misadventures all go haywire as well. Bill, continuing the hardening that started in the face of life’s unfairness last episode, flies into a Frank-like impotent rage when he breaks his new (stolen) hockey stick while riding his bike to tryouts. Emboldened by his successful heist of the stick, Bill skips out on a breakfast check with little weirdo pal Phillip, then pees on the burned-out remains of Jimmy’s fort, gleefully exclaiming, “He can’t touch us! I made him disappear—forever!”
Kevin, meanwhile, is all about getting laid. Specifically, with the “haircut girl” who liked his band’s show last episode, a prospect he anticipates with about six solid hours of basement masturbation. Kevin’s fumbling progress through surly adolescence has never been F Is For Family’s strongest element—partly, it’s Justin Long’s choice of voice, a thuggish, nasal monotone that keeps the character a little distant. And, while I don’t know how many masturbation montages you need in your entertainment, Kevin’s frenzied horniness here is at least not shy about exploring just how monomaniacal teenage boys are about sex. (In his riotous round of self-abuse, Kevin makes use of, among other things, a magazine picture of Bella Abzug, a suspiciously modeled roast beef sandwich, and a Virgin Mary votive for erotic inspiration.) When his “sure thing” goes predictably, disastrously wrong (he ejaculates in his pants, while she winds up with a bloody nose and chipped tooth), he winds up locked out of his empty house in the cold—only to have his first sexual experience courtesy of Vic’s obliging, bored girlfriend. You can’t “steal” another person, but, here, too, Kevin’s ambition sees him doing something unsavory (he’s 15, she’s an adult, and Vic’s been supportive of his rock star dreams) that seems like the right thing at the time. Or at least the convenient thing he can convince himself is his due.
(Here a note about Vic’s ladyfriend, who may have been named once or twice by this point in the season, but who is essentially “Vic’s ladyfriend.” While there’s been a feint towards giving her some motivation—Vic’s increasing busyness at work makes her antsy—she’s portrayed with the bare minimum of agency. When she takes pity on Kevin and has sex with a semen-stained 15-year-old, she’s a plot device, and nothing more.)
Maureen is the one Murphy who finds a little unalloyed triumph this time out. Like Bill, she’s stood up by her father (who, to be fair, is locked out of his delivery truck by the enraged and gorging Bob), and accepts a ride from kindly neighbor Mr. Holtenwasser to her Honeybees meeting, her carefully made computer science vision board in tow. Maureen’s character so far has been a setup for Frank’s inevitable meltdown when he has to reconcile his bright and ambitious daughter’s “unladylike” goals with his own infantilizing, idealized version of her as the perfect daddy’s girl. But here, Maureen displays some of the devilish streak she was introduced with last season, turning the tables on her snooty, sneering troop-mates (and troop leader) by giving them the history-related presentation they demand instead—in the form of the all-too-obliging Holtenwasser’s horrifying tales of Holocaust survival and later flight from some all-American anti-Semitism. Unlike Bill, whose resentment is sending him down the path to destructive juvenile delinquency, Maureen accepts a ride from Mr. Holtenwasser after he reminds her he was the one who drove Sue to the hospital to have her. “He wasn’t there then either?!,” she calls out about Frank, but, in the end, she turns her anger (“I hate this family!”) into a win. Weeping Honeybees all around, Maureen Murphy stands smiling.
But the Murphy’s aren’t built to win. As Sue pawns her locket, she tells the solicitous store owner, “I might regret it later. But right now it’s the only thing that can make this shitty day even remotely bearable.” Maybe, but F Is For Family continues to show how, for the Murphys, even the smallest victory means stepping over some bodies.
- Koechner keeps making Bob Pogo improbably sympathetic, especially since his character’s sole traits have been expanded a bit beyond “loud” and “fat.” Still, his reference to his loyal wife sticking with him through “four heart attacks and three tub-sticks” is pretty funny.
- Koechner also makes Bob’s Tobias Fünke-style unintentional double entendres work, his unfortunate, “You fuck me, I’m gonna fuck you! With my mouth!” followed by an expert beat, and then an irritated, ”You know what I mean!”
- I’m not saying that rage-Frank isn’t entertaining: “Jesus, Sue, how many kids do we have? Back in the old days, the good Lord had the decency to take one or two out with polio, or get mauled by a bear! Something to help out!”
- Bill, angrily responding to Phillip’s rosy tales of his own, supportive father: “My dad calls me a pussy and asks God to give one of us polio.”
- “Screw him and screw the rules. Where has that ever gotten me?” “At breakfast with a dear friend?” Phillip’s growing on me.
- Not so the feral kids. The older one joins in on the boys’ outdoor peeing, all so we can get a bloody urine joke.
- Frank’s relationship with Smokey continues to develop nicely, as their mutual respect can’t quite paper over their very different life experiences. When Frank worries about going back to Mohican, Smokey commiserates about the first time he went back to fill the vending machines at the prison. Frank: “Hey, I didn’t know you were a guard!” Smokey: “Frank Murphy, you are so fuckin’ white.”
- Still, Frank’s miles ahead of Bob, who responds to Frank’s suggestion that Rosie take over Frank’s old job with a dismissive, “Now’s not the time for jokes, Frank.”