Though the country’s knee-deep in recession, you don’t see much of it on TV. The struggling-for-cash class is usually embodied, literally, by the dead strippers on the procedural shows. So that makes the near-destitute Gallaghers, theoretically, all the more compelling. Except that, to illustrate the degradation and compromises of their lives, the writers are constantly setting scenes in toilets. This episode, Veronica’s brother is chained to a toilet, Fiona steals mega-rolls from a toilet, Lip has sex in a toilet, a man’s locked in one, there are various shots of men peeing, and we learn Fiona never shuts the door. (The intro is even set in a bathroom.) The writers may be trying to suggest that there’s a Survivor-like camaraderie among the family and friends that makes such privacy issues irrelevant. Instead, they’re presenting a pretty prejudicial view: the poor as unclean masses. Frank, in one funny scene, even washes with gobs of Purell. Gross.
In an episode that goes somewhat off the rails, Kevin and Veronica get faux-married to get an inheritance her father has left for her, only to find it’s just a $500 savings bond. In a show with characters so rich a preteen can carry an episode these neighbors just aren’t that compelling. (Although Vanessa Bell Calloway as Veronica’s mom is a pleasure,) Kevin, already married, has unsuccessfully tried to get out of his proposal by saying he won’t get married until gay couples can in Illinois. Veronica’s perfectly happy to cancel until she finds out about the dowry from Dad, at which point she’s donning the veil again. “What about the gay people?,” he asks, when she changes her mind. Veronica responds, “They have their parades. They can wait.”
The energy of the episode comes instead from Frank, wrestling with a cancer scare. A tumor is found on his mutant third testicle — Sheila serves meatballs for dinner and suggests they share a burial plot. In a highlight of the episode, if not the series so far, Frank goes to a cancer support group and comforts a woman with breast cancer: “Just knowing your tits are trying to kill you — that’s gotta suck.” At the bar later, he cries out: “Why me? Why me?” “Because you’re a fucking asshole, Frank,” comes the answer. (His biopsy comes back okay.)
In another great scene off of the main plot, Ian goes to Kash’s house for a stolen weekend. (The wife and kids are away at Boy Scout Camp pretending to get assimilated, she explains.) He arrives at the house thrilled, turned on, even giddy with the freedom. The first few moments between them are entirely G-rated but more sexual and transgressive, given his age and eagerness, than anything on Skins. But the stark domesticity of Kash and his wife’s life together, the strangeness of the Muslim writing on the wall all feels uncomfortable to Ian and he flees. This is a great, and fresh, story line. We feel sorry for Kash, Ian, even the wife, who has so far been played for laughs but hopefully not forever.
Meanwhile, in Shelia’s house of delusion, she’s painstakingly sewn the wedding garments including a flowered dress for herself, though she hasn’t left her house in years. “You look nice. Where are you pretending to go?” her husband says, cruelly. Joan Cusack’s face folding in on itself in fear and tears as she ultimately can’t walk out the door is what makes this show with watching.
And lastly, there’s a fine moment with Fiona and Steve, driving around in a stolen Lexus and turned on by the luxury of it. They’re stopped by a cop (apparently, Tony again. Are there no other cops in Chicago?) They get away, and the adrenalin rush of escape turns them both on, but we see trouble ahead for this couple. Is it foreshadowing that, at the wedding, Tony catches the garter and gestures at Fiona?
Speaking of trouble ahead, Carl nonchalantly microwaves a goldfish as the family watches, unconcerned. (He also has a brief interlude with a pedophile priest — cheap formula shot — and there’s a great cameo of a doctor puffing away on a cig as she checks Frank’s mutant privates for cancer.) Carl is a worrisome little boy.
And did no one else think it funny that Fiona, often seen smoking a joint, is selling clean urine in swap for lasagna?