In case you don’t usually watch this show (I understand; it takes a few days to get your rage boner down after Last Man Standing), just peep it this week to see Megan Mullally as Penny’s mom Dana. In last night’s episode the dramatic, charismatic Dana sweeps into town for a big singing gig, dripping with her usual good-will and optimism. “Scientist has discovered something called the J spot,” she tells Penny and Alex excitedly. “That’s three beyond G, so you do the math.” All seems to be going famously until Penny gets a voicemail from her stepdad Chris about his impending divorce from her mother…which Penny knows nothing about. Determined to confront her mom about her seemingly delusional interpretation of reality, while still being respectful of the damage yelling can do to one’s vocal cords, Penny sing-argues with Dana about a host of her personal failures. “You learned how to built a garbage can fire/ not every 9-year-old can do that!”Dana trills when reminded of the time they got evicted.
Penny eventually penetrates Dana’s thick protective emotional shell, and when that triggers a massive depression, Mullally can finally put on some of that Karen Walker steez. “It’s just a boat show, people,” she snarls about her big show. “I guess I’ll have to settle for being booed off-stage at Bennigan’s.” Dana goes on to rip into each of Penny’s friends, ending with a warning for Max that he’ll end up alone at 50. “Oh come on,” Brad consoles him. “You’re not going to make it to 50.”
Meanwhile Brad and Jane are really into their couples’ improv class, which is perfect because Max has an insane scheme he needs help pulling off: giving unsuspecting tourists a less-than-factually-accurate tour of Chicago in his dingy second-hand limo. Brad and Jane attract other visitors by posing as a couple from Omaha, home of the world-famous Window Museum (“It’s a lot of looking right through to other parts of the museum,” explains Jane). After the issue of sharing profits tears them apart, as it tears apart all sitcom friendships, Max apologizes and makes amends. “You’re my Wayne Brady…Jane,” Max says, explaining “You’re my Greg Proops, Brad.” Brad scoffs, “I’m not that easy.” Says Max,”You’re my Ryan Stiles.” And with that, all is forgiven.
When we see Mullally on stage at the boat show, well, it’s a feast for the eyes, a furious feast wrapped in an afghan that shouts words of warning in between snippets of Natalie Imbruglia’s “Torn.” “We’re all a little late, aren’t we boatists?,” Dana inquires. Luckily Penny and the gang show up to support her before the Boat Show Police can throw her in Boat Show Jail. Penny reassures her mother that optimism is her true gift, one that she has passed on to her loving daughter. “During that convenient store robbery, I just thought, ‘Well, at least I’m on TV.’ Because I was. And I looked great,” Penny explains. And so the moment arrives for the mother and daughter duo to reveal their matching sequined halter pantsuits and crush any memory we might still have of Australian sweetheart Natalie Imbruglia (which would be virtually none). In the audience Brad and Jane turn on their Dueling Kennedy characters to get the boat enthusists hyped up, Max sweeps Dana off to his limo as she’s followed by thunderous applause and Dave and Alex…well, they’re there too. Dave has a subplot about being 1/16 Navajo, and Alex overuses a highly-questionable neck exercising apparatus, but hey, Megan Mullally was there. Not every episode can be each character’s time to shine. Though if they wanted to slip into a halter suit, their odds of success would improve dramatically.