It’s time to return to the improbably sized apartment for a family on their budget where Mike and family live. Watch for bubbles! (But seriously, how did they pay for that place when Mike wasn’t working on Annie’s teacher’s salary?)
This week has three plot lines: Eve, Ian, and Graham, with the adults fumbling about trying to figure out what to do in each one.
To be fair, it’s not every day that you find out that your parents were right by finding out your teen daughter has been photographing nude men. (And yes, we get all sorts of euphemisms for genitalia. So much talent!) Terrified of losing their footing as the “cool” “progressive” parents, and of regaining Eve’s usually resentful attitude, Mike and Annie don’t know what to do. They don’t want to give the “because we said so” speech, but at the same time… How do you convince your teenaged daughter that she’s too young to be taking nudes?
Mike tries first with his impressions of her art — and that maybe it would be more subversive to be less obviously edgy. I found Eve’s baby feminist spiel about subverting the objectification of women, but Eve honey — you aren’t really addressing the objectification problem just by taking objectifying pictures of dudes. Don’t worry, your inevitable women’s studies class freshmen year, or maybe someone on Tumblr, will explain it all. I promise, without making it into a pun about penises, that you have a lot of potential.
She’s more successful at subverting her father’s guiding hand. Or perhaps diverting is a better word for it? Mike tries to use his teenaged guitar playing as an analogy, but she immediately jumps on how unfair it was for his parents to make him stop and play piccolo. So uncool, it’s like a “tiny flute!” He tries to go on, but instead Eve decides that “Dad’s Piccolo” is the perfect name for her nude photo exhibit, leaving him confused about how this went so awry. But not so confused to catch last minute that “Dad’s Piccolo” could be taken as yet another euphemism.
Annie, if possible, fares even worse. She attempts the scared straight approach, describing a horrible outcome for an artist she used to know. Unfortunately she probably should have stuck to a story that made her less animated. Eve becomes inspired and starts taking pictures, flattering her mother in an escalation that would sound more familiar coming from a male photographer. We learn in a later scene that Eve actually convinced her to pose nude — which doesn’t exactly help their “you shouldn’t be taking nudes” case. (There’s a little side plot here where Mike and Annie break into the art show the night before to steal her nude and get caught, but it was more of an excuse for marketing to put #artheist on all the social media.)
In the end, they decide that establishing boundaries is a bit more important than being “cool” parents. Breaking out what they call “all the parenting cliches,” they make it clear to a frustrated Eve that she’s the child, they are the parents, and there will be no more photographing nude men.
Speaking of boundaries, Ian is dealing with some of his own. He and Reese (Eve’s friend who was mistaken for a lesbian in “Neighbor”) are dating, and he’s not really comfortable about where their boundaries are. They’ve reached the stage of the relationship where a lot of the communication starts to feel a bit like bickering, and he’s kind of uncomfortable with how constant it feels. Mike gives him some placating advice (more on that later), but he’s not really satisfied with that and seeks Harris’s help.
In case you forgot, Harris — Mike’s producer — is a huge lech, and is proud of it. So the subsequent break up via car metaphor is as hilariously awkward as you’d imagine a young man applying Harris’s advice might be. Both Reese and Ian are miserable about this, but between Ian’s mistake of going to Harris for relationship advice and Reese’s mistake of taking aunt Leigh’s advice, it takes them the whole episode to get over themselves. (Props, though, for Ian’s lady killer friend being a young man with Albinism.)
What shines in this plot line is actually how well Harris and Leigh, as characters, complement and play off each other. Neither is one to back down or placate the other, and I actually found Leigh endearing and Harris marginally less creepy when they interacted. I would watch an episode just about them bickering. Or maybe a spin off movie. Who knows, we are only on episode 3! Whatever happens, they work together to make their caricature natures a little less cartoon-y and a little more in context. Immature as they might both be, at least this time it’s a man her own age that Leigh is competing for the immaturity awards against. (Also, no one should take the dating advice either of these two dish out. Ever.)
Remember Mike’s placating advice? It’s Graham that takes it to heart. Here and there throughout the episode, he uses it on various family members to get what he wants. Ready?
“You’re Right. I’m Wrong. I’m Sorry.” Really, Mike? This is the advice you are passing around the dinner table? My forehead is in my hands. It’s kind of a horrible move to have such a pat answer to any time you upset a woman. And to have Graham of all people be the one who transforms it into a little mischief weapon — even if having a bubble room is really cool guys I want one — was unsettling.
Thankfully, the writers knew exactly how messed up it was. When he tries to pull it on his mother, Annie calls him on it. In the process, she reveals that the only reason Mike’s been using it on her successfully was because it was one of the compromises that she was willing to make for their marriage. I thought that that worked on multiple levels. First of all, it doesn’t let Mike’s benign sexism go unchecked — which is how these things seem to get played in a lot of comedy. I actually am not a huge comedy person, and a lot of comedies I try to watch fall flat for me because of stuff going unchecked.
But the second reason why I loved this little reveal is because it’s very functional and truthful about how their marriage works. When it comes to relationships, we do sometimes have to compromise to make it work in the long run — be it via a gimmie or admitting how we feel even when we are embarrassed. Demonstrating a functional marriage on TV feels really strange, and it shouldn’t be. Functional marriages have their troubles too, and you don’t need to make the marriage be “on the rocks” to deal with those issues or tell those stories. This tiny moment was pulled off beautifully, and got across everything about their relationship that “Neighbor” bumbled around.
I’ll end this post the same way that the episode did: with video (in my case, a gif) of Michael J Fox playing a guitar in an obvious nostalgia pull to Back to the Future. And I can totally live with that.