By Stacey Harrison
ABC made the wise decision to air two episodes back to back last night — a perfect way for a new show to find its rhythm. After last week’s pretty decent pilot, I was wondering how the show would go beyond jokes about PC extremism while still giving us characters we could stand to be around. Obviously, they would need more depth and to not be so self-righteous that you would have no choice but to turn the channel. Well, this twofer went a long way in easing my concerns.
Ubuntu is frustrated after failing at yet another venture, this time pottery. He and Gerald are working on projects to help save the narwhals, which look to be a hybrid of whale and unicorn. But the next-door neighbor, Ray, says Ubuntu should try out for football. He’s got the size, strength and monosyllabic speech pattern, after all. (I keed, I keed. I played in high school.) Gerald and Helen are reluctant to let their boy take up such a violent sport, but in the interest of being supportive parents, they let him try it. Lo and behold, he’s a natural. Hey, if he can’t protect the narwhal, then he can sure as heck protect the quarterback.
It turns out Helen has a deeper reason for being leery about sports. She grew up in a football-crazy family (burning Raiders dolls in effigy) and has no desire to let the pigskin demon overtake her again. But after watching a few games, it’s hopeless. She’s getting in the boosters’ faces for not showing enough spirit, and even calling up the opposing coach’s wife and telling her she slept with her husband. Then there’s the Braveheart-style paint job she gives herself right before Homecoming.
Gerald, meanwhile, is adapting to a world of high-fives and butt slaps as he bonds with the other fathers. He even agrees to a father-son camping trip after seeing how much it means to Ubuntu. It’s there where things start to go horribly wrong. One of the annual traditions of a Greenville High homecoming is kidnapping and killing the other team’s mascot. But Gerald just can’t let the poor pig be sacrificed, so he challenges the other dads — many of whom turn out not even to have sons on the team. Ubuntu joins him, utilizing his newfound blocking skills. Upon release, the pig turns on Gerald and attacks him. After some porcine-inspired chaos, he and Ubuntu are able to ride away with the pig in their hybrid car.
Helen has gone completely off the deep end, and once she sees the pig and learns what it is, she demands they kill it. Eventually she comes to her senses and she and Gerald break it to Ubuntu that they’re just not a football family. There is a compromise, however. As long as the pig is not killed, but made the team’s mascot, Ubuntu will agree to play.
I didn’t mention Bliss through all this. She was busy trying to get into a good college and at all costs avoid spending any time at the local community college. Unfortunately, she’s a victim of political correctness, as her Hispanic school adviser sees it. If you’re white and not in the top of your class, getting into a top school is a pipe dream. She has options, though. She schemes to enroll in PS146, a troubled inner-city school where, if you can manage not to get shot, you could probably be valedictorian. The administration is wise to the scheme, though, and demands a bribe that Bliss can’t afford. So it’s off to good old Greenville Community College to get some credits. It’s too much, though, and she freaks out, setting off the fire alarm for some reason and running out of class. The college agrees not to press charges, as long as Bliss never sets foot on campus again. So she got her wish, but isn’t sure how she’s going to address the whole college admissions problem now.
Goodes Gone Wild
Gerald starts things off with probably the show’s best line so far: “Look who’s coming up the drive with a big sack of poison.” It’s Charlie, Helen’s right-wing dad who has brought over stuff to kill a raccoon just as Helen is on her way to an animal rescue adoption. Charlie has never found much value in anything his hippy-dippy daughter does, and even though she tries to act like it doesn’t affect her, we find out later how much it truly does.
Helen sets up shop outside of One Earth, the Whole Foods-type store that seems to be the town’s liberal capital. She’s met by her snooty friend Margo, who pooh-poohs things like animal rescue adoptions, because they pale in importance to the massive protest she’s going to attend in Chicago. Then there’s Animals or Else, a militant animal-rights group that shows up to chastise Helen for her “minstrel show.” They believe all animals should be in the wild, no matter what. Even cute lil Buttons, who probably would be gator bait in minutes. Margo swoons over the group while Helen tries to prove she’s down with them. Problems compound when someone drops off a uniquely disgusting creature that most closely resembles a morbidly obese cat. The only identifying mark on the nearly hairless, constantly slobbering beast is a collar with the name Gutterball written on it. Charlie shows up, surreptitiously slipping a few bucks into Helen’s donation jar and saying maybe he needs a pet to keep him company. He takes a shine to Gutterball and wants to adopt him. Trouble is, Charlie’s condo doesn’t allow pets, so Gutterball would have to stay with the Goodes, and Helen overrules Gerald’s objections and agrees. This is the first thing she’s done that her dad has found worthwhile, and she doesn’t want to lose that momentum.
Gutterball causes the expected disasters, but Charlie is having the time of his life, carting the creature around in a harness you’d usually use for babies and slipping him a beer or two or three. When this seems to be having an ill effect, they take Gutterball to the vet, who reveals that it isn’t a cat or raccoon or any other animal they would know about. Instead, it’s a Sri Lankan marsupial so repugnant to even its own species that its mating ritual involves noxious gas and date rape.
The Goodes decide they’ve had enough, and plot to have Animals or Else come take Gutterball away. But Helen chickens out at the last minute, and they alter a raccoon they’ve trapped in the back yard to act as a substitute. The ruse works, and Gutterball is sent off to live at the retirement homes, where all the residents believe he’s a new baby.
I gotta say, I could barely take watching the horrifying mess that is Gutterball in this episode. I can see the potential comedic angles here, but I’ll just hope against hope that he doesn’t become a recurring character.
Photos: © 2009 American Broadcasting Companies, Inc.