Another Period has achieved something rather remarkable in its premiere season. Considering the Bellacourts’ sheer maliciousness (especially when it comes to Lillian and her many outrageous schemes to break into Newport society), they’ve somehow become the ones to root for. How is it that this immensely wealthy family—who laughs at things as egregious as elephant murder, and fails to name daughters simply because they’re girls and therefore useless—ends up being the good guys? Well, let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
The Bellacourts are not sympathetic, a trait which earns any protagonist worth his or her salt viewers’ support. Yet, they are likable because they are unlikable. It’s a device the Bluths relied upon in Arrested Development and which earned them a cult following. Interestingly enough, the likable-to-unlikable ratio works better for scripted television than it does for reality television. Take something too far in real life—allow viewers to believe that certain people do not play by the rules to a hyperbolic extent—and they lose the audience’s favor. If that happens in a scripted show, however, and it’s executed properly (AKA comically) then suddenly things become all the funnier, as in the case of Another Period.
Seeing the Bellacourts fail provides a hearty laugh, but if anything too sinister threatens to upend their plans significantly or disrupt their way of life entirely then suddenly the Bellacourts become the underdogs. It’s an odd term to pair with anyone in possession of immense money, power and freedom. The family’s “new money” status may have allowed them ready access to all wealth’s trappings, but it continues to bar them from Newport’s inner social circle. As Lillian aptly put it in last week’s episode, they are “The bottom 1% of the top 1%.” An odd kind of underdog, certainly, but an underdog nonetheless.
Making unlikable characters the ones to like is no small feat. The Bellacourts may be horrible, but they are all the more funny for their flaws. When Chair and Celery Savoy go against the family, their scheming draws viewers to side with the Bellacourts. Both Chair and Celery house separate plans to achieve particular goals, but those goals come at the Bellacourts’ expense and, moreover, don’t provide the familiar laughter-through-failure on which the show is built. It’s more than a matter of Lillian not getting her way and provoking a laugh; if Chair and Celery succeed then it threatens to unravel everything.
In Another Period’s season finale, Frederick and Celery’s wedding goes off without a hitch, a comment the Marquis de Sainsbury makes with a wink in his eye considering Lillian and Beatrice have been racing through the woods to stop it. Instead of the disruption coming pre-ceremony, it arrives post, when Lillian, Beatrice, Garfield and Charles Ponzi’s former Indian servant Taboo show up and create a row. Having enough of Celery’s teasing and tormenting, Lillian pushes her into the pool for a royal—if rather wet—smack down.
As it turns out, Commodore has had a larger hand in Frederick’s nuptials, and for good reason. More than marrying off his older bachelor son to finally see him settled, Commodore sees big business potential in uniting his family with the Savoys, since they are huge steel magnates and he made his money in magnets. Moreover, as the most powerful family on the eastern seaboard, the Savoys could really change things for the Bellacourts. That plan quickly goes awry once Hortense bursts into the reception with the day’s newspaper, which declares the Bellacourts to be “modern pigs” on the front page and reveals their uncouth ways.
Gossip reporter Scoops LaPue gets the blame, but it turns out Hortense penned the tell-all to get back at the awful way her family treats her. As a result of the story, Mr. Savoy cuts off all ties with the family, but leaves Celery behind (an interesting addition to the Bellacourt mansion next season perhaps?), a move that prompts Commodore to kick Lillian and Beatrice out. He doesn’t care that Beatrice and Frederick have been sleeping together for 25 years (a seriously long time since both are in their late 20s/early 30s), but he does care that people found out about it.
The sisters pack their bags and walk the streets of Newport, only to have a young lady recognize them as the “Pig Sisters.” Lillian has an epiphany. Instead of trying to break into Newport society, she wants to be famous, and it seems as though she’s on her way when a small crowd gathers to seek hers and Beatrice’s autographs. In a manner similar to many a reality-star-turned-celebrity these days, scandal gets Lillian’s foot in the door and she’ll use it to her advantage.
The show’s bigger twist involves Chair, AKA Celine, who reveals she’s pregnant with the Commodore’s baby. When Mr. Peepers discovers the indiscretion, he sets about to fire her but Commodore keeps her safe, instead moving her to an upstairs room much to Dodo’s shock. Chair has perhaps had the most interesting story arc, starting out first as a sympathetic, put-upon servant before developing into a conniving and cunning minx with plans to break into life upstairs. In many ways, her ambition mirrors Lillian’s attempts to segue her new money into a societal position, but it doesn’t elicit the same kind of viewer support. Technically, Chair should be the one we identify with, and yet she’s the one who stands to ruin all the fun, but not if Blanche has anything to do with it.
Just last week, Comedy Central announced that it would be renewing Another Period for a second season, and so the stage has been set to watch the conniving Lillian continue to push herself forward into whatever the limelight equivalent was at the turn of the twentieth century. As for the rest of the Bellacourts and their faithful servants, life is quickly changing for them, but hopefully for the rest of us that only means next season will be as good a laugh.
Amanda Wicks is a New Orleans-based writer specializing in comedy and music. She’s more “haha” funny than “lol,” but feel free to follow her anyway on Twitter at @aawicks.