Much like Adam Goldberg, I, too, had an overprotective mother growing up. Like Beverly, she was prone to checking to see that my tooth brushing was up to her standards and would also pick out my clothes longer than was probably necessary. To be clear, I don’t begrudge her at all for this behavior, especially considering I was the kind of kid who would have just gone to school in his pajamas since they were more comfortable. Still, it was a frustrating thing to deal with at times.
That being said, the extremes to which Beverly goes in some of these episodes is baffling to me, even in the context of a heightened sitcom world.
“The Other Smother” reiterates many of the jokes and set-ups we’ve come to associate with Beverly—namely, her capacity for extreme competitiveness. What prevents this go-round from becoming merely a rehash of beats from previous episodes is that now she has competition in the form of fellow “smother” Betsy Rubenstone (played by Bridesmaid co-writer Annie Mumolo). Faced with Betsy and her overachieving children, Beverly sets about trying to beef up Barry’s college résumé, a task that’s better said than done. (This is someone who, upon learning of the University of Hawaii, responded with, “They have a college in Hawaii?! How do they get a school on an island?!”)
The competition between the two invariably leads to Barry and Rubenstone facing off against each other in the election for high school treasurer. It’s a position that Barry’s not at all interested in until learning that the position involves dealing with school funding (or, as he calls it, “actual treasure”). Somewhat predictably, Beverly’s stint as Machiavellian manager proves less than fruitful, as her plan consists of handing out complimentary berries (“Berry for Barry”) and hanging up embarrassing childhood pictures of her son all across the school as campaign posters. It’s only when Barry chooses to deviate from his mother’s plan and deliver a campaign speech where he spews all his frustration with her meddling that he garners enough support to win the seat. While certainly an intriguing, alternative conclusion—Beverly’s smothering actually does win the day but only because Barry uses it as a means of demonstrating his fortitude—it’s still a fairly unbelievable way of winning a high school election. I know it’s a sitcom, and I‘m required to suspend my disbelief, but would rallying the student body around a “moms suck!” battle cry really be more effective than say, promising to use the school funds to buy a new soda machine?
It’s certainly a promising plotline, and McLendon-Covey and Mumolo play well off each other. However, some of the comedic potential of the storyline seems a bit stifled by setting it primarily from the perspective of Beverly. Aside from the bit involving the embarrassing posters and a brief cutaway to Barry’s final speech, there’s little visual reference to what’s going on with Barry at school. No doubt this is an intentional move by the writers to emphasize that the feud is about the mothers while the children are merely pawns. Still, I can’t but feel a bit sad at not getting to see Barry pelted by berries in the hallways.
Besides the campaign run, the episode incorporates two smaller stories. In one, we find out that Erica has (naturally) been deceiving her mother for years by pretending to attend various extracurricular activities. Though Erica was once a determined go-getter, the stress from her involvement and a desire to be popular led to her dropping out of her school clubs. Upon becoming privy to her secret, Albert points out that she might as well do the activities since she spends an equal amount of energy and effort keeping the charade up. The episode eventually ends with her tepidly entering Model U.N, where nerdier kids more than happy to have an attractive, popular girl in their midst, welcome her with open arms.
In the other, storyline Murray risks getting himself and Adam banned from the local video store after a heated confrontation with a pretentious video clerk (Martin Starr—cue the squeals of Party Down and Freaks and Geeks fans) regarding whether or not he returned the store’s copy of Slap Shot. Surprisingly, it was this latter plotline that ended up hitting me the hardest. For a good 95 percent of its screen time, the subplot appears to be yet another storyline centered on Murray’s unshakable stubbornness. Murray, for his part, insists that he returned the tape and that the clerk’s made the mistake. Even after finding Slap Shot tucked away in his armchair, Murray refuses to own up to his mistake. (“If you never admit you’re wrong, you’re never wrong,” he argues.) Eventually, he fesses up to his mistake and, though he remains banned from the video store, he makes an arrangement so that Adam can still rent movies. He even gets Adam his own personal card, which will allow him to rent 50 movies. (“That should last you about a month,” he says.) To his pleasant surprise, Adam goes in for a hug, and the two share a legitimate tender moment.
My emotional reaction to his plotline works on two levels. One, the idea of a father swallowing his pride for his son’s happiness is an inherently powerful and sentimental one. On a more meta-textual level, it’s through Murray’s act that Adam Goldberg will eventually gain the necessary pop-culture education to one day move out to Los Angeles and become a TV and film writer. This, in turn, will ultimately lead him to write a network sitcom that centers around his crazy but loving family. Usually, I can spot the spot where the show will choose to place its emotional moments, but this one caught me off-guard. It’s telling that, now halfway through the first season, the show has managed to surprise me in the most pleasant, poignant way possible.
(P.S. The episode’s postscript offers an RIP to the local Hollywood Video—a sentiment I readily share. I miss you, Shreveport, La.-based Hollywood Video. You are largely responsible for my middle school film education, and your employees always gave me a free rental on my birthday.)