Tuned In

TMYLM Watch: Scary Movie

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“It’s not about boys. It’s about me.” –Isabella

Alan Fraser / HBO

I started this post with Isabella’s quote, but I could add Katie’s from a few episodes ago, when she discussed her daughter’s early puberty with her doctor: “It’s like a horror movie.” Katie was talking about the various environmental influences–movies, Barbie dolls, hormones in milk–that she believed, rightly or not, were turning her daughter into a woman too soon. Literally, snatching her body. (Ahem.)

Add to the list of culprits, Swimfan, the movie–which New York magazine points out was once titled Tell Me You Love Me–which leads Bella to a bout of, um, exploration while watching a sex scene on DVD. (Great, unsettling performance by Aislinn Paul.)

This leads her to approach Katie for a version of That Talk. But what’s notable about the scene that follows is not just Katie’s trying too hard to assure Isabella that sex is natural–protesting a little too much, maybe–but the initial encounter, in which Katie clearly takes time to warm up to the idea of having That Talk. TV is full of scenes of parents talking to their kids (see last week’s Friday Night Lights, with Tami and Julie), but just as essential, and more rare, is depicting the many ways in which parents manage not to talk to their kids. Uncommunicativeness is a learned skill.

I’m not blaming Katie here. It is a horror movie: she is watching a little girl she loves mutate into another creature before her eyes. Sex is a lot of things. But foremost, sex is change. You grow up, hit puberty, and your body and mindset changes. You partner up, and your life and habits change. You have sex and conceive a baby, and your sleep patterns and bank balance and love life change. You stop having babies–they call menopause The Change–and things change again. And you realize you’re facing that final change, death, which is the subtext of May and her husband wondering if they’d have been good parents.

And maybe you don’t want change. All this scary, sexy change! Maybe you just want your kids to stay kids. (“She was just born!”) Maybe you just want to keep ordering in Penang curry and brown rice and having unprocreative sex with your wife. Maybe you just want good enough to be good enough. Eight episodes in, the characters have achieved change, or had it forced on them, and are starting to react against it. Thus you have the intriguing reversals in therapy, where Dave and Palek are suddenly the ones trying to talk Katie and Carolyn into sticking it out with May. Thus, Katie–who seems to have to be pushed into some kind of crisis by the sessions–suddenly wants to leapfrog the whole sex thing and have another baby. (Surgery? Immaculate conception?)

And, of course, Carolyn turning out pregnant-surprise!–and Palek freaking out–not such a big surprise! As predictable as Palek’s terrified reaction is, though, this was probably Adam Scott’s best performance yet. He doesn’t make Palek any more likeable–nor should he—but he makes him more understandable, as he more and more transparently uses his humor and flippancy as a defense against encroaching reality. He gets more childish the closer fatherhood gets, and even as you want to smack him and tell him to man up (was May passive-aggressively doing just that?), you can also kind of see things his way, as he goes to Dashiell’s birthday party and gets assaulted with the neurotic mom’s elaborate instructions on how to slice a SpongeBob cake. (Bonus points for the bouncy castle scene, where he shows to the rest of the world that he has the stuff of a good dad, even as we can see in his eyes that he doubts that he has one more moment like this in him.)

Speaking of which, I want to take back what I said earlier this season about TMYLM not being funny, which I suspect helped turn some people off. The show is deadpan and can be dead serious, but there are also dead-on true and hilarious moments like that. (Another fave: “Some people put hotties on a list!”)

I can understand why some viewers (and some critics) gave up on this show a few episodes in, but they missed out. And this episode–probably my favorite yet—demonstrates how TMYLM’s accumulation of details is paying off. As Dave put it in therapy, all the scary crap is spread out on the garage floor. Now to see where it goes.