Episode Title: "Thinnergy"
Production Code: 0102
Reviewed By: Nitzan Gilkis
It's impossible to review an early season one episode without talking about the notable differences compared to the what the show later became; at times it seems that these first few episodes have more in contrast with the later ones than they do in common. The thing that's most immediately noticeable when you start watching is the way Al and Peg talk. Peg's voice is at least an octave lower than it would be in episodes to follow, and is much closer to Katey Sagal's real voice; and Al has that strange Italian accent that mysteriously disappeared a few episodes later. I suspect it was the influence of Ed O'Neill's good friend Ritch Shydner, the actor who played Al's Italian shoe-store sidekick Luke Ventura in the first seven episodes. See, there's another difference - Luke's still around (I, for one, am glad they canned his ass shortly afterwards - there is only so much narcissism one can stand! *g*). The show also has a much more realistic tone, and the Bundys are much closer to being a 'normal' family, whatever that may be. Apparently they also eat on a fairly regular basis, as Kelly's comment "beats the heck out of the pie we usually have" and the three (!) meals we see in the episode suggest. (yet another example of MWC's famous inconsistencies... not that we mind). As Christina Applegate said on the Reunion Special, the character of Kelly is still totally undefined at this stage, and Bud too has only one noticeable character trait - his mischievousness and the fun he has in torturing his sister. But perhaps the most significant difference is in Al and Peg's relationship (which happens to be the main subject of our episode). I'll touch on this later.
"Bud, this could be the end of life as we know it"
Marcy: Peggy, what would you say
if I told you I had the answer to all your problems?
Peg: I don't know. I bought one of those and it's just not the same.
"Thinnergy" may be far from MWC as we know it, but that certainly doesn't mean there isn't plenty in here for us to laugh at. (after all, it was written by the two gurus, Ron Leavitt and Michael G. Moye). Like that scene in the bedroom, where Al and Peg are doing their best to irritate the hell out of each other, with Peg singing Al's most hated songs while Al clips his toenails in front of her face (and later puts the clippings in her shoe). You can't tell me that's not funny! Or how about Al's initial responses to the healthy food Peg makes, which include tossing three plates of food into the garbage bin ("here comes an energy wave now!"). Or Al not noticing Peg lying on the bed on his way to the bathroom... And let's not forget "Patsy: Portrait of a Stewardess in Training" and all the various lines relating to it (some of which are surprisingly explicit). So watching this episode is a weird experience, yes, but by no means an unenjoyable one. It's interesting to observe some striking similarities between the Rhoades' joint scenes here and in the proceeding Pilot (also written by Leavitt & Moye). In both we have Al 'corrupting' Steve into watching something that his marriage to Marcy made him give up (Pilot: "I used to love sports"; here: "I used to love smut", delivered with the same longing tone), and thus helping him recover some of his 'lost manhood'; both use that "girls in the kitchen, guys on the couch" format that was often repeated in the first two seasons; and in both Steve and Marcy arrive in harmony and leave in, well, disharmony, thanks to Al's demoralizing (at least from Marcy's point of view) influence on Steve. Only difference is that this time it's Marcy who gives Peg advice instead of vice versa, and I have to say it's more than a little odd to see her so shy - embarrassed, almost - when talking about sex, given her wild character of later seasons. It sure is funny, though...
"I used to love smut"
Peg: [to Marcy] You know,
if a maniac broke into this house right now and shot me dead, Al wouldn't know.
Al: I'd know.
Plot-wise, "Thinnergy" isn't very different from "I'll See You In Court" or "What I Did For Love", which also deal with Peg's attempts to put some excitement back into her and Al's sex life (or rather, put Al back into their sex life, haha). Alas, all her efforts are destined to fail, because as Al says: "even if you were beautiful, I'd still ignore you, 'cause you're my wife". Bet it was a bit of a shock for some people to hear that said on TV back in 1987, haha... As far as laughs go, both of "Thinnergy"'s later-season parallels work a bit better, having more "common knowledge" to rely on from the viewers' side with more episodes under the show's belt. But even without that common knowledge, it's not hard to enjoy "Thinnergy" and the unique view it offers on married life.
smoked salad, anyone?
Marcy: [to Peg] I can't believe
you let your husband watch this mindless exploitation of women.
Al: It's not mindless.
What I really don't like about the episode is its overly mushy ending, which I suspect has to do with the Fox executives' demands to Moye and Leavitt to "show that they [Al and Peg] love each other"* . I guess in a sense something like this really was necessary here, since in these first few episodes Al and Peg's arguements have a much sharper edge, and lack that certain coziness that was there in later episodes and always let us know that no matter what they were saying or doing to each other, there was love and mutual acceptance underneath. So the need to 'soften things out' at the end is understandable. But still, for a MWC fan sixteen years into the future, it's pretty 'unsettling' to watch Al get so blatantly lovey-dovey with Peg, and hear him say "I love you" just like that, knowing how hard it is for him only a season later**. Fortunately, the writers soon learned how to subtly display the underlying intricacies of Al and Peg's relationship, and that's when MWC truly became a great show. For the time being, though, we have to endure nearly two minutes' worth of Al's pointless baseball-glove babble, the meaning of which (at least the last part) is known only to the writers. Thank heavens for the Fast Forward button... :-)
"I am woman, hear me roar"
Luke: Hey Al, let me ask you a
question: if you came home at night and found your wife in bed with another guy, would you get mad?
Al: I'd kill him.
Luke: Oh, so I guess this guy didn't overreact.
So what's the final verdict? Gotta say I like this ep. The pace is good, and there are a lot of laugh-out-loud moments (which is what really matters in a sitcom, right?). I just wish the ending could've been a little less... Cosbyish. But other than that, I really have no complaints. True, any resemblance to what later became of MWC is purely coincidental, but as an appetizer for things to come, "Thinnergy" gets the job done. Shoe betcha.
* - I'm referring to what Michael
Moye said on the "E! True Hollywood Stories" special about the initial responses at Fox to
his and Leavitt's ideas
** - I'm talking about season two's "Peggy Loves Al - Yeah, Yeah, Yeah" (0217)