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American Housewife - The Blow-Up - Review:"Backpack Full of Cat Heads"

Thank God for Viv.

Viv may have morphed into a full monster in American Housewife’s Halloween episode, but sometimes you have to fight monsters with monsters, and to Katie, her mother definitely qualifies as a monster.

To the audience as well. In this Thanksgiving episode, Wendie Malick steals the show as Katie’s own scene-stealing mother, Kathryn. Kathryn’s presence in the Otto household for Thanksgiving makes Katie confront some childhood demons and her own fears as a mother.

The show provides some much needed exposition in the form of Katie’s one-on-one with Anna-Kat’s teacher at the start of the episode. She has gone to the school to discuss Anna-Kat’s anxiety, now manifesting through a need to compulsively organize things. Although Anna-Kat seems to have some serious things going on with her horse best friends lately, her teacher suggests that the real cause of anxiety could be a subconscious connection to Katie’s heightened emotions. Katie agrees. She knows that her mother is coming for Thanksgiving, and she knows that it will probably anger her and stress her out. She just doesn’t know how to deal with Kathryn, who lived a glamorous life as a Pan-Am stewardess instead of going to Katie’s breakdancing competitions and other important life events. Even when she does manage to show up, she tries to steal the show from anyone she can. There’s only so much of her mother Katie can take before she completely snaps.

Anna-Kat’s teacher tentatively suggests looking into medication, which turns out to be a major button you should not push with Katie. Instead, Katie asks about coping mechanisms and gives Anna-Kat a stress ball. She doesn’t tell her daughter about the other coping mechanism, singing a song in your head. Katie and Greg worked so hard to get Frozen out of the house, they can’t invite it back.

This is where Viv comes in. When Katie has her daily meetup with Angela and Doris, Viv skulks around in the background, talking very loudly about her lack of Thanksgiving plans. Katie pointedly doesn’t pick up on the hint (and Leslie Bibb is hilarious at conveying Viv’s neediness), but when Greg sees her lurking outside the house later, he takes pity on her.

It’s a good thing he does, because Kathryn has upped her game. She comes to Thanksgiving in a head-brace, supposedly from a very dramatic car accident. Viv eats up Kathryn’s stories of horrific crashes and heroic comebacks, but Katie believes she’s faking. She tries to pull a Brady Bunch and catch her mother in the act, but Kathryn foresees her maneuvers like a pro. Katie gets angrier and angrier as her mother goes on. Even singing Let It Go (Disney/ABC synergy!) does nothing to help and when Kathryn snaps at Anna-Kat and cruelly suggests she should be on medication just to shut her up, Katie completely loses it.

After her mother retreats upstairs after the fight, Viv backs up her medication idea. She tells Katie that medication has done wonders for her relationship with her step-children, and shows Katie the prescription pills she pops so she “feels nothing”. Katie gets her point. Anna-Kat doesn’t need to be medicated, but maybe she and her mother do. After Katie and Kathryn indulge in a few of Viv’s happy pills, they finally have the heart-to-heart Greg has been advising them to have. Kathryn admits that she wasn’t a great mother, and Katie tells her how much it hurt and how she tries to be better for her own kids. It ends with a tentative shift in their dynamic.

If I had one complaint about the episode, it’s that it didn’t allow for much nuance with Kathryn. Katie’s mother really is horrible and what she says about Anna-Kat is out-of-line. When Katie is clearly in the right for so much of the episode, it makes the emotional reconciliation at the end a little difficult to take. The show, however, doesn’t try to tell us that Katie’s relationship with Kathryn is completely healed. She may have, in a drugged up state, agreed to make an Amazing Race audition tape, but there’s still a long way to go with the two of them.

None of the other Ottos have much to do for Thanksgiving. Taylor and Oliver have a couple of bets that go nowhere, although Oliver does realize that his newfound love of gambling will probably be a problem as he gets older. Greg tries to not make any unintentionally inappropriate advances toward Kathryn, without much luck. The addition of his creepy TA, Vali, makes little sense and adds another character instead of focusing more on the Ottos. Angela and Doris only have what is essentially a cameo in the episode.

Overall, I wouldn’t rank this as the best American Housewife has to offer. After this Thanksgiving detour, I hope that we’ll get back into mixed up life in Westport, without parents in head-braces to worry about.

What did you think of the episode? Let me know in the comments!