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The Kids Are Alright - The Ones Where Peggy Drives - Review - A Perfect Score

These episodes are actually called “Low Expectations” and “Peggy Drives Away.” The time for low expectations of this show has passed. As for Peggy’s driving, it is brilliantly incorporated into both episodes. Peggy learning to drive has been one of the season’s main story threads, and these episodes demonstrate this show’s gift for extracting entertaining twists and dilemmas from something so simple. I continue to marvel at how every single one of the characters on this show has been so well developed. It’s no small feat, and, quite frankly, a comedy has no right to be this good in its first season. But these kids and their parents are more than alright.

I also appreciate how the show smacks with authenticity. At the start of “Low Expectations,” Mike starts a joke about Peggy being a dangerous driver, a joke which several of the boys pick up and add on to. That’s just something that happens in big families. Everyone wants a piece of the pie, so they all pile on. And of course Frank jumps in with a warning that they shouldn’t be joking about this.
“I want us to grow old together,” he reminds Peggy who promptly bombs her driver’s test for unrelated reasons. Peggy gets a heckling at home about the failure, so she comes up with an idea. She has her friend Helen Portello take the driver’s test for her. The only hitch...Helen’s picture is also on the ID card.

Mary McCormack plays Peggy’s triumph with heaps of swagger when she tells her family that she “passed” the test. However, the real test comes when an officer pulls her over while she’s driving with Joey and Frank. It’s a truly great scene. It starts off with Joey hyping up the stop (Fuzz on your tail, Mom! I smell bacon!), while Good Citizen Frank bemoans that society has come to hassling innocent citizens. The officer calls her out on the picture right away. She insists that it is her and that her sons will back her up. Frank leans forward, beaming cherubically, and prepares to vindicate his saintly matriarch. You have to watch his reaction for yourself. Sawyer Barth is hilarious. Joey gets them home, with his own much better fake ID. Then in another great twist, Joey spills the truth to Mike almost immediately. Peggy’s whiplash outburst at both boys is just the cherry on top. Everything builds to the only right conclusion. Mike apologizes for making fun of Peggy’s driving and gives her the encouragement to pass the test for real.

Timmy’s quest for his big break hits a fun speed bump in “Low Expectations.” He finds out there’s a chance he could replace Danny Bonaduce (who has a great guest role) in The Partridge Family. Timmy pursuing artistic ventures alone is too dry, but the show has learned that by incorporating one or more of his brothers, they can make these forays much more engaging. In this case, Joey discovers there’s a market for Partridge Family souvenirs. He starts selling “memorabilia” to girls at school. We’d expect nothing less of Joey. Still, I in no way expected the gloriously funny slapstick twist of Timmy jumping over the fence and falling into a manhole. It felt like an homage to the rambunctious Disney comedy movies of the early 1970s. And even though the Lassie reference wasn’t quite right for the time, it was absolutely necessary. We even got Joey taking a motorized saw to Timmy’s cast. Sometimes the Lord just giveth.

While “Low Expectations” is very good, “Peggy Drives Away” is excellent. It’s a rapid fire sequence of events that gives everyone fantastic material and makes some thoughtful observations. The episode begins with Peggy trying to get a credit card because she’s six dollars short at the grocery store. (A consequence of Peggy learning to drive is that she now does the shopping.) However, the bank teller informs her she needs her husband’s signature on the application. Wait, it’s actually more demeaning than that. He tells her to give the application to any male family member, even an idiot adult son. The setup for the episode continues with Wendi appearing in Lawrence’s window (as he brushes his long locks….the foreshadowing y’all!) to ask for his help with a passed out Eddie. Meanwhile, Peggy asks Mike to sign the credit application. He responds as a man of his times, saying a credit card would be like that whole Eve-with-the-apple thing. Shortly afterwards, Peggy storms out and takes off in the station wagon.

The Cleary family panics. (Insert Chicken Run “Lose Our Heads” gif here). We and Frank know why Peggy left. However, no one else does. Their escalating overreactions are just buckets and buckets of diamonds. Everyone shines. Tenderhearted Pat knows he’s the cause of Peggy leaving, because mother knows all. He packs his suitcase and sets off optimistically for the wilderness. Santino Barnard perfectly balances Pat’s sweet and perplexed sides, while also digging in to deliver good old-fashioned pluck. The real saint of the family (sorry, Frank), William worries that his smart mouth drove mom off. “I can be real salty before I’ve had my cocoa.” Andy Walken’s delivery here is packed with resignation and self-awareness. And I can’t do justice to Joey’s body parts black market. He ends up helping Timmy seek redemption for a cold case….a brutally stained tablecloth. “Spaghetti sauce is a piece of cake compared to blood.” With Joey at the helm, no one will lose their head….just consciousness.

Of course, maybe nothing is more hilarious than what goes down with Frank and Lawrence. When Lawrence finds his journal open near the laundry, all his alarm bells go off.
Lawrence: Holy crap!
Frank: That is blasphemy, mister. Unless you’re talking about a dirty diaper left in the manger by Baby Jesus.
The journal is full of not-so-complementary thoughts about Peggy. Frank smells the fear and is seized by malevolent genius. Lawrence is feeling guilty guilty guilty, so when Frank says that Peggy dies inside when she looks at Lawrence’s hairdo, he snaps up the bait. (The outcome later on is too perfect.)

Peggy picks up runaway Pat, who is too pure to ignore a “Keep Off the Grass” sign, still unaware that mostly nude Eddie is on the backseat. Back at the house, Mike has his own fit of guilt. He winds up at a hotel bar with Wendi which is super awkward. Until Wendi schools him on not recognizing why Peggy would be upset.
“It’s not that hard a puzzle to put together, Mr. Cleary.” She reads him the whole alphabet about how Peggy is just as much a provider as she is. “The world doesn’t value what she does.” It’s a solid commentary on how stay-at-home moms have often been underappreciated. They get thrown out because Wendi’s dress is too suggestive (HA!), but the lesson sticks with Mike who might be evolving into a “woke” husband at a ridiculously fast pace. It’s still nice to see though.

All and the episode still works in Peggy getting lost with Pat and discovering Eddie, which is also a couple of great scenes. Joey and Timmy get knocked out again. Frank and Peggy bond over her takedown of the cashier who messed up her purchase. And Lawrence reveals his new haircut. There’s really no shortage of incredible moments. These episodes just show how much ground The Kids Are Alright can cover. With this array of characters and the talent behind them, plus the increasingly sharp writing, the sky is the limit for this show.

Last note. The scene in “Low Expectations” at the end where Joey tells Peggy why he ratted her out was amazing. Christopher Paul Richards has really shaped an enthralling character in Joey….one who can turn from mischievious to honest on the flip of a dime. Joey should probably learn to read though. (A throwaway nod to the state of education that comes off better than most "current events" references the show makes.) This show has just barely scratched the surface of what it's capable of giving us.


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