Family Ties “Help Wanted” (part 2 of 2)

Next, we find Karen with Jennifer and Mallory, carrying laundry baskets full of clothes. Karen is feeling proud because this is “the first load of laundry I’ve ever done!” Though it’s hard not to notice she’s the only one not actually carrying anything, and perhaps didn’t really do this particular load, either.

Also, Karen’s total unfamiliarity with cooking, laundry, or anything else normal people do is never explained. You kind of think maybe there’s some backstory here, like maybe she comes from an Amish enclave, or she’s a billionaire’s daughter who never had to do a single chore in her life, but nope. It’s never explained. She’s just mentally retarded.

Jennifer has no trouble believing Karen never did laundry before, and holds up a tiny pair of pants as proof. Apparently, these were once Dad’s pants, but Jennifer jokes, “We’ll just give ‘em to Alex!”

Caption contributed by Albert

“And when our little brother magically ages six years overnight, he can wear these!”

Alex shows up, and Karen wants him to help bring the kitchen table inside. She says she took the wobbly table outside to “even up the legs a little bit”. So… let me see if I have this straight. She can’t cook or clean, but she dabbles in woodworking? I guess Max wasn’t the only candidate for this position who knew his way around a drill press.

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After Karen and Alex head out, Jennifer and Mallory talk about how much they love Karen, and Mallory says she’s like the “big sister I never had”. And Jennifer’s all Me, too!, forgetting that she already has a big sister. Mallory looks wounded, so Jennifer says she meant that Karen is like “the even bigger sister I never had!” Well, she has a point. Karen is even bigger than Mallory. She’s enormous.

And then we move on, but you just know this exchange will be keeping Mallory up tonight as she ponders why Jennifer thinks she’s such a horrible sister. Or rather, that’s what someone who actually cared about other people’s feelings would do.

Family Ties "Help Wanted" (part 2 of 2)

And then Alex and Karen bring the table back inside, and it appears Karen has somehow shaved down the legs of the table so much that the table is now a foot tall. It’s now at shin height. Karen suggests it’ll look better with the “good china” and goes off to get it.

Family Ties "Help Wanted" (part 2 of 2)

The kids sit around the shin-high table and talk about how much they love Karen. They agree that they need to figure out ways to keep her around despite her being a massive failure at her job. They decide to go help her with the china, and as soon as they get up, all sorts of horrible breaking and smashing noises come from the other room.

As they run out, Steven comes home from work, and he does that total sitcom move where he’s so wrapped up in looking at a random piece of paper that he doesn’t even notice the extremely short table until after he tosses his attaché case down on it. Alas, there’s no glass of water around for him to immediately do a spit take.

Alex comes in, gamely trying to block his dad’s view of the table by, and I’m just guessing here, stretching his hamstring. He then suggests his dad grew a couple of feet while at work today. “You wearing lifts?”

Family Ties "Help Wanted" (part 2 of 2)

Steven seems about ready to give Karen a stern, Steven Keaton-style talking to. But she starts saying how much she’s enjoyed spending time with the invisible Elyse, as well as Jennifer and Mallory, and Alex, who’s like the brother she never had.

Family Ties "Help Wanted" (part 2 of 2)

Alex, however, would prefer she think of him as “the guy you never had.” He adds, “Actually, the guy you could have.” Karen remains oblivious to this come on, and they all set the shin-high table and sit down for dinner. Oddly, Elyse will not be joining them for dinner. I can only assume Steven has her shackled to the radiator.

Karen walks up with a big bowl of salad and says, “I know you’re really gonna love this salad!” Of course, she trips, sending salad flying everywhere. Well, she was right. They seem to really love wearing that salad. Steven looks annoyed, while the kids pretend like nothing happened, and eagerly eat salad directly off the table.

Caption contributed by Albert

If I had written this scene, it would have ended with the punchline “I think I’ll skip the fondue.” And then another reference to Sartre.

And now, Act Two. The next day, Steven comes home from work, and the table is still shin high. Alex reports that today, Karen “only broke the vacuum, the blender, and the TV”, but she fixed all the appliances she broke yesterday. So Steven happily proclaims that at least they’re not losing any ground here. But this means that Karen is actually not so bad when it comes to repairing appliances. Between this and the woodworking, I’d say her only problem is she’s in the wrong line of work.

Alex says Karen fixed the icemaker, so Steven goes to the freezer to get some ice. When he opens it, a huge torrent of ice spills out and covers his shoes. It wasn’t too hard to see that coming. Steven abruptly starts making small talk with Alex, in total denial about all the ice.

Family Ties "Help Wanted" (part 2 of 2)

Steven then takes off his jacket, revealing the iron burn mark on the back of his shirt. Then Alex shows his dad the grade he got on a term paper, and does a really obvious spin to show off that he, too, has an iron burn mark on his shirt.

Family Ties "Help Wanted" (part 2 of 2)

Then the toaster suddenly fires slices of toast across the kitchen, which both men dodge. I guess Karen broke the toaster, but it seems they were kind of asking for trouble by keeping the toaster pitched at an angle like that. After surviving the toast attack, the two men go back to making small talk.

Steven then turns on the kitchen faucet, which sprays water directly into Alex’s face. Comic mishaps all come in fours, so Steven finally says, “Who we kidding, Alex?”

Family Ties "Help Wanted" (part 2 of 2)

Steven says Karen is “incompetent” and they have to fire her for “our own safety”. He picks up a slice of toast and says, “If this had been a Pop-Tart, we’d be dead now!” Wow, check out the absurdist sense of humor on Steven Keaton.

Family Ties "Help Wanted" (part 2 of 2)

Alex pleads with him not to fire Karen, saying it would be extremely detrimental to his “fantasy life”. Okay, kind of an awkward conversation to have with the old man, wouldn’t you say?

Just then, Karen comes home with Jennifer and Mallory. And I don’t know why, but they’re completely oblivious to all the ice and water and toast all over the floor. The Keatons are exceptionally good when it comes to denial. Jennifer announces that she never saw so many “fat naked women” in her life. Alex asks, “Where’d you go, the Y?”

Nope, Karen took them down to “the Rubens exhibit” at the local art museum. Giving the kids an appreciation of the arts is part of the housekeeper job description, right? Steven starts to give Karen a talk, but she wants to go tell Mrs. Keaton about all the fun they had today. So she walks out of the kitchen and steps right into the parallel dimension where Mrs. Keaton currently resides.

Alex finally admits they have no choice but to fire her, and for some reason, Steven thinks the best way to do it is by taking her to dinner.

Cut to the three of them at the stock “Italian restaurant set” used dozens of times on this show. The waiter comes over to their table, and hey, look, it’s Max, the ex-convict nanny!

Family Ties "Help Wanted" (part 2 of 2)

Max finds out they hired Karen instead of him, and for the life of him can’t figure out why. He asks what she wore to the interview, and she says she wore a blue dress and heels. Max yells out, “Heels!” You know, like that was the one thing he forgot to wear that cost him the job. And with that, Robert Costanzo gets more applause from the studio audience. All hail Robert Costanzo!

Karen offhandedly mentions her total lack of housekeeping experience, so Max says, “Well, we all know what Sartre says about experience!” Holy crap, they actually made a second reference to Sartre. Just remember, hell is other Keatons.

Finally, Karen breaks down. The guilt is getting to her. She says they’ve treated her like one of the family and taken her to a “wonderful medium-priced restaurant” but she’s let them down. Finally, she drops a big bombshell on them: “I’m not a good housekeeper.”

She’s on the brink of tears, and talking about how she feels like a “failure”, and saying she wants to quit. So Steven yells, “No, Karen, please, stay!” And then he gives us a priceless look, in total disbelief that he just talked himself out of firing her. But Karen won’t listen, and she runs out of the restaurant.

Family Ties "Help Wanted" (part 2 of 2)

Back at home, Jennifer and Mallory clean up. Jennifer quips, “Having a housekeeper is hard work!” Alex and Steven come home, and tell them Karen won’t be coming back. Alex says she quit because she knew she was doing a terrible job.

Jennifer moans, “She was my friend!” They talk about how they’re going to miss Karen so very much. Steven claims their mother is going to be the most upset, because she was “in the middle of teaching Karen how to roll socks!” I’m pretty sure Elyse was just happy to see anybody down in that dungeon.

Just then, Karen shows up. Karen! All the kids mob her, giving her big hugs, and as expected, Alex hugs her just a bit too long.

Caption contributed by Albert

Alex shows his gratitude to Karen for teaching him how to grow a third arm out of his back.

Karen says she’s spent her whole life “running away from things”, and by “things”, I assume she means major appliances. She wants to give it another try, and Steven says that of course they can give it another try.

So that’s all settled, and Karen will be staying on as the Keatons’s housekeeper. Well, for one more episode, anyway. To make up for ruining dinner, she now wants to make them all something to eat. The whole family immediately screams, and they run to different corners of the kitchen, and they all splay themselves across every piece of equipment that could conceivably be used to cook food. And that’s the end of the episode.

Family Ties "Help Wanted" (part 2 of 2)

As I said above, this is one of the better episodes of the series, most likely because Geena Davis is every bit as adorable as everyone in the episode thinks she is. We can actually believe this is a woman the whole family would instantly fall in love with. If not for the casting, I doubt this episode would have worked at all.

Geena appears in one more episode after this, the far less funny “Karen II, Alex 0”. After that, she promptly disappears, never to be heard from again. It’s entirely possible she ran off to elope with a newly sober Ned Donnelly.

Multi-Part Article: Family Ties "Help Wanted"
TV Show: Family Ties

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