Family Ties “Karen II, Alex 0” (part 2 of 3)

Alex enters the immaculate foyer of the Alpha House. There’s even a sign on the door saying, “Alpha Phi Epsilon.” There’s a sign… on the inside… of the door. Do a lot of people regain consciousness in that foyer and immediately ask, “Where the hell am I?”

The living room of the frat looks a great deal like the library on a cruise ship. There are several decanters of brandy, and an antique globe that, very probably, opens to reveal several more decanters of brandy. And hey, Alex is carrying a briefcase. Even assuming this doesn’t mark him as a loon, let me ask you this: What could possibly be in there?

As Alex waits, the door opens and a ridiculous-looking nerd walks in. He’s wearing tennis shoes, plaid pants, a yellow shirt, a different pattern plaid tie, and Buddy Holly glasses. Steve Urkel would tell this guy to dial it down. Unless he’s working on a graphical user interface for his operating system, he is very poorly dressed.

The nerd—he’s actually more of a dweeb—introduces himself as Petey Gordon. He asks if Alex is Don Caruthers and Craig Duvall. Alex is not. Petey has been invited to rush the frat because he’s a legacy. He’s nervous, though. His father might have been lying to him. Oh, this is painful. What makes it even worse is that Petey is being played by soon-to-be world famous comedian…

…Barry Sobel.

What do you mean you’ve never heard of Barry Sobel? He was white hot on the standup circuit in 1984. He had this kind of street-smart, urban, dangerous yet simultaneously nerdy Jewish persona that people loved. He earned national fame as the only white performer on an HBO special with Arsenio Hall, Chris Rock, and Robert Townsend. Would even Arsenio take his call today?

Caption contributed by Jordon

I’m not the Beastie Boys, I’m not Run DMC/These days, I’m not really anybody

The two things you need to know about Barry Sobel are: 1) He is very, very persistent. Barry never went away; he’s still doing standup and making web videos today. 2) He is very, very annoying. According to his MySpace page, he has “shared a joke with Bruce Springsteen, a smoke with Madonna, [and] a toke with the Clash.” Also, his first friend on MySpace is Tom Hanks. Good for you, Barry. Thanks for keeping it real

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So, Barry is annoying Alex. At least he’s doing what he loves. Craig Duvall and Don Caruthers come down the stairs, looking wealthy and entitled. I won’t tell you who the actors are. I’ll just point out that not everybody on Family Ties went on to do A League of Their Own or, for that matter, ever work again.

They send Petey into the other room to watch TV. Then they quiz Alex on his family history. Alex knows he comes from humble roots, and that the brothers won’t be excited to hear that. So, you’d think he’d have his lie all worked out ahead of time. Instead, he just panics. He insists his ancestors came over a month before the Mayflower… on the April Flower.

What a stupid lie. Isn’t Leland College supposed to be a pretty good school? Does Alex really think he can bluff his way into a fraternity at the Harvard of Dayton, Ohio?

Caption contributed by Jordon

”We love the Mayflower. In fact, ‘May Flower’ was the theme of our wedding.”

At this point, the dean of the college bursts through the door, like Kramer looking for fresh fruit. Dean McCall is a former brother who likes to stay in touch with his old fraternity by, generally, engaging in wildly inappropriate behavior with his students. One of the boys slips the dean a cigar and claims that Alex will be “up to snuff.”

The dean then asks the kind of question that journalists wait their lives to hear: “Any word on what his date looks like?” Alex defends Suzie Farkas’ honor, saying she’s beautiful and civilized. The dean worries that she may be too civilized. Alex, sensing he’s losing the crowd, replies, “She’s an animal, sir.”

And may I just say that McCall is not doing the greatest job of deaning. I don’t think he should be fraternizing with students quite so fraternally. Even the dean of the number one party school in the country is a pretty somber individual. Dr. Quentin Wheeler, the dean of Arizona State University, sees fit to tell us in his bio that “his research interests include the morphology, taxonomy and phylogeny of beetles.” He’s not out drinking with freshmen. He may have never tasted alcohol in his life. And that’s the dean of ASU, a school where the first Google search result for “Sun Devils” is a picture of two girls kissing.

Go ahead, turn safe search off, and go nuts. I’ll see you back here in six minutes.

Excellent. The next scene introduces the B plot. Mallory and Jennifer have decided to give anyone they can catch a haircut. They do Steven first, and screw it up so badly that he spends the rest of the episode wearing a hat. They also convince their dorky next door neighbor Skippy to get a haircut. He thinks that Steven is wearing the hat just because he loves baseball. Skippy’s an idiot.

The writers aren’t much better. If there’s one thing that this episode shows, it’s that even halfway through the third season, they still have no idea what to do with Mallory and Jennifer. Part of that is because neither actress can convincingly portray any emotion whatsoever. But somehow the writers fixed it so Courteney Cox didn’t ruin Friends. And Emily Procter makes shows better. So, really, there should be a way to put them to good use.

Caption contributed by Jordon

Because if there’s one thing high school seniors love, it’s playing barber with twelve year-olds.

Alex comes into the kitchen, ostensibly to pick out a tie. Really, he’s there to answer the phone when it rings in a minute. In the meantime, Alex reminds us that the only things standing between him and the fraternity are the right suit and the quality of his date. Rewind the episode and try to figure out if Craig and Don ever said one damn thing about Alex needing a “quality” date. They didn’t. In fact, in the entire episode, they really never do or say anything inappropriate at all.

Phone! It’s Suzie. Alex asks her how her diet is going. Jerk. Unfortunately for Alex, Suzie broke her leg and won’t be able to go to the dance. Alex takes the news badly. He then hangs up without even wishing her well… because he’s a jerk.

For reasons related to the B plot, everyone but Alex runs out of the room. A moment later, Karen enters. Once brought up to speed, she tries to reassure Alex. “A nice looking boy like you,” she smiles, “you should be able to get a date.” That’s sweet, Karen, and also For The Love Of Ted Mosby, Don’t Encourage Him! Did she learn everything she knows about domestic work from repeated viewings of My Tutor?

With Suzie out of the picture, and Geena Davis in position, it’s pretty easy to figure out what happens next. The writers just switch this thing to autopilot. The episode flies home and lands itself safely at Teterboro. Alex begs Karen to go with him to the dance, she doesn’t want to, she gives in, something something the dean, Karen bolts, she quits, Alex apologizes, weekly Certificate of Narrowly Avoiding Being an Asshat, and credits.

Step one: Alex begs. He tells Karen that he needs someone beautiful and sensuous. He just called his maid “sensuous”. Karen continues her two-episode streak of being completely oblivious by replying, “I wish I could help.” That’s it, Karen. Egg the midget on.

In the ensuing skit from a sexual harassment seminar, Alex implores Karen to pretend to be his date. Amazingly, Michael J. Fox hops up on the counter and, just as amazingly, he’s still shorter than Geena Davis. One of the less offensive lines in this skit: “Karen, I show up with you, they’ll make me president.”

Caption contributed by Jordon

”That’s right, my parents were hippies and now we have an eighty-five hundred dollar stove. My God, you’re tall. Drink?”

Karen finally just yells that she doesn’t want to go, and storms out.

Living room. Hey, they used both sets this week! It’s minutes before the dance. Alex is on the phone trying to convince some other woman to go with him, but she can’t make it. Pretend you’re a sitcom writer, and guess the punch line:

a. “Hey, it’s no coincidence the frat’s letters spell out APE.”
b. “You’ll be sorry. When I get older I’m going to be a real mover and shaker.”
c. “Oh no, he did not just make a Parkinson’s joke.”

If you guessed A, you will never be a sitcom writer. The actual punch line is, “Thanks anyway, Grandma.” Then he adds, “Forget the dance. I’m gonna go on Larry King and plug my book Always Looking Up, available now at” Which is, frankly, a weird thing for him to say in 1984.

As promised earlier, Skippy comes in for his haircut. And his outfit is just ridiculous. The shirt and tie have different patterns, and he’s wearing a white belt. This makes me even angrier at Barry Sobel. He’s not even an original character. He’s just Skippy pledging a fraternity at the Harvard of Dayton, Ohio.

Karen and Alex end up alone together… again. They proceed to have the same exact conversation… again. It ends exactly the same way… again.

The party. Despite having been described as a dance, there is no dancing going on. Everyone in attendance seems pleasant enough, in a very Aryan sort of way. Everyone is also dressed way worse than Alex. They’re all in sport coats, while Alex left the house wearing a three piece suit, because that’s a popular look for college freshmen.

Barry Sobel, wearing a bolo tie, embarrasses himself some more. Somehow, he’s gotten hold of a little umbrella for his drink. Craig and Don seem perplexed by him, but never do or say anything even remotely cruel. Remember that for later.

Alex walks in and greets the only two frat brothers with speaking roles. One of them (like I have any idea which is which) compliments his suit, saying he’s off to a good start. Really? … Really?

The other one asks Alex where his date is. That’s a fair question, considering all the bragging Alex did earlier. Alex says his date’s not here. And Craig and Don honestly could not care less. But Alex is tap dancing as fast as he can, when…

Karen walks in. Craig and Don stare at her, and their mouths actually drop open. I never thought Geena Davis was that good looking, but I guess I was judging her by Hollywood standards. If the best looking girl at this party is a 9, Geena just dropped her to a 6. Put Brad Pitt next to her, and the entire Leland campus plummets to a 3.5.

Alex finally notices that Karen is behind him. He gives her the same look that Marty gave Doc when he found out he was still alive. She grabs him and kisses him passionately. And together they just look so stupid, so very stupid. They look like Nicolas Sarkozy and Carla Bruni. Incidentally, how does that marriage work? Carla must constantly be thinking, “This guy looks like Joe Pesci, but at least he’s president of all the cheese.”

Caption contributed by Jordon

Look! The lifeguard is saving that nine year-old boy!

After the kiss, Alex is struck dumb. Make up your own joke; this one’s too easy for me.

Eventually, Alex recovers. He actually starts to cry. Michael J. Fox makes it funny by sheer force of will. Don and Craig tell Alex that he was too modest in his description of his date, and they’re both fixated on Karen like that wolf in the Tex Avery cartoon.

Family Ties "Karen II, Alex 0" (part 2 of 3)

Alex and Karen have a conversation in which he thanks her repeatedly. Karen tells him that her coming here wasn’t a good idea, and it’s not going to end well. Then why’d you come, Karen? Is it because the writers forced you, like they forced Skippy to wear that tie? If so, I know how you feel. My writers sent me to Washington to steal the Declaration of Independence.

Jordon Davis

B.A. Political Science, SUNY Albany - 1991
Master of Public Administration, University of Georgia - 1993
Juris Doctorate, Emory University - 1996

State of Georgia - 1996
State of New York - 1997

Fields Medal (with Laurent Lafforgue and Vladimir Voevodsky) - 1998

Follow Jordon at @LossLeader on Twitter.

Multi-Part Article: Family Ties "Karen II, Alex 0"

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