10G – Alcohol of Fame
Those words popped up inside a little gray caption on my internal Xbox 360 after completing my master-class in Afterschool Specials. Both of my readers will recall that the series featured not one, but three different episodes showcasing the same problem: drunk moms screwing life up for their teenaged daughters. I’m the goddamn expert in getting into Alateen and trying not to stress about things that are ultimately not my responsibility. So when the title of this week’s Very Special Blossom popped up, “Intervention” (s2 e7), I was ready to go. At first blush, the title looked like a reference to Tony falling off the wagon and returning to his tragic-yet-hilarious party animal past, but any student of early ‘90s network television knows that sitcoms never went that dark with a series regular, and the serialization was not up to covering a multi-episode arc of any magnitude. It’s like that one episode of Family Ties where Alex’s best friend dies, only it’s someone that was never mentioned previously and never spoken of again. If Tony fell off the wagon, it would be in a quick 22 joke-filled minutes, and that is not the level of seriousness the creators of Blossom were looking for.
The alcoholic in question is Joey’s friend Frankie. The actor playing Frankie, Matt Levin, has one of those faces where you think he is much more famous than he is, mostly because he looks like a combination of Joaquin Phoenix, Brian Austin Green, Paul Walker, with just a soupçon of Jack Black thrown in for relatability. Levin has shown up in bit parts in movies like Zoolander, Tropic Thunder, and Starship Troopers, but his career is mostly in voice acting. In the role most dear to my heart, he appears in Mass Effect as Clerk Bosker. Anyway, Levin is very young here and confusingly never plays Frankie as being drunk. Maybe it’s because playing drunk is one of the easiest things to do badly, but regardless, in an episode about alcoholism, the alcoholic never actually seems inebriated.
Five minutes after slapping eyes on an underwear-clad Frankie, Tony recognizes the signs of the boy’s TV alcoholism. Unconventional sartorial decisions? Check. Toting around a water bottle filled with vodka? Check. Ridiculous party stories that sound like they came from a room of exhausted, strung-out writers? Check. Tony first makes sure that Joey isn’t drinking and he’s not, because he’s on the baseball team. Fortunately, Joey is not much of a student of history, or he’d know that the greats of yesteryear played drunk and hungover, and annihilated records while so doing. One of the great what-ifs of sports history is how incredible Mickey Mantle would have been had he actually shown up sober, or was able to play without a functionally crippled leg. Or had access to bull shark testosterone. Baseball is such a rich tapestry!
Anyway, Tony Sherlocks the living shit out of Frankie, who immediately throws Tony’s past in his face. I was actually glad to see this, because too often fictional characters get away with being self-righteous douchebags who ignore their own past mistakes to judge others on their present ones (see Summers, Buffy and Shephard, Jack for two perfect examples). Still, Tony is in the right here, and he spends the rest of the episode gently encouraging Joey to talk to Frankie about the problem. Joey, though he likely has not heard the phrase “shoot the messenger” and even if he had, wouldn’t know what it means, is concerned that he’ll lose his friend if he speaks up. Tony explains that he’s going to lose him anyway.
Meanwhile, over the B-plot, Nick and Blossom realize that they haven’t really been interacting with one another. Nick decides that he and Blossom are going to blow off work and school respectively and spend the day together. My mother used to call these impromptu vacations Emotional Health (or EH) Days. Nick and Blossom have the platonic ideal of EH days as they see a couple movies, have a cake and ice cream dinner, and go to a hockey game. It doesn’t really connect with the A-plot thematically or narratively, as though they wanted to segregate two characters from the heavy stuff and focus on other parts of the cast. Tony comes off best, but I’ve gone on record as saying he is the one character on the show with any originality. The irony happens when Tommy Newsom, the Assistant Music Director of the Tonight Show, keeps trying to get ahold of Nick to sub in on piano for that evening’s show. The running gag consists of Tony or Joey answering the phone, knowing who Tommy Newsom is (which, sure, they live in a house with a working musician), and believing it to be a crank call because there’s no way Tommy Newsom would call them. Because Nick was out with Blossom, he misses the gig and sees Grandpa Buzz perform on TV. So the moral here is that you should ignore your children I guess?
Because Frankie is a TV alcoholic, he needs to have a Big Moment to prod the dithering Hallmark Hamlet (in this case Joey), into Doing The Right Thing. In this case, Frankie tries to fill up his ever-present Water Bottle O’ Vodka from Nick’s liquor cabinet. Joey comes in holding a baseball bat, and for a single, shining moment, I was hoping Brian De Palma had directed this episode. Sadly, no. Joey tries to interest Frankie in a wholesome trip to the batting cages. Frankie, who has quit the team (one of the signs Tony astutely noted earlier), takes the bat and starts to violently reminisce about the time he batted in the winning run in The Big Game. From the couch, Mrs. Supermarket sneered, “He’s not acting drunk. Just like a douche.” She was not wrong. Anyway, though the boy doesn’t do much more than wave a bat a little, this provokes Joey into pointing out the elephant in the room. Which is a metaphorical elephant. Made of vodka. I’m not sure, because I’m bad at metaphor.
So what did we learn? If your friend is going to be a douche, call him on it. The worst thing that’s going to happen is that you lose a douche for a friend, and that sounds like a win-win to me. Good job, Blossom!