Tuesday, December 22, 2015

REVIEW: 'F Is For Family' - The Outside World Shows Just How Comforting the Murphy Home Is in 'The Trough'

Netflix's F Is For Family - Episode 1.03 "The Trough"

Frank makes a powerful friend at a football game. Frank's move into management stirs up trouble with his old work pals.

F Is For Family has been incredibly consistent throughout its first three episodes - all of which have earned a B grade from me. It's doing a couple of really smart things to maximize character building despite its limited amount of time this season. The season is already half over by the conclusion of this episode. And yet, it's already abundantly clear just how relatable the Murphy family has become through their shared need to hold onto the small things that give their lives stability and comfort. This is a family that relies on TV for comfort after a rough day. This is a family that needs to remember one precious childhood memory in order to forgot about all their worries regarding the future. Their lives are in flux right now as the world outside the Murphy house is constantly changing. That makes it more difficult for the Murphys to hang onto the life and values they hold dear. It mostly opens them up to ridicule. But it's being done in a way that highlights how they got to the place they are today while examining just how meaningful their current behavior actually is.

Frank decides to take Bill to the football game he has tickets to - thanks to his boss at the airport who wants his support regarding the potential employee strike - after he learns that Kevin really hasn't followed through on his promise to do better in school. It affords the show a chance for Frank to bond with his youngest son. When they get ready to leave the house, Frank tells Bill that this will be a day he will remember for a long time. They are heading to the football stadium that is practically Frank's cathedral. That's how meaningful this experience is for Frank. And now, Bill is getting to experience it with his dad for the first time. That kind of father-son bonding is really telling. It shows just how racist Frank can be while needing to drive through the African-American neighborhood in order to get to the stadium. It's an unflattering character trait that is made meaningful because the show actually wants to analyze his behavior. That makes it so much more than a joke to be attention grabbing but never amount to anything.

Frank doesn't want to make eye contact with any black people when he is stopped at a stoplight. He just doesn't want to view them as human because than he'll be more vulnerable to whatever they want from him. It's the kind of behavior that can be traumatizing for Bill. Because Frank makes the mistake of looking, he floors the gas pedal and almost gets into an accident for the second time with Bill in the car this season. That's an experience that will come back to haunt him as the person asking for some gas on the side of the road was actually a journalist donning blackface in order to expose racism. It's the same journalist from the previous episode who believed that minorities have made progress in America and their discrimination is no longer happening. This time he actually exposes a truly ugly side to Frank which quickly gets him labeled as the face of racism. But to Frank, it's simply how he reacts out of fear. He doesn't understand. So he would rather act in such a hateful way than try to learn.

That's how Frank acts a lot of the time in the outside world. He reacts out of fear in order to keep his life as stable as possible. He stands up for himself and Bill when someone questions the seats they are sitting in at the game. But he quickly changes his tune after he learns that this man is actually the man in charge of Mohican Airlines. He's the boss that Bill needs to respect now that he's in management. He sucks up to the man and his despicable behavior just in order to not upset the status quo of his work. He doesn't want anything to ruin this job for him. It brings money and stability into his family. It's not that great of a job. It causes Frank to let out so much of his frustration and anger on his family. That's directly affecting how his children are growing up. They are in a household that accepts discrimination and foul language. It's the example that Frank sets. But again, it's only because he's acting out of fear. This is his life and he doesn't want to mess it up.

So Frank drinks the boss' brandy and avoids being a father to Bill. That leads to quite a memorable adventure for the youngster as he's forced to experience the trough in old sports stadium bathrooms. It's a horrifying sight for Bill to see. One that's completely damaging to his young mind that takes him out of reality for a long time. He would rather hold it until he can go on the side of the road than deal with the unspeakable horror of that room. It's a funny sequence. But it also showcases Frank placing his own desires ahead of his son's. That comes back to haunt him when he finds himself stranded in the bad neighborhood with no gas in his car. Now, he's the one who needs help on the side of the road. Fortunately, Frank's friend from the airport, Rosie, is there to save the day. Frank isn't afraid of this black man because they've bonded over the difficulties of their job. They've experienced the same thing which connects them in a meaningful way. It gives Rosie the hope that Frank will have his side regarding the strike at the airport. Unfortunately though, Bill lets it slip that they had the corporate seats at the game and Frank was able to spend some quality time with the big boss. That plus the later broadcast revealing Frank as the biggest racist in America is enough to doom any hope of stability Frank might have in the outside world.

The rest of the family also have similar experiences during their adventures outside of the house. Sue and Maureen are able to bond as they go shopping for Sue's big tupperware party. That business is sounding more and more like a scam and something Sue shouldn't be fulfilling her life with. She gets sucked into the rambling story of a recently divorced friend of hers agonizing over every painful decision and memory from her marriage. It's a conversation Sue doesn't want to be in but it also forces her to make a powerful declaration that her life isn't perfect. She's unfulfilled outside of her marriage and kids. And frankly, she doesn't even love those moments with her family as much as she thinks she should. That becomes awkward once Maureen overhears that stunning moment of honesty. It exposes that the reality of the Murphy parents' worlds is difficult. It's not something that Bill and Maureen are readily able to embrace even though their parents have taken them along for the ride.

And then, there is Kevin who is continuing to avoid studying for history just so he can get high with his friends under a bridge. As a teenager, he is able to experience the world much closer to the reality of his parents than his younger siblings. Bill and Maureen still have their youth which is slowly being corrupted. Kevin's life has already been damaged and now he's acting out. He doesn't have the relationship with his parents like he used to - and that almost gets him arrested. The outside world is tough for everyone who ventures out into it. The comfort of being home is one thing that unifies this family. They may be frustrated with each other outside. But at home, with the help from a record that Frank and Sue had long forgotten about, peace is able to wash over the family and make them more comfortable with the lives they have. That doesn't stop the outside world from still moving forward and creating future trouble for the Murphys. The strike is still going forward which will force Frank to pick a side. But the Murphys are at their most relatable because the world around them is so painfully unfair and horrifying. It's what makes their small comforts in their home so enjoyable.

Some more thoughts:
  • "The Trough" was written by Michael Price and directed by Benjamin Marsaud.
  • It's amusing that Maureen wishes to steal all of the change in the wishing foundation and hopes her sweet nature will allow her to do so without punishment. And yet, that's also a very minor character detail in this episode.
  • Kevin's tripping sequence is quite amusing because it allows the show to do a different take on animation while still keeping it rooted in what the experience means for the characters.
  • In Kevin's mad dash home, he gets a lift from the German neighbor Bill and Maureen are convinced is a Nazi. As Kevin later explains though, the Star of David actually proves he's not a Nazi... but instead a Satanist!
  • Not that it's important, but the team Frank is cheering for in this football game is absolutely annihilated.

As noted in previous reviews from this series, every episodic review was written without having seen any succeeding episodes. Similarly, it would be much appreciated if in the comments section, the conversation would only revolve around the show up to this point in its run.