Wife Swap – Witch vs Clown
The Amazing Race has always provided amusement with the “slash” descriptions of participants – models-slash-dating is fairly routine – but the description for this week’s Wife Swap offers a “strict white witch”. I’m assuming Michelle is not a strict white witch in the manner of somebody being a strict Catholic, so I think I’ll offer white witch-slash-disciplinarian as my contribution to slash descriptors. Anyway, she will meet Cherie’s “no rules” family, where “clowning around is more important than routine”.
Cherie is a kid’s entertainer and her husband Brian is cruelly described in the narration as “house slave”, working 60 hours a week and doing all the work around the seven kids, too. Michelle punishes her three kids if they break her rules, whilst her husband “doesn’t have to lift a finger”. Hands up all of you who went straight from that description to a vision of Michelle punishing her kids like this:
We know that Wife Swap is nuanced enough to help us overcome those preconceptions about witches, right?
“Beware of the Feral Child” warns a sign in the Clark home. The sequence that follows – Cherie demanding a different breakfast to the one Brian has brought her (in bed), the kids refusing to get out of bed, kids wagging school – suggests that perhaps this is not a reality show after all and we are being pranked. It all feels so scripted.
The Harding home has rules lists, chores timetables and the kids get naughty time based on their ages for any breaches. Michelle cleans the toilet two to three times a day and she and John laugh about whether she is obsessive compulsive. At least, John laughs and Michelle seems uncomfortable discussing it. They are “raising adults not children”.
Michelle loves the welcoming “feral child” sign and is taken by the little motorbike, however I think she believes it belongs to the kids. She notices the overall grottiness immediately. As she explores the house she begins to get disoriented by the number of bedrooms she keeps coming across. “I’m a little overwhelmed,” she (under)states.
Cherie identifies an emo teenager based on Brighton’s room. She notes Michelle’s tarot cards, books, Buddhas and incense and her spirit fingers match her “whooooo! Cool”. Oh, Cherie, don’t jump to conclusions! We can, though, since the camera lingers on the NO LYING rule for the second time. Foreshadowing, much?
Cherie takes exception to Michelle’s description of being a white witch. “That’s not true, that’s just not true” is her response to the claim you don’t have to have special powers, you just have to believe. Does Cherie want Michelle to hold a diploma in witching? John’s 40 hour work week is not seen to be worthy of an exemption from housework, according to Cherie. Did she miss the part where Michelle is a stay-at-home-mum? Sheesh.
Michelle reveals that she has coulrophobia, which is going to make doing Cherie’s job difficult. She starts to look fearful when she gets to the part where the manual reveals how many kids the Clarks have. She’s horrified that the kids are allowed to miss school and that Brian has to clean up around them.
The families meet. I’m impressed by how readily the Clark girls clue into the fact that Michelle is strict, and at how one seems to identify that she’s a “palm-reader”. “She looks like a bitch” is one daughter’s assessment. I’m on board with the narrator, whose response to that is “charming!”. Brian reassures one of the girls that Michelle won’t clobber her, watering down that reassurance by adding “she might put a spell on you, though”.
Little Drew informs Cherie that Michelle is afraid of clowns, so Cherie immediately responds with “maybe that’s how I should go to the table meeting then. As a clown. With a toilet brush.” I hope they are not just setting me up for disappointment. I so want to see that.
On morning one, Courtney refuses to go to school in the Clark house, but over in the Harding house Brighton is thinking of taking the day off, too. Seriously. He can sense that Cherie might be a soft touch on school attendance? More like a set-up. I wonder what the school will have to say about Courtney’s revelations that she attended 50% of school days last year?
Poor Michelle has to face her phobia with Yoyo, but she’s unable to overcome her childhood fears. Cherie thinks there are better things to do with her time than cleaning, but doesn’t seem to realise that she can actually “think about having sex with her husband” while she does something else. She quits on the meditating. Michelle is able to suck it up and go back to make balloon animals with a clown and she can’t even sit quietly for a short time? Hmmm. Michelle freaks out when Sally goes missing at a neighbour’s place and the rule change can’t come quickly enough.
The Harding house – fewer rules; the Clark house – order and discipline.
Michelle expects some rebellion but hopes the family will see the benefit in greater structure. Two of the girls don’t bother to pitch for the rules session. Amongst the new rules: a chores roster, a whiteboard for the kids to note where they are going and what time they’ll return, a tutor and some “cleansing”. Billy, who hasn’t been seen before now, takes offence at the rule change on the basis that he thinks they make the family look slacker than it really is. The girls get stuck into the first task – tidying away the clothes from the dining room – but seem to lose steam early on.
The younger girls take to the tutoring session as you’d expect – it wasn’t a great plan to have them all together – but Cassidy, who is tackling HSC, realises that she’s been given a real opportunity. Once Michelle takes to bed sick, the girls chuck the rules out. Courtney sticks to her dog poo-collecting task (is this a recurrent Wife Swap theme?), but she disposes of it in the pond. The “I need to know where you are” is just not taking hold at all as the girls all take off.
Cherie dresses as a clown for her rule change. No more chores. It’s seriously the land of Do-as-you-please from The Magic Faraway Tree and *anybody* who read Enid Blyton knows how that turned out. Because affection and attention is a zero-sum game in Cherie’s world, she is transferring that from Brighton to Drew and Phoebe for the rule change. Oh, and instead of the chore chart, there’s a joke chart. Everyone has to play pranks. It’s clear that John doesn’t see Cherie’s changes as sustainable, but he’s sensible enough to acknowledge that it’s only a couple of days so they might as well have fun with it. And then he serves Cherie a joke breakfast.
Cherie takes the girls bowling and then clowning. They seem pretty excited about being able to stay up as late as they want. John predicts they will crash and burn. True to the overall lack of energy in this episode so far, we don’t even see this. Cherie hopes that at the table meeting she’ll be able to pass on to Michelle that the kids should “have fun” and “not walk on eggshells the whole time” which really doesn’t seem to be how the Harding household was pre-swap. We all know the rule: show, don’t tell. If you can’t show, the audience is going to assume that it’s because it doesn’t exist and the set-up is meaningless.
Brian acknowledges that Michelle turned the girls around, which Cherie says “is what she wanted”. He also agrees that the tutor was one of the highlights. Cherie reveals that Brian is the one who undermines the discipline, which was something that might have been interesting had it been revealed earlier.
It’s clear that the dialogue around OCD is not something that Michelle seems comfortable with, and there is tension when that is raised at the meeting. Cherie’s accusation that John is under the thumb also reveals some terseness, but it’s certainly not high drama at the table by any means. In fact, they all seem to acknowledge their strengths and weaknesses as though it’s a group round for a job interview.
Michelle’s return home is really awkward. Drew is all “ummmmmm, sort of?” when asked if she’s glad her mum is home. Michelle is very dismissive of the rule changes and throws out Cherie’s rules angrily. Cherie, on the other hand, returns home and immediately ups the “oh, MUM, ick!” factor by saying that she doesn’t want to be cleaning the toilet when she’d rather be thinking about sex.
The Hardings are apparently more relaxed, although no rule changes have been taken up. For Michelle, Wife Swap has made her appreciate her family.
Over at the Clarks, Courtney has stopped taking time out of school and Kirsty is taking her study more seriously. It’s not mentioned, but they are eating at the dining table, too.
Oh, and the foreshadowing with “no lying” at the Hardings? Never amounted to anything. Fitting, really.
Quote of the Episode
“I never expected a witch to come to my house.” Yeah, it’s not a great line, but it wasn’t a great episode.