If ever there was a half hour of TV comedy that I wish I could disqualify myself from rating, it’s this episode. It’s very silly, which is fine by me, and a lot of it is pretty funny, and there’s one running joke that has the special resonance of a joke that has a solid grounding in believable human behavior: Both Virginia and Sabrina know their men are lying when they “over-explain” by coughing up a “double excuse.” For example, in the past, Virginia has known that Burt’s gambling addiction was going full blast when she caught him with a Racing Form, and he explained that he took it away from some kid in the park so that the kid wouldn’t develop a gambling problem, and anyway, he thought it was a menu from a Chinese restaurant. As the Chance’s silver anniversary approaches, she catches Burt furtively making a phone call in the back yard, and when she asks him about it, he says that it was a wrong number, and he was also placing an order for a pizza to be delivered in a week. So Virginia thinks he’s gambling again.
We should be so lucky. Burt does have a secret, but it’s that he’s discovered a lump on his testicle. (Which testicle, Barney asks, in a scene that takes the comedy of secretive male bonding as far as I ever want to see it go. “Starsky,” says Burt. Okay, says Barney, which one’s Starsky? “Obviously, the one in the driver’s seat,” says Burt.) This is a big problem, on many levels. For one thing, Burt knows he should see a doctor, but he’s so frightened of hearing the worst that he’s been dragging his feet, and he doesn’t want to cause Virginia unnecessary concern. For another, there’s the small matter that I, the viewer, am trying to relax with a light comedy but am being forced to think about lumps on testicles. I had to get up and check myself twice during the commercials.
I imagine this isn’t a problem for roughly half the Earth’s population, but I’ll bet that, among those of us grouped with the other half, I am a long way from being alone on this. And anyway, when did Fox become the “Cancer—it’s funny!” network? Last night on Rake, Greg Kinnear defended a woman who had solicited charitable donations on behalf of her healthy little son, who she had turned into a poster boy for cancer sufferers by stuffing him into a wheelchair and shaving his head. (She, too, had a gambling problem.) I’m all for black comedy, and I can forgive a little mess and a few failed experiments in the name of pushing the envelope. I just wish I could shake this suspicion that Fox is herding all this stuff together and airing it against the first few nights of the Winter Olympics, the way a farmer whose land is close to a nuclear reactor keeps all his five-legged cows in the pasture farthest from the road.
The most unfortunate thing about the distraction of Burt’s lumpy ball is that it draws attention away from what should be this episode’s greatest distinguishing feature: It took a few years, but we finally get the guest appearance we’ve all been hoping and praying for: Martha Plimpton’s father, Keith Carradine his damn self. Thanks to Sabrina’s snooping—she overhears Burt confiding to Jimmy about his “drooping” “jewels”—Virginia believes that Burt is going all out on her anniversary gift, and getting her those nifty earrings that Fran Drescher—“America’s nanny”—has been hawking on TV.
So she has to up her game on Burt’s gift, which means shanghaiing him the afternoon he has his doctor’s appointment and taking him to a dude ranch for a “simulated Western experience,” described by the head—well, from the looks of it, only—cowboy staffer as “a whole day of ranch-working, cow-poking, hat-wearing, spur-jangling cowboy work, culminating with you birthing a realistic-looking calf from a real cow!” The insane cowboy is played by Carradine, wearing a mustache that’s droopier than Burt’s testicles could possibly be, chaps you could lose a badger in, and what may be his old wig from Deadwood, after it’s been through the wash a few too many times. His wildly spirited cameo is the best news about the episode. The second best news is that, despite my initial concerns, there is no cameo by Fran Drescher.
- Although Carradine’s character turns out to be a solid good guy, he goes a little nuts when the Chances try to slip away before their visit is over: “I poured my heart into the campfire song,” he explains after he cools off, “and nobody ever stays to listen to it!” In the final moments, Burt, Virginia, Jimmy, Sabrina, and Hope gather round the campfire and listen to him croon. It’s a sweet moment, and the mock-cowboy song he sings is fairly funny. But I can’t help feel that the show missed out on a great moment by not having him sing “I’m Easy.”
- In a subplot, Frank briefly becomes the boss at Howdy’s and goes mad with power. Although Frank himself is a riot here, especially in the “inspecting Burt’s testicle” scene in Barney’s office, those whose memories stretch back as far as the It’s A Wonderful Life episode from a couple of Christmases back will remember that Frank went mad with power after achieving power over the whole town, so seeing it happen when he takes over a grocery store is a tad anticlimactic.
- It’s okay, it was just a fatty deposit. Now let us never speak of Burt’s testicles again.