Let’s begin this week by talking about the above picture, which I chose not to humiliate Heather B. (Heather—if you’re out there, I’m sorry!) but because I think it sums up her sweet friendship with Julie. In the scene from which it was pulled, Julie and Heather are preparing to meet Julie’s family at their hotel. Heather has agreed to come along for moral support, knowing that Julie is stressed about the massive guilt trip her mother’s about to lay on her. Heather tries to make her feel better by cracking a joke. “Of course, they’re mothers. They need to walk around with a gun and a badge,” she says while giving her armpits a thorough swabbing. There’s something so at-ease about their interaction, and I find it totally endearing. Once you’re comfortable performing semi-intimate grooming rituals in front of someone, you know you’ve got a friend for life.
On a literal level, “He’s So Ugly He’s Cute” (yet another classic Real World title) is an episode about mothers and children. Julie’s mom is in town, so is Andre’s, and the roommates also temporarily become “parents” to an unfortunate-looking stray dog they name Yoda. (Dog experts: Any idea what breed he might be?) But really this episode is about friendship and the broader definition of “family.” Julie, anxious about her family’s visit, confesses that she feels closer to her roommates than to her own brother and mother. Spoken like a true 19-year-old, sure, but Julie does seem to have special bonds with several of her roommates.
First and most obvious is Heather. Having missed her mother’s phone call from the airport while out on an ice cream run, Julie is already feeling like she’s “in trouble,” so Heather agrees to come with her to the hotel for moral support. After witnessing Julie’s mom (or, as Julie says it, “mawwwwm”) in action, she decides to stick around for dinner. “Your mom is so good. I don’t even know her and she made me feel guilty,” Heather tells Julie.
Based on the evidence, Julie’s mom seems to be as good at passive-aggressive behavior as her daughter is at flirting. At dinner, she tells Julie that her father says things like, “The only thing that keeps it from being perfect is Julie’s not here.” Which might be true, but certainly isn’t the kind of thing you relay to your daughter unless you agree on some level. Back at the loft, Julie’s mom (whom I’m just going to call Mrs. Gentry to make things easier) remarks on the messiness of Julie’s room and greets everyone with her left hand because she has a nasty case of poison oak. It’s classic, mildly embarrassing “mom” behavior, nothing extraordinarily embarrassing, yet Julie overreacts to her mother’s every move with petulant eye-rolls and hair-tosses. Julie is still a teenager, so it’s not like she has that far to go, but isn’t it remarkable how we all revert to our inner teens when our parents are around?
Julie’s strategy for dealing with her family is to wear them out with a whirlwind tour of Manhattan. I was sort of amazed at how much they managed to do in just a day (or maybe it was two edited to look like one; Julie did have different outfits on). They visit the World Trade Center (Do I even need to mention how startling it still is to see those buildings in an innocuous context?), The Statue of Liberty, and Times Square. That’s a whole lot of running around, especially for an older lady with a sprained ankle, a broken arm, and—Maybe you heard?—a nasty case of poison oak. The best part is when, in the middle of Times Square, Mrs. Gentry remarks to Julie that she doesn’t “laugh as much as [she] used to,” because a crowded city sidewalk is always a good place for this kind of conversation. Julie nods blankly, desperate to change the subject. Can you blame her?
The real problem, according to Julie, is not that she clashes with her mom, but that they just aren’t that close. “I don’t have anything to say to her, and it kills me,” she tells Norm, whom she brings to dinner with her fam at Grandpa’s, a now-defunct West Village restaurant owned by Al Lewis, a.k.a. Grandpa Munster. Julie thinks the celebrity association will impress her mom, which it does. She also hopes that Norm will regale her mom with lots of funny stories—and that he’ll make her a little uncomfortable, too. “I always think it’s funny the way that my mom feels about gays so I thought that would be funny,” she says.
Norm is a consummate parent-charmer, dazzling Mrs. Gentry with an elaborate story involving a person with too many vacation homes, or something (if only we’d heard the whole story). But, much to Julie’s dismay, Norm brings up the subject of Darlene, Julie’s homeless friend. Julie predicts that her mother will respond critically (“You’re gonna be a damn social worker!”) and this, I think, is the essence of their generational conflict: Julie is a bit of a bleeding heart, and her mom sure ain’t.
Just before her mom flies back to Birmingham, Julie and her mom finally sit down for a little heart-to-heart. All I could think while watching this was how horribly awkward it must have been. Julie obviously struggles with opening up to her mom, so it must have been doubly uncomfortable doing so in front of the cameras. Mrs. Gentry thinks Julie is exaggerating the extent of the tension between them in order to seem cool. “Is it the thing to do, not to get along with your parents? Like when you’re little, the thing to do is not to like school?” she wonders—and she may have a point.
The nice thing is that, in the end, mother and daughter actually seem to be on the same page, sort of. Mrs. Gentry is worried that her daughter isn’t dancing enough; Julie wants to stay in New York because if she goes back to Birmingham, she’ll squander her dancing talent. Ultimately, they agree that as long as Julie doesn’t move to L.A., everything will be just fine. Though I think Julie is a tad hypersensitive, it’s hard to not to sympathize when, immediately after mother and daughter have found some common ground, mom undermines that by saying, “I didn’t say that’d be what I want, but I can go along with it. None of you have ever done like I wanted, if and you did it was just a coincidence.” That’s some masterful passive-aggression right there.
- I didn’t spend much time on the stray dog subplot this week, though for some reason it’s something that has really stuck with me over the years. Maybe it’s just because Yoda was so damn funny-looking. He is what the French would call jolie-laid.
- Andre loves Yoda, but Heather thinks he’s disgusting, and her riffs on his unfortunate looks are hilarious: “That dog needs plastic surgery.”
- Also, this tick is really, really gross.
- Speaking of Heather, she easily walks away with the best-dressed prize for her purple Cross Colours jean-shorts-and-matching-denim-jacket ensemble.
- If you, like me, are wondering if Cross Colours still exists, it does but, well… it’s different. And Dutch.
- Andre’s mom also pays a visit to the loft this week, though she’s overshadowed by the formidable presence of Mrs. Gentry. Doesn’t she look like Frances McDormand?
- I kept thinking Julie’s brother, Bill, reminded me of someone. Then I figured out who that “someone” is: Jim Bob Duggar. Seriously, people. It’s uncanny:
- In case Norm’s sexuality was ever unclear to anyone, his frantic “Get a pen! Get a pen! Get a pen! Where’s a pen?” ought to have cleared that up pretty quickly.
- After dinner, Norm suggests that they stop by the condom store, which is awkward and funny because condom stores are the most ’90s thing ever.
- Is that Julie’s star-spangled jacket that Norm wore to dinner?
- I’m probably digging a little deep here, but has anyone else noticed that there was a Stussy store in Soho? I find this hilarious.
- Also hilarious: While Julie and her mom are arguing in Times Square, the marquee on the move theater behind them advertises Thunderheart.
- It’s funny that the show emphasized the non-romance between Julie and Eric, because as I watch, I feel there may have been a more interesting non-romance between Julie and Andre. He always seems to be giving her back rubs, which is a classic dorm room flirting tactic.
- The ice cream expedition takes forever because Eric has to get frozen yogurt, another great indication of the very ’90s (and somewhat misguided) emphasis on low-fat foods.