Strangers With Candy is one of my favorite shows.
So it’s time to continue talking about Strangers With Candy and today I want to discuss season one episode two, A Burden’s Burden. In my last piece I referenced to the first episode as something of a pilot (despite there being an actual pilot episode) because the characters are there but their personalities haven’t quite been established for the most part.
A Burden’s Burden is when our recurring cast starts acting more like their normal selves for the rest of the series. We kick off with Chuck Noblet and Geoffrey Jellineck meeting in a dimly lit restroom at Flatpoint High roleplaying as two disheveled dads at the park watching their sons play on the playground. The two go into detail about the tragic stories of how they are now widowed and struggling hard as single parents before they start boning hard in a stall.
I didn’t appreciate this scene as a kid because I didn’t understand most of what was going on, but I love the line where Noblet asks Jellineck if he is divorced and Geoffrey reveals that his wife was murdered to which Noblet says “sometimes that can be just as bad.” The delivery is a spot on parody of bad television drama.
Cut to credits and then back to the show as the audience enters into the final moments of what appears to be a class on reproductive health. Coach Wolf (Sarah Thyre) wraps a condom over a trophy before smashing it into a watermelon and asks “any questions?”
Coach Wolf announces that in order for the class to learn about the responsibility of caring for a ten pound baby, that the class will take turns taking care of a real ten pound baby. Starting with Jerri. Looking for help, Jerri takes Principal Blackman’s advice to go to the library.
In case it wasn’t obvious this episode is a big parody on how schools would impart a lesson in responsibility as well as scaring the crap out of teenagers by giving them something fragile representing a baby to take care of. Of course since this is Strangers With Candy where subtly is just another part of the joke, it’s just a baby.
It’s important to remember that Strangers With Candy takes place in a world where most of the characters are exaggerated unapologetic narcissistic assholes. The real world.
The instructional tape Jerri listens to about being a single mother provides no tips but instead Stephen Colbert’s narration spends the entire time basically just explaining that single mothers probably did something to deserve getting abandoned by their child’s father. Geoffrey scolds her for not having an art assignment ready and tells her that she needs to sort out her priorities, continuing to say that his son is not on the top of his list and often doesn’t make the list at all.
After abandoning her baby so she can go to Tweetzie Railroad and “throw rocks at the Indian,” Jerri returns to school to discover that her misdeeds have been found out and the baby safe and sound thanks to Chuck and Geoffrey inexplicably being in the park together at 3 in the morning. Principal Blackman teams Jerri up with Tammi Littlenut (Maria Thayer) because this being a lesson she needs to learn on her own, the best way for her to learn it is with another person.
Show’s logic, not mine.
As far as the show goes, A Burden’s Burden has to be the darkest episode in the series owing specifically to Jerri’s near immediate transition into an abusive husband figure. It’s deeply disturbing to see a show that is normally over the top and exaggerated shift into a very straight-faced scene where Amy Sedaris plays a very convincing abusive spouse and Maria Thayer does an astonishing job as a terrified wife, astounded and confused by Jerri’s treatment in the middle of a crowded cafeteria.
Jerri lures Tammi to a seedy motel where she reveals that the baby is in the process of being sold to a very wealthy family and that Jerri invited her there to repair their relationship. Principal Blackman and Coach Wolf show up to reveal that the baby is safe. Jerri pins everything on Tammi who is hauled off and presumably not punished because she returns and actually becomes Jerri’s friend in future episodes.
At this point Jerri exclaims that being a single mother was a lot easier when she was neither single nor the mother, which was the lesson she needed to learn all along. The answer to teenage parenthood is to not be a teenage parent.
The most surreal part of all of this is realizing that Maria Thayer was 30 years old when she played the part of Highschool freshman Tammi Littlenut. There are also some running gags that get established here like one of Jerri’s favorite activities being throwing rocks at the Indian at Tweetzie Railroad.