Riding Coattails: A-Holes On Parade

Ah, Wife Swap. It’s certainly a provocative, if not a bit deceiving, name for a show. I’ve read about it, seen the previews for it, and finally last night, I had a chance to see it. The result was far more offensive than any middle-aged orgy for antsy suburban swingers.

I have watched several different breeds of reality TV over the past few years (Survivor, The Apprentice, Fear Factor, Colonial House, The Bachelor, and My Big, Fat Obnoxious Fiance to name a few), but never have I encountered one with such supreme a-hole behavior. Even more puzzling, however, than the jerkage that some of these folks subject others to is the fact that they are willing to do it on national television. Forget having zero shame. This is like watching people with negative shame points flaunt it for the camera. I nearly threw up.

For those unfamiliar with the show, Wife Swap takes mothers from two radically different families and switches them for two weeks. During the first week, the transplanted wife is forced to operate under the usual rules and practices of her new family. During the second week, she is free to make any changes she sees fit.

Every week, a different swap is featured. This week’s families included the Bradleys, a working-class couple from rural New Jersey raising two teenage daughters. Lynn Bradley is one of the those supermoms: working full-time and taking on all of the domestic responsibilities while her husband Brad and kids improve their Play Station scores and hang out with friends.

The other family, the Spolanskies, enjoy a life of obscene wealth and comfort on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. Steven Spolansky is an investment banker or something like that and spends all of his time at work, the gym, and restaurants. Jodi Spolansky fills her days with manicures, shopping sprees, spinning classes, and leisurely lunches with her girlfriends. Both parents “try” to spend an hour a day with their three young children, who are essentially being raised by the couple’s arsenal of nannies, cooks, chauffeurs, and maids.

When Jodi and Lynn run off to each other’s homes, the results are predictable but nevertheless entertaining. Jodi cries as she cleans a toilet for the first time in her life. Lynn cries when she discovers how little time Jodi and Steven devote to playing with their kids. Jodi winces as she fries bacon for the Bradley girls’ breakfast. Lynn winces as she uses $700 of her weekly $3000 shopping allowance on a pair of Prada heels. And so on and so forth.

Brad and Jodi butt heads frequently during their two weeks together. In a particularly poignant scene, Jodi informs Brad that he knows nothing about “the real world.” My jaw dropped at the irony of this statement. However, by the end, each has learned a valuable lesson from the other. Jodi convinces Brad that he needs to be more considerate of his wife and occasionally lift a finger so she doesn’t have to bust her ass day in and day out. Brad shows Jodi that a little work won’t kill her and that baking cookies with kids can actually be fun. On their final evening together, Brad takes Jodi out for dinner and they toast each other in a beautiful moment of camaraderie.

Now comes the scary part. Steven Spolansky is a truly miserable, narrow-minded prick. Exactly why he chose to reproduce not one but three whole times is a complete mystery, as he clearly dislikes his children and wants nothing to do with them. He watches in horror as Lynn dismisses the nannies, asking, “Are the kids going with them?” And when discussing his feelings about Lynn in a private interview, he actually refers to her as a hillbilly. Um, Steve, hillbillies do not live in New Jersey. Sorry, they just don’t. Try Appalachia or the Ozarks fifty or a hundred years ago. Steven is what I like to call an ignoranus: stupid and an a-hole.

It gets worse. On her final night in Manhattan, Lynn offers up a dinner of homemade soup, salad, and peanut butter bread to the Spolansky crowd. This is the last straw for old Steve, who starts digging into Lynn by asking why she couldn’t have prepared something fancier, like goulash or franks and beans. Lynn throws in the towel and leaves, stating that she will not tolerate that kind of abuse from anyone. I say, right on, sister. She glances back before shutting the front door to see Steven on the couch with his kids crawling over him, horrified at the prospect of being left alone with them for the rest of the night.

To Steven Spolansky, I say, rot in hell, dickwad. Someone so utterly selfish and bigoted does not deserve the love and attention that his children so dearly want to give him. He does not deserve his cushy life, no matter how hard he works for it. And his lukewarm reunion with Jodi at the end of the show proves that their marriage is flimsy and superficial, based purely on how good each partner thinks their spouse makes them look for the people who matter. Although she probably will be, I hope that Jodi isn’t too surprised when Steven has his mid-life crisis and leaves her for one of their 19-year-old Irish nannies.

She’ll probably be all right, though. No doubt they signed a pre-nup.