If this is your first time here, I recommend starting from the first episode and working your way forward. Of course, that's entirely your call.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Season 4, Episode 13: Bookworm

The DVD placed this episode several weeks ago, but you know how mistrustful I am of the DVD's ordering system. The internet is my source of truth in this world. Anyhow, this story contains two simultaneous plot lines. In the first, Cliff attends an experimental co-ed meeting of Clair's all-female book club. The other men all make excuses, however, leaving the doctor as the lone representative of his sex. Though he convinces his wife beforehand that he has not finished the novel, he wows the other participants with his thorough insight into the work. Still, things go awry when he accidentally steps into murky territory regarding gender politics. In a parallel story arc, the children spend the night at Sondra and Elvin's comically run-down apartment.

As a side note: the supposedly highbrow discussion in the book club borders on nonsense at times. An example: the participants begin by complaining that the novel is written in the "second person," which they feel too many modern books are. I'm pretty sure they meant "present tense." Novels written in the second person ("you go to the store, where you buy a bottle of orange juice...") are rather rare. Then again, my BA in English has prepared me to write this blog and that's about it, so I should probably not cast aspersions.

50 Shades of Cover Your Grays

This is the first of six club members were about to meet. She's hosting the event (in the set that also represented Mrs. Hickson's apartment), and I'm sure they gave her a name, but I can't keep track. I also apparently can't keep track of the sweaters! Is this one a repeat? Seriously, I'll give you a dollar if you can find it in a previous episode, because it's killing me. My sweep of the archives has revealed nothing, but I believe in my heart that it's there. The fact that I'm sure it comes from someone else's wardrobe says a lot: it's big on her, awfully dark, and masculine in its styling. Cliff could wear this easily. She tarts it up a little by pairing it with a slim black skirt, and the overall darkness lets her vibrant hair and pale skin shine. Her gold accessories make it dressier and perkier as well. But she would have been better off in a smaller sweater with a slightly brighter tone. The actor, by the way, is Kathleen Doyle, who has had a ton of small roles in movies and television programs.

She knows how to use them.

Hunting this woman down took a little work, because she has no IMDb page. I had to compare the online cast list (which pretends that there are only five guest stars) to the credits on the DVD, revealing that someone named Helen Selby was missing. Searching for that name led me to this weirdly racial commercial. To get back to the task at hand: she's rocking a similar silhouette to our host, but in a much more pleasing manner. Rather than combining her skirt with a giant sweater, she's gone for a jacket, which by nature is allowed to get a little bulkier. She also backs her excess with the courage of her convictions by going all-in with the accessories. The studded necklace would be somewhat daring on its own, but then those bracelets! They're like something out of Alien. I'd comment on her black stockings, but after that L'eggs ad, I'm uncomfortable with the whole topic.

I want those copper pumps.

This is Alva Chinn, a supermodel who broke boundaries by becoming the face of Halston in an era when fashion houses were using almost exclusively white women to represent their brands. She appeared in episode #1.23, but I didn't mention her because there were a zillion women in Cliff's pregnancy seminar and I couldn't be bothered to review all that maternity wear. She's clearly intended to be a different character here, though, as she and the doctor do not recognize each other when she enters. Knowing that she's a model, I'm disappointed in her attire. The chestnut hue isn't terrible on her, and the suede texture lends some real warmth, but the dress feels blah to me, you know? It's not unflattering in terms of its cut, but it's also not really accentuating anything. And other than those white embellishments at the collar and cuff (which are dynamite), there's not much to look at here. I guess we can't always be wearing standout garments, and probably they were consciously avoiding anything too glam, but I can't help wanting to see her in fabulous clothes.


If you'd rather avoid fabulous clothes, look no further than Susan Bigelow. The grandma factor here is intense. The Victorian collar on her blouse, the dusty rose cardigan buttoned all the way up, the dowdy print on her floor-length skirt... it's all so desperately conservative and antiquated! Who did she have to exhume to get this outfit?


You know who's wonderful? S. Epatha Merkerson. You've known about her since she was Reba the mail carrier on Pee-Wee's Playhouse, and you've watched her relentlessly fight crime as Lt. Anita Van Buren on Law & Order. This is her second television acting role. She's got a decent color story happening here: the eggplant blazer plays well against the pistachio getup underneath. I have to question the warring patterns on her pants and shirt, but the tonal unison between the garments helps tie the look together. The collar can't decide if it's a crew neck of a mock turtleneck, and I thus can't really decide how I feel about it. The head scarf isn't my absolute fave, but it's not wrong. She's doing just fine.

You have to have confidence if you're leaving the house like this.

Yes, that was Angela Bassett sitting on the couch in that last shot. I'm not even going to list her credits. You know who Angela Bassett is. She also appeared in episode #1.23, but last time she was playing a regular person, and this time she's playing I don't even know who. I mean, there's so much largess here. The enormous, square coiffure makes her look like a reimagining of Nefertiti. The jacket makes her look like a winged squirrel Frankensteined together from stolen purses. The golden leggings and red undershirt at least match the rest of her outfit, but you can barely see them given how her billowing top layer extends fully down to her knees. I'm sure this was magnificent in its heyday, but it's unfathomable now.

He and Sondra make up limericks for fun. They deserve each other.

Back at the homestead, Elvin hits us with another one of his outdoorsy shirts. We've seen something similar from him before: midtones intertwined into a plaid, with a contrasting khaki collar and unremarkable jeans. He looks like a man who runs a not-particularly-successful wilderness store. Which is exactly what he is, so good job, Sarah Lemire, I suppose.

Fe Fi Fo Fum.

Sondra. Really? Come on. How could she have looked in the mirror and thought this was OK? Her torso is full-on potato-shaped, and the wild white patterning and red stripes are doing everything they can to draw our attention right there. The bulbous waistline also makes her naturally slim legs look extra twiggy, adding to the damage. Her hair aligns with her shoulders so well that it's tough to discern where (or even whether) there is a break. This might be the worst anyone has ever looked on this show. Like, everything here is conspiring to assassinate her body shape. She might as well put on a Grimace costume.

Incredulous. And rightly so.

Rudy's back to her episode #3.11 coveralls, which remain my favorite. Adding to the practicality of this piece is the newly revealed buttoned crotch flap. I had to think about it, but I realized that this is a supremely functional detail, because otherwise she'd have to take the whole thing off every time she wanted to go to the bathroom.

Nothing about this jacket is peaceful, hon.

Oh wow. If you were going to an '80s party, you might wear a jacket like this, and everyone would think that you had gone way overboard, because no one actually wore acid washed denim jackets piled with mountains of crap. That's just an exaggerated memory of what people looked like. But then here Vanessa comes, proving us all wrong. The whole decade was worse than you recall. This happened. Underneath, she's wearing her episode #4.6 shirt (which at least matches) and some basic black pants. But your eyes probably blurred from overstimulation before you could take the rest of the look in.

All I can do is encourage him and hope it sticks.

I'm seeing effort, and I'm happy about it. Theo's sweater this week is a little goofy. It's a little like he's dressing for an exceptionally preppy pagan ritual, but maybe if I could see the image on the front better, I'd think differently. I like him in these subdued pastels, though, and at least he's in cords and a knit top instead of a sweatshirt and jeans. The trouser pleats and meatloafy collar aren't ideal, but this look still maintains a raised standard in comparison to the first half of the season.

How does she read a book a week when she has five kids and a demanding job?

Clair is also going for the big-top-with-tight-pants option. It's like the women on this show all joined the Elaine Stritch fan club. Her husband must have picked this sweater, because it has some of his signature oddity, like the erratic placement and direction of the colors, the single swatch of a contrasting shade, and the detailing in a different material. Blues aren't always great on Clair, but purple is her friend, so that large patch at the neckline is a perfect transition point. The black beads or sequins or whatever those are seem out of place on the knobbly, fleecey fabric; I might have replaced them with another quick burst of red, or a smaller pin maybe. Still, I'll always lob a compliment her way if given the opportunity because she's Phylicia Rashad and she has my heart.

Same question.

Perhaps because he's meeting some of Clair's friends, Cliff scales it way back this week. It's not just that he's given up his usual sweaters; the whole ensemble is rather sedate. The collarless shirt with obscured buttons is nicely streamlined, removing distracting elements to present a sleek exterior. By going gray-on-gray with the base palette, he gets the maximum impact out of the penguin suspenders and matching socks. Those flourishes communicate his personality without detracting from the well-constructed appeal of his outfit. I'm pretty impressed.

And that's done. Now everyone go read a book. Or get me a book deal. Or both. Bye!


  1. You are not the kind of guy who would be reading a blog like this at this time of the morning.

    1. It's true. I'm up at 2:00am finishing the entry, then I just schedule it to publish at 8:00am.

  2. Do you know the name of the song that Cliff plays at the end of the episode?

    1. I wish I did! I've often said that someone should do a deep exploration of the use of music in this show. It's a pervasive theme. Sadly, I'm not informed enough to write that blog. (I'm barely informed enough to write this one.)

    2. I know the name! I believe it is 'Greasy Spoon' spoon by The Crusaders

  3. My search on Helen Selby led me here. I remember this episode, and her, well. Seems like she just did a couple of L'eggs commercials, this, and then just disappeared from the public eye. Guess she'll go in my "Whatever Happened to.." file. Well-written blog, by the way.

  4. Bill Cosby happened to Helen Selby apparently.

    1. How did Anonymous know this 2 months before anyone else

  5. Sadly, I just read that Helen Gumpel, formerly known as Helen Selby is the latest accuser of Bill Cosby.

    I googled Helen Selby and it led me to this page.

    It's so sad how we were all fooled by this animal named Bill Cosby.

    Or as Bill Cosby would say "It's True It's True" regarding his "Spanish Fly" stories that have been recorded supposed as a joke.

    Dear Bill Cosby, I do not find it funny, rather sad actually.

  6. She said she was called to the show's set for what she thought was another audition shortly after filming the one episode. She said she was brought to Cosby's dressing room and Cosby had her sit on a couch and handed her a drink. She said Cosby then stood in front of her with his crotch in her face. How is standing in front of some one a crime? I hope she doesn't ride the subway or public transportation.
    Folks are calling this man a criminal because he stood in front ofa woman, whom he just gave a drink to. read the article please she was not molested raped or anything else yet he committed a crime Where is the crime.

  7. By the way, that Jacket Vanessa is wearing is from Prince. He wore it the Sign of the Times movie. He sent it her cause she was a fan. So if you wore this to an 80s party, you'd be a rockstar.