Celebrity Wife Swap: S02E03: "Gilbert Gottfried / Alan Thicke"
By Dom Sinacola· Mar 27, 2013
The beauty of Celebrity Wife Swap is how readily it confirms all your basest prejudices about the D-List celebrities it mixes and matches. This week, Gilbert Gottfried—prickly turtle man and consummate cheap ass—trades spouses with Alan Thicke, who eventually is forced to shovel horse shit, during which he chooses, out of all the hats he surely owns, to wear this one:
Gilbert, to his credit, wears an assortment of unflattering hats too. If you assumed that Gilbert Gottfried looks hilarious in practically anything placed on his head, then you’re right, and Celebrity Wife Swap has won:
At least Gilbert has a better sense of context than Thicke. Keep in mind, Gilbert is here in a kitchen, and not in the middle of a field shoveling horse shit:
Thirty years ago, Thicke fired Gottfried from Thicke’s attempted late-night rival to The Johnny Carson Show, the sincerely named Thicke of the Night, and the two, all this time later, still seem to bear a vague brusqueness towards the other’s memory. When he first meets Gilbert’s wife, Dara, Thicke’s about two shrugs and half a foot away from calling Gilbert an annoying little turd to her face, and later, in front of a group of acquaintances, he tries to do the one impression of Gilbert Gottfried we’ve all, at some point, tried in our lives, embarrassing Dara mercilessly before she retreats to the kitchen to hang out with Thicke’s son, Carter, and his 15-year-old friends, because she’s more comfortable around twitchy twerps anyway. Thicke’s impression of Gilbert is as shrill and shaky as his old man turkey neck; Gilbert’s impression of Alan Thicke, though, feels remarkably right on. Tanya Thicke, Alan’s third wife and many years his junior, stares glassily at Gilbert while he taunts her husband, telling the camera in an aside that she could barely stand their first meeting, he was so relentless and rude.
Gilbert is relentless and rude, but side by side with the raging stuffiness of Thicke, Gilbert’s total demeanor is an absolutely refreshing thing to watch. The main conflict in this episode is of course that Gilbert is thrifty to the point of it being almost smarmy, and Alan is an insufferable fancypants. So their wives’ first reactions to their respective new homes is pretty standard for Wife Swap: pampered Tanya (former model) blubbers incessantly about the tininess of the apartment, while Dara seems strung out wandering from massive room to massive room, exclaiming how she knows plenty apartments in New York smaller than only one of Tanya’s closets, which she says bug-eyed, climbing the walls.
In New York, Gilbert introduces Tanya to his two adorable munchkins, Max and Lily, and then kneels to the floor to school them in squashing on whoopie cushions. One major observation one could pull from this episode is that GIlbert Gottfried and his family spend a lot of time on the floor.
In Santa Barbara, on the Thicke ranch, Alan and Carter further terrify Dara by informing her of her duties for the night, which include making a lobster dinner. In strange and perhaps defiant opposition to Wife Swap’s whole premise regarding Gilbert being such a miserly fuck, Dara tells Alan and Carter how much she hates to cook, proceeding to prove it to them by just barely assembling an edible entree. It’s fitting that Dara’s first time making food for the Thickes could potentially involve their becoming violently sick.
In New York, Tanya whips up some pasta for Gilbert and the kids in between Gilbert’s repeated questions, like “Are we going to have sex?” or “Does Alan still talk about me?” or “How much can you bench?” When asked if he likes what Mama Tanya made for dinner, Max says something awfully cute, something along the lines of “YESSIREE BEAUTIFUL LADY,” and Tanya gushes, which is her standard response to anything. Never one to deny a free meal, Gilbert grins through his mouthfuls, pleased as punch someone’s finally using the fucking kitchen.
The only time he smiles even brighter that day is when his son molests a Barbie doll in front of their house guest.
Totally nonplussed she has to wake up before 10 am to help the kids off to school, Tanya next discovers that it’s Dara and Gilbert’s anniversary. Gilbert explains that he’s going to show Tanya a real good time, which first entails going to the dollar store.
Gilbert: Don’t get too excited, ‘cause you’re a fancy girl. 99 cents? You could get a whole new wardrobe!
At the dollar store, which is simply called “Jack’s,” Tanya gushes about how inexpensive and precious everything is, managing to buy $200 worth. There seems to be some disconnect in her head between the idea that a bag of potato chips costs one dollar, but 200 bags of potato chips costs 200 dollars, so she pretty much misses the point of the whole trip. Gilbert, horrified by her flagrant abuse of the implicit understanding one has when going to the dollar store, practically tears a licorice out of her hand, so appalled by her impulse shopping he gets all kinds of grabby.
Gilbert continues his anniversary celebration by strapping on his best cross-trainers and taking Tanya out for a night on the town. Since he doesn’t drive and refuses to pay for cabs, their date night consists of Gilbert introducing one plan after another accompanied by Tanya going full AGHAST FACE on everything.
Tanya’s time in the big city is a series of identical interactions with Gilbert:
Tanya: We’re walking?!
Tanya: The subway?!
Tanya: It smells!
Tanya: My fingers are numb!
Tanya: I hate you, Gilbert.
On a roll, Gilbert suggests they wait outside a “Broadway show” for last minute tickets, expecting them to be free. When they aren’t, instead $30 each, an indignant Gilbert insists they skip the show and head to dinner, refusing to pay for something he was sure would be free. This is after standing in the cold, noticeably shivering, for hours, rewarded by the cheapest fucking Broadway tickets I’ve ever heard of.
Tanya already despises every miniature bone in Gilbert’s scrawny body, but the dinner pushes her over the line. They hop on over to the Friar’s Club, which turns out is a rather swanky joint, but Gilbert directs Tanya to the kitchen, where his personal “table” is waiting. Classic Gilbert, he makes her sit in the way of the refrigerator. In the kitchen.
Gilbert: You might as well keep your chair pushed to the side. They’re going to keep going in there.
Chef: He’s right, madame.
Tanya: That’s it, I’m done.
Tanya storms off. Gilbert says out loud, asking no one in particular, “Are you going to finish that?”
Meanwhile, Dara is waited on hand and foot…that is, until she’s expected to host a dinner party, wherein Alan schmoozes his botox’d mug off, barely noticing when Dara slinks away to down a bottle of white wine in the kitchen, completely exhausted and shamed by Alan’s random dick-swinging barbs at her husband.
It’s actually hard to believe that Gilbert isn’t throwing the perpetually gushing Tanya under the bus of his own particularly sadistic brand of culture shock, churning up situations he wouldn’t dare subject someone he actually loves to, but Alan Thicke is just all that all the time, all pathetic dad jokes and Jason Seaverisms, a boring dud hiding behind residuals, his whole relationship with his wife constituted by constantly filling her feeding trough to get her to shut up long enough so he can try to relate to his son by reminiscing about the time when he was a famous songwriter in Canada. There’s no artifice to this reality show’s reality of Alan Thicke. This is just how he is.
Alan: The theme song to Thicke of the Night is actually seventeen verses and nineteen minutes long.
Back in New York, the Gottfried household is now under Tanya’s rules. That means GIlbert has to spend some money and Tanya gets to sleep in. Three things are now required of Gilbert:
1. Survive a driving lesson.
2. Host a dinner party.
3. Take Tanya out to a nice dinner.
No. 1 goes alright; it isn’t all that funny to watch someone who has driven a car maybe one other time in his life jam on the breaks and creep down the middle of the street for a few minutes. Tanya’s yammering from the backseat adds nothing to the situation, because both Gilbert and the driving instructor act like she’s not even there. It was the dullest and the most relatable moment of the whole episode.
For number two (heh), Gilbert invites his pals Richard Belzer and Paul Shaffer over, because sure, who else would be Gilbert’s friends? This goes off without a hitch, except for when Paul make a toast that is exactly this:
Paul: I want to toast this, uh, happy couple…and a happy couple.
Tanya gushes and the rest raise their glasses. Richard Belzer has to push a puppy off his lap to lift his arm. Because he has a puppy on his lap. Throughout the whole dinner. It’s a terrier I think, but like a teensy, round white one.
The third part of Gilbert Gottfried’s redemption happens, I guess, on another night, but Wife Swap never pays much attention to definable chronological space, so it’s a lot easier to figure the whole swap occurred over a nice, long weekend. In the previous episode “Coolio / Mark McGrath,” in fact, Mark tried to verbally recount the amount of days that had passed, and was only able to offer an approximate range, like “three or four.” So either the personalities on WIfe Swap have truly no conception of time, or the show disregards, as a rule, any way to tell exactly how much time the episode encompasses, opting instead for an easy venue to manipulative editing.
Anywho, Gilbert goes swimming in what looks like his dead grampa’s Sunday morning suit. Tanya’s impressed how well he cleans up in his big boy pants.
Gilbert and Tanya’s dinner conversation is exactly the opposite of what it was the “night” before:
Gilbert: I named my son after my dead father.
Gilbert: One time at school my daughter said that she is a princess and when asked who her prince is she said it’s me. Gilbert.
Gilbert: I am genuinely enjoying your company at this moment.
Gilbert: I’ve never told anyone this, but: I once masturbated in the dressing room at a Goodwill.
Goodwills don’t have changing rooms, but Tanya wouldn’t know that anyway.
Back in ho-hum Santa Barbara, Dara’s rules mean the staff of the Thicke ranch get the day off while Alan and Carter tend to all the chores: laundry, dusting, chopping pillows, shoveling horse shit. Yet, even with that hat that looks pilfered from a zoot suit, leave it to Alan Thicke to make watching Alan Thicke shoveling shit really boring. He defends his awkwardness and squinty fuddi-duddiness by reminding the audience why he has a staff in the first place:
Alan: I needed staff to support me so I can do what I’m supposed to do.
The human race awaits the revelation of your grand purpose, Alan Thicke.
Back together again, Alan and Tanya are unbearable, which we knew since the beginning, but is just painful to embrace once again. Otherwise, things go as one might expect, as in Tanya throws a self-righteous hissy fit after Alan kind of implies they may be just a smidgen materialistic, but not before telling Dara what darling children she has. Dara, for her part, conspicuously says nothing about Carter, which is a shame because I thought he was a decent kid. Gilbert tells everyone what he learned:
Gilbert: She doesn’t like the smell of urine I guess.
Still, this is of my favorite kinds of episode of Celebrity Wife Swap, wherein the pale, crustacean-y carapaces of fame have done nothing to protect these people from the normalcy a few decades will inject deep into the hearts of Hollywood’s best wash-ups. It’s a soothing consistency in episodes like this one. Alan Thicke has and probably will always be a somnambulant douche, and Gilbert always an uncomfortable nebbish unwilling to wholly accept his lucky lot in life. It’s a warm feeling; warm like a horse patty on a drowsy Santa Barbara morning.