Saturday, December 20, 2008

Wave of the Future 5/5

When Charles returns home that evening, Caroline is already in bed. She is less than thrilled that Nels opened a competing restaurant and that Charles is in cahoots. Before Ma gets too bent out of shape, Pa presents her a copy of the contract that Harriet signed. Charles cites article twelve, paragraph two. Caroline reads it and her face lights up. “Do you think it will work?” she asks excitedly. “I told you,” Charles says, “trust me.” He takes a bite out of an apple and proceeds to eat it the way that Marmaduke would eat peanut butter. Thanks, Michael Landon.

Meanwhile, Nels enters his bedroom while Harriet files her nails. She warns Nels that he is attacking Mrs. Sullivan’s army. If she doesn’t get employee of the month I will be disappointed because she has totally bought into the company philosophy. Nels begins to reply, but Harriet tells him to shut up.

We now see Mrs. Oleson outside the restaurant shrieking about coupons for a two-for-one dinner special. I seriously doubt that the home office would allow her to offer a deal like that. She hands a coupon to a man in a Stetson, but she oversells when she tells him he can bring his wife or girlfriend. Maybe I’ll be getting my Brokeback Prairie action after all. Oh wait, Oleson’s Restaurant has a three-for-one deal. Harriet doesn’t seem to notice that until we do, but this episode seems to demonstrate that she doesn’t read the fine print, even if it is written in 12 inch letters.

A few hours later things have really slowed down at Mrs. Sullivan’s. Carrie is walking down the aisle bouncing a ball as the boys play checkers. The Raccoon is watching Ernie eat dinner, most likely trying to figure out how to get the scraps when he’s done. Hester-Sue and Mrs. Oleson are sitting at the table nearest the kitchen and Caroline joins them. Harriet starts shriek-weeping about how everyone likes Nels’ cooking. Caroline tries to console her by pointing out that Ernie is still there. Ernie gives a thumbs-up to the roast lamb. A frustrated Mrs. Oleson informs him that he is eating pan-fried steak. “Pan-fried huh? Oh. Well, don’t make much difference to me one way or another no more. I ain’t tasted nothin’ for five years, ever since that thrasher ran over my neck.” WHAT?!?! Where the hell did THAT come from? How does that even work? Why would a thrasher running over your neck affect your sense of taste? And how are you not dead? And why is no one in this scene horrified by this revelation?

Of course, Major Guffey decides that this is the best time to drop by. As Mrs. Oleson shriek-wails her travails, Guffey goes a little too deep with military metaphors about casualties and strategic maneuvers. This episode needs to end. Harriet hands over the receipts and he is less than impressed. He’s also not too keen on the fact that she did not expand the franchise as he instructed her to do. “I knew it was a mistake to let a woman command a post,” Guffey bellows. Mrs. Oleson is shocked that he would say such a thing, since the company is supposedly run by Mrs. Sullivan. There is no real Mrs. Sullivan, Guffey informs her, just a board of men that are calling the shots “as it should be”. Harriet acts as though Guffey shot and killed the Easter Bunny right in front of her. Guffey cites article twelve, paragraph two, which essentially allows the home office to cancel the franchise at any time. He tears up the contract and dishonorably discharges Mrs. Oleson.

Harriet runs across the street to find Nels. She shriek-cry-dry-heaves about what just happened, but somehow he already knew. That’s a shame. Harriet loses her franchise and her title of gossip queen all in two minutes because somehow word travels faster than she does. Nels calls the news wonderful, which enrages his wife. Harriet is about to concede when Nels reveals that tonight will be the last night of business for Oleson’s Restaurant. Charles came up with the plan to develop a successful competitor to Mrs. Sullivan so that the franchise would fail and that the restaurant can return to being Caroline’s. Awww. Way to earn your porcupie, Pa.

A few days later we see a carriage pulling up to Caroline’s as Harriet is sweeping the front steps. A man in a white suit exits the cab and walks towards her. The man asks, in a Kentucky drawl, if Harriet is in charge. The hell? A Colonel Sanders lookalike? Anachronisms aside, this is just really weird (though not as weird as another Sanders TV doppelganger). I suppose as fast food symbols go he is the only human-based one. Unless you wanted to incorporate the Hamburglar, but I really can’t imagine this as a two-part episode -- it’s barely a one-part episode. Anyway, he proposes a franchise that serves only fried chicken. Mrs. Oleson laughs at the idea, despite the Colonel calling his idea the wave of the future. Nels comes out of the restaurant as the man drives away. Harriet rehashes the idea and they share a laugh. I’m not sharing it with them.

Wave of the Future 4/5

Dinner time at the Ingalls again as the kids look expectantly at Pa making vittles in the kitchen. “Whatever it is it smells awful” mutters one of the daughters to the agreement of the rest of the brood. “Somebody saying something about the cooking?” Charles asks with gruff excitement. The kids hush up before getting busted. I think he’s serving the kids charred gristle. I must say I’m impressed the kids caught on to Charles’ plan almost instantly, unless the Raccoon squealed.

Later that night, Ma and Pa are talking about the restaurant and how Caroline tried unsuccessfully to give notice. Charles understands the situation, but you can see the gears turning in his mind. Not for how to get out of the situation, but for what he wants once the situation somehow corrects itself. “I want a turkey with bread and potato stuffing, sweet potatoes, hot rolls with butter, and a pie. No no! I want two pies! I want a mince pie and…”…a porcupie? I couldn’t quite catch that last one, but neither did Caroline as she fell asleep shortly before “sweet potatoes”.

Major Guffey is back at the restaurant counting the money all Name That Tune style with Mrs. Oleson. Even Harriet is exhausted at this point, but that doesn’t stop Guffey from moving the operation into Phase Three. Basically, Mrs. Oleson has to enlist two friends in other towns into Mrs. Sullivan’s cult, I’m sorry, army. On top of that, Mrs. Oleson would be their supervisor. She brings up the perfectly valid point that she can’t supervise three restaurants when she is struggling to maintain her own place. You would think the home office would be receptive to that sort of concern, particularly since they apparently do not allow her to hire any additional help as it is still only Caroline and Hester-Sue on the payroll. It should be noted that the restaurant is completely empty in this scene except for Caroline who is organizing silverware as she listens in on the conversation. Guffey’s response is to simply brandish the contract, though he doesn’t cite a specific section this time around. Of course, Mrs. Oleson probably still hasn’t read the thing so she is really not helping herself here.

Back at the homestead, Charles cautiously tastes a spoonful of what looks like Chef Boyardee ravioli and throws the spoon back into the pot. I’m probably right about the spoon’s contents because he rounds up the kids to take them to the restaurant. Grace just stares blankly at Charles. Honestly, why did they cast these two girls to play this character? Lack of acting skills aside (because, well, Mary Ingalls) the kids playing Grace aren’t even cute or adorable. Eh.

The restaurant is packed again and Mrs. Oleson is a little frazzled even before Charles drops off the army of children. Meanwhile, we see Nels finishing dinner preparation for his awful, awful children. There is a knock at the door just as Nels sits down. “Would one of you get that please?” he asks of Nancy and Willie. “I’m eating,” they both say. Wow, that would not fly in my house growing up and would have great difficulty working even today. Nels opens the door and it is Charles. Mr. Ingalls asks Nels if he’s tired of cooking all day and cleaning all night and basically playing Mr. Mom. “Well so am I,” says Charles, “and I think it’s time we did something about it.” “But what?” Mr. Oleson asks. Charles smiles, reaches to touch Nels and I’m starting to think we might be getting some Brokeback Prairie action up in here.

Instead, we cut back to the homestead at breakfast time. Charles wakes up Caroline who has overslept. Pa tells Ma that he has some work and they discuss who is taking the minivan and dropping off Albert at soccer practice. Or something along those lines. Charles keeps couching everything he is doing as some sort of “surprise”. “I can almost taste that turkey now,” he says as he heads out. “What?” Caroline asks.

That afternoon, the kids are doing shuttle runs in the restaurant dining room. Hester-Sue yells at them. Why they are running laps while wearing tap shoes I have no idea, but Caroline comes out of the kitchen to shoo the kids away. Mrs. Oleson pops out to icily ask why the kids are even there. The whole scene is weird throwaway dialogue. Anyway, Harriet is making the rounds with the coffee when an older couple enters the restaurant. Mrs. Oleson welcomes the couple who just returned from back east and wanted a slice of Caroline’s lemon meringue pie. Since Mrs. Sullivan only likes brown food, the only dessert option is chocolate cake. The couple decides to go across the street and get pie at the new restaurant there. New restaurant?

Mrs. Oleson goes to investigate and finds a sign that reads “Oleson’s Restaurant”. The downstairs of the Oleson house has been converted to a dining room with Charles wandering around playing the violin. First, how does zoning allow for that sort of use for space? Second, a violin? Really? Mrs. Oleson storms in and starts demanding answers, though I'm guessing her questions are different from mine. Nels is in the kitchen preparing a turkey plate that actually looks pretty appetizing. When Harriet asks what in blue blazes Nels is doing, he prattles on about free enterprise and competition. Speaking of, who’s minding the Mercantile? Mrs. Oleson is less than impressed and storms off.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Wave of the Future 3/5

A day or so later we see Nels exiting the kitchen with a couple of coffees that he brings over to Harriet and Major Guffey. Major Guffey praises the work of the Olesons and informs them that it is now time to move on to Phase Two: Keeping the restaurant open all day, starting with breakfast. This is obviously not well received. The justification is increased profits, but come on. Has Mrs. Sullivan and company not heard of diminishing returns? I can’t believe for a second that the town’s economy could support such a venture. There are restaurants in actual cities today that still operate only during lunchtime and dinnertime with a closed time in between.

Perhaps the returns aren’t too diminished as Major Guffey hands the Olesons pre-made newspaper ads for them to purchase in all newspapers in a fifty mile radius. Ok, Cleveland is about 30 miles from my front door and I only go to restaurants there for special occasions. Who in their right mind would travel 45 miles, by horse and buggy, just to get a pan-fried steak? I suppose traders would benefit, but if they are in town and looking for a meal they have only one option anyway. I call no waysies. Nels does too, restating his complaints about the workload and whatnot. Guffey counters with another contract citation and a metaphorical busting down of rank for Mr. Oleson. Sorry Nels. Nels counter-counters with an “Oh, yeah?” but is threatened with a lawsuit.

Over at the Ingalls’ homestead, Albert and the other kids are arguing over who has to make dinner. Charles returns home and settles the arguing by proposing that he cook tonight and the first person to complain or not finish everything on their plate will be the next cook and so on. The kids agree and go to gather firewood. Once the door is closed, Charles laughs to himself and confides in Grace, the creepy blond child with a raccoon-like air about her, that he just pulled one over on them. She either laughs or hiccups emotionally. That kid creeps me out.

Later, bemused children are found sitting around the table. Charles tries talking up the food as the kids choke it down. However, no one is complaining and there is full membership in the clean plate club. Charles starts to realize that his plan may have hit a snag. He offers Grace a second helping, but she coquettishly shakes her head no or is trying to scratch her shoulders with her ears.

It’s a new day in Walnut Grove and Harriet and Nels are working in the Mercantile. She starts pestering Nels about not being at the restaurant, but he isn’t having any of it. It’s almost 11 and Caroline and Hester-Sue have been running the place by themselves all morning. General Harriet reluctantly heads over to the restaurant and immediately starts taking orders. How are there so many customers? I stand by my previous no waysies.

Hester-Sue heads to the kitchen for a much needed break with Caroline. They both agree that the hours are insane. Before they can begin forming an insurrection, Mrs. Oleson comes bounding in with more orders. Caroline tries to have a heart-to-heart with Harriet about the job. What follows is a rather poorly executed monologue that boils down to Caroline giving two weeks notice. Harriet is crestfallen and begins to panic. She offers more money, even a percentage of the profits, but then resorts to simple begging. The last option is what works for Caroline and I believe this is the equivalent of a Zonk. Way to go, Caroline. Hester-Sue agrees with me – “You sure told her.”

Here’s my question: If profits are through the roof and there is a large enough population to keep the restaurant packed, why not hire more people? My disbelief can only be suspended for so long.

Wave of the Future 2/5

The next day, the Oleson’s are meeting with Major Guffey to discuss the progress of the renovations. The dining room has a lot of bare, rectangular, Ikea tables set up in rows. According to Guffey, seating capacity has increased by 22%. Of course, with additional tables and chairs I would think the fire capacity would decrease, but that might not be relevant until act three. Mrs. Foster stops by to peek at the progress. Mrs. Oleson quickly shoos her away, actually pushing her out the door. That’s some quality customer service there, Harriet.

As Mrs. Foster is leaving, Almanzo is pulling up with the latest stool delivery. He and Mrs. Oleson call them chairs, though she is alarmed at the fact that there are no backs on any of the seats. Major Guffey’s theory, or “secret” as he calls it, is that if the customers don’t sit around all comfy like, there will be more customer turnover, thereby bringing in more money. Stop drooling, Harriet. You see, this is where I start to have a problem with the whole conceit of this episode. Walnut Grove is the Guam of this developing fast food nation at this point with a population that couldn’t possibly support this sort of franchise. Yes, people will leave the restaurant eventually, but not everyone in Walnut Grove is going to be dining out on the same night. Besides not being part of the lifestyle of the community, there are several families that couldn’t afford to eat there even if they wanted to. Unless Sleepy Eye became a booming metropolis while I wasn’t looking, the economics of the situation do not make much sense.

Anyway, Harriet acquiesces to the stools so Almanzo leaves to bring in the rest of the shipment. “Thank you Zaldo—um---Almanzo,” stutters Mrs. Oleson. Hehe. Another man enters the dining room with a box that he places on the table. The box contains all the franchise accessories, from plates to custom napkins. The color scheme is Emerald City green with Price is Right yellow lettering. Best of all, the Olesons are required to buy the accessories from the parent company. Nels balks at this, but Major Guffey brings out the contract quoting the article and paragraph number about this stipulation without having to read the document. Yeah, you’re in trouble if one party of a contract is able to do that sort of thing.

Mrs. Oleson tries to negotiate changing the green (not a bad idea), but is interrupted by the delivery of the new sign. The Olesons are not as ecstatic about the sign as Major Guffey is. Since Harriet didn’t actually read the contract, she wasn’t aware that the name of the restaurant was going to change from Caroline’s to Mrs. Sullivan’s. Guffey pulls Mrs. Oleson aside and tells a ridiculous story about a man lost in the wilderness who sees a beacon in the darkness. That beacon is a Mrs. Sullivan’s Restaurant, with all the garishness that is about to befall Walnut Grove. I’m not sure if the man lost in the wilderness is supposed to be Jesus, but whoever it is, let’s hope he’s color-blind. Guffey’s point is that someone should be able to know what to expect regardless of which Mrs. Sullivan’s Restaurant one finds himself. Harriet falls for it, but Nels knows pure hogwash when he sees it.

It is opening night and Harriet is putting the finishing touches on the aprons that Hester-Sue and Caroline are wearing. “My troops are ready,” Mrs. Oleson giggles as she heads to the door, ready to let in the large crowd that has gathered. She then does a countdown because…the contract told her to? I’m sharing Hester-Sue’s worried glance right now. Ernie leads the charge of the crowd, taking time to admire the fanciness of it all. He would just about die at the luxuriousness of Denny’s. Ernie asks to see a menu, but there are only three options: Beef Stew, Roast Chicken, and Pan-Fried Steak. Hester-Sue has to repeat the list louder (“HUH?”), which causes Harriet to come over, shush Hester-Sue and then explain in way too much detail why the menu has changed. Hester-Sue appears to be mumbling the Serenity Prayer to herself as Harriet finishes taking the order. “You see,” Harriet condescends, “it’s called the ‘Wave of the Future’,” to which Ernie replies “IT’S WHA?” That’s one point for Ernie.

Hester-Sue delivers the order to Caroline. Harriet asks Caroline how things are going and things seem pretty easy so far. Hester-Sue takes out Ernie’s order and gets the thumbs-up (“THUMBS WHA?”). Nels comes in to see how the grand opening is going. Harriet sees him and for whatever reason becomes frazzled at the number of people in the restaurant. She asks Nels to help out even though neither of them have had their own dinner yet. We then go into a montage of cuh-RAY-zee food service, ending with Nels and Hester-Sue crashing in the doorway.

Later on, a weary Caroline and Hester-Sue leave as the Olesons tally up the opening night receipts. It was their largest one-day haul and Harriet is beaming that everything the Major said has come true. Nels is less than thrilled, mainly because they worked harder in one shift then they ever had before and the goal was to lessen their collective workload. Harriet reluctantly agrees, but says that the Major said that the volume should taper off a bit. I would agree, since the grand re-opening of the only restaurant in town is probably going to cause a spike in visits. “Trust me,” Harriet says, playfully pinching Nels’ chin. He smiles.

Wave of the Future 1/5

Wave of the Future

1981 – Mrs. Oleson converts her restaurant to “fast food,” but her success causes problems.

The show starts as it always does with the wagon stopping on the hilltop and Laura and Carrie…running away from it? I have never been too sure exactly what is going on there. The music is in double time, so we must have a heavy plot on this one.

A photographer is setting up his equipment in front of a sign for Mrs. Sullivan’s Kitchen. He asks a man in a top hat, sniffing what looks like a sad cake or an even sadder meatloaf, where the old lady is. I’m not sure if he is referring to Mrs. Sullivan or the wife of the man in the top hat, but either way the photographer is not in the mood to dilly dally. We then see an elderly woman staggering up the curb next to the building where the sign is located. Both the music and the physicality of the woman indicate she is thoroughly sloshed. Oh good, comic relief two minutes in. Someone is going to get typhoid before this hour is done.

Mr. Sullivan (it’s his old lady, so we’ll just go with that name for now) starts art directing the shot. “You pushed me,” the lady slurs. Mr. Sullivan denies this but she demands an apology. He concedes, but she responds “it’s too late to be sorry.” Yes, yes it is. Mr. Sullivan hands her the plate with Mrs. Sullivan’s cake, which confuses the woman. At first I wondered if she couldn’t tell if it was cake or meatloaf, but it is simply a catalyst for more drunken banter. Scratch the typhoid – I’m going with gangrene. The art directing continues, but the woman isn’t smiling. She prefers Rum Baba (sans baba) over chocolate cake. When Mr. Sullivan promises to give her some Rum Baba, Mrs. Sullivan proceeds to give one of those creepy toothless smiles that help sell denture cream.

It’s nighttime in Walnut Grove and we’re outside Oleson Mercantile. Hester-Sue is scrambling through Caroline’s Restaurant. The dining area is packed, which surprises me a little bit given that Walnut Grove still seems kind of small at this point. After three or four orders are barked Hester-Sue’s way, she retreats to the kitchen and passes the fish orders to Caroline. Caroline has already cooked the last of the fish, which causes Hester-Sue to wish she was working anywhere else but the restaurant.

As Hester-Sue takes an order of roast beef out to the dining room, Mrs. Oleson enters the restaurant. She introduces her companion, Major Guffey. Hester-Sue politely nods but is unable to get away without Mrs. Oleson prattling on about how busy the restaurant appears to be. Hester-Sue tries to disengage again, but Mrs. Oleson grabs her arm and orders two fish dinners. She does not respond well to being told there is no more fish, but rather than shriek about it Mrs. Oleson joins Major Guffey at their table. The roast beef order finally makes its way to Ernie, Walnut Grove’s token hard-of-hearing-old-guy. Wow, four minutes in and we’ve had comedic drunkenness and a bunch of “WHAT? I CAN’T HEAR YOU!” dialogue. And Mrs. Oleson, who is yoo-hooing for Hester-Sue to take their order. With each pace, Hester-Sue receives a complaint/request from each table. She finally makes her way to the kitchen and unleashes a blood-curdling scream. From the sound of it I would guess the stage directions involve a dead body on the kitchen floor, but it’s just Hester-Sue releasing some stress.

Later that evening, Major Guffey is sharing some observations and suggestions about the restaurant with Nels and Harriet. “Just remember this,” he states “a restaurant is a battlefield.” Nels is a little dubious about this philosophy, but Major Guffey begins to share some of his experiences during the War Between the States. What it comes down to, in Major Guffey’s eyes, is efficiency. “The more efficient your mess hall, the less work you have to do and the more money you can make.” Of course, the word “money” causes Mrs. Oleson to drool more than Pavlov’s dogs so she is all ears to Guffey’s proposal to have the restaurant join the Mrs. Sullivan’s franchise. He even has a contract ready for the Olesons to sign. Nels has to be a spoil-sport by being sensible about diving into a business transaction billed as a “wave of the future”. Major Guffey isn’t as shifty as he could be and tells the Olesons to take some time to read things over as he will be back in town in a few days.

Outside the Oleson house we hear someone banging on a piano. Wait a minute, what’s the timeline here? Nellie should be older but that looks like a child at the piano. She has the same hair, maybe it’s a different actress? I had to look this up: it is the Olesons’ adopted daughter Nancy, who is essentially Nellie 2.0. That is…extremely creepy. Anyway, Harriet is browbeating Nels about wasting time thinking things over when they could be indentured servants to Mrs. Sullivan. Nels is actually reading the contract which annoys Mrs. Oleson further. Between the clanging on the piano and the clanging of Harriet’s vocal cords, Nels starts to lose his temper. “Nancy, must you bang on that piano?” Nancy looks at him, does that fake crying thing that all brats do (so charming!) and wails “You hate me!” What kind of default reaction is that?

Harriet tries to appease Nancy as Nels leaves the room. “Where are you going?” Harriet asks. “Insane. I am going insane,” he responds. As shrill as things have already gotten seven minutes in: 2 points Mr. Oleson. Before he leaves, Nels decides that since Harriet refers to it as her restaurant (though I do think the namesake of Caroline’s is supposed to be a partial partner) she can do with it what she wants. That can only lead to good things, I’m sure.