In its second episode, The McCarthys continues to be a consistently funny and emotionally honest delight. “Love McCarthys Style” takes on the family’s inability to express love. In the opening scene, we see how they all make fun of each other, how their parents are barely celebrating their anniversary and that Marjorie even gets uncomfortable when her husband touches her shoulder in front of the kids.
This is just status quo for them, until Ronny visits his new boyfriend Ben’s family and sees how sweet they are with each other. He starts to worry there’s something wrong with his family. He brings this up with them, pointing out that it’d be nice if any of them were capable of saying “I love you.” There’s a great flashback to when their great aunt was on her deathbed and each of them in turn fails at saying “I love you” to her. Ronny comes closest, working up the courage to say, “I love you…” before swerving into, “I love your slippers.” Raising the stakes for Ronny, Ben tells him that he broke it off with his last boyfriend because he met his family and they were so bad at expressing love that he felt like they were from two different worlds and had to break it off. This gives Ronny enough motivation to want to convince his family to fake it and act loving, at least for one night when he invites Ben over to a dinner party celebrating his parents’ anniversary. This is obviously an extremely sit-com-y premise, but they do an impressive job of infusing it with enough emotional honesty for you to get it. I’ve been on dates with people who legitimately can’t understand the concept of a family not being perfect and loving and it’s the weirdest. I was totally in Ronny’s corner, even with all his heightened sitcom behavior.
What’s great about this episode is how perfect it navigates the difficulties that come with writing a light sitcom. While these pleasant family shows seem simple, they’re actually very hard to pull off. If the family is legitimately horrible to each other or seems fundamentally broken but it’s brushed off as a joke, it can become depressing and uncomfortable to watch. On the opposite side, if they’re a solid family but the show attempts to scream “dysfunction!” at the slightest problems, that also becomes depressing because their standards for what a happy family should be are set so high. The McCarthys beautifully handles this by making it clear their problem is with expressing love. We know this family cares about each other from the basic premise that all the children are adults but they still see each other constantly. Their dinner in the beginning isn’t fancy and they make fun of each other throughout it, but at its core the show understands that the mere fact of having these regular dinners is something to be appreciated. It’s a fantasy cloaked in the humor and easily redeemable conflict they get from their inability to express their obvious feelings.
A perfect example of this is when Ronny tells his father Arthur that Ben’s father gives his wife flowers every week. Arthur immediately seems repulsed and insists that the only reason someone ever buys a woman flowers is because he’s cheated, which is why he’s never once bought Marjorie flowers. She quickly agrees with this. Their easy rapport and shared worldview, and his obvious disdain at the idea of infidelity, show that the love is there while the trappings of love are not. This makes it easy to laugh at all Arthur and Marjorie’s jokes about each other because you understand that at the end of the day they’re okay.
“Love McCarthys Style” perfectly does what any second episode needs to do: it quells any fears I had about the show. I now understand without a doubt that the family will be able to tease each other and act harsh for laughs, but the sweet family dynamic is there. It also put my fears to rest that Ronny’s sexuality would be overly sanitized for the CBS audience. He’s not super intimate with Ben and it definitely says a lot that they’re not giving us a raunchy sitcom in the vain of Two and a Half Men or 2 Broke Girls about a gay man. (Actually, the supposedly straight guys on Two and a Half Men are way more sexual with each other than the gay characters on The McCarthys, but that’s a totally different topic). But for what this is– a sweet sitcom that puts the family dynamic first, they’re showing Ronny as having a real personal life and in “Love McCarthys Style” we’ve already got an episode where Ronny’s motivated by wanting a cute boy. Remember how long it took Sean to have a love interest of any kind of Sean Saves the World?