Just the Ten of Us – “Strangers in the Night”

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I don’t know if I’ve ever seen Just the Ten of Us. After reading its Wikipedia, I feel like I have but I don’t really have any memory of it. It only lasted two seasons and 47 episodes and was cancelled a month after I turned 8, so I’m reasonably sure that whatever memories I’ve had of that show have been wiped out by crushing defeat and drinking. Well, I’m watching an episode today, a mere 27 years after it went off the air. Is this what 8-year-old me thought I’d be up to at this age? I sure hope so.

Anyway, the basic setup of the show is that Coach Lubbock (a recurring character on Growing Pains that was spun off into this show), his wife, and his 8 kids–6 daughters (yikes, 6 daughters? Sorry about that, fictional guy) and 2 sons–move to California so he can be the coach of a private Catholic school, where his kids attend. B-b-but the school is all-boys! This makes his daughters veery popular, obviously, and that’s kind of what the show is about. So.

Anyway, I’m going in blind and have only the vaguest of recollections about this show ever existing. I’m starting with the first episode of its last season (which was its second one). Maybe it has a good theme song, I don’t know. It aired on TGIF for two seasons before getting shit-canned, and considering garbage like Step By Step ran for like 7 seasons on that block, it’s probably even worse than that.

Season 2 Episode 1 – “Strangers in the Night”

We open on the house at night with the silly dog napping on the porch, and one of the coach’s skank daughters is sneaking in late. Lubbock looks out the front windows and she ducks out of sight. Trying to sneak in, she finds the front door bolted so she comes in through the kitchen window, stepping into the full sink. The lights come on and her younger sister comes in saying look, stupid, I see what you’re doing. Her sister says her father’s watching the Morton Downey Jr. Show, a joke that hasn’t aged well. The younger sister calls her older sister a Skanktronic 5000 and while true, she begs her younger sister not to say anything to dad. She pushes for her sister to do her laundry for a week and just then dad comes in. He finds a shoe in the sink and, being oblivious, says he needs some sneakers cleaned. That’s a joke, I guess.

The theme song comes on, and it’s OK I guess. Doing it the best I can and whatever. Hey, Heather Langenkamp is on this show! That’s weird. Anyway, this all looks pretty schmaltzy and the theme song’s over.

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W…why are they all wearing footie pajamas in this photo? ARE THEY A CULT?

So we CUT TO a bunch of people talking at once around the breakfast table. Once everyone shuts up all at once, the older skank sister (who has a name that I refuse to ever use again in speech or type for personal reasons, so I’m just going to call her Skank) blurts out “The last thing I want to do is get pregnant!” which makes steam form around Coach Lubbock’s bald head. As he glares at her like she’s a delicious ham, she recovers nicely by saying that that’s why she’s considering becoming a nun.

He’s about to lay into Skank but mom says no time for that, you bald goon. The gals all start gabbing again and Lubbock blows his whistle for silence and then another one of the daughters is left to blurt out, “Well maybe I understand sex more than you think!” which makes Lubbock rotate his head 180 at her and he’s probably going to start shanking somebody pretty soon.

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*POP* Aaand there goes Lubbock’s spine!

Anyway, the girls stand for inspection except the youngest daughter, and she complains that she’s not inspected as well, so Lubbock makes them go through a very weird inspection process where they’re on their knees and he checks their skirt length. Weird. So CUT TO Lubbock walking around looking like a slob in the school’s hallway and he has a starting pistol in his waist which scares the hell out of a kid. He walks into his classroom and all the boys are blah-blahing so he literally fires the starting pistol in the classroom which would usually get him arrested and barred from teaching for life but since it’s a private Catholic school they’ll probably just make him say a Hail Mary or two. Is that what Catholics do for punishment or absolution? I have no idea since I’m not Catholic. Anyway, turns out he’s taking over for a teacher who won the lottery and now he’s a teacher, even though he’s wearing sweatpants.

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Professor Gun: Coming this fall!

It’s a literature class and they’re reading Othello, so he asks is anyone would like to start. Nobody raises their hands so he goes for the pistol on the desk and then everyone raises their hands. Because threatening your students with a gun gets results, dammit! A literal screen-wipe happens to show that TIME HAS PASSED and Lubbock somehow got through a lit class. Somehow, he sees something happening in the back even though his back is turned and says you’re passing a note in class so now read it in front of everybody. The kid tries to eat the note instead but Lubbock makes him spit it out.

Lubbock makes some doofy bastard read it and it’s all about how some dude was getting to third base with his daughter the night before. Whoops! Lubbock looks like he’s about to literally explode and for a second I think he might. But then I remember the season’s just started so they’re probably saving that for the finale.

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Either that or he’s shitting himself.

LATER back at home, Lubbock brings the filthy, saliva-covered note home and shows it to his wife, who says it’s a lie, a lie I tells ya! She says no way, all boys lie about their sexual conquests and turns it around on him about some fucking bull he spun about some chick back in the day. Lubbock says whatever lady, I’m going to grill our whore daughters about this later, cool? And because they’re Catholic she’s cool with it.

CUT TO the living room later that day where he asks who’s the skank here? Is it you, Skank? Skank thinks her sister ratted on her, but she says screw you, Baloo, I ain’t no fink. Lubbock asks that whichever one of his whore daughters went out last night and made out with a boy, please stand up. The young son does and the mom has a heart attack (because being gay was the worst thing you could possibly be back in 1989, you see). He says no, I’m just going to the bathroom, you dinks. Lubbock counts to five and the camera pans over the girls’ faces, and three of the girls jump up in unison and confess. To commercial break!

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This still shot is from the controversial episode where they walled their kids up in the backyard for a week. Only 7 survived.

Back from commercial break (and the title card in-between said USA on it so I guess USA was really hard-up for syndicated shows at some point because they only made 47 of these, which would only cover nine weeks’ worth of one episode a day, 5-day-a-week reruns, but enough of my math–back to the show!), and the Lubbock girls are still standing for their punishment. The mom has a bit of a nervous breakdown at this point and one girl asks whose name is on the note, but when the mom slips that nobody’s name was on the note, they sit down and–in classic Catholic repression style–the mom sits down and tries to pretend nothing happened with her promiscuous, sinful girls.

So whatever, one girl says it wasn’t me, I was just trying to cover for people and when mom says that she found grass stains on her jacket and her shoes were all messed up, this one (I think her name is Cindy) says thanks a lot, Skank, I’m not lending you clothes anymore! So Skank’s outed.

Anyway, daughter Constance–the one that was covering for Skank earlier in the episode–says she stepped out for social intercourse last night and the parents gasp because Constance chooses her words very poorly. She explains that she was just out for a chat with some dude and then it gets kind of gross when she starts stroking her father’s shoulders and bald head recalling her nice evening out with a young man and yuck. Anyway, she says it was only kissing and she’s not a skank like old Skank over there.

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Should we be seeing this? I don’t think we should be seeing this.

So they grill Constance who this dude was and Skank doesn’t like that she’s not getting more attention and rats herself out further. Lubbock and Mom kick these bitches up to their room and Lubbock has problems with sex–just like Catholics! Get it? They’re repressed! Anyway, the girls upstairs are now bothering Constance about the dude she was out with and these four girls have to share an attic room together? That sucks. The square one stops bothering with that prayer garbage so she can listen to her sister talk about her makeout session the night before. Skank boasts that she got a hicky because she can’t stand not getting attention for even one second. Then Mom pops up and says hey Skank, your father wants to shame you some more downstairs.

Downstairs Lubbock tries to struggle to talk about sex with Skank and this is just going swell. He says you should fear men and be afraid of sex and don’t feel good ever about anything. Meanwhile, Mom upstairs is trying to talk to her intellectual daughter about making out and how she shouldn’t let dudes sucker her into making out because kissing is a sin and you should feel shame. Also, don’t love anybody ever. Well, she doesn’t say that but I’m kind of parsing phrases here.

Lubbock’s sports metaphors are getting nowhere with his daughter until he sees Jesus on the cross, and a weird little trumpet melody plays and it’s confusing. He lies to his daughter that God lets him see what his daughters are doing all of the time and this freaks Skank out. So lie to your kids and invoke the fear of God to manipulate them!

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“What’s that, Lord? You want me to kill them all and start fresh in the Bahamas? Can do!”

LATER, we get treated to Lubbock in his plaid PJs and Lubbock lets his wife know that he lied to their daughter and they both laugh about this. As they turn off the light and go to bed, though, Lubbock bolts up and tells his daughter downstairs to get back to bed! He tries it out his psychic power and uses it to get some Christian sex from his wife. And then the camera zooms in on a Virgin Mary statue with prayer candles around it in the most disquieting final shot for a frothy sitcom from the 1980s I’ve ever seen–especially since Lubbock and his wife are having sex just feet away.

Conclusions

That was pretty bland. There really wasn’t much meat on that bone, and what little there was wasn’t very satisfying. I know I come across as harsh on these now-ancient shows that appealed to a family audience, but my folks were just a few years older than I am now when they were watching these shows and I bet they couldn’t stand them, either. Or maybe not: we lived in different times and have different outlooks on things. Maybe they liked this enough to tolerate it week after week, coming from the 1950s and 60s where squeaky-clean programming was the standard and not the exception. But having spent my adolescence in the 90s and my adulthood in the horrifying few decades that have been the 2000s so far, I’m a lot more cynical about this kind of stuff. I like my sitcoms single-camera and a lot more adult. Then again, I don’t have children and don’t have to worry about how many fuck-words my entertainment uses around me.

As for the show: it’s…what it is, I guess. Inoffensive enough. Hummed along at a certain pace. I thought the attic room the girls shared was neat. There was a laugh or two. Besides that, who cares? It’s a show that’s disappeared into the sands of time, never again to emerge. As a sitcom, it’s no Perfect Strangers but it’s also not complete garbage like Step By Step. It is what it is. Will I ever watch another episode? No, why would I? I just watched this show I barely remembered for the sake of this recap. And, just like its existence in my memories before I watched this episode, this one too will slowly fade until I only have the faintest outline of Lubbock’s portly body to remember it by.

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Categories: humor, recap, television

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