[joe-frank-list] 'Rent-a-family': a critical analysis

russellbell at gmail.com russellbell at gmail.com
Fri Jan 1 05:26:40 PST 2021

	Eleanor, a woman distressed by unemployment, distraught at the
failure to have the family she imagined she would have, creates 2
fictional daughters.  She tries to rope her ex-husband, Arthur, into
this fantasy.  She uses the pretext of Rent-a-family to explain why
she no longer has her daughters.  She calls Arthur repeatedly, seeking
his sympathy on false pretexts (the absence of their daughters, the
breakdown of her car in a remote area, an intruder in her home, threat
of suicide, sickness.)  She even wants to move in with Arthur and his
new wife, Kathy.  (Why would she want to live with a man so
unsympathetic to her plight and the kidnapping of his children?)
Arthur is sympathetic to her claim of sickness, which results in a
fight with Kathy.  In her last call Arthur listens to her
sympathetically (notice he doesn't affirm her reminiscences about the
daughters).  Arthur and Kathy have divorced, the only difference.  The
synopsis on joefrank.com I downloaded in 2013, 'Eleanor succeeds in
breaking up Arthur's marriage while the panelists discuss their love
affairs.' summarizes it accurately.  Other synopses have claimed that
Eleanor had children and rented her family out.  The only achievement
any character made in the show was Eleanor breaking up Arthur &
Kathy's marriage.  Eleanor seems happy on this last call but she's
still missing her daughters and single; she's done nothing but break
up her ex-husband's marriage.
	I can't make any dramatic sense out of the end, Eleanor
hearing voices then Arthur's rant.  I speculate that Joe ran out of
material before he ran out of time to fill, tacked this on.  If
Eleanor were pathologically delusional, as opposed to manufacturing a
single delusion to reconcile herself to her childlessness, then her
story was just about a delusional person.  If Arthur lost his mind at
the end of the show, that's a different story.  If he were a fiend all
along and his treatment of Eleanor was the exception to his normal
behavior...  I don't know how to reconcile that with a college
professor and husband.
	The second element, the panel, composed of the proprietor of
Rent-a-family and 3 others was silly.  They talk about Rent-a-family
in the first episode but mostly tell irrelevant personal stories in
the last 2.  The remix version omits them.
	The third element is Joe introducing himself to a family he
rented, talking to the mother about her experience and some other
Rent-a-families.  Much of this has music played over it, is hard to
hear.  Over some of it Joe says a list of things that have nothing to
do with it.
	At minute 41 of part 3, Arthur says that he never really loved
Kathy; panelist #2 responds: Arthur has now joined the panel.
	Terry Gross asked Joe about 'Rent-a-family' when he appeared
on 'Fresh air'.  He said he wanted to investigate the notion of having
a family.  But he didn't.

russell bell

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