After a couple of plot-heavy (and exhausting) episodes focused on Kevin’s romantic life, Pottery Will Get You Nowhere is a welcome change-of-pace that reminded me of My Dad’s Office or The Phone Call from the first season: Centered on a single small conflict, deeply mining it for great character growth.
What I most loved about Pottery Will Get You Nowhere was that it set the stakes at just the right level. It never gave us fool’s bait of threatening a “divorce” or injecting too much melodrama into the conflict. It never forgets that the fight between Jack and Norma was a small one. In many ways, it wasn’t even a fight, but a series of passive aggressive blows.
I always enjoy the show’s grainy film shots with sentimental music in the background. They always choose just the right shots and songs to tug at sentimental heartstrings. Here, they contrast with the episode’s conflict to point out that nostalgia often leaves out the coarse surface of everyday life — full of bickering and mundanity. But they also remind us that those feelings we romanticize in our memories are what last.
Dan Lauria and Alley Mills were great as usual as the central figures of the episode. Maybe my favorite moment for Lauria as Jack was his extended, smoldering glare at the ash-tray. You know a great Jack rant is coming, and sure enough it does. “What does she think, we’re going to have 200 people smoking here at once?”
This episode was really Mills’ first chance to do anything interesting as Norma, and she makes the most of it. Season one’s Angel hinted that there could be cracks in her conservative-family-values armor, that she might one day like to make something more of herself reliable cook and cleaner. Those cracks became obvious here as she finds joy in learning something new in a community college class — something that probably wouldn’t have been possible for housewives 20 years earlier.
Jack is a hard, conservative man, and this apparent threat to the nuclear family format, minor though it may be, is perhaps the reason for his resistance from supporting Norma. It’s easy to side with Norma here, but the episode wisely never villainizes Jack. The ash-tray really is ridiculous, and Norma resorts to her own petty passive-agressive act by “forgetting” to pick up some Pepsi.
The B-plot was a bit silly and slight, but I enjoyed it for a few reasons. Paul-centered plots area always good, even though fearing an imminent calamity is a bit broad. Ben Stein’s appearance was a welcome surprise (and I hope we see more of him). The tectonic plates discussion served as an exceedingly obvious metaphor for marital stress, but the writers successfully weaved the two plots together in the poignant final narration.
Ultimately, Pottery Will Get You Nowhere paints a convincing portrait of suburban marriage that is healthy but not particularly passionate. It really enriches the characters of Jack and Norma while managing to capture a bit of the shifting cultural values of the ’60s. The Wonder Years does small-scale conflict exceedingly well.
A few other thoughts:
- This week’s edition of Wow, Awesome Editing: the cut from a shot of a car full of bickering Arnolds to the film footage of them enjoying each other’s company as Nat King Cole plays.
- I enjoyed Norma’s and Jack’s disagreement conversation where they never contradicted each other. Very well-written and well-played by Lauria and Mills.
- Ben Stein’s dry voice is enough alone to make me smile. “Bingo: A hellish nightmare of death and devastation.”
- Everyone’s response to Kevin flinging potatoes at Wayne was hilarious.