Episode 9: ETC

This housewife mafia owns The Pit.

This housewife mafia owns The Pit.

“ETC” is an excuse to do a bunch of Shonen Bat short stories, weird half-formed ideas to explain the normal unpleasant goings-on of urban life, placing the Bat at the center. The frame story involves a set of housewives, three old shrews with short haircuts that denote their masculine dominance over the new, pretty, young housewife. They stand in front of their apartment building, gossiping about the latest adventures of Shonen Bat.

Shonen Bat and the over-anxious student who begins sneezing then vomiting the words he’d memorized for the test. Shonen Bat and the poor new wife who hates living with her mother-in-law.

When the new housewife chimes in with her own Shonen Bat story (which involves the hilarious and disturbing image of a ultrasound photo of a baby holding the golden bat), the other housewives shoot it down. Outlandish, ridiculous. Who could believe something like that?

The irony is that when the ladies initiate their Shonen Batathon, the first story the new housewife brings up is one which did, indeed, happen.

Bat baby.

Bat baby.

Shonen Bat at the bathhouse in the last episode, “Happy Family Planning.” Who he was there to see, what cornered individual he rescued, we don’t know. But since the new housewife hasn’t earned the favor of these women, she’s immediately discounted. Even when she points out the clear, ludicrous flaws in the other women’s stories, they back each other up.

One of the main themes of modern comedy, (American) sitcoms in particular, is the creation of substitute, impromptu families – that friends are a person’s real family. The people you see every day and tell your problems to are much more of a family than the people with whom you have blood relationships. In a sitcom, this group of housewives would become each other’s sounding boards, propping each other up. But Paranoia Agent deconstructs that idea with the inclusion of a harsh and impenetrable hierarchy. I wouldn’t doubt that before the new housewife arrived, one of those three was the head housewife, pointedly running down and dismissing one of the other two, ganging up on her with the other, beta housewife. A dark and hidden thread in most sitcoms is that the ersatz family’s real strength comes from its ability to exclude. (Cougartown uses this as a regular joke with the one neighbor the other neighbors despise, and Community explored it more seriously in its third season.)

She totes has a story for the crew,now.

She now has a story for the crew.

And even when it is clear that the three housewives dislike the young one, (and she thinks these old women are idiot liars and fools), when she comes home and sees her husband covered in blood, she’s ecstatic – he’s been attacked by Shonen Bat. But she needs details, or the other women won’t believe her!

“ETC” is about on par with “The Holy Warrior,” another episode that takes a more comic than serious look at the world of Paranoia Agent. And even though it does more with the overall arc of the Shonen Bat than the previous episode, “Happy Family Planning,” “ETC” doesn’t maintain the PA tone quite as well. It feels like riffing, like a grab-bag of ideas, and though the circle of housewives gossiping fits entirely the larger theme of Paranoia Agent (the dark side of human connection) and all of the stories they tell are clearly examples of modern urban anxiety with the Shonen Bat theme at their center, they just kinda sit there. An entire episode of the housewife who hates her mother-in-law might have been more fruitful, or maybe an entire family reaching the level of Shonen Bat intervention-anxiety (all at once) would have been more fruitful. This is just some stories, though. Just some stuff.

About Kent Conrad

To contact Kent Conrad, email kentc@explodedgoat.com