Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Monroe Ficus and the Case of the Morbidly Obese Jello-Rapists

Once upon a time, in the mid-1980s—the Golden Age of the Very Special Episode—a television event took place that scarred a generation of young people. The show was Too Close for Comfort, and the episode was (inexplicably) called, “For Every Man, There's Two Women.” In it, a character called Monroe Ficus (Jm J. Bullock) was raped in a tub of Jell-o by two morbidly obese women. At this point, I should emphasize that I AM NOT JOKING. This actually happened.

For years, this episode existed only in the dim, mostly-suppressed memories of the children and coke fiends who made up the core viewing audience of the show (if you were neither a small child nor a drug addict at the time, you had no excuse for tuning in). Recently, this episode became available on You Tube, eliciting crazed shouts of, “See?!  I told you I wasn’t making that up!” all across this great nation. (Trigger Alert: The content may bring up disturbing memories of repressed traumatic events, such as previously watching this episode.) 

The episode left Little Me with a lot of questions. First and foremost, what’s up with Jm J. Bullock? Why doesn’t he have an “i” in his first name? What does he have against the letter “i”?  Did the vowel also attempt to fondle him in his swimsuit area?  Or is he on some sports team, and he wanted to prove how selfless he was by shouting, “There’s no “I” in Jm J. Bullock!”? But I digress.

Too Close for Comfort is one of those shows that make you hope to God that ours is the only so-called intelligent life form (granted, an ironic term in this context) in the universe. Aliens watching this show would have to conclude—like Little Me—that a tub full of Jell-o (“or tapioca, or shredded wheat,” as a police detective states in the episode) is somehow integral to adult human sexuality. They’ll also assume that one of the main problems facing humanity in 1985 was the scourge of morbidly obese women raping self-described gay icons in tubs of Jell-o. (Good thing we didn’t have any nuclear proliferation, or homophobia, or racism … or even rampant cocaine use among sitcom writers!)
Back in the '80s, this was the tub filling of choice for all those
Women's Libbers who went around raping  self-described gay icons..
In case you were lucky enough to miss the long national nightmare that was Too Close For Comfort, here’s the upshot: Ted Knight played a cartoonist named Henry who lived in a phat rowhouse in San Francisco, back in the days when people who aren’t Mark Zuckerberg could actually live in phat rowhouses in San Francisco. For some reason, his smokin’ hot adult daughters had to move back in with him, his wife, and their young son. Most of the plots centered around Henry’s attempts to keep said adult daughters from having sex. Hilarity, and undoubtedly a lot of battery use on the part of the adult daughters, ensued.

The family’s upstairs tenant was the aforementioned Jell-o-rapee, Monroe Ficus. Even if you watched this when you were too young to what gay is, it was pretty obvious that Monroe was gay. This will be immediately apparent even to the Alpha Centaurians who may end up watching this show in a thousand years.  But for some reason, this was never overtly stated, or even hinted at. (Yes… in the 80s, you could have a character who’s a single man who never has a girlfriend and who  lives in San Francisco, and you weren’t supposed to assume he might—just might!—be gay.)  I only mention this lest you think the show was in any way progressive for having a gay character, way back in the homophobic mid-80s. It was not. In fact, Too Closeted For Comfort might’ve been a better name for the whole show.

In the episode in question, Monroe comes home one morning, after being gone all night. Disheveled and ragged, he reports that two massively large women grabbed him in the parking lot of a shopping mall, blindfolded him, and threw him in a van.

“The Big One sat on me, while the Little One drove,” Monroe reports. The women took him back to their apartment, where they “had their way” with him. For some reason, this took place in a tub full of Jell-o.

This is followed by an uncomfortable family debate, in which the actors seem as confused as the audience. Henry insists that his wife and daughters “have a double standard,” because they question the seriousness of the crime relative to man-on-woman rape, in addition the questioning the logistics of how a woman can rape a man (you know, because we kids weren’t confused enough about what was going on). But let’s put that aside for a moment.

Although Monroe was blindfolded while in the van, Henry encourages him to try to remember the route they took based on the number and direction of the turns (because, you know, that would totally work). Monroe lies down on the kitchen table, which somehow allows him to access some magical, retroactive internal GPS (gaydar?) to suss out the location of the women’s apartment. Pinpointing the address on a map, Monroe and Henry rush off to confront the zaftig female Jell-o rapists.

When they get to the apartment, a 500+ pound middle-aged woman in a mumu throws open the door. It’s time for Monroe’s big laugh line. (Wait for it…)  “It’s the little one!” (You know, ‘cause she’s super fat, get it?!)

At that point, Monroe runs away, literally shrieking. The Little One then pulls Henry into the room with ravenous, lustful gesture, the way most women do when random white-haired cartoonists appear at  their doorstep. When Henry attempts to flee, the Little One physically blocks the door. “Heat up the Jell-o!” she yells out, to her (offstage) partner-in-crime.
As a child, I knew next to nothing about the potential sexual and/or BDSM uses of Jell-o (thankfully, I still don’t). But I did know a little something about the physics of Jell-o. When you heat it up, it ceases to be Jell-o. It turns to liquid.  But, whatever.

By the end of the episode, we have a brief, glimmering moment when it seems like the whole thing will be explained when Monroe tells Henry, “I learned a very valuable lesson.” (No, seriously. He actually says that.)

We all sat up. Leaned forward. Tell us, Monroe! Tell us what you learned!  You learned that it’s really creepy to make light of sexual assault? You learned the writers of this show need to go into rehab? You learned that the letter “i” doesn’t really want to kill you and eat you?

“I learned,” Monroe says, turning to Henry, “that, if anything else ever goes wrong in my life, you’ll be there for me.”

In the 80s, the abbreviation “WTF?”  wasn’t yet in common usage, but that was nonetheless exactly what we all wanted to text to all our friends on our nonexistent cell phones. At the last minute, the whole train wreck of a storyline was reframed as a “buddy plot.” WTF??
My theory about this episode? This was a time when the women’s movement was slowly making some inroads.  This plot reflected a latent cultural anxiety about women’s equality.  “If we let women have equal rights,” the plot seems to caution, “before you know it, they’ll be raping self-described gay icons right and left!”
Don’t get me wrong. I’m in no way condoning sexual violence against men. With or without Jell-o, it’s a serious, awful crime and should be treated as such. Nor do I think the subject is great fodder for comedy. (Remember—I’m not the one who wrote this episode!) Strangely, by the end of the episode, Monroe seems to be thoroughly un-traumatized by this experience, as if to diminish the weight of the crime.
Sadly, all of us who tuned in were not so lucky.  It was a little bit like America was touched inappropriately, but, like Monroe Ficus, we just didn’t want to talk about it afterwards.


  1. I think of the pitch meeting of this like the short story group in Solondz' 'Storytelling', with the one writer pitching the story, the others saying it isn't believable, then the first one screaming "IT HAPPENED TO ME". Then the rest of them embarrassedly say it's a good idea and slink off to the bathroom to do another line.

  2. Exactly. But when the guy said, "It happened to me!!" he was telling it to his wife, as part of a story he made up to explain the lipstick and Jello stains on his clothing. "B-but, these middle-aged ladies in mumus abducted me, baby! And they weren't even hot!"

  3. I Hate to have to tell you this, but the Alpha Centaurians won't be watching this in 1000 years - they would have been able to watch this 1989, what with A.C. being 4 light-years from here. Likely, they have already passed harsh judgement on us. Now all we can do is wait for the missiles to arrive.

  4. I've been using this post to remind people how terrible the 80's were.

    1. Yeah, the 80s were a special time, when ironic TV shows had NO IDEA they were being ironic...