“Halloween and the Election vs. the Pandemic” was a fine episode of television, mixing the silly with the serious to address the topics of the moment but also to remind us what it means to be family.
This recap of The Conners season 3, episode 2, “Halloween and the Election vs. the Pandemic”, contains spoilers. You can check out our thoughts on the previous episode by clicking these words.
“Halloween and the Election vs. the Pandemic” is far too wordy as a title, but it was a truly great episode of television. If sitcoms have a responsibility to address contemporary issues, and you can argue that they do or don’t, then they also have a responsibility to do so while being funny. And the latest episode of The Conners is a masterclass in mixing drama with levity, silliness with sadness, and an outlandish themed episode with a genuine urging to do the right thing, whether that’s express your beliefs, consider someone else’s or exercise your right to vote. If anyone was to ever ask what the value of lightweight network sitcoms is in the broader media landscape, you should direct them here.
Halloween blowouts have been a longstanding tradition in the Conner family since the ‘90s, but this episode took the national temperature and realized it had to address the current state of the world in its celebrations. It not only does that but ties the shenanigans into a genuinely touching dilemma for an oft-neglected character, namely Mary, who has been left as a latchkey kid by DJ’s recent promotion and was relying on a traditional Halloween to help her stave off, even for an evening, the loneliness she’s experiencing.
This is a relatable, difficult issue, and “Halloween and the Election vs. the Pandemic” is clever – not to mention daring – in how it tackles it head-on. It leads to some lovely moments between Mary and Darlene, of all people, who not only literally talks her down from the ledge but proposes that she lives with the rest of the family during the week while DJ is at work. That leads to the most challenging conversation of The Conners season 3, episode 3, when DJ arrives to find her there, since he’s forced to reckon with the fact that he can’t be everything his daughter needs on his own. There are some gags in this sequence, but it’s played mostly straight, and to great effect. Michael Fishman is really excellent in just this one scene, but it’s also a perfect crystallization of the show’s underlying themes of family, togetherness, and helping those in need, even if it’s painful or requires sacrifice. It’s always easy to imagine The Conners as a satirisation of blue-collar families, but it’s much more a lesson in meeting trauma with humor and making things work.
The way the family chooses to celebrate Halloween this year, then, is by hosting an elaborate indoor trick-or-treat session for Mary and Mark, the latter of whom has his own issues with a school classmate who doesn’t believe in wearing a mask. Dan gives him advice that ultimately leads to a fistfight, but also a great debate between Dan and Darlene about how to settle differences. Neither really “wins”, so to speak, but both make strong cases that ultimately have the same conclusion – you should go and vote. That’s as pandering as “Halloween and the Election vs. the Pandemic” gets about the whole thing, but it’s effective nevertheless in how clearly it represents the average family or social group or real-life gathering of people away from the self-affirming echo chamber of social media. People have different opinions, and they’re allowed to express them; everyone, ultimately, believes they’re right.
The trick-or-treating is a great excuse for the usual cast to get dressed up and act silly – shout out to Ben’s multiple breathless costume changes – but it’s also a touching example of how a family can rally around those who need the love and support; how even a global crisis can’t dampen the holiday spirit; and how the show must always go on.
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