Well, this is odd. After declaring that last week’s series premiere of Extreme Cheapskates was as delightful and terrifying as a horror movie, I’m puzzled as to the complete shift in tone in this week’s installments. Both episodes focused on what it’s like to live with an Extreme Cheapskate, so the subsequent shenanigans came off like plot tropes from your typical sitcom.
Remember how last week I said it was upsetting to watch people who didn’t need to save money scrimp to such a shocking extent? Well, get ready to be outraged at Victoria Hunt: The 51-year-old is a millionaire, or so says her boyfriend Steve Barker, yet she doesn’t use the appliances in her house. She showers at the gym so she won’t have to clean her shower, and has constructed an oven in her backyard to cook food. And while she doesn’t dumpster dive like last week’s gem Kate Hashimoto, she does “forage for wild edibles” in her yard.
The focus of the episode is Steve adjusting to living with Victoria after they’ve been going out for about a year. Of course, her biggest quirk is that she pees into a bottle (ironically, one that used to contain lemonade). She assures the cameras, and later Steve, that “I poop like everyone else” and does flush for that. But he’s unwilling to do the pee thing, and later cracks a joke while they’re drinking iced tea that “this better not be urine.”
The problem is, there doesn’t seem to be a place for Steve at Victoria’s house. A woman who unplugs her TV and other appliances when not using them, she balks at him bringing in extra chargers. Yet he defends himself in the confessional by explaining, ”I’m bringing items I know I need to have to be happy. Items I expect to be there.” (Side note: Did anyone else think his voice sounded like a cross between Tom Hanks and Jim Bob Duggar?)
Victoria invites her son and daughter-in-law over to celebrate Steve moving in, but he’s a sourpuss for most of the time. I don’t blame him! She makes them eat stringy mushrooms from the yard — which she admits she hasn’t researched enough to know if they’re poisonous or not — but at least she’s not as oblivious as Kate was. She knows that it makes the others uncomfortable, but asks them to put up with her anyway. She even offers Steve a present: A vacuum cleaner she found next to the dumpster.
And if that’s not sweet enough, you have this quote from her son: ”My mother’s passionate about what she does. So what, I get a little diarrhea.”
The second episode followed two families! First there was Abdul Mohammed, a hot dog stand business owner who genuinely loves his wife Shauna. It’s just, the way he shows it isn’t always what you’d expect. TLC catches him right around their tenth anniversary, but his scheme is to spend only $25 on the whole party.
The thing is, he can afford to splurge: “It’s not that I don’t have money, I just don’t want to spend it all,” he explains to the cameras. Sadly enough, his idea of treating himself and Shauna probably wouldn’t even be that outrageous! But instead this guy — who will haggle with gas station attendants and fast food employees trying to shave even just fifty cents off an order — goes from store to store trying to get dirt-cheap rates for balloons, plates, and even cake. You’d think that as a small business owner he’d sympathize with these other establishments, but instead he keeps pushing, going so low as to buy eight cake pops for $8 instead of a regular-sized cake for $30.
You can see from the look on Shauna’s face the moment she enters the party that she’s hurt that her husband couldn’t even make a special exception for her. And that’s where Extreme Cheapskates makes me sad.
But there are also stories that are slightly more heartwarming. Take Vickie: She and her husband are united in their quest to pick weeds for salads and make fur accessories out of roadkill, but of course it embarrasses their kids. Still, when her daughters want to go shopping, Vickie tells the cameras that she’s coming along and determining what they spend. ”If I just give them $20, that takes me out of the picture,” she says, and I admit I let out a little “aww.”
Similarly, there’s a legitimate story behind Victoria Hunt’s idiosyncracies. It seems that her boyfriend Steve may have meant the “millionaire” quote as a figure of speech, since this interview with Victoria has her defending her frugal ways by saying that she got married at 19, had a kid, and got divorced, so ever since she’s been trying to save every cent she can.
Part of the problem is the “no judgment” policy that seems to surround Extreme Cheapskates. TLC is just documenting these people’s odd quirks and compulsions, and their friends and family laugh it off as weird but not threatening. Last week, Terence Candell laughing at his wife’s embarrassment was chilling. But when Abdul defends his shitty balloons by saying, ”It’s all about laughter,” he makes his poor wife Shauna similarly powerless.
Believe me now? Last night’s Extreme Cheapskates had all the markings of a sitcom:
- Quirky protagonists and their long-suffering partners
- Shenanigans like possibly confusing urine with iced tea
- Heartwarming explanations for their weird behavior
- Lots of laughter
At this rate, I expect a fantasy epic, a thriller, and a psychological drama by the end of the season.