Tonight's episode of ABC's Wife Swap  pits Iowa farm family the Haigwoods (apocalypse-fixated and obsessed with raw food, they even eat raw meat; the kids are home-schooled and spend all day working on the farm; they don't clean their home because they think germs are helpful -- and that manure can cure cancer) and San Francisco sophisticates the Hess-Webbs (neat freaks who eat out several times a week and put great emphasis on their clothing and appearance).
Naturally, the sparks (essential in Wife Swap, which teeters on culture clash and conflict) fly like it's the Fourth of July.
To be honest, when the ABC publicist called me up and tried to get me to write about this episode owing to its San Francisco connections, I thought the raw-food family was gonna be reprazentin' NorCal. But the Iowa family is about ten million steps beyond the vegan types who shop for socially-conscious groceries at Rainbow. Raw meat, y'all -- raw meat. Served up with hands that have not been washed since milking the cow and lurking around manure elsewhere in the barn. I recognize that most Americans -- especially neat freaks -- have far too many chemicals sullying their homes. I sympathize with Mama Haigwood when she's asked to clean the Hess-Webb home using an array of harsh products (curiously followed by sage-burning, for feng shui purposes). And yeah, the average diet is full of crap so far removed from nature that it might as well be crafted from styrofoam packing peanuts. But raw meat? Yikes. Don't even get me started on the handcrafted toothpaste (made from butter and clay) or the fact that the teenage kids have never had the chance to learn anything other than their parents' decidedly singular point of view.
Wife Swap's set-up involves a two-week trial by fire, explained by the show's veddy proper British narrator. The first week, the wives have to adhere to their new household's rules, which can cause some spats but mostly just encourages snarking to the camera during private interviews. (Upon hearing that Papa Haigwood would feed manure to his kids if they had cancer due to its "good bacteria," Mama Hess-Webb admits "I just think it's wrong ... and a little insane.") The second week is when things get ridiculous -- the wives are allowed to impose their own rules on the home, and since Wife Swap is predicated on casting the most wildly incompatible households on the planet, shouty and/or tearful confrontations arise almost instantly.
And it's all about the food -- the raw food. Papa Hess-Webb's reaction when Mama Haigwood announces she's gonna be forcing her diet on the family? "We are no longer cavemen!" Papa Haigwood's response when Mama Hess-Webb's declares that their diet is "disgusting"? Laughter. At first. "You live like the animals you farm!" she adds, and guides everyone in a cleaning frenzy. Meanwhile, back in San Francisco, the family dons overalls and prepares for the coming endtimes.
Biggest brouhahas? Papa Hess-Webb freaks when Mama Haigwood tries to donate all his designer duds to charity. Mama Hess-Webb makes Papa Haigwood weep over her outrageous demands (store-bought toothpaste, feng shui cleansing, and -- most devastating -- the perils of restaurant-eating).
Act five is when the shit gets totally insane; fights over chicken-slaughtering and a registered dietician's take on eating raw meat (news flash: it's not recomended) threaten to explode into "You go home now!" situations. (One of the wives does leave, but I won't say which.) The families reunite, then meet face-to-face as couples for the first time, agree to disagree, etc. etc. Jokey raw-egg swallowing punctuates the credits. Yum!
To be honest, there isn't much San Francisco in this episode of Wife Swap -- the urbanites could be rich New Yorkers or Bostonians or Seattle-ites. So if you're looking for some local flavor, it ain't here, in this typically cringe-inducing Wife Swap episode (which, to tell you the truth, I can't tell apart from the typically cringe-inducing Trading Spouses episode, but whatever.) The raw meat thing, though, is maybe the grossest thing I've seen on TV since Fear Factor. Bottoms up!
Wife Swap airs tonight, 8pm, ABC.