I grew up in trailer parks. Made friends at fine “semi-permanent establishments” in Arkansas, ran wild in “land lease communities” in Missouri, gotten in fist fights in “mobile communities” all over Texas.
But none of those temporal estates were as nice as the five-star Myrtle Manor on TLC’s seminal ode to the cheapest form of the American Dream (by which I mean, home ownership), “Welcome to Myrtle Manor.”
This Myrtle Manor place has an onsite hair salon (the hilariously named Tangulls – get it? Gulls?) and an above ground swimming pool. Most of the places we lived in had amenities along the lines of a shared clothes line and a kiddie pool with a mysterious scum floating on top. Myrtle Manor has a security guard (granted, he’s not very effective. OK, he’s weird). At the trailer parks we shacked up in, the only security were the packs of gnarly matted dogs of dubious ownership origins running up and down the dusty roads.
Verisimilitude aside, I do thoroughly enjoy the show. In fact, many of the characters seem quite familiar, and not just from my dysfunctional childhood.
No, Myrtle Manor actually reminds me of another grandly named television show locale: Downton Abbey.
Now, I’ve only seen one season of Downton Abbey – I think it was season two. I was on a plane coming back from Spain and my personal travel companion XFE got upgraded, while my lowly, non-platinum status self, did not. So, I watched an entire season of Downton Abbey, by myself, in coach, lubricated with many of those tiny bottles of wine, purchased on XFE’s credit card. Actually not a bad way to spend a transatlantic flight.
I’d heard a lot about the show, obviously and my overall thought was, “eh, it’s ok, if a bit overly dramatic.” This is all just to say, I’m not an expert on the show or anything, and I know that a lot of people feel very passionately about it.
I also know that many, many people were quite disappointed by some of the plot twists incorporated in this last season. In fact, some of them are so upset, that perhaps they’re looking for a Downton replacement.
To which I humbly offer up Myrtle Manor, which also does a pretty good job with overly dramatic plots and soap opera story lines.
Robert, Earl of Grantham is the lord of Downton Abbey. He spends much of the series fretting over his need for a male heir to carry on the family name and save the estate from financial ruin. When last I watched, it appeared that his eldest daughter, Lady Mary Crowley would be his only viable heir.
Similarly, the stern patriarch of Myrtle Manor is Cecil Patrick. His father built the place and he is ready to pass it down to his own heir, Becky Robertson. Alas, Becky must constantly prove herself worthy of Myrtle Manor stewardship.
Both shows have good looking boys who are nothing but trouble and seem to operate on the fringes of polite society. In Downton Abbey, you have Tom Branson, a handsome yet outspoken Irish revolutionary former chauffeur who runs off with the Earl’s youngest daughter. On Myrtle Manor, you have Jared, a charming, ne’er-do-well living in the trailer park rent free. All the women, including landlord Becky, have a soft spot for him and he skates by. Interestingly, both Tom Branson and Jared are into hats – Tom, obviously, wears a chauffeur’s cap, while Jared is the proud owner of a beat up boat captain hat.
There are a bevy of young beauties on each show: The Crawley girls lead complicated lives, yearning for love and respect in post-World War I England. When I first encountered the show, Mary, the eldest daughter was trying to save her reputation after a scandal involving a tryst that ended in the death of some young Turkish ambassador, or something. Meanwhile, the youngest daughter, Sybil had her own romantic complications (with the chauffeur) and was trying to find professional fulfillment by training to become a nurse.
Myrtle Beach has the Darlin’ Dog girls, an entrepreneurial bunch who run a portable hot dog stand. They include Lindsay, Chelsey, Amanda and Jessica. Like the women on Downton Abbey, they too are trying to navigate in a male-dominated world, and make time for partying.
And, of course, you need an old, wisecracking lady for some comic relief. Downton Abbey has Lord Grantham’s mother, Lady Violet. She’s a real hoot, meddling in everybody’s business, and she is routinely scandalized by all the goings on with those young people. Myrtle Manor has Miss Peggy Beaulieu, a spitfire who has lived in the trailer park for 30 years.
Both shows, of course, have complicated love stories along the lines of boy-loves-girl, girl-likes-other-boy, boy-pees-in-girls-bed, girl-moves-out (that plot might just be exclusive to Myrtle Manor). There are weddings and other celebratory occasions, including a Miss Myrtle Manor beauty contest (which, by all rights, Miss Peggy should have won, in my opinion).
So, put aside your fancy china cup of Earl Grey, fix yourself a tall Tupperware tumbler of sweet iced tea and settle in for an episode of Welcome to Myrtle Manor. TLC isn’t really all that different from PBS after all.