This is the third Barclay vacation episode and it is by far the funniest one yet. Family Vacation had some humor because of Jimmy’s narration, and George’s entertaining side is further explored in Our Best Vacation Ever, but The Barclay Family Ski Vacation takes that all to the next level. It is absolutely full of hilarious lines from start to finish. All of a sudden every member of the Barclays is witty in their own way. While that’s not quite in character for them, I don’t mind that so much for a vacation episode. They’re in a new place having a break from their ordinary lives, so it would make sense for them to behave differently. The writing is great and the acting is done well, with perfect comedic timing. It’s very much a fun, family story. But despite the increased frivolity, this episode has one of the more serious themes of all the vacation episodes so far. In the past the Barclays had to deal with boredom and learn to have fun as family. Now, George Barclay faces a totally new challenge he wasn’t expecting. It takes him on an emotional roller coaster, and ends up being more heartfelt than you might expect such a funny show to be.
It’s time for another Barclay road trip and luckily this time the family actually reaches their destination. The car starts on the first try, which is a good sign when you consider all the car trouble we had to go through in Family Vacation. Plus, there’s some more dad humor, although it’s less cartoonish this time. George Barclay gets the family lost and needs to look at the map. At least he isn’t totally averse to admitting defeat and he finally accepts his need to ask for directions. Then there’s another tribute to Family Vacation with the fight between the kids on the backseat. Except this time the parents start fighting amongst themselves about how to deal with it, which is a creative way to put a new spin on an old concept. And did I mention it’s also a lot funnier? The arguments in the car aren’t malicious; they’re good, light-hearted entertainment. Jimmy closes off the car scene with a great one liner. He says, “I can’t wait for the day this family is old enough to go on a trip without all this bickering.” If this is what Barclay family bickering is like, I’d take that any day over Whittaker family bickering. Hearing Jana and Whit fight about something is not a pleasant experience.
George Barclay is the star of this episode. When they sit down for lunch he shares a great moment with Mary as they basically spy on their daughter Donna. Mary casually notices that Donna’s ski instructor is good-looking and that Donna is watching him. At this assertion, George launches into action and freaks out. He says, “If you’re thinking what I’m thinking you’re thinking, don’t even think it.” He tries his best to stop Mary from saying the word “crush” and then screams in lament when she finally gets it out of her mouth. He’s totally overdramatic and sees the situation as an absolute travesty. And you could argue that he’s a little inconsistent in his parenting, because just 18 episodes later, in The Trouble with Girls, George basically eggs his son Jimmy on to pursue his crush. Perhaps George simply relaxed his aversion to adolescent crushes after Donna had hers.
Then Donna gets her time to shine in her interaction with Traci Needlemeyer. Talking about Robb, she swoons and says, “He’s cute. And he helped me up that time I fell down. And then he helped me up again the other time I fell down.” This is a great line. As if a ski instructor deciding to help their students must mean they’re attracted to them. I think Donna’s reading into things a bit too much. Donna asks, “Do you think he likes me?” Traci replies, “He remembered your name.” And then Donna, in a dreamlike state, says, “Yeah, he did, didn’t he?!” The way she delivers that line is just perfect. She places so much weight on this insignificant point. Obviously it’s a misunderstanding. An instructor remembering a students’ name shouldn’t have the kind of implications Donna gives it. And this story takes full advantage of that style of comedy.
Donna’s moment of humor is quickly overshadowed by her dad and he returns to his role as the main source of laughs. Apart from constantly bumping into suitcases or skis, his lines are always funny. He develops a plan to take Donna out of her ski lessons, to which Mary says, “George, that would be dishonest!” He replies, “Yes, but effective!” Later, when is alone in the cabin, he has a fantastic monologue. He starts off by saying, “Yeah, I guess Mary’s right. This crush thing’s probably harmless. I shouldn’t worry so much.” I won’t recount the whole monologue here, but near the end of it George says, “He’s tall, good-looking, muscular and athletic; she’s young, naïve and impressionable, vulnerable...what could possibly come of this?!” Then when Donna steps through the door, George says, “Donna, I forbid you to ever step foot out of this cabin again!” The writing, the acting, the timing—everything about this scene is perfect.
With such nonstop comedy, you might expect this episode’s theme to be shallow. But it’s actually pretty important. And it has some melancholy moments which stand in stark contrast to the rest of the show’s playfulness. The first is when Donna admits that she doesn’t want to hang out with her dad. After being rejected, George says, “Well, have fun. See you in the morning.” Interestingly, those words in a different context could be said right before going on a romantic date. But the most powerful moment comes at the end when George finally opens up about his conflicted feelings. He expresses his love and father and daughter both reminisce about the past, while at the same time looking ahead to the future. Just as recent show The Very Best of Friends involved maturation and change, so does The Barclay Family Ski Vacation. It takes Donna a little further on her journey to adulthood. Despite the slightly uncharacteristic witty banter, this episode comes out very well. It gets 4 out of 5 stars.