Little Brian seems to be a bit of a firebug. When we first meet the 7-year old, he is getting quite the little campfire going in the backyard, but he ain’t camping.
His sister Julia, who calls him “The Mutation” wishes that he would actually torch the house so she wouldn’t have to stay there anymore. Their mother, who Julia refers to as “Der Fuhrer” comes out and turns a hose on the little fire (not to be a grammar-Nazi, but wouldn’t she be Die Fuhrer”?). Mom reminds Brian that she has told him not to play with matches. The 7-year old outsmarts her by holding up a lighter. If the matches ain’t lit, you must acquit. His mother laughs and gets all kissy-face at his dangerous insolence.
Julia says that lately she can’t even look at her mother without wanting to stab her repeatedly.  She hates being there so much she takes out a small cassette player and says, “I hate this place.” She likes it a little better when she sees a local slab of beefcake mowing the lawn. Well, not lawn so much as he is mowing a wooded area whose chief vegetation seems to be dead leaves on the ground.
At lunch, Mom throws the lighter at the Dad, blaming him for Brian’s indiscretion. Mom repeatedly protects Brian against suggestions from the others that some punishment might be in order. Quite reasonably in this crazy family, Dad breaks out the scotch at lunch. Julia opines that “Dad is like an echo. A tiny pathetic reflection of whatever mother says.” He certainly echoes her attire — both sport an odd pairing of flannel shirts covering a turtleneck.
According to Julia, her father said he bought this place to get away from things, but she thinks what he really wanted was to get away from his family. Again, understandable, but why would buying a family vacation home accomplish that? Claim you have to go out of town for work. Or send the kids to camp — that Camp Crystal Lake has a nice brochure.
Julia sees the handyman still working in the yard. She wants to take him a drink, but Mom tells her to knock it off, that he is here to work. Julia later sees the handyman drilling holes in 2 x 4’s. She unbuttons a couple of buttons on her blouse and approaches him. He doesn’t acknowledge her. In fact, he walks toward the house and passes right through her like a ghost. The man, his wood, and the drill all disappear.
Julia tries to tell this to her family. Brian says Mom says there is no such thing as ghosts. Dad says he has heard Mom say that. Julia correctly points out that the hunky handyman always seems to be working here but, like Ralph and Alf , he never seems to get anything done. She concludes that he must be a ghost.
Julia is pining away for the “10” woodsman in her bed that night, dreaming of being drilled. She hears a noise, and sees the man pounding nails into the wall, which is almost as good. She tries to speak to him, asking how long ago he died. It is only after hitting his thumb with the hammer that he can see Julia, so apparently profanity pierces the veil. He flees the room.
The next day, Julia asks her mother why she never believes anything she says. Julia’s case might have been stronger had she not lied about crying 3 seconds earlier.
The next day, she sees the handyman washing his ghostly SUV. He gets in the vehicle and Julia jumps in the front seat, unseen by the man. When she touches his face, he suddenly sees her and crashes his SUV. He screams that he just wants to be alone, that he is not responsible for what happened to them, that they’re dead . . . dead!
Julia is suddenly transported back to the house. Now she sees that it is a burned out shell. Brian finally burned the house down. She realizes the handyman was horrified seeing her dead body, scarred by the fire. Mom is able to convince her to accept that they are dead. Once Julia buys in, they all continue living in the sunny day on the lakefront vacation home for ever and ever.
The basic story has been done countless times — one notable example is The Others which opened just 2 weeks before this episode aired. But originality is overrated, it is really more interesting to see how the story is presented.
The actor portraying Brian is just unbelievably awful. For a 9-year old, though, this is really more about the casting and direction than his talents. Plus he was playing a 7-year old, so at least he had range. The father was written as a non-entity, but I’m not sure why. Maybe grief over what happened to his family, but he seems to be more a victim of depression and a nagging wife.
On the positive side, the Mom was very good even if I often found her motivation baffling. Julia (Marla Sokoloff) really carried the episode, though. She was in every scene, sometimes just providing narration. She also played a few years younger than her age, in 20+ minutes convincingly portraying anger, teen angst, indifference, insecurity, crush-love and finally acceptance of her reality. She has a great career in shows I never watch.
Overall, a very enjoyable outing; and with Bitter Harvest, a very solid episode.
-  Julia attributes this line to “a girl in some TV show.”
-  Shamefully, there are no decent clips available of Ralph and Alf from Green Acres. Internet, pfff! Here is Hank Kimball instead.
-  Except when she was Joey’s sister in an episode of Friends.
-  When grabbing pictures, I finally realized that Brian shares this sartorial quirk. Mom, Dad and Brian do share a bond that Julia does not, but how this corresponds to flannel, I have no idea. Sadly, unlike Mort’s in the Bazooka Joe comics, Brian’s turtleneck does not cover his mouth.
- Title Analysis: Presumably a take-off on the TV show that had gone off 5 years earlier. Maybe that was the show.