published Sunday, April 6th, 2014

Kennedy: The weird, wonderful side of families

My family is — in a word — quirky.

I came to this conclusion last weekend while trying to squirt Dawn dish soap down the barrel of a tiny, plastic coffee stirrer.

You know that you’ve entered the Quirk Zone when you are the only person in the world at a given instant doing what you are doing. I was dead certain last Sunday that I was the only person on Earth soaping up a teeny plastic coffee straw with my fingertips.

My 12-year-old son loves hot cocoa, but he will only sip it through a coffee stirrer. At the moment, we only have one of the tiny plastic straws, which much be handwashed and dried between uses.

Quirky, wouldn’t you agree?

Meanwhile, my 7-year-old son has a collection of quirks.

The other day, he was listening to music on his iPad and singing words that he couldn’t have understood — for instance, he kept crooning that he was losing his “inhibitions.”

“Excuse me,” I said, lifting one side of his headphones. “I found your inhibitions under the bed with the dust bunnies.”

“What?” he said, furrowing his brow.

“I found your inhibitions,” I repeated, louder. “You lost them, right?”

He shrugged and walked away.

I tell you all this, to explain why I have fallen in love with the “Frobinsons,” a fictional television family that are even quirkier than the Kennedys. That is why I love them. They are the weird, wonderful family we aspire to be.

I’ll bet you’ve seen the Frobinsons on television and don’t even know it. Here’s a hint: They have a little girl named Heidi who sings Motley Crue’s “Home Sweet Home” in French while animated bluebirds hover around her head.

“Oh, yeah, that one,” I hear you saying.

The Frobinsons are the endearing characters in the “Sprint Framily Plan” ads, a clever marketing campaign to sell mobile phone contracts to clusters of up to 10 friends and family members — “framily,” get it? The hook is that modern families aren’t traditional, they’re often an eclectic blend of extended relatives and offbeat friends.

Here’s what I’ve pieced together about the Frobinsons from YouTube and a Sprint website: Besides the adorable little French-speaking blonde Heidi, the father is a grumpy gerbil (yes, a gerbil); there’s a brother named Zack, a teenage percussionist who talks like Gomer Pyle; an older brother Chuck, who’s a college layabout; his Goth roommate Gordon (pronounced gor-DON) and an avant-garde artist named Aunt Tia.

Not since “The Addams Family” charmed America in the 1960s has a television family been so irresistibly off-kilter.

“The Frobinsons are a typical American family,” said Mark Fugliulo, CEO of the ad company that produced the spots.

Well, maybe if your father is a gerbil who talks like Andrew Dice Clay. Otherwise, not so much.

The Frobinsons are modeled after an ad campaign in Japan for SoftBank, the parent company of Sprint. Look for a parade of celebrities to interact with the Frobinson family in coming months, the company says. Quentin Tarantino had a cameo in one of the SoftBank family commercials in Japan, and you don’t get any quirkier than QT.

I am also intrigued by the competitive “No Catch” commercials being run by AT&T, featuring a millennial lass named Lily, who is the perky and persistent “supervisor” of an AT&T phone store.

More research: Lily is played by an actress/model/comedian named Milana Vayntrub. In the commercial, Vayntrub plays a fresh-faced all-American girl. Actually, Vayntrub is originally from Uzbekistan and is fluent in Russian, according to various television trivia websites.

The subtext of all of this is that Sprint and AT&T have some of the best advertising minds in the world trying to increase their market share by appealing to middle-class parents, who make family purchasing decisions. They have obviously come to the conclusion — simultaneously — that American parents want charming, bilingual children, who can sing 1980s power ballads and enter middle management by the time they are 25.

And, speaking for parents everywhere, they are exactly right.

Contact Mark Kennedy at mkennedy@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6645. Follow him on Twitter @TFPCOLUMNIST. Subscribe to his Facebook updates at www.facebook.com/mkennedycolumnist.

about Mark Kennedy...

Mark Kennedy is a Times Free Press columnist and editor. He writes the "LIfe Stories" human interest column for the City section and the "Family Life" column for the Life section. He also writes an automotive column, “Test Drive,” for the Business section. For 13 years, Kennedy was features editor of the newspaper, and before that he was the newspaper’s first Sunday editor. The Times Free Press Life section won the state press award for ...

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