This is the kind of journalism that Veronica Corningstone wanted to do in "Anchorman," so there's something nice about seeing multifaceted actress Christina Applegate look into her grandparents' history to find out why they were "Married ... With Children," yet separate and seemingly unhappy.
Christina explains to the audience that her dad never knew his mother and was raised primarily by his grandmother. She's motivated to explore the past to bring her father Bob Applegate some peace and closure regarding his childhood. And in order to investigate her father's childhood, she has to return to his hometown: Trenton, New Jersey.
These are the two most disturbing facts we learn about his family history: When he was 8 years old, his grandmother casually told him one day, "Oh, by the way, your mother died." He learned her name only recently, when Christina's sister found his birth certificate. He was told that his mother was beaten to death outside of a bar. Chilling, right?
And the story gets only more upsetting when Christina begins digging through court documents at various libraries in New Jersey. Documents reveal that Christina's father was caught in the middle of the ugliest sort of custody battle, in which his father, Paul Schaller Applegate, was accused of spousal abuse, and his mother, Lavina, was accused of child neglect, adultery, and drunkenly conduct. They battled for years. And the documents are very explicit, using phrases like "cruel and abusive treatment" and "struck and beat her." Christina also learns that when her father was a baby, he was malnourished.
"Is this a joke?" she asks rhetorically at one point. "This is insane."
Insane and sad. In the end, death documents reveal that Christina's paternal grandmother passed away from alcoholism-related illness, which suggests that neither grandparent was perfect.
We feel for Christina's father when he arrives in New Jersey at the end of the episode and is crestfallen by the news that the mother he never knew suffered from alcoholism. "Is there any good in here anywhere?" he asks.
And Christina answers: "Here's the good, Dad. The beauty of this, Dad, is that you can be incredibly proud that you broke the pattern, and that you raised all of us with giving us strength and intelligence and talent and fight in us. And you did that with no help from anyone, Dad, and that's pretty amazing. This is the good part of the story."
He smiles and replies, "That's good enough for me, thank you."
Christina notes that this research process brought her closer to her father. She says they have hugged more recently than they did in the past 41 years. And that's the other good news.
"Who Do You Think You Are?" airs Tuesdays at 9 PM on TLC.
- Christina Applegate