Daddy Issues: Blossom and the Trouble with “Cool” Dads
Brainy, outspoken, and with a fashion sense all her own, Blossom modeled confidence (and oh, so many hats) for a generation of teenage girls.
Along with unquashable self-esteem, she also possessed that mixed blessing, the “cool” dad. With his tight jeans, collar-grazing hair, hippie past, and career as a professional pianist, Nick Russo wasn’t your typical TV father. He thought of himself as laid back, and his kids could confide in him.
When Blossom and her bestie, Six, made a video for a school-related media contest about the importance of wearing condoms, and the principal refused to submit it on the grounds of decency, her dad and Six’s mom went into school with the girls to complain. Sure, the show could be preachy and heavy-handed at times, and became known (and parodied) for its very special episodes, but it was also extremely open about issues affecting teens in a way it's hard to imagine happening today.
Friendship was an important theme of the show: Blossom stuck by Six even when she made terrible decisions, like running away with a married man (a pre-Friends David Schwimmer!) and drinking too much — but she never sugar-coated things. When Six asked Blossom to tell her she was stupid for not knowing whether she’d had (unprotected) sex and her friend complied, it did seem a tad judgmental, but then Blossom went with Six to buy a pregnancy test and promised to be by her side no matter what happened next.
While Nick is pretty rad in many ways (including letting his daughter line up overnight for C+C Music Factory tickets), he could also be super-embarrassing in ways TV's more traditional single fathers (like Michael from My Two Dads, or Ray from Sister, Sister) mostly avoided. From a grown-up perspective, I think it’s great that Blossom showed him having a life of his own. But my inner 14-year old cringes to realize how many times his kids walked in on him kissing or groping one of his many girlfriends. In one episode, Anthony walks in and finds his father about to be in flagrante with a woman he slept with a few years earlier himself.
Speaking of women, another realistic aspect of the show is Blossom’s eye-rolling reaction to her dad dating Carol, the English woman he eventually marries. When finding her in the kitchen in Nick’s robe one morning, Blossom isn't interested in making conversation. After her dad tells her this relationship is serious, she says that she'll be leaving for college soon anyway; the implication being that his girlfriend doesn’t need (and doesn't have) her approval. She’s actually really petty, which is awesome, because — speaking as someone who’s had three stepmothers — it’s truthful. No matter how grown-up you might want to be in the aftermath of a divorce, it’s hard to adjust to having a whole new family. The show's handling of this storyline also illustrates how far sitcoms have come since 1969, when the Bradys moved in together and acted as if they'd been related their whole lives. With divorce and remarriage rates in the '90s higher than now, Blossom acknowledged and reflected a lot of people’s realities.
One thing that barely seems to affect Blossom is her mom's absence, which could be viewed as a judgment against non-custodial moms, but it’s also an affirmation that men can be great parents, too. In fact, despite ostensibly being a show for and about teenage girls, Blossom often portrays and seeks to appeal to a male perspective. Our eponymous character is outnumbered gender-wise at home, with three men in the house (four when her grandpa Buzz is around), and their dialogue often isn’t particularly progressive. They undermine the show’s focus on intelligence and self-acceptance by constantly objectifying conventionally beautiful women and fretting over whether blind dates will be “beasts” and "dogs". When Tony says his new female EMT partner seems to hate everything he says and does, Buzz remarks, “Oh, a feminist,” to huge laughter. Even Six’s name apparently came about because, according to her father, “That was how many beers it took.” Charming.
Perhaps the show’s mixed messages and not entirely feminist tone are unsurprising given that it was trying to reach a wider audience in order to succeed, as well as the fact that it was created by a man and the lead character was originally supposed to be a fictionalized version of his younger self. Thankfully, Blossom was so awesome that she could pretty much counteract sexism with the sheer force of her personality, dancing into our hearts and making every episode very special.
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