In today's complex television landscape, it's easy to argue that traditional conceptions of "parenthood" are changing as we see fewer heteronormative nuclear families, which reflects demographic and social changes in the real world. Yet a closer look at parenthood in contemporary scripted television reveals that when it comes to family life, the perspective of the cisgendered male is still privileged above all others.
Welcome to Wisteria Lane, where every neighbor is a potential killer, every friend a potential enemy, and every woman victim to TV's most overused childbearing tropes. Join me as we take a tour of these tropes—we need not even leave Wisteria Lane.
Babies on TV serve as props for their parent's character development. On reality TV, babies are dreams come true and cute fashion accessories (for celebrity moms) or evidence of bad behavior (teen moms). On Dexter, toddler Harrison exists solely as a plot device to anchor daddy Dexter to the non-sociopathic world, and on Up All Night, baby Amy helps her hard-partying parents embrace adulthood. So, who exactly is doing the parenting here? Will the real parents please stand up?
Something is happening over at Bravo. Previously, its reality TV programming was all about rich, gaudy, ambitious, tanned, shit-talking, table-throwing, materialistic socialites. Now, these same people have babies.
During season six of The Office, Pam delivered her baby girl in a two-part episode appropriately deemed "The Delivery." This episode was notable for handling the issue of control thoroughly and with heart.
This week on NBC's drama Parenthood, main character Kristina Braverman (played by Monica Potter) gave birth. The episode was so exactly a precise enactment of pop culture's "childbirth formula" I wrote about earlier that I was a little creeped out. It also made me think about something else, a trope I'll call Childbirth as a Male Bonding Experience.
This is a movie. This is television. This is the formula:
Jane is going about her business when her water breaks. The time has come! Ready the troops! Jane calls husband or big sister or mom or best friend. "We'll meet you at the hospital! Go Go Go!" If husband is present: "Where are the bags?! WE FORGOT TO PACK THE BAGS!"
I really thought I would like NBC's new comedy series, Up All Night, which stars Christina Applegate (Reagan Brinkley) and Will Arnett (Chris Brinkley) as a married couple whose fun-filled, alcohol-drenched lives are interrupted by the birth of their daughter Amy. Reagan is the producer of Ava, an Oprah-esque talk show starring her best friend (played by Maya Rudolph), and Chris quits his job as a lawyer to be a stay-at-home dad. The premise led me to believe that a nuanced portrayal of the work/life balance might emerge. I also hoped the show might be funny.