Saturday, January 08, 2005

Parenting on TV

First of all, I watch this show and I like this show. I laugh at it. I make note of the fact generally that it doesn't resemble my life as a housewife in any way shape or form, and that's okay -- it's a soap opera. None of my neighbors are former runway models who are screwing the gardener, or man-hungry divorcees. I can think of two very nice single moms who live across the street, and they are both lovely people but neither of them is anything like Terry Hatcher. And the woman who lives next door to me gardens constantly, but she does it in a denim shirt and a ponytail, not a cashmere twinset and an oddly shaped sunhat like Marcia Cross.

The show does bother me though, because there is one character on it whose life is actually meant to resemble mine, and that of many of my friends, and it doesn't -- at all. Felicity Huffman (a really good actress) plays a stay-at-home mother of four, three boys in the 4-7 age range and a baby girl. The portrayal of what her life is like has gone from extreme to ridiculous since the show began. Are we really supposed to believe that a woman who evidently has the financial means to hire a full-time, live-in nanny never thought of getting a sitter a few hours a week to help her hold on to her sanity? Or that once she hired the nanny, she would go directly from being worried the nanny couldn't handle things to being jealous of how much the kids liked the nanny (which she learned, of course, after installing a nanny-cam)without even taking an afternoon to maybe go get a manicure and go shopping and relax? She goes through one parenting issue per show, as though the writers have a list entitled "Things Moms Might Deal With" that they are checking off each week. The other characters have ongoing storylines in which they get to deal with issues like real people, but Lynnette has to cover everything mothers of small children might deal with, in stupid ways and quickly. Because, you know, SAHMs aren't very interesting, and you wouldn't want to waste too much time on them.

But really, this points to a bigger problem, I think. The problem is not so much with this show in particular as it is with parenting on TV in general, and the parenting of children under 10 in particular. I'll admit I don't watch many sitcoms anymore, but I can't think of any shows currently on TV that do a good job of this. on "Desperate Housewives," Lynnette's three sons are not distinguishable from one another. Same with the twin sons on "Everybody Loves Raymond," another good show that has a dismal track record of believable storylines involving the child characters. Really, I have to stretch as far back in my memory as "Roseanne" to think of a show that dealt realistically and interestingly with the whole topic of parenting on a regular basis (before that show went to hell, that is). That's pretty sad. I guess good parenting just doesn't seem as entertaining as bad parenting. Or maybe the hand-wringing of Mel Harris on "thirtysomething" (another show I loved) gave the attempt to portray parents dealing with real parenting issues a bad name.

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