By Jill Hudson Neal
Special to washingtonpost.com
Monday, October 15, 2007 1:09 PM
In my next life, I'm going to come back as a TV mom. I'll bypass real and even reality-TV life, and go straight to the scripted, primetime version. I'll need to assemble a Dream Team, of course, to bring this dream alive. Darren Star, creator of HBO's "Sex and the City," can write and direct the pilot episode. Sarah Jessica Parker will be the executive producer of my tube-bound existence. (SJP totally gets that I'll need a great hair, makeup and wardrobe team; she only knows to pair me up with great-looking, interesting man who'll morph into TV Dad around or about Season Four). Then "Desperate Housewives" mastermind Marc Cherry will take over.
I'll be Lucy Ricardo, Alexis Carrington and Sharon Osbourne rolled into one. Of course, my TV children may live their entire lives off camera, but that's a small price to pay. Wealth and fame will surely follow, and every problem the writers dream up will be solved by the end of every show. Sweet!
I dreamed up this fantasy scenario after noticing just how drastically different modern TV mothers are from their maternal predecessors in the 1950's and 1960's. The mothers on "Desperate Housewives," "Gilmore Girls" and "Weeds" bear almost no relation to the mothers on popular shows of the '50's and '60's like "Father Knows Best," "The Dick Van Dyke Show" and "Leave It to Beaver." If those moms were presented as eerily perfect and almost single-mindedly wholesome, this new batch of moms -- Lynette Scavo, Lorelai Gilmore, Nancy Botwin and others -- are nearly the opposite.
Seeing how motherhood doesn't come with a user's manual, we often look wherever we can for guidance and inspiration. Unlike June Cleaver, I don't clean the house wearing a nice dress and high-heeled pumps, though my husband would probably be happy to see that scenario unfold. Donna Reed was altogether too perfect, and everyone's favorite '70's mom, Carol Brady? She had six kids! How did she manage to stay so perky without a very attentive cocaine dealer? No one can be that cheerful without some help of the chemical kind. Ol' Carol probably had a secret crack habit and a caged gimp in her basement.
If Laura Petrie from "The Dick Van Dyck Show" was an icon of motherhood for an entire generation of women, I can't imagine how freaked out they must've been when confronted with the real deal. Life is messy, something that wasn't always shown on TV. But TV moms have evolved. Real life is messy and our current crop of Tube mothers show that. They're conflicted (Carmela Soprano and the moms on HBO's "Big Love") and depressed (Betty on AMC's "Mad Men"). They're tired from long, difficult days at work (the delicious Dr. Miranda Bailey, "Grey's Anatomy") and worry about how they'll pay the bills (Roseanne Conner on "Roseanne"). Some get sick, have emotional breakdowns and actually cry from frustration or anger (hello, cast of "Desperate Housewives"!). They have children outside of marriage ("Murphy Brown") and are single mothers (Christine Campbell on "The New Adventures of Old Christine"); many struggle with balancing work and family.
In other words, they're modern American mothers. And we love them because they actually lead lives that look somewhat like ours.
They now also look like real American moms, too, which was certainly not the case (as a rule) before the '70's. America loves fictional black moms on TV ¿ Weezy Jefferson ("The Jeffersons"), Florida Evans ("Good Times") and of course, Claire Huxtable ("The Cosby Show"). There's finally a reasonable depiction of a matriarch of a large, wealthy Cuban family on the new primetime series, "Cane," though there haven't been too many Hispanic mothers who've anchored network television shows. Now, if Hollywood would hire a few more actresses who wear a dress size larger than a six (not you, Allison DuBois on "Medium"), have a few wrinkles or who happen to be of Asian or East Indian descent, we'd be on to something.