Poor NickMom. Like a real-life mom, Nick Jr.’s new nightly comedy programming block geared toward matriarchs is getting complaints from all sides. Mothers in Western states who used to plunk their toddlers down in front of the tube after dinner were shocked, shocked! to find that Dora the Explorer reruns had been replaced by foul-mouthed comediennes joking about their saggy boobs. (NickMom starts at 10 p.m. ET, but for families west of the Appalachians, it can begin as early as 7.) These furious mamas have started a protest movement with a professional-looking website and a simple list of demands: Either cancel the programming or move it to an entirely new network. And East Coast elitist television writers are whining about NickMom’s “I.Q. lowering gravitational pull.”
Or at least one writer is. Though the shows have not been very widely reviewed (or watched, according to Nielsen ratings), the New York Times devoted a feature to NickMom in early November, in which critic Neil Genzlinger claimed that the shows’ combination of penis jokes and potty-training anecdotes appealed to “the baser regions of the female neocortex” the same way sports and jiggle TV appeal to men.
I’m about to have a child, and even though the descriptions of NickMom—including “a faux commercial for the boy band Sons II Moms … scored with the hysterical would-be hit ‘The Dishes (Let Me Wash Them)’ ”—make it sound like distinctly not my thing, both the hysterical sancti-mommies’ protest movement (one commenter says the executive in charge of NickMom is “no better then a pedophile in my book”) and the condescending sneer of the Times review (caring about parenting is as gendered and inconsequential as ogling cleavage?) annoyed me.
And so I wanted to watch NickMom to see for myself what the programming block had to say about modern mommyhood. I wanted to stand up for it. Also, given that I am about to be housebound most evenings and likely not permitted by my blessed infant to sleep, I wanted to see if it was any good. I’m going to be watching a lot of TV.
There’s a unified group of activists irked by NickMom’s raunch, so I figured I could at least enjoy it for that. But unfortunately NickMom relies on the same parenting platitudes that are as outmoded and cringeworthy as the modified Kate Gosselin haircut that so many women on the channel sport. According to the shows on NickMom, mothers are sexless, frumpy nags who are doing the “hardest job on earth.” (Yes, that old chestnut was uttered more than once.)
One of the pillars of the programming block so far is NickMom Night Out, a stand-up comedy show. In the episode I watched, host Caroline Rhea did a bit about her daughter having a meltdown on an airplane. She cried. She wanted chocolate. Etc. Unless your child maimed a flight attendant, there really is nothing new or funny to say on this topic. Worse was comic Michelle Miller Harrington, who said she liked being pregnant because she could eat for two and not get dirty looks. HA! She also talked about her first Pilates class, during which she did only one position, “face on floor crying.” Rimshot.
Then there’s MFF: Mom Friends Forever, about two St. Louis moms named Judi and Kate who started a Web show together, which morphed into this semiscripted reality show. The filming of their vlog frames MFF, and sets the theme for each episode. The one I watched was called “Control Freak.” The opener has Judi asking Kate, “Are you a control freak?” to which Kate replies, “Yes!” Judi then asks Kate, “Are you a control freak about cleaning?” I won’t give the answer to that one away.
At one point in the episode, Kate and her husband take their son on a college tour, and later express sticker shock at the price of a year’s tuition. This would be mildly relatable, and maybe even entertaining, if the exchange between Kate and her spouse felt even remotely authentic. Instead they mumble clichés like, “I don't understand how the average person sends their child to college,” and say that their kid only wants to go to a four-year college “to get away from us,” while barely making eye contact.
The best show in the current lineup is Parental Discretion With Stefanie Wilder-Taylor. It’s part stand-up monologue from Wilder-Taylor, who used to blog about that funny intersection of drinking and parenting until she decided to give up the drinking, part sketch comedy, and part Candid Camera-style secretly filmed trickery. Though many of Wilder-Taylor’s bits are hackneyed (“Like all working moms, I carry around a lot of guilt. ... I also carry around a lot of water weight.”), she at least has some spark and comic timing.
Even more satisfying was the hidden camera bit. The actress in it posed as a bitchy, demanding pregnant woman interviewing prospective nannies at her office. She asks these sweet-faced women increasingly absurd questions like, “I'm having professionals make a mask of my face. Would you be willing to wear it around the baby?” She tells one woman that she’s a “tiger mom” and makes the potential nanny say, “You’re fat. What’s wrong with your face?” as if she were giving a baby tough, disapproving love.
That one half-hour of goodness nestled in hours of mediocrity made me realize what’s the matter with NickMom’s other shows. What worked about the nanny hidden camera was that, while of course embracing mommy culture simply by being a part of the NickMom block, it was also pointed criticism of the absurdity of it all, rather than bland, soppy reassurance that whatever you’re doing is just great because you’re part of that exalted category of human known as MOM. It’s the hardest job on earth, didn’t you know?
The biggest problem with NickMom, though, is that it’s purporting to fill a need that doesn’t exist. Moms already have an outlet to hear other moms be funny and edgy and real. It’s called the Internet, and last time I checked the stats, there are almost 4 million moms who blog out there in the great U.S. of A, whose insights, both raunchy and sappy, are available 24/7 without commercial interruption. These wildly different sites are arguably saying something much more true about motherhood than a single channel with a fairly unified vision ever could: that moms are not a monolith.