Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Fiction Is More Enjoyable Than This Reality

I'm of two (or more) minds when it comes to last night's new reality show Meet Mr. Mom. The cynical side of me believes that the show was an attempt by NBC to bend down and deliver a big wet smooch to the Parents Television Council's rather ample hindquarters. The non-cynical side of me says that NBC, realising that there's a market for "good family entertainment" (of the sort that the PTC would like) and offered it up to us in the form of Meet Mr. Mom. Of course the really cynical side will tell you that Meet Mr. Mom is in fact an effort to "prove" to the PTC and similar groups that there really isn't a market for such shows which will be shown when the ratings come out. Of course I normally don't listen to my really cynical side.

The show itself is pure fluff, light as a dandelion seed in a heavy wind. The premise is a pure sitcom scenario of the sort that goes back to I Love Lucy - the wife goes away and dear old dad has to take care of the housework and the kids, thereby getting a greater appreciation of what Mom goes through. Of course, in these days of two income families and joint custody the reality is probably that dad pulls his weight in raising the kids (along with the daycare centre) and both parents are equally frazzled by the housework but let's stick with the central conceit of the show shall we.

The first episode introduced us to the Potters and the Smiths, both from what look to be affluent neighbourhoods somewhere in Texas. Each family has three kids, all apparently under the age of 12. The Potters have three girls and the Smiths have three boys, the youngest about three years old. The families are both surprised when a "proclamation" arrives at the door telling the wives that they were to pack up and be ready to go on a luxury vacation for a week, leaving their husbands in charge of the households and the kids. Dad will be judged on how well he does in terms of "Parenting", "Housekeeping", "Time Management", and "Nutrition". Hilarity - not to mention tantrums - ensue, or at least they're supposed to. During the course of the week the dads are given special tasks to do in addition to the normal running of the house. The first of these is to throw a sleepover party with six of their kids' friends. Already the Smiths are at a disadvantage. The older boys have a certain amount of trouble getting in touch with their friends, and when the youngest boy throws a tantrum - Dad wants the older boys to stay at home making calls while he takes the "baby" with him to the store - it throws off their ability to get things done. There's a little surprise added during the sleepover when each family gets two new pets - a goat for each family, a llama for the Potters and a pig for the Smiths - which have to be cared for through the week. Another challenge is having to build a soap box derby car in 24 hours for a downhill race for a mystery prize. The men get into this task, particularly Mr. Smith who becomes fixated with it at the expense of little things like housekeeping. Therefore it's a good thing that his car wins (after one race where both flip and a second race featuring both dads) because the prize is the services of two cleaning ladies. There wasn't a heck of a lot more to the show. With about 20 minutes left the Smith and Potter wives returned to their respective homes to the great joy of their spouses and children. Both husbands expressed their relief at having their wives back and incidentally their great appreciation for everything they do. A day or two later, at a nearby school, both families received their grades for the husbands' efforts. Suffice it to say that if Mrs. Potter were to take off with the tennis instructor at the luxury hotel where the women were housed, her daughters would be in better hands than the Smith kids would be (on the other hand Mr. Potter didn't have to deal with the youngest Smith child). He got "A"s in every area except Nutrition and still better in that category than Mr. Smith.

As I said in my introduction there isn't a lot in this show, but it is one that will appeal to those who cling to the vision that it is only Mom who can deal with the kids and do the housework. It is only occasionally funny to watch a man in his forty try to deal with a temperamental three year old. It doesn't really work and is made even worse because a too great a portion of the show is given over to watching the wives come home and receive the undying appreciation of their husbands for everything they do. The show is definitely not worth a second look, and although I expect the PTC to celebrate it, I have to believe that even the anemic overnight ratings it got in its first airing (second in overall ratings - 3.8/7 - third in viewers - 4.5 million - and tied for third in 18-49 year olds - 1.6/5) are higher than what it will get for the second episode. People apparently prefer Navy cops (NCIS won the time slot in all categories), benevolent wife swapping (Trading Spouse), and fictional families (My Wife And Kids and Rodney) to this, and I don't blame them.

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