Sunday, May 11, 2008

Mothers Day 2008 – Moms In Odd Situations

It's that time of year again, and I'm not talking about Sweeps Weeks or Upfronts. No, it's Mothers Day which means that I usually write a couple of posts about Mothers on TV. Because after all who does a better job of portraying mothers than TV. I mean besides books, movies, plays, and country music. Certainly TV doesn't do the sort of job in portraying mothers that the PTC would want it to, but that's a subject for another time – or maybe not (if I can help it).

This year, I'll be doing two Mothers Day posts, the second one, ironically not about mothers but about people who have taken on the role of a mother without being mothers. This time though I'm focussing on mothers in "odd" situations. Some of them very very, odd.

99 Get Smart: Agent 99 of CONTROL, played by the stylish and stunning Barbara Feldon, owed her pregnancy to corporate machinations. After its cancellation by NBC in April 1969, the show was picked up by CBS as part of a major campaign on their part to build up network ratings. But CBS felt that there needed to be a new gimmick to bring the show back, and since 99 was married to Maxwell Smart, the obvious gimmick was to have 99 pregnant! This of course was in the days before the general feeling was that having characters have babies – or even get married – was death for a sitcom. And after all this was CBS where one of their greatest hits had featured the first woman to be pregnant on network TV – I Love Lucy. What could be funnier than Maxwell Smart with babies (because if one baby is funny, two must be comedy gold – 99 would have twins, a boy and a girl)? And so, Barbara Feldon strapped on the "pregnancy belly" for what must be one of the shortest pregnancies ever, an eight episode arc that ran from the show's debut on CBS on September 26, 1969 until the birth of the babies on November 14, 1969. The idea of spies with one or more kids is intriguing (as the Dennis Quaid-Kathleen Turner movie Undercover Blues came close to showing), but we'd never know it from Get Smart because after the birth their existence was pretty much ignored. In fact the twins never did receive names. And the ploy of having Max and 99 becoming parents didn't save the show. It had great ratings for the episodes leading up to the birth of the twins, but once it became clear that they weren't going to do much new or innovative with the show once they had the babies – and in fact were going to pretty much ignore their existence – well the ratings sank like a stone. Over 25 years later Fox would produce a new Get Smart series with Don Adams and Barbara Feldon reprising their roles as Maxwell Smart and 99, now Chief of CONTROL and a member of congress respectively, and Andy Dick as their son Zach. Their daughter was never mentioned, and given that Zach inherited his father's brains but neither of his parent's good looks one can only hope that Zach was a third Smart child, this one adopted.

Claire Littleton – Lost: Claire did not have an easy road to motherhood, and the crash of Oceanic 815 was only part of it. She was the child of a single mother who only met her father once, after her own mother was so badly injured in a car accident that she was reduced to a vegetative state. They fought and she never even learned his name. Once she got pregnant her boyfriend was initially excited about fatherhood only to change his mind well along in the pregnancy. She was ready to give the unborn child up for adoption when a "psychic" tried to persuade her to keep it. When that didn't work, the "psychic" informed her that the baby would be adopted by a couple in California and provided her with a ticket on Oceanic 815. Except of course there was no couple in California. When the airplane crashed she survived and after a bunch of perils – a false labour, abduction, amnesia and an apparent threat to her baby's health, not to mention a strengthening bond to a heroin addicted one hit wonder rock star named Charlie, she gives birth to her son Aaron who is then kidnapped by Rousseau. And that's just in the first season! Talk about mothers in "odd" situations.

Martha Kent – Smallville: It's not every woman who has her baby delivered not by a doctor after hours of excruciating pain, or by an adoption agency after years of jumping through hoops, but by the kid himself while she is help upside down in an overturned truck by her seatbelt after a devastating meteor shower just minutes after she made a wish to a little girl dressed as a fairy princess. That's how Clark Kent entered Martha Kent's life in the TV series Smallville. From that point on, a big part of Martha's life as a mother is a mixture of hiding her son's abilities from others, helping him to discover and control those abilities, providing insight into problems that Clark is trying to resolve, and helping to soothe his angst at not being able to do a lot of the things that "normal" boys are able to do. This is in addition to all of the stuff that mothers of ordinary teenage boys have to deal with. It's a very different take on the character of Martha Kent than has been seen in other representations of the character. For most of the time that the comic books were published, Martha Kent was portrayed as elderly by the time that Clark was a teenager, and he was already out performing as a superhero in the guise of Superboy. By the time he became Superman the Kents had died. After John Byrne rebooted the character of Superman in the 1980s the Kents were (and are) still alive but dealing with him more as an adult. The whole teen angst thing was never really a part of this version of the Superman character, so when the characters were included in Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman they didn't have to deal with the discovery and conflicts that plagued their son's life – they were past that phase. Thus, Annette O'Toole's portrayal of the mother of the future Superman adds a depth to the character that we haven't seen before.

Dr. Maureen Robinson – Lost In Space: Maureen Robinson was an educated woman who was also a housewife and a mother of three who lived in a mobile home and over a period of three years lived in a variety of different locations, most of them quite hostile. Added to this is the fact that she had three boarders, one of whom was not particularly welcome, and you'd be excused for thinking that this was some sort dysfunctional '80s or '90s sitcom. But when you add in that her mobile home was actually an interstellar space ship which had suffered a catastrophic navigational failure, that one of her star boarders was six foot tall robot , while the other was named Dr. Smith, and you realise that you've entered the realm of mid-60s TV Science Fiction, Irwin Allen style, where the women were reduced to the role of nurturing caregivers who also handed out advice but rarely got involved in real action. In the first episode of the show it is mentioned that she has a doctorate in Biochemistry, but for the rest of the series that's never mentioned. Instead, this pioneer of what really was a "Wagon Train to the stars" (the description that actually sold Star Trek)
she cooks, tends the garden, helps with light construction and serves as a mother to her three very different children, Judy (Marta Kristen), Penny (Angela Cartwright), and the genius Will (Bill Mumy), as well as a support for her heroic husband. It isn't the way that the character would have been portrayed today, but part of what made Lost In Space the show that it was is the portrayal of the group (the men had adventures, the women – Maureen and Judy – stayed at home, and the kids – including Dr. Smith – got into trouble) was such a '60s stereotype.

Major Kira Nerys – Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: Major Kyra never had sex with the father of her son although she did live with him for a time, was not genetically related to her son, and indeed wasn't even the same species as the baby. The whole situation with Major Kira came about as a result of the circumstances of the actress who played the character, Nana Visitor. She and her husband at the time, fellow cast member Alexander Siddiq were expecting their first child together and it was decided that, rather than trying to hide the pregnancy it would be written into the plot of the show since she was an essential part of the cast pretty visibly pregnant. The problem was how they would explain how Kira – who at the time wasn't romantically involved with anyone – became pregnant. Setting aside the obvious ploy of a previously unmentioned relationship or a one night stand with an accident, the writers and producers decided to use technobabble. So, when an accident on a runabout severely injured Keiko O'Brien, the pregnant (human) wife of Chief Engineer Miles O'Brien, Dr. Bashir had been forced to use the transporter to transfer the fetus into the womb of the only available humanoid, Major Kira. However Bajoran physiology meant that the baby couldn't be transported back to Keiko's body without killing it. Thus a very pregnant Major Kira stepped out of the runabout and – in order for the baby's parents to feel closer to him – into the O'Brien quarters where she lived until little Kirayoshi O'Brien was born.

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