By Sapna Khajuria
You know the drill – you’ve finally managed to get some me-time, you switch on the television hoping to find something good to watch. About 20 minutes later, you’ve scrolled and searched across every streaming service, and you’re still trying to choose what to watch, from the mind-boggling selection of shows.
It’s refreshing to see that TV shows are moving beyond the image of a mom as this ever sacrificing mother goddess perpetually in pristine clothes and the dad is a spaced out occasional parent. It’s good to see the gritty side of parenthood in a world where it feels like everything around us is designed to make parents feel inadequate. Open up your Instagram and you’ll see picture perfect, smiling, fit, stretch mark-free moms with a squeaky clean home and ever smiling babies — utterly nauseating for a sleep deprived new parent, or for that matter, for any TV viewer looking for quality shows.
From among the gazillion shows currently on air, here’s a list of top parenting related shows and the odd movie that have humour, drama and a healthy dose of realism about the journey of parenthood.
It takes a village to raise a child. If the village is made up of a group of best friends, each in a different stage of motherhood, facing their own challenges, does it make the ride any easier? This Canadian show doesn’t shy away from getting down and dirty with the uncomfortable truths of new parenthood.
Poking fun at judgmental mommy groups (admit it, you’ve encountered one of those), postpartum depression; and above all, the struggles of working moms, this show is like a breath of fresh air in the unreal world of TV shows that show working mothers seemingly managing it all with a feather light touch.
This is all about the side of motherhood TV shows won’t show you — pumping milk in the toilet cubicle, the way the couple’s relationship changes after a baby enters the picture, the isolation that follows after the initial bout of congratulations, the occasional inability to bond with one’s baby. I liked the fact that the protagonists are not the most likeable or sunniest of women.
The Let Down
An Australian comedy that’s so realistic and relatable that it made me want to say, “This is so real!” while watching many, many scenes. The show starts with the protagonist Audrey attending a “non-judgy” new mothers’ group. It’s not just the sleeplessness and brain fog that remind parents of their own initial days as parents, but other mundane things like planning a girls’ night out with your single friends and coming to the slow, sad realisation that nothing is the same because of the different stages of life all of you are in. Fair warning about both shows — there’s plenty of curse words and some nudity, but they’re achingly honest and wickedly funny.
A Marriage Story
This is a Netflix original film that’s been receiving rave reviews. Scarlett Johansson and Adam Driver’s characters live through slow breakdown of their marriage. In equal parts heart-breaking and nuanced.
The show that redefined the mother-daughter bond in the sweetest, fastest talking way. They’re friends, always honest with each other, but there’s the complicated relationship that mom and her own parents have that is a contrast to this breezy relationship.
A coming-of-age film where the protagonist is as confident in her whimsical dreams, which are at odds with her hardworking mother’s pragmatic approach to life. As a premise, it seems like a wafer-thin storyline, but the movie is very well made, with the middle class family’s struggles, the mother and daughter’s inability to communicate with each other; teenage rebellion and angst, friendship, all woven into a charming story.
For those of you who grew up watching Full House or those new to the reruns, the second generation’s life as parents is what this show is all about. A single mom raising her children with the help of her sister and her best-friend, while struggling with her own love life, in the typical Full House brand of humour.
One Day at a Time
This remake of an older show from the ’70s has been interestingly reimagined. The protagonist is a single mom who happens to not only be a Cuban-American mom, but also an Army veteran struggling with PTSD. Helping her raise her two children is her occasionally domineering mother. I liked the fact that the show talks of very real issues like racism, immigration, the clash between generations when it comes to parenting, and so on.
Jane the Virgin
Watching this hilarious show is like being inside an over the top tv drama that is itself a spoof of such OTT shows (in this case, Spanish telenovelas). So, here’s what it’s all about: A deeply religious 20-something woman who has taken a vow to save herself until she is married, is caught up in more than a spot of trouble when she is accidentally artificially accidentally inseminated — she’s the virgin mom. The most entertaining actor, the MVP of the show, is the narrator. In addition to Jane adjusting to being a mother, the show deals with her complicated love life, the hurdles in her path to becoming a writer, and the story of three generations of Latina women. Naturally, because this is a satire on telenovelas, there are double roles and rising from the dead and other exaggerated scenarios that make this a delicious plot.
This emotional drama about three generations of a family in California should have had the tagline – “Family – the bond that endears and very often annoys the hell out of you.” Adoption, cancer, autism, different levels of success among siblings, stay-at-home husband, addiction, mixed-race couples — all this and more is handled sensitively. It’s refreshing to see that the 60+ couple gets their own storyline, doing more than just being babysitting grandparents. The show can get cutesy in bits, but at the same time, doesn’t shy away from depicting the not so hunky dory side of families and parenthood – adult siblings don’t always peacefully co-exist, there are tensions and rivalries among family members, children who are goody two shoes till they are teenagers and suddenly rebel, the drudgery of being a parent to a special needs child — keep a box of tissues handy.
Even though this isn’t strictly a parenting show, this British period drama is a seriously addictive take on social dynamics, sibling rivalry at its most subtle yet most bitter, aristocracy and its foibles, and the most acerbic, sharp talking grandmother on TV, set against the backdrop of life altering historical events from the 1920s until the 1950s.
This is a hidden gem of a show about a working class family living in a non-descript town in the middle of the US, with boring jobs that don’t pay enough, with three teenagers ranging from socially awkward to popular but lazy, to smart but deeply introverted. It’s a story of small town parents who face a scenario where they may not be in a position to guarantee a bright future to their children, quite a contrast to the more glamorous parenting shows on this list.
Definitely not your regular, sweet old mother-daughter story. A single mom who’s a recovering addict, starts life afresh, while dealing with her mom, also a recovering addict (and in the daughter’s mind, the sole reason for all her problems). Apart from the top-notch performances from the leads, the show really works because of the way it delicately balances the dark and bittersweet sides of things like addiction, teen pregnancy, domestic violence and death.
This is Us
This list cannot possibly be made without This is Us, the show that’ been winning (and breaking) hearts all over the world, and ruling awards season year after year. The show jumps across different decades, from the Vietnam war to the early 90s to today (and a few years in the future). It’s the story of a young couple in the 70s who lose one of their triplets at birth and adopt an African American baby abandoned on the same day. You go back and forth, from the parents’ own love story, to their time as new parents, to the Big Three (what the father calls the 3 children) as teenagers, and then as adults. They aren’t perfect, but when you watch the characters, you feel like you could be one of them. Some storylines just tug at your heartstrings — body image issues, the struggles of raising a child of a different race — small, innocuous things like not knowing how to comb Afro hair, the love-hate-love relationship among the siblings, addiction, illness, death — phew. Keep the wine and a big box of tissues ready.
To take a break from the more serious parenting shows, this mockumentary style show about the modern version of families is a laugh riot. There are three families – a man in his 60s with a much younger second wife, the man’s daughter who’s got three kids and a loving if goofy husband, and his gay son who is raising an adopted daughter with his partner. Most teenagers who watch the show are convinced that the bumbling dad on the show is just like their dad, or the high-strung mom shares more than a few similarities with their own mother. The first few seasons are refreshing and don’t take themselves too seriously, which makes the show breezy and fun.
This miniseries based on a bestselling novel by the same name came highly recommended. The story of a 46-year-old single mom who rediscovers sex, running in parallel with the toxic masculinity displayed by her son who’s struggling to fit in with his new life at college, is above all, a tale of loneliness. Kathryn Hahn as the mother facing an empty nest is brilliant.
Last Man Standing
A snarky, grumpy, traditional American father who’s raising three daughters and is therefore the last man standing. What’s to love — Tim Allen’s witticisms, and the roles of the middle and youngest daughters — one an apparent airhead, the other as much of a gun-loving traditionalist as her father. The show is funny until season 6 after which Tim Allen’s ramblings just started sounding too pro-Trump to hold my attention.
Big Little Lies
Whether or not you’ve read the book by the same name, this is one show you must watch. If you need reasons beyond Meryl Streep, Nicole Kidman, Reese Witherspoon and Laura Dern, here goes — this is a dark comedy about five women (four friends and a frenemy) caught up in a murder mystery. There’s playground drama, judgy moms at school, domestic violence, and relationships that are intricately linked. Fresh off the boat — aka what happens when a Taiwanese family moves to suburban America. The immigrant dad wants all things American, the mom wants her kids to stay close to their roots, and the kids just want to fit in with their friends. This could be the tale of any immigrant family, with the struggle to balance their origins and the culture of their new home.
Wait no more — slow down, relax and binge watch these shows.
(The writer is a lawyer by training, who would rather be a full-time globetrotter, and mom to 12-year-old twin boys who share her love for all things filmy.)
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