Oops, We’re Pregnant! (cue the laugh track)

Once the stigma of illegitimacy began to wear off in the eighties, mainstream books, television and movies began to use what is now almost a de rigueur plot line—the accidental baby. True, soaps had been doing this for years but it always seemed that said baby was always mothered or fathered by the “right” person (unless it was rape but that’s a whole different avenue). I don’t think I have to rattle off names of TV shows or movies that have used this plot line, many of which have been hugely successful.

As I’ve stated before, outside of sports I don’t pay too much attention to TV. If I watch anything resembling episodic TV I usually do it on the network’s web site or on a service like Hulu. I prefer my fiction to be of the readable kind and have since childhood. However, also thanks to the internet I’ve found that I can do evil things like win bets with one coworker by convincing another that I was a total devotee of, say, Real Housewives of New Jersey without ever watching one second of the show. Forums and a good memory are wonderful things. Recently, though, two new shows were brought to my attention that are using the accidental baby plot line. Each only has a couple of episodes in, and the differences between them are quite significant.

The first, FOX’s “Raising Hope,” has possibly one of the most twisted premises for a sitcom ever. The main character, Jimmy Chance, is a young slacker who has a one-night stand with a woman who turns out to be a mass murderer. While she is in jail, she discovers she’s pregnant. She has the baby, a girl she names Princess Beyonce, but Jimmy gets custody … because she gets executed. Jimmy himself is the product of teen parents, and the whole show revolves around everybody really not knowing what to do with this baby, who’s been renamed Hope (ha, get it, raising Hope?). This show was created by the same guy who created “My Name Is Earl”—a friend of mine who was a fan of MNIE was the one to let me know—and while some of the comedic stuff falls flat overall I found it a pretty realistic if occasionally off-the-rails portrayal of your average white trash family (I lived in Kentucky for almost five years so I know my white trash). The baby doesn’t magically improve familial relationships or get Jimmy to take more responsibility in his life. Not that he doesn’t try, he just doesn’t succeed immediately. Apparently FOX has already called for the rest of the season and it’s getting decent ratings. If you’re going to go the accidental baby route, this is one of the more interesting ways I’ve seen it done, plus I laughed out loud at least three times per episode. Cloris Leachman’s character, though, is annoying. Betty White she’s not.

Contrast this to ABC’s “Better With You,” which was created by Shana Goldberg-Meehan, who brought us the glib juggernaut known as “Friends.” “Better With You” focuses on three couples in the same family—parents Joel and Vicky, married for thirty-plus years; eldest daughter Maddie, who’s been with her boyfriend Ben for nine years, and younger daughter Mia and her new beau Casey. While outwardly proclaiming her happiness with her situation with Ben—“it’s a valid life choice!” she exclaims numerous times—Maddie is obviously jealous when cheerfully clueless Casey, whom Mia has been dating for a mere seven weeks, proposes. Expecting their parents to freak out, Maddie is horrified when Joel and Vicky congratulate Mia and Casey at their first dinner together. During the ensuing conversation—which brought my only true laugh in any of the episodes when Maddie’s “valid life choice” claim is revealed to have been made into a family drinking game—Ben lets slip the motivating force behind the quick engagement. You guessed it—Mia’s pregnant. And again, instead of the freakout Maddie expects Vicky crows “we’re going to be grandparents!” as she and Joel embrace.

The show takes place in New York City. Mia claims to be an “inventor” while Casey plays in “an avant-garde metal band with performance art overtones.” In short, they have no money but of course have a nicely funky apartment with matched furniture as is par for the course for any New York-based sitcom. Joel’s fortunes have taken a massive hit in the recession, but in the second episode when Casey wants to buy an old firehouse (again, with what money?) Joel magically comes up with the money to renovate the place. And the message is sent—if a baby’s on the way everybody, even the biggest flake and ditz, will straighten up and “do the right thing.” Since they’re getting married Mia and Casey are portrayed as “taking responsibility” and being SOOOO romantic. But notice I said “getting married.” No, no quick trip to City Hall for them, there’s obviously going to be a “real” wedding of some sort. Then again the show’s not faring particularly well in the ratings despite an advantageous time slot so it might not get that far. And here’s another twist—Joanna Garcia, who plays Mia, had a long-running role in the sitcom Reba. What was her role? Reba’s ditzy daughter who gets knocked up and “has” to get married. You know her agent totally sold that angle when “Better With You” was being cast.

There’s nothing wrong with wanting to park your brain and get some laughs. I just don’t like it when it comes via situations that in real life are no laughing matter. Bringing a child into the world shouldn’t be glossed over as a romantic impulse. And speaking as someone who knows romantic impulse in my own life—my husband and I were engaged seventeen days after we met and married six months later—could “Better With You” and the quickie engagement have succeeded just as well had Mia not been pregnant? In fact, wouldn’t have that been more novel?

Oh, wait, that was Dharma and Greg, my mistake …