Humor is subjective and oftentimes it is more than futile to debate whether or not something is funny – although sometimes taking a harder look at the things you laugh at reveals frightening truths about yourself. Network executives know that humor is subjective as well as anyone, which is why at any given point there are three to seven sitcoms running on any given network, making sure each and every one of us can find at least one show to laugh at.
Not by any stretch of my imagination can I conjure someone who would genuinely laugh about anything that happens on Fox’s new show I Hate My Teenage Daughter.
Disclaimer: I haven’t watched many episodes of My Name Is Earl, so Jamie Pressly is not infallible in my book as she might be to a certain cult following of that show. She is the lead actress in IHMTD, alongside decorated theater actress Katie Finneran, and her performance has been praised by most critics, even though they generally hated the show. I can’t say I agree with all the praise for Pressly. Given how grisly bad the material is she has to work with here, she might have done a fine job, but I wouldn’t say no other actress couldn’t have done the same. I certainly hope that she doesn’t get accolades for the fact that she made horrible material seem slightly less horrible. Accolades should go to actors who make brilliant material genius.
But let’s rewind and look at the premise of IHMTD and identify where exactly it veers off-course. Pressly and Finneran play two divorced moms raising teenage daughters, who are apparently supposed to be high school freshmen. The moms’ biggest concern is to make sure their daughters don’t end up being social outcasts/nerds in school, like the moms did back in their high school days. And the way they go about that is to spoil their daughters rotten instead of teaching them about respect, love and diversity.
See, in the pilot episode, which aired last Wednesday, the two daughters are supposed to be punished for locking a handicapped schoolmate of theirs in the opposite sex’s bathroom. The mothers initially ground the daughters, forcing them to miss their first high school dance, but then cave and let their bullying behavior slide. Pressly’s character even has a little bit of a defense for it, given how her daughter lies to her and claims the handicapped kid is the biggest bully in school and “deserved what he got”, but Finneran’s mom just caves at seeing her daughter cry. It turns out the daughters lied, of course, the handicapped kid is a perfectly nice, young black guy. The moms hence decide to not take their daughters home immediately, but instead to dance like crazy in order to embarrass them in front of all their peers.
In an age where bullying in high schools is such a hot-button issue, this episode sends all the wrong messages! Not only do the daughters get away with bullying a handicapped (!), black (!) kid, but the mothers don’t even address the issue of bullying itself. Given how they are supposed to be the victims of bullying in the past themselves, you would think they would make extra-sure that their children knew that everyone deserves respect. Given that the mothers are aware that they were victims of bullying, this would be the only logical, because human, consequence. Once you are aware of what has happened to you in the past and how you have been wronged, you then have an especially passionate reaction when the same wrong happens to someone else and you most likely commit yourself to making sure no one has to suffer the same fate. This is essentially where activism comes from.
Sidenote via personal example: my mother was always the youngest in her class when she went to school and she was teased for it and sometimes felt the effects of being almost a year younger than everyone else. Hence, when I went to school and was offered the chance to skip a grade, because I was doing so well and my teachers felt I was advanced enough to be able to deal with the academic challenge, my mother declined this offer, because she didn’t want me to suffer through being the youngest like she did. Get what I mean?
So while it is logical that the mothers of IHMTD are trying their damndest to make sure their daughters are popular, the other logical consequence would be them trying to make sure their daughters are also better people than the bullies the mom’s had to endure in high school. Instead these moms are still stuck in high school themselves. They still perceive themselves as exactly what their high school peer group decided to classify them as: freaks/nerds/outcasts. They never moved beyond the walls of their high school, the message of the anti-bullying campaign “It Gets Better” didn’t reach these moms at all. Instead of drawing self-esteem from the fact that they found love, got married and had children (and live in pretty swanky homes), they still define themselves by the things they didn’t have or didn’t get to do in high school, thus extending their own purgatory far beyond the four years of a normal high school career.
I think we all agree that’s pretty pathetic.
And Sherry Bilsing-Graham, one of the creators of IHMTD, should know better, because she worked on Friends as well and I distinctly remember an episode in which Monica, once the fat girl in high school, just like Finneran’s character on IHMTD, but now skinny and successful, gets the chance to go on a date with the guy who used to be “it” in high school. She discovers the guy still has the same job as he did back then, still lives with his parents, still has the same friends and still gives them wedgies. Essentially, he is pathetic, because he never moved on from high school. So if Friends knew that lesson to be true a decade ago, then why does IHMTD not know that lesson?
See, Friends did so many things right with so many of the same premises. Monica was the fat girl in high school, and yet on the show we see her become a successful career woman, who finds true love and has the best mothering skills of the bunch, even though – or maybe precisely because – her own mother has always been a bit too critical of her.
Meanwhile Rachel, the popular girl in high school, has to find out the hard way that being popular in high school means diddly-squat when you get out into the real world and have to earn your own money, and she works through her vanity and becomes a mother and successful career woman.
And then look at Ross, who was the geek in high school and in college, who studies dinosaurs for a living and becomes a university professor, a responsible father to two children, tolerant of his ex-wife’s same sex relationship and an all-around stand-up guy.
(I don’t even want to get into Chandler, who has had it really rough, to say the least, and yet, will always be my favorite “Friend”.)
These are the messages a sitcom should send. That it means nothing what people think of you in high school, because that doesn’t define you. What defines you is what you make out of those experiences. And the mothers of I Hate My Teenage Daughter clearly make nothing of their experiences, they – as former victims – breed the new bullies of high schools right under their own roof.
Now that’s a message I can’t forgive.
The genre of comedy doesn’t get a pass from me for messing up like this, because even though sometimes the whole point of comedy is to make light of issues we all take too seriously, there are issues that cannot be taken too seriously. And the things we laugh at – or which network executives and sitcom writers apparently want us to laugh at – sometimes reveal a dark side in us that should make the laughter get stuck in our throats.
Need more TV coverage? Listen to a new “Television Collision: Podcast Extra”, Episode 18 below.
Topics (for this relaunch episode) include Bones, Castle, House and Grey’s Anatomy.
Author: Phoebe Raven, CC2K Staff Writer
Born in Germany, lived in the US, now in the UK. Always taking my love for TV and writing with me. Life participator. Blogger. Gaming enthusiast.