4 out of 5
Created by: Catherine Reitman, Philip Sternberg
covers season 1
Opening up on a shot of three pairs of very natural breasts, the owners man-handling (hyuck) them while discussing their own feelings toward them, it’s clear that – whether it’s going to be a drama or comedy or something else – Workin’ Moms isn’t planning to pull any punches. When the camera shot widens to show that these women are sitting in a group of other women, the circle staring at them rather perplexedly, we can let out a laugh at the cringe humor of it. Okay, so it’s a comedy. But, while there are plenty of other frank moments such as this, Workin’ Moms is hardly strictly a show of shock or discomfort joke: co-creator and frequent writer Chaterine Reitman – besides being an owner of one of those sets of boobs and thus obviously happy to invest in her work – not only weaves Workin’ Moms subject matter through brilliant true-to-life ironies, but manages to blend it with plenty of thought and commentary on the concept of its title, and without ever preaching on it. The show has plenty of setup for what could easily turn gender-bashing, or indirect lecturing on how to do X, Y or Z, but at every opportunity the choice is instead to head toward muddier waters where no one is perfect. Not only does this make the material much more accessible, it also makes the jokes a lot richer, and when it does start to build up its world of characters, offers up plenty of food for thought.
The group of other women is a meeting group of new mothers; the six breasts belong to Kate, Anne, and Frankie – played by Reitman, Dani Kind, and Juno Rinaldi, respectively – who, along with Jessalyn Wanlim as Jenny, form the four characters around whom the show centers. Each could be said to represent a certain mentality along a spectrum, while none would easily slot into the generic picture of what we might think a new mother “should” be; certainly this is part of the show’s hook and charms, but it’s also the subversively ‘real’ element commented on above: by focusing on some extremes, we come around to recognizing how this is the norm, and then get to wonder what that could mean. It should also be noted that all of these women are married, and while the marriages may not all be exactly happy, this is another area where the show takes steps to create characters and not caricatures of the significant other. So Kate initially seems like an upwardly-mobile ad salesmen and her husband (her real life husband and show co-creator Philip Sternberg) like an aloof father; Anne seems like an exhausted therapist who’s exhausted by her first daughter, frustrated by the responsibilities of the second, and depressed at the prospect of a third, which her husband seems all too excited about; Frankie seems like a post-partum joke, the first few episodes sardonic toward her suicide attempts, with her lesbian partner picking up all the child-rearing slack; Jenny seems bubble-headed and flighty and not ready for motherhood, while her husband seems equally bubbly but has fully taken to fatherhood. And then over the course of thirteen episodes we fill in the blanks on these characters, tugged in different directions about whether to laugh at the frequently ridiculous situations or stare in shock, wondering how anyone manages to raise a family successfully. The brilliant thing is that the show doesn’t betray these initial stereotypes exactly, it more just humanizes them; thus we can judge, but it becomes harder as we likely see bits of ourselves in each familial equation.
I’m really underselling the comedy here, which is what Workin’ Moms is first and foremost. Reitman, whom I’d only previously seen in Always Sunny, has wonderful comedic instincts, and her fellow writers, directors and actors seem of a like mind. The show does have to sacrifice some focus, however: Kate is the lead, and Anne is the most level-headed of the friends and thus the primary person to bounce thoughts off of; this means these two characters are the most developed. Frankie and Jenny are easier to prop up as joke – the depressed one and the stupid one – and so it’s a more complex task of fleshing out their roles, which the show doesn’t necessarily have the time to do. What they bring is a perfect balance to the whole equation, but, especially in Jenny’s case, it’s not as interesting to spend time with them because we learn more and care more about the other leads.
Are you now just watching the show so you can ogle some random boobs? Well, there might be something to that, and that’s probably why Reitman decided to start things out that way. Throughout Workin’ Moms, we get this brilliantly brave approach that challenges the Mom convention, while eliciting plenty of belly laughs from the most roundabout of setups and sources. And as a single dude with a tattoo proclaiming his singledom, likely I’m not qualified to comment on a show of this nature, but I’d think getting a cold-hearted soul like myself to both laugh at and consider the content of the show is part of Reitman’s smart master plan as well.