By Jackie Burrell
Wednesday, March 5th, 2008 at 1:33 pm in TV.
TLC, the network that brought us series about little people and what not to wear, has turned its attention to stay-at-home moms. This week marks the debut of “The Secret Life of a Soccer Mom,” a reality TV series hosted by Tracey Gold. It takes women who quit high-powered careers to stay home and raise their young children, and plops them back into their high-end professions. The show’s tagline: “For anyone who has put their dreams on hold, your time has come.”
So these Mommies are sneaking out to design high fashion for a Maria Bianca Nero runway show, saute haute cuisine at a high end restaurant or vault over a high chain link fence in a considerably less glitzy police uniform.
As you might expect, the show has fanned the flames of the SAHM/Working Mom Wars, with outraged discussion board posters seeing the show as an assault on the sanctity of the home. Having done both the SAHM gig and the working mom thing, we were curious.
So here’s a recap of the first episode, which we caught last night, and some thoughts. But what we’d really like, is to hear from you – what did you think of the show, and what are your thoughts on the realities of life as a stay-at-home or working mom?
As episode 1 opens, we meet Adrian Stark, a “retired” fashion designer who once worked for Chanel, is married to a physician and stays home with their three daughters, ages toddler to tween. The fam thinks the camera crew dogging their footsteps is from a television show about great moms. But as soon as Dr. Daddy goes off to work, up rolls the big black SLSM truck looking, as Adrian herself says, “like a SWAT bus.” And suddenly Adrian is working for Bianca Nero. She meets its founder - a glamorous former model and fashion designer who tells us casually that she has two kids of her own – and several rather apprehensive colleagues. Adrian is told she has three days to design and produce three glorious, chic dresses. The stressed-out mom sets about drawing up designs, draping a dress form and trying not to panic. “This pressure is produce, produce, produce,” she says. “At home, it’s mellow.” (At this point, my husband wanders by and says, in tones of utter disbelief, “They put a soccer mom on the Auf’d show??”)
Back at the ranch house, where it took two assistants and an unknown number of extra helping hands to clean Adrian’s house, do the laundry and get dinner ready (Forget the secret career. We want maids, a chef and production assistants too), all is not mellow. Secret footage shows us one kid drinking straight out of a Coffee Mate bottle, another slathering her face with diaper ointment and the baby getting clobbered by a sib. Adrian’s many pages of meticulous instructions, scotch taped to the kitchen cupboards, just add to her husband’s stress.
“He’s a man,” oldest daughter Kayla tells the camera, “Men can’t do anything right.”
Cringe. No child says that without having heard it somewhere, seen the rolled eyes or heard the heavy, sarcastic sighs. That’s an awful lesson to teach your children, Adrian. It’s disloyal. Families support each other, they don’t undercut each other. I hate this show.
OK, back to the studio. The designers love Adrian’s work and she’s so thrilled and incredulous, she lapses into a stammering, Sally Field-style “You like me. You really like me.” Oh honey, at least try to play it cool.
Then comes the runway show, complete with strutting models and clipboard toting judges. The roles of Heidi Klum, Nina Garcia and Michael Kors are played here by fashion buyers and a celebrity stylist who chooses the clothes worn by Jennifer Hudson, Jessica Simpson and other celebrities who apparently don’t know how to open a closet door on their own. They say “meh” to two of Adrian’s dresses but love the third, and the stylist says she’s buying it for Hudson.
Now it’s truth time. Adrian tells her family she has a little surprise – it’s a glossy black paneled truck, which the family doesn’t seem to find strange at all. Inside, the big reveal is almost derailed by an inarticulate Adrian’s efforts to confess – “lying is wrong, but I lied to you, but lying is wrong.” Eventually, Tracey Gold shows the family the footage from the design studio and runway show. And Bianca Nero comes in to offer Adrian a job.
After all the build up and the cheap “daddy can’t do anything” shot, it was gratifying to see Dr. Dad’s reaction: delight, pride and total support. “I see her getting something I’ve been unable to give her,” he says. “Completeness.”
We’re wondering, of course, what Bianca Nero was thinking, because it’s one thing to hire a talented professional and quite another to hire someone as needy and anxiety-riddled as Adrian. That fawning, “do you love me? are you sure you love me?” demeanor was working our last nerve.
Everyone criticizes the unreality of reality TV, but sheesh. The work force re-entry may have stressed out Adrian, but the producers forged her silver spoon, polished it and stuck it in her mouth. She didn’t have to find a job. There were no consequences. And we don’t see any of the blips and bumps that accompany a real re-entry to a career you left 10 years ago. There’s a reference to how much of the fashion design business is done on computers now, which should have posed a significant problem to someone who hasn’t dipped a toe in that pool in a decade, but … nada.
We’re also struck by Adrian’s main concern in the to-work-or-not-to-work discussion. It isn’t child care – which, excuuuuse me? – but the idea that she’ll be missing out on the home experience. Well, sure, that’s a valid point. But we suspect that TLC promised her a year of babysitting as well as the chef and housekeepers, because child care is huge. HUGE. And she’s apparently not giving it any thought at all.
So that’s our opinion. Now tell us yours. Do you stay home with kids or work outside the home? Was that even a choice for you? If you stayed home and then re-entered, what was that like for you? And do any of these shows that supposedly depict working moms – Lipstick Jungle, Cashmere Mafia or Secret Life – strike a chord with you?