The rise of TV's "Anti-Mom"

Mon Jun 7, 2010 1:40am EDT
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By Todd Longwell

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - The anti-mom is in.

Contrasting starkly with such '80s sitcoms as "Family Ties" and "The Cosby Show," in which the moms were accomplished career women as well as expert nurturers, a host of TV mothers are now yelling, smothering or just plain neglectful.

"There are a bunch of nut-job mothers out there," says Julia Louis-Dreyfus (CBS' "The New Adventures of Old Christine"). Although her own character may sometimes be "just shy of heinous, at the very heart of it, she does mean to do well. But there are so many other issues for her that get in the way. She's definitely driven by a feeling of anxiousness and desperation."

Anxiety and desperation may be a sign of our times -- and not just for Christine, whose show was recently canceled. Television, which has always been much quicker to respond to social trends than film (where movies can spend years in development before they reach the big screen), could simply be reflecting the stresses of an era in which women have had to handle jobs, families and a recession.

"Television tends to lag a little bit behind what's going on in the real world, but these portrayals do reflect the changing reality of motherhood," says Martha Lauzen, executive director of the Center for the Study of Women in TV and Film at San Diego State University. "Part of this also could be attributed to the presence of women working behind the scenes, where perhaps female writers and producers are more willing to tell a more honest story of what motherhood is like."

Certainly, in committing to "Christine," Louis-Dreyfus was conscious of that dynamic. The actress spent a year trying to develop a show with a mother role for herself, before she hooked up with "Christine" creator Kari Lizer.

"I've learned that because television is so fast-paced -- which I love -- you have to rely on instincts and things you know without even knowing that you know (them)," says the actress, who has two sons, ages 12 and 17. "So I thought, 'The world of motherhood is a world that feels very, very familiar to me, and this is where I should go.'

"As a mom, there's all this pressure not only to raise your children correctly, but to make a living and to make a lot of money," she continues. "It's not possible to do everything well all the time, and I think that is portrayed on television very effectively."   Continued...