The Netflix series deals with a number of real life emotions that mothers go through but remains what is essentially a white woman's view of things.

Workin Moms Season 2 Humorous heartfelt but not entirely over its privilege
Flix Netflix Thursday, August 01, 2019 - 14:28

Millions of words have been written about it. We have been urged to lean in, lean back, lie down, raise our hands, take a seat, do anything it takes, but never give up on the quest of the three most controversial words in the English language- ‘having it all’.

But the quest is far from easy, as four mothers who meet in a ‘mommy and me’ group discover in the show Workin' Moms, Seasons 1 and 2 now streaming on Netflix. The second season with 13 episodes brings back Kate (Catherine Reitman), Anne (Dani Kind), Frankie (Juno Rinaldi) and Jenny (Jessalyn Wanlim) along with some new faces in the mom and me support group and outside of it.

Season 1 followed the four women as they struggled to find the ever-elusive work-life balance. Season 2 sees the women (apart from Jenny, whose husband joins the group) still attending the support group, with their kids who are now toddlers. They have a slightly better grip on parenting, but as they have discovered, once you have kids, life as you know it, will never be normal again. It is refreshing to see mothers as flawed, faltering people who struggle every day and very often don’t have a clue if they are doing the right thing. Yet as a flailing young mother, it left me fairly cold and even annoyed.

Reitman’s point of view in the first season oozed privilege, and dare I say white privilege. She and her best friend are both white and married to white men and have brown-skinned nannies. The only token black character is of Giselle (Oluniké Adeliyi), Frankie’s wife, whom we view entirely from a white woman’s point of view. Jenny, who seems to be of Asian origin, is married to, yes you guessed it, a white man who is a stay-at-home dad. Reitman’s feminist intentions may have been sincere, but her point of view was far too myopic.

Season 2 is definitely an improvement over Season 1. At the end of Season 1, Kate had been suspended when she rushed back to her ill child and left a client presentation mid-way. She misses work desperately and is struggling to handle her toddler alone. We see familiar scenes like showering with the baby in the bathroom, the never-ending cleaning, feeding and bathing and the mind-numbing loneliness that sometimes comes with being the primary/only childcare provider. It’s also heartening to see an Indian origin single mother of twins, Jade (Nelu Handa), who tells them what a lot of women were thinking. Hearing them complain about their lives makes her want to throw a desk out of the window. 

Then there is the lovely Sonia (Amanda Brugel) who can’t have children and has suffered the loss of multiple pregnancies. But while there is a definite attempt at inclusiveness, the story never really includes them. We never see Jade’s struggles or even hear about what single parenting is all about. She gets one dialogue where she says she loves being a single parent because she doesn’t have to negotiate stuff with a partner. I am pretty sure that’s not what all single parents feel, and it would have really helped to explore her story more.

Frankie also seems to have moved on very quickly after the end of her marriage to Giselle, enjoying multiple casual relationships. While I am no expert on same-sex marriages, I wonder if a heterosexual marriage coming to an end would have been treated so casually. What also rankles is the consistent office bitch stereotype that Reitman propagates. So she has a great white male mentor, office buddies who are men, but the only other women we see in a supposedly large ad agency is either a rival colleague whom Kate is threatened by, a Miranda Priestly-like agency head who almost has her fired for rushing to a sick child, or a secretary Rosie, who unfortunately doubles up as the fat girl comic relief.

There is also a hat tip to #Metoo movement, but it seems deliberately written in so Anne can get back at her ex-husband who unwittingly hypnotised her. Perhaps it was a reference to men gaslighting women, but it's never really clear.

This is not to say that the show is without its moments. I really enjoyed watching Anne dealing with the pressures of raising a child approaching puberty and across both seasons her no-nonsense but sincere approach to parenting is something I could relate to and enjoy. I was also left teary-eyed when Alicia (Sadie Munro), a stay at home mom, says that she has only one job and she just can’t seem to get it right. It was a rare moment of complete honesty and vulnerability. I just wish the show had more insightful moments like this.

The perils of using humour to deal with a subject can mean very often issues don’t get treated seriously enough. What does it really feel like to be responsible for another person’s well-being and future decency? In an age where parenting is becoming an increasingly fragmented space with strong opinions and judgments on any and all parenting choices, what are the real struggles mothers/caregivers face? How has social media and the ever-growing tribe of parenting experts, bloggers and influencers impacted our ability to parent intuitively? What are the societal and institutional obstacles women face as they try to give their best to their work and their homes?

These are topics Workin' Moms could have included or dealt with. But instead, it sticks to its protagonists acting like amateur teenagers who choose to rebel with or without cause while acting completely oblivious of the fact that there are mothers struggling to put two meals together for their kids. Try as it does, the show just can’t shake off its privilege and while it may have opened its narrative to more types of mothers, it doesn’t really open its heart. 

Disclaimer: This review was not paid for or commissioned by anyone associated with the series/film. TNM Editorial is independent of any business relationship the organisation may have with producers or any other members of its cast or crew.

Saraswati Datar studied screenwriting and filmmaking and worked with mainstream TV channels in Mumbai as a writer and producer. She now freelances as a columnist and scriptwriter working with digital publications in India and Singapore.

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