[30 November 2011]
It’s discomforting to hear parents say they hate their children. When you listen to Annie (Jaime Pressly) and Nikki (Katie Finneran), though, the sentiment seems understandable. These single moms in Fox’s new sitcom I Hate My Teenage Daughter, have daughters who are mean, self-centered liars. The show could have been titled I Should Have Drowned My Kid at Birth, and viewers would have sympathized.
At least one of the problems is that Annie and Nikki are completely ineffectual parents, more interested in being liked than being reasonable or even right. (Another alternative title: How Not to Raise a Child.) Excessively gullible and insecure, the mothers allow their own self-esteem “issues” to override their better judgment. It’s no wonder their kids have turned out to be brats, which makes it difficult to develop sympathy for either mother.
In the series premiere, airing 30 November, Annie and Nikki are called to the principal’s office after Annie’s daughter Sophie (Kristi Lauren) and Nikki’s Mackenzie (Aisha Dee) lock a boy in a wheelchair inside the bathroom. Unfortunately, Principal Diego (the unimpressive Wendy McLendon-Covey) is Nikki’s former high school nemesis, the person largely responsible for destroying Nikki’s self-worth so many years ago. Nikki was overweight in high school and—predictably—comments about her weight are still the trigger to her insecurities, a fact that both the principal and Mackenzie use to their advantage with “fat” comments designed to turn Nikki into a spineless mass.
Also predictably, Annie’s insecurity also stems from her childhood. Raised in a strict, religious household without access to TV or popular music, she now fails to understand most cultural references from the ‘80s and ‘90s. As she puts it now, having caught up on recent TV, “I went to school every day dressed like a ‘Sister Wife.’” Annie’s upbringing apparently helps explain why she would hook up with slacker Matt (Eric Sheffer Stevens), the act of rebellion that produced Sophie.
With these convenient backgrounds in place, the show focuses on Nikki and Annie’s perpetual dismay at their daughters’ actions. In the first episode, they’re moved to action, deciding that a fitting punishment would be keeping the girls from attending their first high school dance. After hours of arguing and pouting, the girls call (or rather, tweet) in reinforcements—Matt, Matt’s lawyer brother Jack (Kevin Rahm), and Mackenzie’s golf pro dad Garry (Chad Coleman). In the midst of this burgeoning calamity, the writers find a moment to add some sexual tension between Annie and Jack. (As Jack is the only levelheaded character in the show, you might feel an urge to yell, “Run!” every time he flirts with Annie.) In the end, all four parents prove ineffective: this may have seemed like comedy in the writers’ room.
Unfortunately, the second episode, airing 7 December, is no funnier. Here Annie hosts a “Family Night” for the girls and their parents. However, the goal of the evening—to spend quality time together—is lost as the girls suffer cell phone withdrawal, Katie argues with Garry about his new girlfriend, and Annie is distraught that Jack has brought a date. The evening only reinforces the show’s one-note tendencies with regard to plot and characterization: when Sophie and Mackenzie inexplicably end up thanking Annie for a fun evening, it’s the first time they show any emotion beyond annoying arrogance.
It’s easy to fault the unoriginal premise of I Hate My Teenage Daughter, since TV offers too many horrible girls and despicable mothers, most frequently on reality shows. As sitcom material, the problems only loom larger: there’s nothing amusing about Sophie and Mackenzie’s out-of-control behavior. Viewer responses to the parenting skills displayed on Toddlers and Tiaras and most Real Housewife series, among other shows, suggest that they want such poor parenting investigated, not promoted through further exposure.
This exposure is mostly painful in I Hate My Teenage Daughter, which offers precious few chuckles and lots of angst and argument. Too often, the humor is directed at the women’s angsts, as in the many “Don’t eat that cookie” jokes that poke fun at the daily struggle overweight individuals experience concerning food. The premiere devotes considerable time to Nikki’s insecurity and how it affects her parenting skills, with less focus on the source of Annie’s equally deep lack of self-confidence.
We might imagine that there’s more comedy to be mined in Annie and Nikki’s stories, quite apart from their bad parenting. I imagine it’s a little late to dump the daughters from the show in order to focus on these codependent grown-ups’ neuroses, and let Pressly and Finneran show off their talents.