Rock Me, Baby

I got a kitten this weekend, and having him here has completely changed our routine. This is as close as I’ve come to having a newborn around the house. And yet, I still know more about good parenting than the new parents on UPN’s latest comedy, Rock Me, Baby. I know not to let a group of drunken men smoking cigars hold a baby, which is more than new father Jimmy (Dan Cortese) seems to know. I’m also fairly certain that it’s a bad idea for a woman who’s breastfeeding to participate in a beer chugging contest, which new mother Beth (Bianca Kajlich) doesn’t know. And I don’t think that you should leave a newborn baby unattended to run off to another part of the house to have sex.

It’s understandable that Jimmy and Beth would make these mistakes, because they’re both dumber than you could imagine. And so are their friends. Rock Me, Baby takes viewers into the lives of people who many in society would prefer never reproduce. We think that not because these people are inherently bad, but because we can’t help but worry about what kind of life the kid is going to have. Apparently, it never occurred to Beth and Jimmy that having a child would result in changes in their lifestyles other than Beth quitting her job. So now, they find themselves grappling with these adjustments, which is the focal point of this new series.

The changes are especially difficult for Jimmy, who is a radio shock-jock with a reputation as a badass and a penchant for fart jokes. Suddenly, he has to learn how to be an adult, making adult decisions about adult issues. It is a process completely unfamiliar to him; Beth has never expected responsible behavior of her husband up until now, content to be his playmate along the way.

The pilot episode finds Jimmy and Beth beginning to deal with their new life with Otis, their infant son. After he yawns on the air, both Jimmy’s producer, Boyle (Joey Slotnik), and his on-air partner, Carl (Carl Anthony Payne), begin hassling Jimmy about “getting soft.” Carl is particularly relentless in taunting Jimmy, accusing him of being whipped, and gets Jimmy to admit on-air that he and Beth haven’t had sex in five months. Jimmy tells his listeners that he’s had to rely on the “ole crankshaft” to get his jollies, which, understandably, annoys Beth when she hears the broadcast.

To make things up to her, Jimmy insists that Beth enjoy a night out with the girls, even though it means he will miss one of his co-workers’ bachelor party. Not content to let Jimmy spend the night at home alone with his new son, Carl brings the party to his apartment. Despite Jimmy’s protests, the guys take over the place, even bringing in a stripper. Naturally, this is when a drunken Beth arrives home, entering the house in time to see a huge group of men gathered around a strange, skimpily clad women holding Otis.

Surprisingly, or perhaps because she’s too tipsy to think the situation through clearly, Beth is not upset. The fact that Jimmy did manage to stay sober and refused to allow the stripper to perform her act in the apartment help, but it’s hard to imagine any new mother not having a problem with a bunch of guys drinking beer out of her baby bottles. But Beth’s reaction is to reward Jimmy with a trip to the bedroom after all the guests have been shuffled out, ending their long drought.

If Jimmy and Beth have any redeeming qualities as parents it is their willingness to try. Despite their screw-ups, they both want to be good parents and to do the right thing, even if they haven’t got a clue. It is particularly refreshing to see this desire in Jimmy. His yearning to be a positive force in his family’s life makes him an anomaly on tv. This is a man who places his wife’s needs before his own, who tries to shield his child from his unsympathetic friends, and who is unapologetic to his buddy and employer about not being a party boy anymore. The sincerity of his efforts to learn how to be a good husband and father already makes him a better parent than many of the other tv dads. He’s still a fuck-up, but at least Jimmy is trying.

Unfortunately, though, this positive image is buried in one of the worst sitcoms on tv. A sitcom should be funny; viewers should laugh, at least occasionally. While Rock Me Baby is to be commended for not relying on the toilet jokes that seem to be Jimmy’s stock and trade, it makes no effort to supply any other types of jokes either. As I watched the premiere episode, I grew to want there to be fart jokes, if they would have brought a smile to my face.

Far more problematic for the series is that it is schizophrenic in its approach. One the one hand, Jimmy and Beth clearly lack any substantive parenting skills and repeatedly make the wrong choices. On the other, they both try so hard to be good parents, they seem admirable. Those viewers who would be attracted by the “bad boy” shock-jock image of Jimmy will likely be turned off to find that the show is really about the struggles of parenting. Those who would be attracted by the prospect of exploring the humorous dimensions of new parenting will likely be horrified by the poor parenting decisions the couple make. Since the series has been paired with The Mullets on UPN’s schedule, it is most likely the network is trying to appeal to the former audience rather than the latter. However, the structure of the series is such that it will disappoint any potential viewer.

I went into viewing Rock Me, Baby expecting it to be bad. However, as the first episode progressed, I started wanting the show to be good. As soon as Jimmy agreed to forgo his night on the town to allow his wife a well-earned night out, I felt that tv had finally come up with a character that, although dumb as dirt, really could be a model for new fathers in terms of his recognition of his role in the family. It’s such a shame that this role model is buried in a show that is so unwatchable.