If I Hadn’t Made Me, I’d Have Fallen Apart By Now

Forgive me whileFour Christmases I climb up on my soapbox for a bit.  But I’ve noticed this trend in movies and TV shows, not a pervasive trend, but one that rears its annoying head every now and then.  And it’s grating on my nerves.  You see, men and women as depicted in film simply cannot achieve a life of fullfillment unless they find their soulmate and have babies.  I know, I know… the vast majority of adults want to be married and want to be parents, so this depiction is merely mirroring real life.  But what irks me are these characters who at the beginning of the story profess their desire not to settle down and have kids and proceed to undergo some life-altering revelation during which they realize they’ve been lying to themselves all along and really do, like everyone else, just want to be happily married with a kid or two.

Four Christmases is the most recent example of such a scenario.  At the start, main characters Kate and Brad want to enjoy their lives without the constraints of parenthood.  They travel around the world, excel in their careers and dote on each other.  That is, until they get stuck spending time with their families during the holiday season and after seeing their nephews and nieces, realize what they’ve really been wanting the whole time is that which they adamantly insisted was not for them: marriage and babies.  Yes, by the film’s end, they pull a complete 180 and confess their deep desires for those very things they originally claimed to abhor.  Fifty Shades of Grey and Twilight, while not expressly about this subject, also fall victim to its themes.  Both sets of couples end up happier than humanly possible at the close of their respective stories because they wind up with something they never thought they wanted (or never gave much thought to at all): marriage and babies.  Such stories are less about couples finding happiness and more about conformity and lack of individuality and/or free will and WHAT THE FUCK, HOLLYWOOD???  When will you give it a rest?

Just to be clear, I have no problems with marriage, commitment or parenthood but I don’t understand why any person should be cClooneyonsidered in denial or even unstable simply because he/she doesn’t want either one or both of those things.  Do we all have to live the same life?  Is it such a radical idea to believe that marriage and/or parenthood simply aren’t for everyone?  Isn’t the great freedom of America that we have the right to pursue our own happiness, whatever that entails?  Does anyone actually believe George Clooney is a repressed wanna-be husband/father who’s been in denial or somehow unaware of his true desires his whole adult life?  Bitch, please.

Look, I love a good romantic comedy and I’m certainly not suggesting that all movies in which two people fall in love, marry and copulate are worthless.  I, too, swooned when Harry and Sally finally got together and I rooted for Bridget Jones and Mark Darcy to fall in love from the very first scene.  “A life without love, that’s terrible!”  (To be said like the most swoon-worthy of them all, Ewan McGregor, in pursuit of a certain cortisan.)  But do ALL love stories have to end in wedding bells and a bun in the oven?  I, for one, feel that each of our lives should be sort of tailor-made.  Countless “I’m a single career woman suddenly forced into custody of my sister’s/best friend’s/random relative’s baby” movies the likes of Baby Boom, The Family Man, Raising Helen, No Reservations, Life As We Know It, etc. perpetuate the idea that single/child-free individuals can only know how empty their lives are after being forced into parenthood.  Then, it all becomes clear and they can move forward in their new, enriched and superior lives.  Frankly, it’s a played out and tired tale.

Occasionally, we do get stories about individuals who truly do not yearn for marriage/parenthood.  And those people are portrayed as having a tumblr_mifrltUIlK1s2ohego1_250mental illness.  Cases in point: Big Fan and Young Adult.  While both are excellent flicks in their own right, I would love to watch a film about a character who doesn’t desire to be a parent and is simultaneously a healthy, stable and happy adult.  I realize they’re the minority but they do in fact exist.  Actually, only once, just ONCE, and very recently, have I seen such a character.  In last week’s episode of the superb HBO series, Enlightened, guest star Dermot Mulroney who’s playing an unattached journalist described the reasons for his past divorce and never have I heard someone explain it as simply and succinctly as this: “We just wanted different things.  She wanted kids and dogs and Christmas trees.  What I want is to live in this world.  I’m greedy.  I want meaning.  I want experience.  I want to make a difference… all that bullshit.”

I know that a healthy, committed relationship is deeply satisfying and I don’t doubt that being a parent is a tremendously rewarding experience.  But that path is far from the only road to a full and happy life and I’d really love to see the other side get its moment in the sun.

~Nikki

Where Was My Fault In Loving You With My Whole Heart?

Maybe this has never happened to you.  Maybe you have perfectly appropriate, clearly defined boundaries.  Maybe you’re able to appreciate what you’ve got while you have it without pining for more.  Good for you.  I, on the other hand, am one greedy monkey.  When I find something I like, I want to hold on to it.  I want to relish in it.  I want to stretch out my time with it, make it last as long as possible.  Maybe you don’t know that place, but it’s a place I’ve come to frequent so often, I might as well buy some drapes and call it home.  Thanks to countless creative minds and a handful of talented actors, I visit that place several times a week.  Allow me to introduce to you five “guest” characters I’ve become so fond of, I can’t bear to think of them as temporary:

Ray Romano as Hank Rizzoli, ParenthoodI am, truly, a fan of the adorable Jason Ritter, who has played the love interest of Lauren Graham’s Sarah Braverman for a couple of seasons.  And while I do think they make one damned cute couple, I have come to prefer the cantankerous Hank Rizzoli as her suitor.  He’s a little older but Sarah is such a spastic, whimsical thing, I think his stern introspective nature would compliment her chaotic personality, be the yin to her yang and allow her to grow and embrace adulthood with a seriousness she lacks but sorely needs.

Joan Cusack as Sheila Jackson, ShamelessCusack has blown me away as the emotionally unstable, sexually deviant girlfriend of Frank Gallagher for two full seasons and, sadly, judging by the turn of events surrounding her character at last season’s close, she’ll likely not join the cast for the upcoming third season.  I’m not typically an advocate for flimsy, convenient plot lines just for the sake of keeping a character around, but Cusack’s bold, hilarious performance brought such joy and raucous humor to the show, it’s hard to imagine it without her.

Zachary Quinto as Dr. Oliver Thredson, American Horror StoryIt’s hard to say how large a part Quinto will have in this current season of AHS but he’s listed as “guest star” in the credits, which makes me fearful that his Dr. Thredson will soon die at Bloody Face’s maniacal hands.  I sincerely hope not, since his delicious portrayal of the catty interior decorator ghost last season was one of the show’s highlights.

Chloe Sevigny as Shelley, AHSTruth be told, imprisoned nymphomaniac Shelley has had the least amount of character development, the worst lines and the most unfortunate haircut of all of AHS: asylum’s characters thus far, but, because Sevigny is such an absurdly skilled actor, I still like Shelley and want her to stick around in the hopes that the writers will improve her dialogue and give her a story line worthy of Sevigny’s talent.

Rupert Friend as Peter Quinn, HomelandProbably my favorite on this list, Friend has, in two episodes, become such a key player and an enigmatic force on Homeland that I’m not only hoping for a lengthy run for him, I’d really like to see him and Claire Danes’ character, Carrie Mathison, develop a relationship beyond the professional.  Both Quinn and Carrie are whip-smart, bull-headed and seemingly volatile.  Add to that each actor’s ability to steal a scene and I think a complicated, charged relationship between the two would make this show even more heart-poundingly intense.

~Nikki

Do You See Dark Clouds Rollin’ In Fast

I don’t know about you, but I’ve been so very curious lately about what TV will look like come September.  Rumors abound that the beloved Parks and Recreation will be no more and 30 Rock is on its way out, as well, so naturally, I’ve taken to the web for some investigatory searches.  Here’s the scoop:

Parks & Rec has been renewed for a full season (!!!!) along with our cherished Happy Endings. 🙂

30 Rock has been renewed for a 13 episode final season – okay by me, really, because, even though I do love this show dearly and watch faithfully every week, I think it’s time to wrap it up.  I’m glad it’s going to end before I’m completely exhausted of it.

The Office has at least one more season in store and John Krasinski, Jenna Fischer and Ed Helms are all still on board.  My sincerest hope is that the writers step it up and reclaim that satirical, ironic hilarity that made this show such a monumental hit, instead of what they’ve done all season long, which is make every character as asinine and pathetic as possible.

Community has been promised at least 13 more episodes (and possibly more) with the option for a 5th season.  Thank god, too, because even though it took a loooong time for me to warm up to these ridiculous characters, Community has really hit its stride this season.  Here’s hoping John Goodman makes a reappearance, as well.

NBC has also renewed Up All Night, for those of you who watch.  I’ve already given up on it.  I tried but I couldn’t get into it.

Parenthood will continue for at least 15 more episodes.  Again, it took more than a full season for me to feel invested in any of these characters but I have long since been hooked.  Season 3 displayed some of the best writing I’ve ever seen on television and I am eagerly looking forward to what’s next for the Braverman clan.

Don’t Trust The B—- In Apt. 23 has been renewed and, though still in its infancy, it does show promise.  Both Grey’s Anatomy and Modern Family have also been renewed for another full season and, while I do DVR both of these shows, I find it increasingly hard to watch every week.  They have peaked and are now merely tiresome and annoying.  Here’s hoping they’ll make this upcoming season their last.

~Nikki

I’m Gonna Need You Down This Yellow Brick Road

Unlike some, who apparently took great offense to the unconventional romantic comedy, Friends With Kids, I quite enjoyed it.  Aside from the final four or five lines, I thought it was an original and honest look at the state of affairs regarding American marriages and families today.

The thing is, raising a child (let alone, children) is hard.  Physically, emotionally, financially, and mentally draining.  Under the best of circumstances, it is seriously challenging.  Parents with small children are sleep-deprived, stressed out, anxious, nervous, broke, hungry and exhausted.  And all with good reason.  Yet, if you ask a single one of them how they feel about the experience of being a parent, they will look you straight in the eyes and say it is the best thing they’ve ever done.  And they mean it.  In all honestly, I understand why.  It’s almost universally true in life that the harder something is, the more rewarding it feels to succeed at it.  And parenthood is full of successes, big and small.  Daily successes like the impromptu hug from your toddler, the macaroni necklace made by their tiny hands, the B in math for which they worked tirelessly.  And much bigger ones like your child’s acceptance into college, his/her hard-earned promotion at work, or the blissful satisfaction of seeing him/her function independently in life, a healthy, happy adult.

But let’s not kid ourselves about some of the uglier realities of parenthood.  It’s a 20 year-long endeavor during which you must, at every turn, put your own needs and desires second (or third or fourth) to your child’s.  All of your time and money and energy is consumed by them and what they need and want and what you want for them.  It is, in fact, hard.  And there are as many approaches to it as there are parents in the world.  Which is why it’s so easy, after becoming parents, for two people to drift apart.  To grow resentful, angry, bitter towards one another.  To feel unappreciated, unloved, undervalued and overwhelmed.  To take out all those emotions on the only other adult in the room.  To realize, suddenly, that this person you married is not, in fact, the best friend you’ll ever have, but someone who doesn’t care enough about your happiness to pick up his own dirty socks.  Or take the kids to the park on Sunday morning so you could sleep in.  Or forgo an hour of sleep Sunday morning to sneak in a little nookie before the kids wake up.  You stop helping each other, appreciating each other, hell, you stop seeing each other at all as anything other than one more person relying on you to take care of them.  And before you know it, you can’t stand each other.

Does this happen to every couple?  Of course not.  Does it (or some variation of it) happen a lot?  Yes.  We all know at least one couple with a similar story.  And with the divorce rate hovering somewhere around 50% (that’s 1 out of 2 marriages, people), I’m betting we all know more than one couple who can relate to what I’ve just described.

Friends With Kids is the story of two people who recognize this pattern and come up with an alternative approach to parenting in an effort to beat the system.  Two best friends who’d prefer to skip the failed marriage and jump straight into joint custody, thereby eliminating the most painful and unpleasant steps in the process.  Written and directed by the female lead, Jennifer Westfeldt, FWK takes a close look at all of the realities of not just parenting, but what it can do to marriages, friendships and every other relationship in a person’s life.  Westfeldt plays Julie, a thirty-something singleton in Manhattan who wants a baby but has not yet met “her person,” someone with whom she’d like to spend the rest of her life.  Her very best friend, Jason (Adam Scott), would also like to be a parent but seems incapable of a relationship that lasts longer than a week or two.  After seeing their best friends’ marriages struggle (and in one case, fall apart completely) after having children, they decide they’re better off having a baby together and skipping the whole marriage-and-divorce thing.  Win-win.

The problem doesn’t arrive until several months after their baby is born, when Julie falls in love with her baby daddy.  And why wouldn’t she?  He actually is her best friend- he’s kind, supportive, honest, helpful, willing and able to share half (literally, fully, half) of the parenting responsibilities and so obviously has deep, sincere respect and appreciation for her not just as the mother of his child, but as a human being.  All of which is showcased in the most touching, heartfelt and beautiful speech given by Jason in Julie’s defense when a friend calls them irresponsible for their choice to procreate together.  The hitch: he’s just not attracted to her.

The friends of these two are played by none other than Maya Rudolph & Chris O’Dowd and Kristen Wiig & Jon Hamm (Westfeldt’s real life, long-time boyfriend).  Both sets of couples begin the film married and childfree but soon have a baby or two and their marriages are never the same again.  Which is pretty much how it is in real life, for better or worse.  My initial reaction to that first scene showing the effects of child-rearing on them was that it must have been a gross exaggeration.  Then I started thinking about some of my friends and family members and their marriages and how they changed after the little ones came along.  And in all honesty, I don’t think it was all that exaggerated.  A bit, for humor’s sake, but not much.  In fact, it was the super supportive, understanding, completely equal interactions between Jason and Julie that sometimes felt unrealistic.

I enjoyed all but the last two or three minutes of the movie, all but that final scene when Adam Scott gives the worst “I love you” speech ever written.  Which felt extra disappointing because of the beautifully moving speech he’d already given about Julie.  Otherwise, it’s an enjoyable and interesting flick with a great cast and several laughs.  And the message I took away from it was neither anti-children nor anti-marriage (nor pro-either of those) but that if you want either (or both) of them, be prepared to work your ass off.  With someone you genuinely like.

~Nikki

You Can’t Write If You Can’t Relate (Remix)

I realized while watching last week’s episode of Up All Night, which stunk by the way, that the ever-widening gap between America’s rich and the rest of us has reached such a humungous birth, it has now pushed its way into pop culture.  A goofball sitcom like Up All Night is supposed to be a show to which most Americans can relate.  After all, it centers on two new parents trying to adjust to the demands of juggling work, marriage and taking care of a baby.  Surely that basic human experience transcends the barriers between financial status and social class, doesn’t it?  Actually, no.  Because the parents of little Amy, who is, as her TV dad (Will Arnett) said, 0 years old, aren’t worried about finding a babysitter or paying for daycare.  Their big concern this week was getting their daughter a spot in an expensive private preschool, a seat she won’t be ready to fill for another 3 or 4 years (the waiting list is years-long, naturally), in an effort to increase her chances of getting into Harvard some 17 or 18 years down the road.  Is the average American supposed to be able to relate to this?

To buy her daughter’s future, Amy’s mom, Reagan (Christina Applegate), offers to organize a charity auction for the fancy preschool during which other rich parents of future Ivy leaguers donate sums of money presumably as large as (or larger than) the annual income of the average adult watching this show on their bargain furniture couch in their 1200 square-foot house in their working class neighborhood.  The other story line this week reflects the same sad standard-of-life gap.  Arnett’s character, Chris, gets into a pathetic competition with his visiting brother, both of whom chose power careers (lawyer and Wall Street broker, respectively) and now cannot get over their delicate egos enough to admit to each other that they’ve had to forgo professional advancement for personal reasons.  Get a clue Hollywood!  Those of us in the middle-class can’t afford such stupid vanity.  I couldn’t even finish this episode.  I shut it off half-way through before the convenient resolutions to the pseudo-problems of the wealthy parents to whom I can’t even try to relate.

I’m not asking that every TV show be another Roseanne or Shameless, though I loved Roseanne and adore Shameless, but at least give us some people we can identify with.  I have NOTHING in common with Reagan, other than the fact that we’re both 30-something white chicks living in the U.S.  And I have no desire to watch rich people create and then whine about fake problems every week only to pat themselves on the back 22 minutes later for finding the obvious solutions to those stupid non-problems.  If I wanted to watch that, I’d have gone to see that awful Sarah Jessica Parker flick (I Don’t Know How She Does It or something – I don’t know, I didn’t see it) last year.

The tag line for Up All Night is: “Sleep is for babies.”  Which sounds like something all parents could appreciate, right?  Except that not one episode I’ve seen of this show addresses the sleep deprivation all new parents experience.  Or the financial adjustment that accompanies parenthood.  Just a few days ago at work, one of my co-workers commented that when her kids were young, she and her husband had a hard time adjusting to being broke all the time.  Another co worker chimed in: “They sure do suck all your money out of you.”  Somehow, I doubt Chris and Reagan could relate to that.  Which means that the writers of Up All Night can’t relate to it, which bodes the question, How could they write something most Americans will connect with if they know nothing of the issues most Americans deal with everyday?  The answer: they can’t.  Which is why Up All Night sucks.

You want another smash hit, Hollywood?  Give us something we knowThe Office (U.K.) reached syndication in 80 countries around the world and spawned something like 20 remakes (including our own massive success here is the U.S.) because every episode dealt with things that nearly every human being alive has experienced.  Don’t expect us to watch the contrived, upper-class problems of the six or seven-figure earners and actually give a shit.  It’s like asking a homeless guy to cry for you because you can’t decide which restaurant to take your family out to on Friday night.

~Nikki

Stuck Still No Turning Back

It was a bit of a crazy week, what with the holiday and all, and there were reruns a plenty, something to be thankful for since it allowed me to catch up on the shows that have been piling up on my DVR.  Of all the series I regularly watch (way too many, by the way), these were the Best of The Best this week:

How To Make It In America: The Season 2 Finale aired this past Sunday and, though far from a perfect episode, it was one of the best of the season.  Ben finally realized that Yoshi is a hack, but not before inadvertently exposing his affair with Nancy – surprisingly not as big a deal as I expected.  He and Cam made up, which warmed the cockles of my heart.  (I love Cam.)  Rachel’s storyline has been weird all season and this episode was another odd installment.  Is she really going to work for the Neanderthal dude?  He’s Ben’s competition, for crying out loud.  First she slept with Domingo and now she’s taking a job from Ben’s rival.  Maybe she’s out for revenge or something.  If so, change it up, girlie.  Ben’s not quite taking the hint.  Regardless, it was a good season closer.  I’m looking forward to what’s next for these guys.  If for no other reason, this show is NYC eye candy like you’ve never seen.  Every episode makes me long to go back to the Big Apple.

The Sing-Off: OH MY GOD!!!!  Pentatonix KILLED it again this week!  If they don’t win this competition, I will swear off reality TV for good.  I literally can’t wait until they put out a CD so I could buy and memorize it.

Sons of Anarchy: Three words: Opie shot Clay!!  Holy mother of mayhem – this season is out of control!  Clay has been progressively turning into a villain all season and I’ve thought for some time now that he would either be dead or in prison before the season finished BUT SERIOUSLY – I can’t believe Opie shot him!  I’m so glad it was Opie, though, since Clay is entirely responsible for both Donna’s and Piney’s deaths.  If anybody deserved to shoot that bastard, it was Opie.  And Otto, oh Otto, you broke my heart.  (To be said like Michael Corleone after a full-on mouth-to-mouth smooch.)  Although, after Bobby read some of that list Otto wrote, I couldn’t hold it against him.  Cannot wait for the 2-part season finale!

Parenthood: This was not my favorite episode of the season BUT, I’m so, so, so insanely happy that Crosby and Jasmine have finally buried the hatchet and gotten back together…that is, if they’re back together for real.  It’s possible they just hooked up in a moment of weakness.  But I suspect they’ll give it another go and I am elated.  On a different note, I’m also glad that Adam didn’t fire Rachel.  She deserves a chance to redeem herself.  Christina, on the other hand, needs to dial down the crazy.  I totally get the jealousy and her insecurity -Rachel is damn near a goddess- but come on!  Adam adores you and is, like, the perfect dad and husband.  And he tolerates your insanity better than any other man (or woman) would!

Happy Endings: Again, not the best overall episode so far this year, but Max and Penny cracked me up this week.  Max is rapidly becoming my favorite character.  And how could he not with lines like this: “I hate kids.  And I’m not talking the type of hate that goes away after a series of zany misadventures where we grow to love each other.  I’m talking a blistering hate of them and their creepy tiny features.”

Did I miss anything…what impressed you the most this week?

~Nikki

Close Your Eyes And Trust It, Just Trust It

I’m feeling introspective.  Wondering why it is that I’m different from most others.  I’ve had a great life, better than most, I’d venture to say.  I’ve known what it is to love and to be loved, to be valued, every single day of my 30 years.  I’ve known very little pain, minimal heartache.  Why, then, do I not want what nearly everyone else I know wants, what my siblings, those people who grew up in the same house, raised by the same people, want?  You grow up, you get an education, establish a career, find a partner, get married, have babies, give your children the life you want them to have, right?  Isn’t that the dream?

It’s the dream of the vast majority of people I know and probably the vast majority of all the people I don’t know.  But it is not my dream.  I have a career, a job in medical science that I genuinely love (not the people or the politics, but the WORK), a husband I love, with whom I am truly happy, a nice house, a beautiful dog – aren’t kids the next logical step?  But everything in me tells me no.  And not because I don’t love children; I do.  Really.  I have 2 nephews and 3 nieces whom I adore, with whom I love spending time.  And I admit I am a little curious about what a product of my husband and me would look like, would act and think and be like.  But I don’t want to be a mom.  I don’t want to spend the next 18, 20, 25 years raising a family.  What does that say about me?  Am I a bad person, a selfish person?  An abnormal woman?  Perhaps.  One thing I most certainly am is different.

Here’s what else I know about me: I’m restless.  If I were to be completely honest (and hell, why not?), I’d admit that I equate having babies with the end of me as I know me.  The end of my life as it is, as I’ve shaped it.  I know I want more.  Not more family, not more people in my house, but more for me.  I hear parents say that without their kids their lives would be empty.  They’d be bored, dissatisfied.  I often feel bored and dissatisfied but I don’t think kids are the answer for me.  I don’t want something to fill my time.  I want to keep exploring who I am, what I’m capable of, what I have to offer.  And I think being a mother would greatly interfere with that.  Would it enrich my life?  I’m sure.  Would I love my children beyond what I’m even aware I’m capable of?  Absolutely.  But does that mean I should go ahead and bring people into this world when I feel in my very core that the life of a full-time working mom is not for me?  No.

What I did not expect is the great divide.  The wall that’s erected as soon as you say it out loud: “I don’t want to have kids.  Not now.  Maybe not ever.”  A line is drawn in the sand and I’m on one side and damn near everyone else on earth is on the other.  People look at me differently.  And not strangers, not mere acquaintances (well, them too, but who the hell cares what they think?), but people who’ve known me my whole life.  Family, friends, those with whom I have the oldest and closest relationships.  Don’t they know me?  I’m still the same person who’s played with their kids and enjoyed every minute of it.  I’m the same girl who’s babysat and cared for their children.  I’m not, suddenly, some child-eating monster lacking in maternal instincts.  I still love their kids and I love spending time with them.  Why does the fact that I don’t share their desire to have babies change who I am in their eyes?  I don’t feel like I’ve changed.  I feel pushed out, excluded, ostracized and I don’t understand why.  I didn’t go to the same college as them, didn’t choose the same career, I don’t live in the same city.  Yet those different choices caused no change in our relationships, no divide among us.  Why is the choice not to procreate different?

My husband and I (and our dog, of course), we are already a family and we’re enough for each other.  I’m enough for me.  I guess, naively, I thought everyone else would understand.

Thanks for listening.

~N.