Lazy script writing and ‘demonic lace monsters’- Why I have a problem with sitcom mothers

Mother in Law, Wedding

Photo by Flickr user Andrew Morrell Photography, used under Creative Commons License.

I often, in real life, get the feeling I’m out of step with the rest of my gender, usually when I’ve forgotten to brush my hair before I leave the house or some such frippery. But these differences seem small when I compare myself with sitcom women my age, women more likely to be bride’s mother than bride.

They only have to hint at the ‘wedding’ word on TV, and would-be mother-in-laws start clutching at sofas so tightly you can practically hear their nails popping little crescents into the PVC. (Note: Would-be mother in laws are over-40 for working class characters, and over-45 for middle class, who obviously don’t start breeding so vulgarly early.)

Matrimonial fervour was ratcheted right up in the recent Hebburn (BBC2) and Cuckoo (BBC3). Both sitcoms shared the same premise – young couple get married abroad (Vegas and Thailand respectively) on the sly. But disappointingly, they also shared almost hysteric maternal reactions, centred around a kind of “I missed out on my big day, you ‘owe’ me a wedding” sentiment. Yeah, they used the word ‘owed’ in both sitcoms, which is a strange way to view things, balancing the books as if life is one long accountancy spreadsheet. If you live it that way, before long you’ll be ‘owed’ a funeral.

All for the chance to swan around in a floral outfit

In the spirit of full disclosure, I ‘owe’ my mum a wedding (but then she ‘owes’ me a big 21st party) – my husband and I snuck off without telling, and even my pragmatic ‘if you want to talk tradition, do you know how much money I saved you?’ wasn’t much of a salve. It’s not that I don’t like romance-   I confess to having shed a little tear at Don’t Tell The Bride – It’s just that my own version of romance never included wedding favours (no I don’t really know what they are), being stared at in a frock and a cold marquee filled with chairs wrapped up to look like linen tombstones.

I never sought ‘my big day’, so when and if my own children marry, will that be my second chance? What will happen if they don’t marry? They’ll ‘owe’ me; and how will I claim it? Is the chance to swan around in a floral outfit some kind of payback for all those fish fingers I cooked? “Grrrr *shakes fist* I changed your shitty nappy all those times, I’m owed some romance, goddamit.” In which case, thanks, but I’d sooner crawl under the bed and eat the dust.

Cuckoo (Andy Samberg) holding a cat with a better-developed character than the 'sitcom mother'

Cuckoo (Andy Samberg) holding a cat with a better-developed character than the standard ‘sitcom mother’

Attack of the demonic lace monster

The assumption that the writers of these sitcoms seem to be making is that while young women can be spontaneous, older women in their forties (can you believe women live to be that old?) are bound by the response of times gone by and that once your child is over puberty, you turn into some demonic lace monster, giddy at the thought of a borrowed garter. That ‘older’ women live for these moments; just the very thought of being mother of the bride stirs us again, flickers the ever-dimming light bulb in our brains into one last mad confetti frenzy and finally, sobs we have a reason to struggle on.

These are women characters in their mid-40s, not from the 40s. I’m talking about women whose influences growing up might have been rave culture or Spice Girls, David Bowie or Brookside. Women who might have gone to punk gigs, read NME when it was broadsheet-size, gone to Greenham. Women who might just have read a book, once. Let’s not forget: fiction is a chance to select from the MOST INTERESTING influences, not the most pedestrian. Given that you’re in charge as the writer, why choose to perpetuate the most tedious notion? And why assume that ‘has squeezed a child out’ will do as character description?

Script writing with left-over characters from the cupboard

I understand how scripts work; I know that an undramatic response can drag a narrative into flatline. And maybe men are as fed up by the stereotype ascribed to them: rolling their eyes and getting out their calculators because what really matters to sitcom dads is the cost of everything. What it smacks of is writing that pours all its energy into interesting young characters and doesn’t apply the same thought process to the older ones, is happy to rely on left-over characters they found in the cupboard. It’s a shame; they mistook traditional for dated, and it stops things really flying.

Still. Both sitcoms have been commissioned for a second series, when the weddings are good and done. Maybe this is the time when the mum characters will get more interesting ideas, really come into their own, have fully rounded lives. Oh god. I’ve just realised. They’ll be hysterically screeching for grandchildren next, won’t they? It’s not that I don’t like children…

… hang on, I’ll stop and save this for next time.

Previously by Jenny Landreth- Out the other side: On becoming ‘post-menopausal’

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1 comment on this postSubmit yours
  1. Well said and your thoughts are making me”tweak”all of my characters into the way I experience situations and the way I observe tm. Write for Real, not to arequirment, and eventuale you’ll get picked up AND be able ti write on your own terms. If someone needs money, take the cliché TV stuff BUT USE THAT MONEY TO GET YOUR OWN REAL PROJECT OFF THE GROUND. Fair play JENNY LANDRITH, more T.V AND FILM SCRIPTWRITERS should be following your thinking, or, their “gut.” Inspired artical that should be heeded, thanks.

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