Welcome to Fancast’s new column, The Drama Club. Every Tuesday and Thursday, this is the place to go for discussion of all things hour long and non-procedural. If you love (or love to hate) shows like ‘Grey’s Anatomy,’ ‘Vampire Diaries,’ ‘Gossip Girl’ or ‘Men of A Certain Age,’ you’re in the right place.
Television is in the midst of an underage parenting boom. ‘The Secret Life of the American Teenager’ is a fairytale about a nerdy girl who gets knocked up by a popular boy at band camp. Though marketed as a cautionary tale (or cautionary whale as pop culture’s most famous pregnant teen ‘Juno’ might say), Amy has both the baby Daddy Ricky and sweet Ben as love interests. She had no trouble finding a part time after school job that gave her health insurance. Her school work has hardly suffered. All of her friends have stood by her. Her parents are supportive. Her baby barely cries. The show makes teen motherhood seem kind of awesome.
This strange glamorization of teen pregnancy has become a television staple. In the first season of ‘90210,’ Adrianna got pregnant. Though an affluent teen actress with a drug problem and a stage Mom who lives in a liberal community would in all likelihood get an abortion in real life unless her name is Jamie Lynn Spears, Adrianna went through with the pregnancy. The father wanted nothing to do with her, but a great guy offered to marry her and raise the child as his own. Once she chose adoption, her life returned to ‘90210’s definition of normal: a love triangle and a drug relapse. Giving up her child has barely seemed to affect her.
‘Grey’s Anatomy,’ a show that does not even have any teenage series regulars, has fallen prey to the siren call of teen pregnancy. Not only does Izzie’s backstory include a teen pregnancy, but Mark recently discovered he had a long lost pregnant eighteen year old daughter, Sloane. Of course he immediately took her into his home and decided to help raise her baby. Getting pregnant upgraded Sloane’s lifestyle and gave her the loving parent she always wanted, though Thursday’s episode found her having second thoughts about keeping the baby. In case that was not enough teen pregnancy to satiate fans of soapy medical dramas about adults, the ‘Grey’s/’Private Practice‘ crossover ended with the revelation that Naomi’s teenage daughter Maya was pregnant, too.
According to television, all teens do these days is have unsafe sex. A small statistical increase in the number of teen pregnancies coupled with the popularity of ‘Juno’ has made it the latest trendy teen social issue to exploit. In the 1980s, anti-drug hysteria led to a bunch of retrospectively awful sit-com episodes about suburban kids contemplating drug use. Back them teen characters were supposed to be role models, so they almost always just just said no. A few years ago an episode of ‘Frontline’ about a small group of teens in one town who got syphilis as a result of group sex resulted in numerous television episodes about suburban teen orgies. Pregnancies are just the latest way to titillate viewers with scandalous teen behavior while appearing to condemn it.
Lifetime is jumping on the bandwagon with its latest movie, ‘Pregnancy Pact,’ inspired by a group of teenage girls in Gloucester, Massachusetts who allegedly got pregnant deliberately. According to one of the film’s stars, Max Ehrich, “There’s a lot of messages in this film but the main one is teens not being aware of the opportunity costs that getting pregnant have.” The movie also dramatizes how abstinence-only sex education can lead to ignorance of birth control methods. That sounds positive and educational, but the details of the plot are more Teen Girls Gone Wild. Says Ehrich, who plays one of the teen fathers, “When [my character’s girlfriend] ends up getting pregnant, I stick by her side not knowing I was manipulated into it. I have no idea about the pact… She is fully in love with me. She knows that I want to go off to college and become a professional baseball player and she doesn’t think she’s smart enough to get into schools that I want to go to, so her motives have a lot to do with keeping me by her side.”
The CW’s charming new series ‘Life Unexpected’ explores the relationship between two people who hooked up once as teenagers, conceived a daughter and gave her up for adoption. They improbably end up gaining custody of her sixteen years later. The lucky former teen parents got to enjoy their youth, and now get to enjoy raising a smart, beautiful, self-sufficient teen without having to endure years of diaper changes and midnight feedings. The terrific ‘Gilmore Girls’ similarly skipped over all former teen Mom Lorelei’s difficult years working as a maid after being disowned by her family to present a well adjusted, middle class mother and daughter who are best friends. On TV, a past teen pregnancy is a convenient way to cast young, hot actors as parents.
An MTV reality show makes all of the scripted teen pregnancy dramas look like the fantasies they are. ‘Teen Mom,’ a sequel to last year’s ‘16 & Pregnant,’ is one of the most depressing shows on television. The mothers live bleak lives with little promise of a better future. Their relationships with their families are strained. Few of the dads have stood by them. They’ve lost friends. Even the couple that chose to give their baby up for adoption is devastated by the experience. Perhaps it will inspire scripted drama writers to start portraying fictional teen pregnancies more honestly.