It sure seems like a lot of teens are getting pregnant these days, and seeing pictures of Jamie Lynn Spears cheerfully roaming around Wal-Mart isn't really sending a message that baby-raisin' is hard to do. Seeing an education possibility (and by "education" we mean "ratings and profit") in this new "trend," NBC has created a reality TV show, The Baby Borrowers, based on a BBC program in the UK. The show follows five couples in their late-teens, all of "varying social and ethnic backgrounds", who want to experience the process of raising a child. Each week, the couples are given a new person to care for, ranging from infant to old person, and a major message is communicated: parenting is really hard! But did we need a TV show to tell us that? The critics weigh in, after the jump.
What's wrong with "The Baby Borrowers," NBC's new domestic reality show? For starters, everything, and then again nothing — nothing that isn't wrong with most reality shows of similar bent.
Once you accept as givens the many foibles and failings of the format — exploitation and humiliation packaged as entertainment — "Baby Borrowers" is not without value, and value beyond whatever ratings it might earn for NBC, king of the have-no-shames. Insights into human behavior, particularly stress-driven behavior, are not beyond possibility. And at a basic, manipulative level, the show is bound to have you rooting for some of the contestants while hissing and booing others.
Only one of the young women, Kelly, a student at Auburn University in Alabama, demonstrates a real knack for parenthood. She is horrified when Morgan, a fellow mother-in-training and a surfer from San Diego, changes a diaper without wiping the baby's bottom first. Morgan, who is blond and sullen and dismissed by her boyfriend for her laziness, seems consistently surprised by the digestive habits of the very young. She constantly wears an expression of confusion, as if to say, "I auditioned for ‘The Hills' and still don't understand why I never got a callback."
The experiment, which can get repetitive, also tests the solidity of each relationship. Morgan and her boyfriend, Daton, acknowledge their shakiness upfront, but the other couples seem to assume that they are strong enough to withstand the stresses of regurgitation and tantrums.
With its emphasis on the domestic, "The Baby Borrowers" has the potential to be that rare animal — a show for the whole family. Even the youngest children can appreciate a baby spitting out food or how gross it is to change a poopy diaper, teens will like seeing their peers mouth off and mess up, and parents, of course, will emerge feeling victorious, validated at last for all their unsung heroics.
But the take-away is probably sweetest for women over 30. All the young women on "The Baby Borrowers" are lovely to look at, with their flawless skin and unlined faces. But watching them whipsaw between independence and petulance, confidence and narcissism, those of us who have reached adulthood with our faculties intact can exult in the fact that, no matter what else happens in our lives, we will never, ever, have to be 18 again.
And that's the mind-boggling question at the center of NBC'sThe Baby Borrowers, TV's latest life's-a-joke assault on the boundaries of bad taste: Who in heaven's name would lend their infant out as a reality-show challenge? Yet there they are, five babies given to five teenage couples in a "groundbreaking experiment" that, as the show progresses, will find the same couples caring for toddlers, pre-teens, teens and, in the end, senior citizens.
Tonight at 8 ET/PT, Baby Borrowers wants to have things both ways, teasing you with the quickly dismissed possibility that the babies might be at risk while ignoring the cold, hard fact that they are at risk, no matter what safeguards exist. If the borrowers drop those babies, how could the show's "shadow nannies" catch them before they hit the floor? And even if the babies aren't in danger, what is the upside for them in this arrangement? They certainly don't seem very happy about it.
As a consequence, viewers who endure the first few episodes will probably find themselves pulled along if only for the final crawl to see which couples survived the experiment.
At one point, as a toddler drives one couple to distraction, the kid's real mom — watching a monitor — wryly muses that this is the point where the pseudo-parents "run screaming for the condom aisle."
The conceit, and joke, of "The Office" is the idea that a documentary on office life is an absurdity wrapped in an inanity. What happens in an office? Well, people push paper around, and gossip, and go out after work, and ... In a sense, "Baby Borrowers" has embraced this conceit without embracing the absurdity. What is it like to raise a baby, whether you're a teen or adult? Well, it's really hard work, and babies burp and cry and you don't sleep much, and ... Yes, this is life, and yes, as subject matter for television, this is also boring. NBC clearly has serious intentions here (producer Tom Kelly, a "Survivor" alum, is a master of the form). Teenage pregnancy does exist (have you heard?) and this show wants to serve, on some level as a reality check. Such checks are fine. That doesn't make them watchable.
Realism just isn't Baby Borrowers strong suit. The show's idea of simulating pregnancy is having its teenage contestants don fat suits. And even such a simple challenge is enough to drive a wedge between one couple, Kelly and Austin. [audio of Austin making fun of Kelly in a "suit like a pregnant lady," Kelly throwing a tantrum because he laughed at her and refusing to wear the fat suit] Yes, there is plenty of crying, whining, and whimpering on this show. And sometime you'll hear from the babies as well If poor Kelly can't deal with a fat suit, can you imagine her attempting breast-feeding?
A show like Baby Borrowers should really function as a gut-check for any teenager contemplating early parenthood. But too often it just goes for silly sight gags like dirty diapers.
"The Baby Borrowers" premieres tonight on NBC at 9/8 c.