Tuesday, August 9, 2022

Move, Lorelai. Nikki from Trying is the best TV mom ever

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EEvery generation has its own iconic TV mom. The OG is Leave it to beavers‘s June Cleaver, an archetypal 1950s housewife who was never without pearls. The Brady Bund‘s Carol was a raunchy sitcom mom and stepmom — a ’70s update that recognizes the changing shape of families. Her wife-can-have-anything successor from the 1980s was Clair Huxtable from The Cosby Showwho juggled five children and a legal career.

There were prickly but loving mothers (Sophia in The golden girls), bad but good mothers (Married… with children Peg Bundy) and excited but devoted mothers (Claire Dunphy from modern family). They weren’t idealized, but they did their job brilliantly. Lorelai Gilmore out Gilmore Girls, which ran from 2000 to 2007, has long been considered a high point in the annals of TV moms. She’s so good at being a mom, she’s hardly a mom, she’s a friend. Now I would like to officially introduce Nikki Newman from the Apple TV+ sitcom To attemptto the exclusive club of TV moms worth hurrying home to.

It’s a long overdue distinction. In the first two seasons of the British sitcom, Nikki, played by Esther Smith, and her partner Jason (Rafe Spall) “try” to adopt a child. (In the pilot episode, the London couple are quickly told that no matter how many times they try, IVF will not be successful.) And so they embark on the tedious journey to adoption, with its rigorous schedule of interviews and inspections, and notoriously long Waiting Times – a clever twist on what it means to “try” yourself for kids. There is no question that Nikki should be a mother, only a lot of bureaucracy threatens to get in the way. But in last year’s emotional season finale, Nikki and Jason were (tentatively) approved to adopt Princess, a young girl to be separated from her even younger brother, Tyler.

And so in season three we see how Nikki is the mother she fought so hard to be. She smashes it from the first hurdle when she insists on keeping Tyler, who stows away in the family car. But most of motherhood doesn’t consist of great exploits. It’s a reminder to take a water bottle with you literally everywhere. It is to know the blood type of everyone. It makes a million tiny decisions without even realizing it.

What I love most about Nikki’s motherhood is how naturally her new role seems to fit her, even as we see her struggle with it. The show carefully differentiates between an effortless mom and a natural mom. When I started looking Gilmore Girls As a teenager, I was blown away by the quick wit between Lorelai and her 16-year-old daughter, Rory, whose real name was also Lorelai. (I loved that.) They ate junk food and drank coffee together. They had their occasional dust issues, but for the most part their relationship felt easy. To my teenage eyes, she was the ideal TV mom: long-haired and laid-back, always up for a movie marathon. It’s like the Lorelai didn’t even have to try.

Nikki, on the other hand, always tries. And I think many mothers, myself included, will recognize themselves in a woman who instinctively mothers her children and with a lot of diligence. For example, when Princess pushes her away, Nikki first tries to wait until the rebellion is over (yes, right). Then she tries to win Princess over by spoiling her (doesn’t work), followed by dipping a toe in the water of tough love (doesn’t even). She fights herself even though she hasn’t done anything wrong. This is parenting: a million best tries and, most importantly, micro-adjustments.

It’s heartbreaking for Nikki that the kids take on Jason – who quits his job to be their primary caregiver – almost immediately. To be fair, he has Fun Dad, another classic TV trope, written all over him. But it’s Nikki, whose approach to parenting is very empathetic and unambitious, little Google that feels like a TV parent in the Hall of Fame to me. It is not easy for her to empathize with Princess, but the desire to understand her children is inexhaustible. In the season three premiere, Nikki tells her daughter, who hasn’t had a stable life for who knows how long, that she’s a “little meerkat” – a problem child who’s always on the lookout for danger. I cried. More than once this season, Nikki will explain her children in a way that turns the hard sides of their personalities into delightful assets.

I am convinced of that To attempt is the cutest show on television since it premiered in 2020. Every broken character is lovingly broken; Aside from the issue of Nikki and Jason’s upcoming parenthood, the conflict is mostly about low stakes. On a colder show, adoption might not be the unqualified blessing she shows here. But there are plenty of shows about how hard it is to be a parent and maybe not fearless enough to be so sentimental about it. At times it was hard to imagine how Nikki would get from that dark moment in the doctor’s office to this one with a purse laden with so many other people’s water bottles. For Nikki, motherhood is a kind of wish-fulfillment, and it took her two painful seasons to earn her deserved – finally – emergence as the best mom on TV.

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