“Staffing Up” demonstrates how off-putting Odd Mom Out can be while simultaneously justifying the show’s existence. A stay-at-home mother, Jill finds herself overwhelmed by her responsibilities, namely three children, a sick husband, a best friend in need of a fortieth birthday party, a volunteer position at Brooke’s pointless non-profit, and a negligent housekeeper. Obviously, many women cope with these types of obligations every day (minus the housekeeper) and somehow manage to make it work. Vanessa and Brooke helpfully remind Jill that there’s a key difference between her and most women, however—Jill can afford to hire a nanny.
Easily persuaded, Jill quickly grows accustomed to the idea despite her reservations and takes a liking to a nanny named Rowena. At first, Jill relishes her newfound freedom. Then Brooke acts as the devil on her shoulder, encouraging her to go shopping instead of spending time with her kids. Eventually the logistical and psychological chaos caused by hiring outsiders to fulfill her duties proves to be too much and Jill lets them go, Rowena’s words, “There’s nothing for you to do,” ringing in her ears.
So what’s the point of watching a privileged family over-exaggerate common problems and attempt to tackle them using methods that are unobtainable to most Americans? Every class experiences similar anxieties, but satire of upper class hysteria can call attention to them in an especially entertaining way. When Jill’s decision to hire a nanny is paired with a reference to the book Lean In, it’s clear that the writers are interested in exploring broader feminist issues through this specific narrative. Hiring a nanny in order to free up some time—time that will be spent volunteering for a useless nonprofit and shopping—may be a selfish decision for a wealthy character to make, the decision also speaks to a more sympathetic cause. Skewering the predicament that ambitious women find themselves in when trying to decide how to split their time between work and family brings attention and humor to a sobering reality faced by a large segment of the population. The science fiction drama, Humans, also explores the topics of motherhood and delegating parental responsibilities by creating a scenario in which a woman feels threatened by a robot nanny. In that case, drama and science fiction allow for the exploration of a worthwhile topic while Odd Mom Out employs a satirical approach. Jill’s decision to employ two housekeepers and a nanny even though she’s already a stay-at-home mom may seem absurd; her eventual realization that she needs to actually spend time with her children instead of delegating every parental obligation to others may fail to impress. Still, the extent to which mothers should feel responsible for every one of their children’s needs to the detriment of their own is a long-debated topic for a reason, and this is a valid approach of exploring it.
Not only does the episode address Jill’s descent into “detached” parenting, but it makes a case for how this type of extreme delegation can end up taking place. Jill gets so stressed out about hiring help in order to lessen her stress that she flakes out on a lunch date with Vanessa. By the time they reschedule, Jill’s self-confidence is beginning to slip as she sees her positions of mother and woman of the house being threatened by her cadre of domestic employees. She’s already in a vulnerable place when the ominous phrase, “There’s nothing for you to do” is uttered to her again, and by a co-worker of Vanessa’s who now seems to have thrown her hat into the ring for the title of best friend. Most importantly, Jill’s reaction to that threat is reinforcing her position as supervisor of a domestic staff instead of realizing that her priorities are out of whack. Jill senses that she’s losing footing with Vanessa, so she rubs her privilege in her friend’s face so that she can reject before she is rejected.
By the end of the episode, Jill’s realization that maybe she should be spending time with her kids instead of hiring a domestic staff that she doesn’t need comes across as fairly anti-climactic, as there are no consequences to her selfishness other than Vanessa gallivanting off with a new best friend. Shows featuring flawed, privileged characters have to walk very narrow tightropes in order to maintain an audience’s interest, as Lena Dunham can attest; thankfully, the episode hints at some of the ways the series can achieve its goal of making these characters compelling, if not altogether sympathetic. Odd Mom Out is most successful when it stresses the universality of Jill’s experiences trying to juggle many plates, including parenting, pleasing her in-laws, negotiating her community’s expectations, and staying true to herself. This isn’t a heavy-hitting drama and Jill isn’t an edgy, conflicted protagonist, but Odd Mom Out often succeeds when it reiterates the battle for her soul. Great shows like Breaking Bad and UnREAL have mined drama from situations where a flawed protagonist justifies destructive behavior by lying to herself. In this case, independent Jill subconsciously seeks the privilege and sense of inclusion that comes with being a valuable resident of the UES. When Jill complains about feeling overwhelmed, Vanessa mentions the possibility of hiring outside help, but the ball doesn’t get rolling until Brooke delivers her pitch and sheds some light on the exclusive, stereotype-dependent world of nanny selection. If insecurity after insecurity is addressed through corresponding steps towards assimilation, that’s how a creature like Brooke is born.
These tensions can make for rich drama and comedy, but unfortunately characters like Brooke, Lex, and Andy aren’t getting as much material to work with as Jill is enjoying. Brooke and Lex still come across like assortments of wealthy people clichés while Andy resembles an undeveloped female love interest from more retrograde fare. If the series’ comedy was sharper and more consistent, these characters could probably prove entertaining enough to sustain subplots without Jill’s help, but that isn’t the case. These flawed characters don’t have to become especially likable, but something needs to be done; for instance, there are opportunities for the rest of the cast to be tied into the main narrative thematically. Brooke’s sex life with Andy is on the rocks and she unsurprisingly shows interest in a quick fix like surgery instead of long-term work on her marriage. In hiring outside help, Jill thinks she’s choosing a quick fix for her parenting problems but quickly realizes how many other responsibilities having a staff entails. Connections like these are never forged, though, so the rest of Jill’s family is used to communicate plot points or reiterate the same criticisms of UES residents that have already been articulated. These are the greatest challenges that the series faces as it’s nearing the culmination of its first season, and the amount of time the writers have to rectify those problems is unclear as of now.
· Learning more about what exactly Lex has to work with in the bedroom was fairly amusing, but I would’ve traded all of the scenes featuring Jill’s family for some more time with Vanessa and Jillian II’s Day Drinking at the Diner variety hour.