After decades of long-suffering domestic goddesses representing motherhood on sitcoms, nowadays it seems like most of the moms on TV are brash, snarky, and stridently anti-bake sale. There’s Pamela Adlon’s “Better Things,” “American Housewife,” the twisted relationship between Selena Meyer and her daughter on “Veep,” and sharp-tongued Jessica Huang in “Fresh Off the Boat.”
And then there’s “Workin’ Moms,” a Canadian sitcom which recently hit Netflix after first airing on the CBC in 2017. The show, created by and starring Catherine Reitman, follows four women from a mommy-and-me group, each just returning to work after maternity leave. Each woman faces her own struggles upon reentering the workforce. Kate (Reitman) is eager to keep killing it as a star PR executive, but is hampered by breast-pumping and the bedtime schedule; Jenny (Jessalyn Wanlim) wants to stay home with her baby but reluctantly agrees to let her doofy husband take a turn parenting and working on his screenplay. The women deal with childcare, nipple infections, postpartum depression, milk spills and abortion, which the show mines for comedy and, occasionally, pathos.
Is this show a stand-out or a stinker? HuffPost’s Leigh Blickley and Claire Fallon ― a workin’ mom and a workin’ non-mom respectively ― discuss their reactions to the latest mom-com offering.
Leigh Blickley: During my recent scroll-through-Netflix night, I came across “Workin’ Moms.” I kept browsing but soon thought to myself, well, I’m now a working mom, I should give this show a shot. Within the first 30 seconds of the pilot episode, I was laughing out loud as three new moms compared their deflated, constant-meal-for-baby breasts. I had been in that “mom” class ― sitting in a circle, talking about all the things I, as a new parent, should or shouldn’t be doing for my baby. Sleep when they sleep! Take a shower, you’ll feel better! Breastfed is best! It became clear that this show might just be the at-home therapy I needed. Claire, I know you don’t have kids yet, but tell me your thoughts after watching “Workin’ Moms,” as someone who can’t relate as directly.
Claire Fallon: Having kids looks terrifying! I’m reconsidering my entire life plan. The first episode, like most of the series, took me on an emotional journey. I laughed, I laughed, I winced, I laughed, and then ― while plugging away on the elliptical at my gym ― I abruptly burst into tears. (Last time I watch this show while in public.) Until recently, it seems like so few shows have even tried to capture the full range of what motherhood can look like, from impolitic snarkiness to weary annoyance to unquestioning self-sacrifice. “Workin’ Moms” felt like a fairly holistic look at working motherhood, which made the punchlines seem punchier and the heartstring-tugging moments more devastating.
The show follows a few women from the mommy and me group, including the main character, Kate, who is a high-powered PR executive; Frankie (Juno Ruddell), a realtor struggling with postpartum depression; and Anne (Danielle Kind), a therapist with a 9-year-old she can’t keep in line. Leigh, can I ask if you felt a particular affinity with any of them? Or did their struggles all seem fairly relatable?
Leigh: Having a 6-month-old at home, I definitely connected to Kate, who, after spending a few months on maternity leave with her first child, goes back to work at her male-dominated PR firm, where she’s surrounded by dudes who could pretty much care less about her newfound existence. Now, I work in a newsroom full of supportive colleagues, including a handful of new mothers going through the same situation as me, so my work-life balance is a bit different.
Within hours of being back in the office, she’s summoned to meetings and tasked with drafting new proposals. She can barely find a moment to pump, causing her to lead a pitch meeting with a leak-stained blouse. It’s when she’s eating late-night takeout with those work pals that I lost it. “Shouldn’t you be home right now putting your baby to bed or something?” one of them says, half-joking. “You guys need me here, the work’s not done,” Kate replies. He jabs back, “Did your baby call your nanny ‘mom’ yet?” She begins weeping ― as any normal mother who just experienced one of the hardest days of her life would. I cried my first day back at work. Damnnit, I cried my first week back. I’ve been where Kate is. I’ve pushed myself too far to meet deadlines. I’ve already had to rearrange my schedule to fit in pumping sessions or pray that I didn’t leak through my shirt as I commuted into the city from New Jersey.
It’s not easy and that’s what I love about the show ― it presents the reality of most working moms, with each of these women having their own story to tell. Which resonated with you, Claire?
I laughed, I laughed, I winced, I laughed, and then ― while plugging away on the elliptical at my gym ― I abruptly burst into tears.
Claire: Poor Kate! That moment really struck me as revelatory. Men often assume that women can’t cut it in wise-cracking, ball-busting environments because they’re weaker or more emotional. Kate actually thrived in that environment; the reason she’s struggling upon her return isn’t because she’s weaker, but because she’s been asked to shoulder so much more than any of the men in that meeting ever will. Something has to give, and in that moment, it’s her tear glands.
To me, these women’s experiences all seem more aspirational than relatable still (imagine having a baby!), though I have always suspected, and feared, that I would parent like Anne: chronically fed up and snippy with her daughter, though also wildly jealous of everyone who connects better with her. I can’t decide whether I respect what a raging bitch she is, or want her to mend her ways. But then again, why am I consumed with this question? Is it possible to watch a show about women, especially moms, without devoting the bulk of your mental energy to grading them on a moral scale? Did you find yourself wanting to throttle them, or give them well-meaning advice?
Leigh: A bit of both, but who am I to give anyone advice? (Is what my inner monologue tells me to say.) Each person parents differently, end of story. It’s hard to judge anyone when you don’t necessarily know their personal situation. The women on this show do seem to live more luxurious lives, however. They have nannies or grandparents watching their children, and they go out to nice lunches in Toronto seemingly every day. Jenny, the only women of color in the lead cast, works at a tech company and her writer husband, Ian, stays home with their baby. She’s, understandably, jealous but knows she needs her job to pay the bills. I understand that fully, as my husband is a freelance filmmaker and was home with my daughter for a period of time. The show could dig into that more, though: childcare and how difficult it is to find and afford quality coverage.
Something else Catherine Reitman maybe gets wrong is the show’s depiction of postpartum depression. Frankie, who has been feeling emotionally unstable since welcoming her child, is seen in life-threatening situations throughout the first season. And yet, the series makes light of her traumatic experience by using humor to soften the moments of despair. It’s a tad cringe-y.
I also cringe over the lack of diversity featured on the show. Jenny is Asian, and Frankie’s partner, Giselle, is black ― and that’s it. Shouldn’t we get to see full representation when watching a show about working mothers?
Claire, were there any moments or characters for you that maybe missed the mark?
Claire: That’s a great point about the PPD, though as the season wrapped up, I found that a lot of subjects I felt had been too flippantly brushed off were building to a real reckoning ― including Frankie’s emotional collapse.
I struggled to sympathize with Jenny, who is dying to stay home with her daughter instead of returning to work, but then quickly gives in. The result? She openly resents her willfully oblivious husband and redirects her energy toward extramarital flirtations. One of the main pieces of advice I kept wanting to give was “TALK TO YOUR SPOUSES MORE!!!” But then again, conflict is the mother of narrative.
The diversity question also nagged at me, given that Giselle’s role is fairly small, and of the eight central characters, just two are not white. Several of them are struggling with money, but only in the sense that they’re not sure if they could comfortably add another kid to their sprawling home.
And though the show is called “Workin’ Moms,” and is explicitly about workin’ moms, I did sigh a bit at the one-dimensional depiction of stay-at-home mothers. These characters, when written by the working-mom-sympathetic, must always be DIY queens, obsessed with traditional gender roles, and sweetly horrified when our heroine decides to stop breastfeeding. Working moms aren’t the only ones who come in more flavors! Or did that ring true to you, from your own mommy group experiences?
Leigh: Yes, the biggest myth here is that stay-at-home moms don’t work. To me, being home with your children all day is HARD FREAKIN’ WORK. Yes, you’re not balancing both home and office life, but you are caring for little human beings who need constant attention. Bottles. Diapers. Playtime. Naps. Food. Activities. And let’s not mention laundry and cleanup. (There’s a reason some of us pay others to do the job!) The stay-at-home moms I know are much more than DIY queens or breastfeeding promoters, and to be honest, if they have the financial stability to be able to be home full time, more power to them.
I have to say, I did chuckle when Kate is attacking her mom, and caregiver, for making a mess and feeding the baby old pureed food. I’m pretty sure I’ve yelled at my parents multiple times for doing things I find not to be perfect. “Don’t heat up the bottle in the microwave, mom! Did you just feed the baby bread? Are you crazy?” Ah, postpartum mania.
Claire: They didn’t know it was bad to heat the bottle in the microwave 30 years ago! Probably! I was an infant then, and parenting was very “anything goes,” I think!
I can’t forget to mention the moment that brought me to tears on an elliptical: Kate’s showdown with a bear at the end of the pilot. She’s a tough career lady, and often seems forgetful of her son’s very existence. But when she nearly collides with an enormous bear while out jogging with her baby in a stroller one morning, she instinctively puts her body between him and the toothy creature and roars until the bear retreats. The moment brought me face-to-face with one of my cherished fantasies about motherhood: that it will turn me into a better person, or at least tap into some subterranean vein of heroism. The show does a lot to both bolster and undermine that image of mothers; these women are capable of great courage and selflessness when it comes to their kids, but that doesn’t mean that they can’t, day to day, be the same competitive, bitchy, narcissistic, or unpredictable women that they’ve always been.
Leigh: THE BEAR. Claire, I think that might be one of the best endings to a pilot episode I have ever seen, truly. It shook me to my core. Imagine strolling through a park with your child and walking straight into a bear? My GOD. I feel my motherly instincts would kick in (hopefully) if I was faced with that predicament, but there’s a part of me that wondered while watching that scene: Will I ever be selfish again? This is deep stuff, I know.
Still, it’s what mothers, and I’m sure many fathers, experience day-to-day ― this feeling that they’ll never be who they were before kids. This show sort of tears that theory down and shows us that, if you really want to, you can still be a successful career woman, a fun friend, a caring sister, a loving daughter and an amazing mother. It’s all about tapping into a new, very energized side of yourself and finding the will to make it all, somewhat, work. I don’t believe in the idea that you can have it all, at least not all at once. But, as a working mother, you can definitely accomplish more than you think you can. I appreciate that “Workin’ Moms” reminded me of that.
Claire: Yes, the women on this show are very determined to be selfish! It can be a bit uncomfortable at times; I did find it odd that Kate put her name in for a promotion that would take her to a distant city for three months, without telling her husband. “Men do that all the time!” feels like a slightly feeble excuse, given that I’d go thermonuclear if my husband did that when we had a newborn at home. She’s reluctant to admit that her life has really changed, though it unquestionably has, and the other moms also find themselves insisting on selfish behaviors as a way to resist the weight of maternal expectation. But I loved how Reitman presents their narcissism without judgment, which ultimately allows for a more authentic and nuanced exploration of how motherhood affects different women.
Would I call it a must-see? I don’t know. There are a lot of shows on Netflix ― and even some not on Netflix ― these days, many with much to recommend them. I really liked “Workin’ Moms”! It’s really funny, it could make me weep on the turn of a dime, and it felt like a window into a certain kind of (mostly white, middle-to-upper-class, Canadian) motherhood. If that sounds appealing to you, I bet you’ll really enjoy the show.
This has been “Should You Watch It?” a weekly examination of movies and TV worth ― or not worth! ― your time.