16 and Pregnant…on Network TV
Parenthood. I mean, when it has punches to throw, it really does, you know? Last week, in the middle of an already heartpunching episode, it seems almost ridiculous that they also took on a teen pregnancy storyline (and that they waited this long to deploy it) but it was actually much more interesting this way than if either Amber or Haddie had gotten pregnant. It would have been much more stereotypical to examine the “good girl” or the “bad girl” getting into this situation – instead we had the most difficult story to do, done well. Every now and again the question comes up: “What about the guy’s perspective?” But it’s hard to make it relevant when there’s a girl whose life is about to be drastically changed. It’s a testament to Parenthood, and to the ongoing development of Drew, that his story felt real and authentic. I was disappointed to see that there was zero follow-up this week but that’s par for the course, sometimes, with pregnancy storylines. They can be lifted out of sequence when the show goes into syndication in sensitive areas, and never be missed.
And this got me thinking about the great teen pregnancy storylines on TV over the years. They happen all the time, because it’s dramatic and it’ll continue to be dramatic. There’s no way a story about teenagers caught in an impossible situation can be anything other than dramatically riveting. The usual disclaimer here - I’ve written some of these storylines, and fully intend to write more. They still feel fresh. The motions aren’t new – at least, not very often – and there are the three clear choices, plus a million fakeouts and convenient miscarriages so the ones you remember are truly the greats.
(There are, of course, nine zillion TV movies about this topic, but for various reasons involving keeping people watching for two solid hours, they usually involve having the baby and then tragically forgetting it at school/leaving it on the stove, etc.)
The granddaddy for me will always be Brenda’s pregnancy scare on 90210. No, she didn’t actually wind up pregnant, but two things about this storyline made me wake up and pay attention. First of all, none of this gender-division bullsh*t. She tells both her parents, in so many words, that she’s having sex. In the living room in a virginal-white mock-neck sweater. There is straight-up discomfort in that room, the kind you rarely saw since this was the beginning of parents being “cool” - in fact, this may be why I was allowed to watch the show at all. Jim Walsh was a hardass.
The other spectacular moment from that episode is that when Brenda arrives at the gyno only to find out she doesn’t need to be there, Dylan takes this opportunity to remind her about the pill. Amazing. Like, with all his “connections” he can’t wait ‘til the next day to get her a sample pack of Triphasil. Overall the point was “Sex. It’s a pain in the ass.” Subtle? Maybe not, but I never felt talked down to.
Then there was poor Julia Salinger, who said she wanted an abortion outright, instead of just hinting. Party of Five tended not to shy away from dramatic stuff, but still, convenient contrivances meant she didn’t wind up needing one. Still, in a show of constant bleakness, watching a sixteen year old girl make a choice that was right for her (I remember tears, but no going back on her word) felt empowering but also fruitless and devoid of actual consequence. Like most of the 90s.
Then somewhere around the mid 00s people realized that boys were not merely sperm dispensers and that even those not brought up by Cliff Huxtable had feelings – which is where we got to the delightful scene of Silas on Weeds gleefully poking holes in condoms, hoping that if his girlfriend got pregnant she’d stay home from university. If I remember correctly, she did get pregnant, got an abortion, Silas got his ass kicked, and it was still the gentlest thing to happen on Weeds that season.
By comparison, Drew crying into his mommy’s arms is ridiculously tame, and since Amy is conveniently off needing space, we won’t see her again this season, I suspect.
Parenthood, which finishes in two short weeks leaving us to wonder YET AGAIN if there’s any hope we’ll see our Bravermans, walked a weird line of treating the issue with sincerity and authenticity, but also pointing out that it’s out of sight, out of mind. I’d still rather this method than the utterly unrealistic world that is Secret Life, but I always hope Parenthood will surprise me, if for no other reason than to see that sibling connection between Drew & Amber again. If I were a betting woman, though, I’d bet not.