I had been hearing off and on that MTV’s reality series 16 and Pregnant and the follow-up, Teen Mom, were interesting and addictive, but I never thought about actually sitting down and watching these series. Well, after reading a random recommendation in NY Mag while at the doctor’s office, I figured I might check them out. And yesterday, while nursing a hangover and enjoying the kind of lazy Sunday where I only put on pants to pay for my takeout (the delivery guy is old and creepy or I wouldn’t even bother with that), I decided to start at the beginning of Season 2 of Teen Mom, which finished airing in mid-October. Needless to say, I ended up watching the whole damn season, including the Dr. Drew finale special. And I loved it!
Not having seen the first season or any of 16 and Pregnant, it took me a while to catch up on the background of some of these characters, but I soon became hooked. Teen Mom follows four teenaged girls who have had babies within the last couple of years. More importantly, it shows their environments, from their almost universally awful parents to the fathers of their children to how work, school and even apartment hunts are affected by their choices. There’s Maci, the overachieving cheerleader type from Chattanooga who got knocked up by the guy she lost her virginity to, a hunky strong-but-silent type named Ryan who sort of looks like a cross between James Franco and Brody Jenner, and who didn’t stick around for long after the baby was born. She dives into relationships and thinks that every one of them will last forever, displaying that special kind of naïveté that only teens have. When she decides to move to Nashville for a brand new relationship with some guy named Kyle, you just know it’s a bad idea, but it also seems like exactly the sort of thing a teenager would do. On the plus side, Maci definitely has the best parents of any of these girls. They’re supportive, understanding, and generally just seem like nice folks, but her mom has a serious case of Alison Janney in American Beauty, with her faded beauty elegance and vacant stare. She should always be holding a martini and gazing out the window, saying “what was that dear?” softly when you didn’t say anything. I think Maci’s mom may just be my favorite character.
Then there’s Amber, a pill-popping, badly educated and, worst of all, physically abusive girl who I swear, when she showed up on screen, made me think that the show had diversified to show what women in their 30s are going through as a nice contrast. But no, she’s supposedly a “teen.” What in Jerri Blank hell? Anyway, she berates and beats the crap out of her sweet boyfriend (and sometime fiancé) Gary, who is clingy and possessive and controlling and dangerously overweight, yes, but who is still a better father than the screaming, slurring, seriously stupid and destructive creature that is Amber. It’s a wonder the kid hasn’t been taken away from her — oh wait, it kind of was. Thank F-ing god.
Then we have the star-crossed stepsiblings, Catelynn and Tyler, who had a baby and gave it up for adoption, but are still haunted by the decision and go through all sorts of guilt issues while dealing with a terrible living situation. Even though the incest implications are there (it’s weird when they talk about what their parents are going through while cuddling, and when they get voted Prom King and Queen, you have to wonder if some of the kids were snickering at the stepsibling aspect), this is still the most solid couple in the show. They’re both smart and mature, and even though Tyler goes through a jealousy phase, they seem to be generally pretty stable, especially when compared with Tyler’s in-and-out-of-jail father, the mullet-wearing Butch, and Catelynn’s emotionally and verbally abusive mother, who is a walking anti-smoking campaign.
To round out this lovely group there is Farrah, who seems at first to have it all. She’s beautiful, has rich parents, and her best friend is a hairdresser so she’s always rocking fierce hairdos. However, right off the bat we see that her seemingly together, WASPy mother has serious issues, and that just because you have rich parents doesn’t mean they give you even a penny of help. It reminds me of Warren Buffett, and how he famously refuses to give any money to his relatives except for college tuition. Anyway, she has some of the most heartbreaking moments of the season, and she’s so amazingly ignorant (not being able to write a check, falling for the oldest con in the book, and so on and so on) that I want to keep watching just to see the episode where she buys the Brooklyn Bridge. Also, what’s up with her narration? It gets a little better over the course of the season, but there’s some serious robotic foolery going on there.
Obviously, the show doesn’t paint a pretty picture of what it’s like to deal with parenthood at such a young age, but beyond the teen aspect, there are recognizable elements of life in general on display throughout. It’s amazing how many issues go on in the show that I can relate to even now, and what’s more, some of the problems these girls have bring you right back to those terrifying teenage years when you felt trapped and every problem seemed like the biggest deal in the world. I like this show because it captures teenage life in an honest and often unflattering way, but in a way that seeks not to exploit the characters or make them look ugly, but rather to show the beauty, weirdness and the pain in even the little moments. It also captures amazing moments of childhood, like when Amber’s daughter watches out the window as her father moves out, or when Catelynn and the baby she gave up make faces at each other at a picnic while everyone else is talking, or when Maci’s baby is filmed just for a moment using a Big Wheel-mounted camera. Teen or adult, parent or not, we were all kids once, and we can all relate.