Couples, Families, and "Mad About You"
Yesterday, Marc Hirsch of NPR's pop culture blog, Monkey See, took the opportunity presented by the DVD release of Mad About You's fourth season to delve into his memories of what he called "the perfect relationship sitcom." It's a good article that I largely agree with, and well worth a read for fans of the show, but what really got me thinking was when he talked about season four's position as the tipping point of the show.
that time long ago when I claimed Mad About You was perfect? Was Season 4. . . . The quality of the show would get wobbly in about a year; once baby Mabel became a concrete entity, rather than a vague idea that existed as a single possibility among many in some nebulous future, the tone turned brittle and, worse, the focus shifted exclusively and irrevocably from the couple to the child. In short, it became a different show.
It's that part about the focus shifting from the couple to the child that got me, because the thing is: that happens in real life, too.
Anyone who has kids (or who has close friends or relatives with kids) knows what I'm talking about. Before you have kids, your relationship is about yourself and your partner. You talk about each other, do things with each other, and basically spend all of your energy and attention on each other. But then the first kid shows up and things change. Maybe it happens right away or maybe it takes a few months, or even years, but one day it hits you that it's been a week since you talked to your spouse about something other than your child
Maybe you remember yourself saying, "That's not going to happen to us. We're going to make time for each other and remember to be a couple." And maybe you have made time for each other and you are still a couple, but even then you eventually realize that you have to make time for each other, and that you're now thinking of yourselves as still a couple. There's just no way around it; having kids changes your focus.
And what's really interesting to me is that Hirsch says--and I agree--that that change is one of the things that killed Mad About You. Because as much as that show was about bringing you into Paul and Jamie's marriage and (like any good story) making you identify with the characters and build a relationship with them, ultimately what that relationship was based on was your interaction with them as a couple, and not as parents. And where that puts you is a lot like the position your friends without kids stand once yours comes on the scene.
You know that one, too, if you have kids. You have all these great people in your life who matter to you, but suddenly your child arrives and things are different between you and them. Now you have to be home early for your child's bedtime, and you can't go out to places that are too loud or too quiet, or otherwise inappropriate for kids. Even when you get together at one of your homes, you just can't give your friend the undivided attention you used to--one way or another your kid is going to interrupt you. Probably a lot. Maybe you feel the strain in trying to keep up the relationship, and it makes you sad. Maybe you're too focused to notice. I guarantee the friend notices.
When you add it all up, maybe Mad About You turned out to be even more perfect a relationship show than Hirsch realized.