Described in promotional materials as an “unscripted comedy series,” Lifetime’s Pretty Wicked Moms is merely another reality show in which viewers are invited to sneer at a lineup of vapid people whose willingness, if not ravenous desire, to be humiliated for a season’s worth of tabloid TV infamy isn’t even their worst quality. And while Lifetime’s once-groundbreaking design to create a “woman’s network” has long ago curdled into a roster of weepy “problem” movies, this exercise in carefully crafted misogyny seems especially ironic: If it were discovered that this depiction of the petty, insipid catfighting amongst a sextet of monied Georgia mothers was actually the creation of a rabid men’s movement hell bent on turning public opinion in favor of repealing the 19th amendment, it would make more sense than a network at least nominally vested in women’s issues choosing to air a show that makes the entire gender a dispiriting, hateful laughingstock.
Admittedly, reality TV is not in my wheelhouse. I’m sure there’s nothing uniquely awful about Pretty Wicked Moms that hasn’t been perpetrated by one or more of the reality shows currently clogging the nation’s DVRs. But that doesn’t mean this series isn’t a thoroughly contrived and depressing example of the genre. (Once you’re comparing the relative merits of various reality shows, you’re simply sorting piles of crap by size and color—you can do it, but you’re going to end up covered in crap.)
Pretty Wicked Moms introduces its six protagonists (I suppose one must call them) with handy labels and helpfully continues to remind us via chyron who it is we’re watching throughout the first three episodes. The show seems aware that viewers will have difficulty differentiating among them, especially as two of the moms actively seek to look and dress alike (and attempt to transform the newest mom into their acolyte), and the moms' behavior remains incessantly and identically contemptible throughout. For those keeping score:
There’s Emily (“The Queen Bee”), who runs a boutique, won’t let her husband sleep in their bed, and is set up as “the one you love to hate,” with her acid tongue, mean-spiritedness, and self-absorption. While she is hateful, the competition is stiffer than perhaps the creators intended. Her child is named something that sounds like “Amsey,” but I could be wrong.
Emily’s best friend is Nicole N. (rather unfortunately branded “The Doggy Mom”) who laments that her motherhood of her beloved shih tzu Summer isn’t taken seriously “just because Summer’s a dog and not a child.” Playing the Marcy to Emily’s Peppermint Patty, Nicole N.’s slavish desire to emulate Emily could be the impetus behind a funny Kristin Wiig SNL bit, but as manufactured “reality,” it’s creepy and sad.
Next up is Miranda (“The Southern Belle”) who, while not behaving in any measurable way different or worse than Emily, is set up as The Queen Bee’s nemesis, a position which involves objecting to what Emily does and then saying or doing something just as terrible. A former model, she is determined that her son Ledger become a child model himself and often dresses him in theme costume.
Nicole B. is “The Alpha Mom,” whose micromanaging of child McKinley’s life and routine is presented as obsessive. She claims outsider status as a “have-not” compared to the other moms, despite the size of her well-appointed house and the fact that she throws the child a lavish first birthday party whose very invitations cost $8 a piece.
Marci is defined as “The Divorcee.” She has three older kids and, by virtue of being slightly older, is often the subject of dismissive ageist remarks from the others, despite being as gaudily dressed and overly made up as them.
And finally there’s poor Meredith (“The Newbie”) who, we’re told, only recently was introduced into the group and whose Amy Adams- esque, scrubbed prettiness would be more endearing if she didn’t so openly express her desire to be mentored in the ways of botox-ed Atlanta womanhood by The Queen Bee and The Doggy Mom.
If viewers wanted a way into this world, Meredith would be it: Assumed or not, her star-struck, outsider status predisposes empathy, and her effusive thanks to Emily’s dentist husband when he, as part of the dominant pair’s semi-forced makeover scheme for her, fixes her teeth, is the sole moment of human emotion in the first three episodes. As Emily and Nicole N., taking particularly loathsome umbrage at Meredith’s NASCAR-themed Halloween costume, decide to “swank her up” (Emily owns a boutique named Swank, of course), seeing Meredith succumb to their superficiality and passive-aggressive praise is like watching Eliza Doolittle being taken under the wing of one of the Heathers. Her emergence at the resulting makeover event, where she is revealed to have been transformed into a simulacrum of her two benefactors is inadvertently depressing, especially when they try to force Meredith to watch her own wedding video since she had amnesia at the time and doesn’t remember her wedding day (don’t ask).
Throughout the first three episodes, the signature reality show infighting, backstabbing, and pervasive, jabbering awfulness runs parallel with an insidious added level of misogyny in the fact that, to a man, the husbands (and one father) of these women are seen as superior in every way. Whether bro-ing out on the golf course and complaining that one wife prefers to sleep with their daughter every night while he crashes in the guest room, or commiserating over beers about how their wives spend too much and can never get ready on time, these husbands are portrayed as the sensible, responsible, put-upon, forbearing voices of reason in a world of frivolous, superficial, mean-spirited spendthrifts. When Emily’s father comes to town and lays down some folksy wisdom about getting her shit together (she is unable to cope with her daughter when the nanny unexpectedly quits), he comes across less like a loving dad offering some good advice, and more like the embodiment of the patriarchy scolding incapable womanhood on how to behave. Couple that with scenes of these women debating, say, the relative merits of vaginal birth versus c-sections, or depicting the difficulties of being a working mother in the manner most certain to trivialize these issues in the least insightful, most self-centered, and ignorant way imaginable. That Pretty Wicked Moms manufactures a world of inherently “female” immaturity and nastiness and presents a counterpoint of essentially “male” competence and decency is just creepy.
- The show keeps blurring out seemingly inconsequential things, like paintings in the background, the lens of a camera phone, and wrapping paper? It’s like reality itself threatened to sue Lifetime if associated with Pretty Wicked Moms.
- The “this week on” pre-caps at the start of each episode provide all the information you could need. This week, the Pretty Wicked Moms are awful at a birthday party! Then spiteful at Halloween!
- That the show provides lengthy recaps of each episodes’ action after every commercial in case we were unable to follow what was going on is especially insulting.
- Also creepy is the way that several of the women seem to have internalized their branding, referring to themselves as "the Southern belle" or "the queen bee" in conversation.
- The discussion between Emily and Nicole N. about what exactly “dingleberries” are may actually constitute a hate crime against women.
- Thanks to the entrenched reality show structure, we get to hear someone say or do something cruel, vapid, and soul-crushing, and then hear their even more self-serving description of what they said in the traditional face the camera confessional. Thanks, reality TV!