In the premiere episode of Pregnant in Heels, a reality series that ended its first season Tuesday night on Bravo, “maternity concierge” Rosie Pope describes her job in the following way: “Women are bitchy anyway, so take a rich bitchy woman and put a baby inside of them, and then you've got my client."
Listen closely, and you can actually hear the wheels of progress moving in reverse. Now, it’s hardly a news flash that many reality shows operate according to some deeply regressive sexual politics, but Pregnant in Heels might represent a new benchmark. Borrowing its format from another backwards (but more guiltily pleasurable) series, The Millionaire Matchmaker, each episode of Pregnant in Heels features two different rich and bitchy clients who seek Pope’s counsel on a variety of critical maternity-related matters, from finding a nanny to finding them a fabulous gay assistant. Pope’s clients are, for the most part, self-absorbed, grotesquely entitled, and staggeringly materialistic, as are most Bravo-lebrities, but—worst of all—some of them admit to having reservations about motherhood. (The horror!) They’re women without maternal longings who nevertheless want a child as another glittery accessory to add to their already privileged lives—or so we’re meant to believe. Naturally, the most loathsome client of all is a woman who, at nine months pregnant and 80 pounds overweight, wants to plan a quickie wedding ceremony. A fat, foul-mouthed, hormonal Bridezilla: She's an all-in-one reality television cliché, offering us so many ways to feel superior.
This being Manhattan, most of Pope’s clients are at least twice as old as the average Teen Mom starlet, and most of them are embarking on parenthood after forging successful careers. The not-so-subtle subtext of the show is that these women need to learn how to be mothers. According to the show's confused morality, the only thing worse than working is not working: The most brutal scorn is reserved for those rare women who don’t work and aren’t maternal, like Mina, a trophy wife who confesses that she’s never held a baby before; Pope procures a baby from a friend—who happens to be black—and, in a scene with creepy racial overtones, lends it to her client "for practice." All in a day’s work… I guess.
The show fairly reeks with contrivances, starting with Pope’s job. Pope is a designer of maternity clothing, with a boutique on Manhattan’s Upper East side, and she also runs a business called “Mom Prep,” which offers pre-natal fitness classes and courses on baby care; she’s been in business for all of two years. Nowhere on her website does Pope describe herself as a “maternity concierge,” or list any of the following services, each of which she performed over the course of the season: arranging focus groups for parents to help decide whether to call their son "Bowen" or “Asher”; finding an artist who will paint a nude portrait of a topless, pregnant woman astride a horse, and also a gallery in which to display it; or (my personal favorite) teaching an expectant mother how to make spotted dick so that, over a proper English tea, she can ask her boss, the British aristocrat Lord Wedgewood, to be godfather to her child. Naturally, almost all of the requests are ludicrous, and the scenarios wildly convoluted, merely underscoring how ill-suited these women are to motherhood.
Like any concierge, Pope is mostly a facilitator, calling up (or, at least pretending to call up) decorators and realtors and make-up artists to help realize her clients’ outlandish requests—something that she does not, it seems, appear to do very often in real life. Of course, there’s a level of deceit inherent in every reality show, but this seems like an odd, if telling, embellishment. The network has already covered fitness, real estate, dating, and weddings through its aspirational lens: The next logical step was parenthood. (Be sure to stay tuned for Million Dollar Divorces and A-List Funerals, debuting this fall—only on Bravo!)
The strength of the series, ironically enough, is Pope herself. Despite her utterly baffling accent (as SNL recently pointed out, Pope speaks as if her tongue has been “stung by a thousand bees”; I defy anyone to watch even five minutes of this show and not try their own “Rosie Pope” imitation) and uncanny resemblance to Anna Paquin, she is pretty likable—smart, diplomatic and compassionate. Compared to Patti Stanger or Teresa Giudice or the network’s growing stable of colorful and short-fused stars, she might be a little dull, but she’s right for the job. The rare moments of empathy and insight on the series are largely the result of her emotional acumen, and Pope also speaks candidly and poignantly about her personal struggles with infertility.
The biggest problem with Pregnant in Heels is that it’s probably on the wrong network. This being Bravo, the show emphasizes the outrageousness and the privilege of these “million dollar mommas to be.” And, while I can’t prove it, I’m pretty sure every new Bravo series is legally required to include a flamboyant sidekick of some kind (they’re the season’s biggest accessory!). The ornamental gay on Pregnant in Heels is L.T., who was clearly cast in order to snazz up Pope’s decidedly white, WASPy, straight universe but who would, in real-life, probably never set foot above 23rd Street—much less work in a store on 93rd and Madison whose very raison d’etre is the vajayjay.
I’d imagine that, in different hands, a series about a maternity concierge—if such a job really exists outside the minds of Bravo producers—might be more worthwhile. Or maybe not: Can you imagine if this thing was on TLC? The mind reels at the possibilities (“In this episode, Rosie stops by the Duggar family home in Arkansas and teaches Jinger and Jessa the fine art of aromatherapy!”) There’s a decent show buried somewhere in Pregnant in Heels, a show about being a young mother and entrepreneur, about the ever-expanding baby industry, about the current trend towards anxious, “helicopter” parenting, and about the growing numbers of affluent, urban parents. It’s too bad you have to forage through the piles of Bravo gimmickry in order to find it.