“Shame that nothing ever came of it, I guess.”
“A shame?” Gwen asked. “Did you think it was good?”
“Good…is a strong word,” Eleanor parsed. “I mean, I just binged the thing, I didn’t know it existed five hours ago.”
“It’s okay,” shrugged Dania. “I like the neighbor kids.”
“The comic is better.”
“Are the neighbor kids in the comic?”
“They are not.”
“Darn.” Dania slumped.
“The only aspects of the show that actually come from the comic strip,” Gwen explained, “are essentially Wanda, Darryl, Zoe, and the title. If I were generous, perhaps the idea that it’s about parenting.”
“But the show is…only barely about parenting,” Eleanor mused. “It’s more about rivalry between the McPhersons and Bittermans, or between Darryl and Wanda even.”
“That never happened in the comic,” Gwen said. “Wanda and Darryl are more of a unit in the original strip. The drama they added with Darryl keeping secrets and Wanda having this unexplored ‘wild streak’ in her –– they’re not additions that ruin the show, but they don’t come from anything in the comic.”
“What about Bizzy, does she do more in the comic?” asked Dania, here eyes already glazing over from boredom.
“Bizzy’s not in the comic, I said that,” Gwen repeated. “The only material from the comic is the McPherson family. None of the tertiary characters are the same.”
“Except Bunny, randomly,” Eleanor pointed out. “I truly did not expect to see her show up.”
“Except Bunny, right.” Gwen considered the sparse secondary cast in the comics. All of her favorite moments were rooted in the family: Darryl, Wanda, Zoe, Hammie once he came along. Bunny’s inclusion showed an odd sense of fidelity.
“I liked that episode, though,” Eleanor said. “Where Wanda is basically pawning someone else’s baby off as her own for aesthetics.”
“Me,” tossed Dania, from the edge of the couch.
“It’s one of the more passable,” Gwen said, weighing the other options. “If forced to pick a favorite I might lean towards…”
But what made a good episode of the flawed show? A tonally dissonant tightrope between the wholesome antics of the comic and the debauchery of the primetime lineup it aimed to fill, Baby Blues covered a lot of ground for a 13-episode run.
“I have my favorite, if you don’t,” Eleanor said. “Or, I have it down to two…three?”
“It’s hard to pick, right?” Gwen grinned.
“They all bleed together,” said Eleanor, rubbing her chin. “Some of the episodes have really good single moments but the plot is really dull.”
“I’ll give credit for one thing,” Dania chimed in. “Every single episode –– all 13 –– has one, and precisely one, really good joke.”
“That I can agree with,” Eleanor said. “Most likely.”
“Every episode, and exactly one,” Dania clarified. “None of them have two, and none of the single jokes are okay. It’s thirteen perfectly-distributed great jokes, and you have to wade through everything else to get to them.”
“Like what?” Gwen asked.
Dania considered. She, too, had trouble recalling everything that happened. “In the ‘Ugly Zoe’ episode, it’s the part where one of the parents says ‘this baby will have so many boyfriends,’ thinking that the baby is a girl.”
“And Wanda’s just like, ‘I don’t doubt that.'” Eleanor had chuckled, slightly, at the joke –– perhaps a remnant of Year 2000 that wouldn’t run as cleanly on television today.
“In the one about Bizzy’s bad boyfriend, it’s the moment when Shelby rounds the corner and Zoe looks at him the same way all the women look at the bad boys in the flashbacks,” Dania continued. “The show’s full of random humor like that.”
“There’s a fascinating thread of surreality to the whole series,” Eleanor agreed. “For most of the show, it sets up this world that is mostly similar to the real one. People have the same mores, conversations follow a similar logic –– for a sitcom, you understand, there’s going to be wacky coincidences or exaggerations. But then you get something like Wanda and Melinda’s Naptime Morgue, and everything is out the window again.”
“The end of the ‘Bad Family’ episode, where everyone raises a glass to the recluse hiding in a treehouse?” Gwen suggested. “Or the entire episode where the Bittermans become insanely wealthy.”
“Or Drew Carey showing up in, like, literally the second episode,” Dania added. “What was that?”
“That entire episode was a trip,” said Eleanor. “From the dolphin riding to the grave robbing to the part where Melinda and the kids have to cover for Wanda sneaking out at night. This is a show about parenting!”
“Well, at least it should be,” Gwen corrected. “In the best episodes.”
“Oh, right, favorite episode,” Eleanor remembered. “You have yours?”
“I’ve picked one. Dania?”
“I don’t really have one,” she grumbled, turning over. “Maybe ‘Ugly Zoe,’ just for being so weird.”
“I would argue that the strongest episode, in total, is the Christmas Special,” Gwen began.
“Okay, good, that was my other option,” Eleanor sighed. “I was worried we’d picked the same one.”
“It’s the only one that retains the focus on the family-trio dynamic from the comic,” explained Gwen. “Yes, it’s tonally inconsistent from the rest of the series, but that’s what I enjoy about it. As much as Wanda and Darryl disagree throughout it, they’re making errors based on their personal beliefs about raising Zoe, not because they’re acting selfishly or ignorantly. Darryl is too much of a pill for so many of the other episodes, but he comes across as more human here.”
“Plus,” Eleanor said, “I appreciate the balance of the episode, letting the side characters take up space but not hog the spotlight. And the way they use their cutaway gags feels necessary to the story, rather than distracting.”
Gwen chuckled at this. “Sometimes changing a diaper can feel like competitive ice skating, or arguing with your in-laws like an episode of Family Feud. Plus, any episode with Jim Cummings as guest voice actor gets bonus points from me.”
“Who was he?”
“The grandfather. The rounder one.”
Dania snapped her fingers. “I knew I recognized that voice!”
“What about yours?” Gwen asked Eleanor. “Your favorite besides the Christmas Special.”
“I think it’s the one about Rodney wanting to be a chef,” Eleanor suggested.
“That one?” Dania spat out. “As your favorite?”
“It’s so incredibly weird!” Dania went on. “Darryl is basically cheating on his wife with his neighbor’s kid, by meeting him in the woods to help him learn to cook? It’s like Ratatouille by way of The Deep Blue Sea.”
“It’s one of the only episodes that’s actually about the act of parenting!” Eleanor argued. “Zoe is an object for most of the series. The central one, sure, but her wants don’t affect the plot in the same way other people’s do. Rodney, for all the snot-nosed kid tropes given to him, is the show’s most consistently enjoyable character. Giving him an episode where he can be empathetic –– and having that be the social transgression –– is a wickedly smart writing move.”
“You’re not wrong,” Gwen considered. “The A and B plot interact more directly than in other episodes. Taking a chance on the character pair of Rodney/Darryl was a calculated risk, especially for the third episode of the first season.”
“Not to mention, as we haven’t yet,” continued Eleanor, “Kath Soucie is doing some of her best voice acting work, ever, as Rodney and Megan. That bratty kids voice but given the inflection and layers of depth that any adult character would have. It’s what Rugrats would sound like if the show wasn’t for kids.”
“Is this a show for kids?” asked Gwen?
“I don’t think they ever figured that out,” Dania smirked. “Sometimes you get sappy stories of love, and other times you have the chain-smoking neighbor trying to bang in a nuclear silo with her neanderthal husband.”
“Don’t bash Melinda, I liked her more than any other character,” Gwen admitted. “For all her bad role modeling, I ended up appreciating her honesty about her situation more than anyone else’s kindly masks. Arabella Field nails the voice acting, too –– raspy but still honest and heartfelt.”
“There’s so much potential in the show, is my point,” Eleanor said. “Especially in the second season. If they had gotten a little more focus, and maybe if the WB wasn’t pushing Rick Kirkman and Jerry Scott to make a Simpsons clone, it could have had an identity that stood out.”
“I can’t say I hate it, but it’s certainly not the comic strip I grew up with,” said Gwen. “On its own merits, it’s inoffensive. A few good ideas and performances buried under unoriginal premises and a lazy art style.”
“How are the comics different?” Dania asked. “I’ve never read them.”
“They’re more human,” Gwen said warmly. “I can directly credit Baby Blues for helping me to understand empathy when I was a child.”
“That great an impact?” asked Eleanor.
“It’s strange, I know,” Gwen shrugged. “It was the first piece of media I can recall that made me look at my parents as people, not just as figures who protect me. It showcased how hard raising a child can be as a pair of young parents, and as a child reading it, what I took away was a desire to help them by trying to be as little of a hassle as I could be.”
Eleanor’s head shifted. “That’s fascinating.”
“It’s true,” Gwen continued. “Zits as well, Jerry Scott’s other comic strip. I wouldn’t have the sense of empathy I have now if it wasn’t for being able to see my mom in Wanda on the comics page. And seeing my sister in Hammie. That’s why I care about it so much.”
“Do you think kids watching the TV show would have the same reaction?” Dania wondered.
Gwen shook her head. “It doesn’t have the same honesty. It’s lacking the truth that the comic showcased every day.”
“I’d say it’s there,” Eleanor said. “Just buried underneath, somewhere.”
“Well, then,” said Gwen, closing her laptop. “It’s a shame they didn’t have time to unbury it.”
Baby Blues (2000) can be found in its entirety on YouTube, here.
Image Source: Amazon