If last fall was the television season of the badass single girl, this fall is the season of the (admittedly less-catchy) woman with a daughter who’s kicked the father of her child to the curb, or been abandoned there by him.
In Ben and Kate, which premieres on Fox next week, Kate is a single mother. The father of her child, we learn, didn’t even stick around long enough to see his daughter born. When Kate tells him she is pregnant, a scene presented in a flashback in the pilot, his response is a shaky “I’m so excited.” Then, he bolts. (The Ben of Ben and Kate is Kate’s brother, who helps his sister raise her daughter Maddie.)
Then there’s Clay (Jayson Blair), the soon-to-be-ex husband of Goldie, a young woman who decides to act as a surrogate for a gay couple on NBC’s The New Normal. Clay is such a profligate cheat that he jumps into bed with his mistress just six minutes after Goldie leaves for work. Goldie’s decision to ditch him isn’t so much a courageous act as a confirmation of the actual status of their relationship: It doesn’t much hurt to leave, because there’s almost nothing to leave behind.
And while Goldie flees the Midwest for California, Polly (Sarah Chalke), the star of How to Live With Your Parents For The Rest Of Your Life, which will begin airing on ABC in 2013, heads back to her parents’ house, leaving her ex-husband behind. Like Clay, her husband’s a goofy nonentity who keeps showing up anyway. Goldie and Polly are less interested in finding a man than in getting rid of one, and Kate is lucky to have gotten only her boyfriend’s child, not the guy himself.
These television fathers really represent the end of men. They aren’t the embarrassing but generally benign doltish dads Hanna Rosin examined earlier this year in Slate, and who are represented ably, if without wit or charm, in this year’s crop of new shows, by the stay-at-home fathers of Guys With Kids on NBC. No, for Kate, Goldie and Polly, there are a whole range of options, from putting up with wacky brothers, to surrogacy that will pay for law school, to humoring tantric-sex-having parents, that are more appealing than having a man.
Television will be television, and if Ben and Kate, The New Normal, and How to Live With Your Parents For The Rest of Your Life stay on the air, I’d put money on Kate, Goldie, and Polly finding love at some point. But at least in their initial episodes, these shows are a blast of both bitterness and optimism. The worlds they operate in may be full of truly hopeless boy-men. But like working-class Mary Tyler Moores, the heroines are ditching guys who aren’t worthy of them in the conviction that they’ll make it on their own, and with the hopes that their daughters won’t repeat their mistakes.