Sam Spengler is an editorial work-study student from Northwestern University. Over her past year and a half at The Cradle, she has seen and learned about the adoption process first-hand.
Ever since I've been working at The Cradle, whenever adoption is brought into the pop culture spotlight, I feel a little weary. On the one hand, bringing more attention to adoption is a good thing. On the other hand, the media rarely gets it right. The CBS sitcom Mike and Molly is the latest series to take a crack at an adoption theme in their final story arc beginning on May 9th, 2016. A swing and a miss.
Mike and Molly first consider adoption in a previous episode when a family friend named Frannie faces an unplanned pregnancy. Upon finding out that Frannie is “not keeping it,” Molly offers to adopt her child. In the end, Frannie chooses to parent her child, and Mike and Molly decide to move forward with adoption.
This is when the sitcom antics, and misrepresentations of adoption begin.
Episode 9: The Adoption Option
At the Cook County Family Services, Mike and Molly worry about their “baby edge” over the other prospective adoptive couples there. They talk about how to act in the interview, and whether family services will try to “unload a hard-sell” on them. They come to the conclusion that they should be themselves. However, they break under pressure and pretend to be praying when their name is called for the meeting. They continue trying to sell themselves throughout the meeting. A particularly noxious part includes Mike saying, “If we play it too eager, they are going to try to unload a lemon on us. ” UGH!
Mike and Molly continue to put up fronts throughout the the home visit. In addition to needing to make a drug sweep, (Mike and Molly live with Molly’s family, and her family members own a lot of illegal items), Molly tells her family they aren’t allowed to speak. However, Molly’s father does speak... unfortunately. He tries to bribe the social worker for a “third-world baby” in what may be the most egregious dialogue of the entire episode.
Episode 10: The Curse of the Bambino
Remarkably, by the next episode the couple is approved and waiting. They grapple with the fact that it may take a very long time to get that initial call, and the first part of the episode features a friend convincing the Mike that superstition is the answer to a faster wait period, and Mike’s mother convincing Molly she needs to start attending church. At the end of the episode they realize that they need to stay active and busy, and focus on themselves as they wait. Predictably, right as they head out of the house for their first night out, they get a call saying they’ve been officially selected as an adoptive family. Wow!
Episode 11: I See Love
The last episode of the story arc is slightly better. Mike and Molly rush to the hospital with the entire gang in tow. Relatives argue, the soon-to-be parents worry about parenting and everyone waits while the birth mother is in labor. But what was extremely frustrating to me is that the existence of the birth mother throughout this episode was nearly an afterthought. She is barely mentioned and never introduced. The show has already aired an emotional episode involving a family friend facing an unplanned pregnancy, so I know the show is capable of dealing with such emotions. They just chose to ignore them in this episode. Instead, Mike and Molly just end up with a child at the end of the show. The series ends with a rather touching moment of the two singing the theme song, “I See Love,” to their new child.
This episode reminded me of the series finale of the series Friends. It seems curious to me that both these popular series would choose to end on an adoption placement. Feels a bit too much like the placement of a child is the end goal versus what we know it to be true, just the beginning.
* * *
There are some, although regrettably few, redeeming points.
In the first episode, Molly’s family discusses choosing the astrological sign, exact skin color, and athletic aptitude of the child. The ridiculousness of this scene is clear to any viewer, and Molly’s comedic objections are a subtle way for the writers to debunk the common myth that adoptive parents select their child as if from a lineup.
And while the scene at the Cook County Family Services and the home visit are problematic for a variety of reasons, the couple’s attempts to sell themselves and put up fake fronts speaks to the fears all waiting families face: When trying to be themselves, waiting parents may also feel pressure to be the family they feel birth parents are looking for. Once approved, they do struggle with the anxiety and anticipation that most waiting parents face. And lastly, the number of friends and family members that love and care for this child is undeniably touching.
I understand that sitcoms need to have comedic value. And just because adoption isn’t an inherently funny theme doesn’t mean it will be excluded from the plotlines of comedy T.V.. But I have a problem when comedy compromises the accuracy of the adoption process. Mike and Molly really disappointed me. Movies and televisions shows like these are why there are so many common misconceptions about adoption.
Photo courtesy of CBS.com