Cartoon mothers tend to have a tough time of it. They’re either smart know-it-all vixens whose advice is never listened to (hello Lois from Family Guy, Marge from the Simpsons) or nagging shrews who exist to be ignored (hello Peggy Hill and your ilk).
In terms of comedic cartoon personalities, we’re suffering a dearth of smart, sassy and flawed women. Could Mother Up! be the show to put this demographic back on the parenting map?
Mother Up! is a new Hulu original series, with Eva Longoria as executive producer and also the voice of lead role, Rudi Wilson, the “female antihero.” Rudi is a former record executive who moves to suburbia with her two children to rebuild her life post-work scandal. Goodbye midriff-flaunting thong-baring world, hello playground shenanigans and Desperate Housewives-like antics ( a natural fit for Longoria).
The theme tune tries to summarize this. Like, literally.
“Used to be the queen of the music scene, Kristal.. beauty queens…
I was living large till trouble found me.
Now I’m stuck in hell suburbia, never knew what two kids could do to ya,
Soccer Moms and car pools make me scream.
This is going to be tough, but I got to mo-mo-mo mother up”
Mary McNamara from the LA Times described Mother Up as a "female, if not feminist response to 'Family Guy.'" She wrote that, "'Mother Up!' is an HD family comedy (HD standing for Highly Dysfunctional) in which characters put their cartoon shoulders to the line that separates funny from offensive and shove."
She’s not wrong. Mother Up! tries very hard to be smart and sassy but ends up paying homage to tropes that simply don’t connect to the audience. It’s one thing for Rudi to be shallow, self-obsessed and trying to juggle it all. It’s quite another when she doesn't try to juggle it all, and simply focuses on a narcissistic version of her own dreams, kids sidelined into irrelevance.
“C’mon you know you’re not meant to tell me anything important during mimosa hour,” Rudi said to her child.
Yes, you could take that as tongue-in-cheek and playful, but there’s a level of seriousness to her pithy one-liners that makes the joke fall flat. More of an “Ohhh” than an “A-ha!”
“Nothing Rudi does is motivated by anything other than self-interest,” writes Mashable’s Jean Bentley . “She's supposed to be a brash, anti-hero mom, but there's nothing redeemable about her at all. She doesn't like her family, and there's no humor in watching a terrible person be terrible with no redeeming qualities, other than the fact she's voiced by a popular, likable actress.”
We don’t have to love our anti-heroes. It’s even OK to actively dislike them - take Dexter for example. But to completely feel withdrawn from anything they do and find no relation at all to reality? Well, that’s a big flaw. The allure of Mother Up! is the humor, the nod to comedy, and having a flawed lead that’s relatable and entertaining. No one thinks Family Guy’s Peter Griffin is a good role model, so why should Rudi have to abide by the connotations of “Mother." Isn’t that unfair?
“People think that sometimes women aren’t funny,” Eva Longoria said to Access Hollywood. “And in animation, specifically, everything you see is male-oriented. It is a large male audience watching animation. But I don’t think there’s been anything women can watch that they can relate to and laugh at.”
Full props to Longoria for trying. But I don’t think she is succeeding so far.
To be fair, we have only have two episodes out so far so there is still time for the writers to give Rudi, y’know, something resembling empathy toward her two children, but that’s a maybe.
For now we will continue to search for a sassy show with a female anti-hero that doesn’t bring out the worst in us. Or is that the best? To be continued.