Discovery Fit & Health will premiere a new reality docuseries tonight titled My Mom Is Obsessed. The show is just the latest in the tear-jerker reality genre dominated by A&E, where shows like Intervention and Hoarders have been making you feel better about your life choices since 2005.
This new family dysfunction docudrama focuses on the inverted mother-daughter relationship in families where the moms exhibit a variety of obsessive-compulsive behaviors, from shopping addiction to excessive plastic surgery. I’m personally fascinated by this relatively new genre of television, which focuses an entire series of 60-minute episodes on subject matter that used to be relegated to a one-day topic of “discussion” (i.e, shouting matches accompanied by audience booing and applause) on afternoon trash talk shows like Ricki Lake and Maury Povich.
I don’t know about you, but I’m riveted by shows like Intervention and Hoarders, just as I expect I may be with My Mom Is Obsessed (which I am so totally DVRing tonight). What is it about these shows? I was half-joking above, but I think there’s a certain truth to the fact that we watch shows about others’ family dysfunction to feel better about our own. Most women I know, especially mothers, tend to feel like they’re failing a lot of the time at doing anything in their lives well. Though most of these incredible women are completely delusional about that fact, I understand where that feeling comes from. Whether real or perceived, the pressure women often feel they have to be everything all at once – a success at work, a perfect mom, a good housekeeper, a bombshell, a tiger in the bedroom – is a pervasive source of stress.
I blame you, Gwyneth Paltrow.
Of course, most of us are logical enough to know our families really don’t expect all that out of us, and that the only reason people like Gwyneth and Angelina make it look effortless is because they have a staff of nannies, cooks, trainers, PR reps,
and ghostwriters helping them get the job done. Yet, the feeling lingers on: we suck at everything, we’re bad parents, our kids will probably have to use their college funds for psychotherapy. Thankfully, after spending an hour and a half trying to get the damn kids to go the eff to sleep, we can curl up with a glass of wine and watch people who suck way more at life in general than we ever could. Sure, your kid may have said “I hate you” to you today, but at least they’re not huffing cans of air-duster in a house with an unknown number of dead cats buried under six foot piles of rummage, right?
The other great thing about these shows is that they offer hope that, even if life goes so awry that you develop some form of destructive compulsive behavior – whether it’s racking up 100 plastic surgeries or hoarding 9/11 memorabilia – there’s hope. Through the miracle of editing and optimistic epilogues, we’ve seen some pretty horrific trainwrecks come back from the brink to live sober, healthy lives in houses where the only garbage is under the sink. These shows don’t all tie a neat and tidy bow on family dysfunction (addicts gonna relapse, hoarders gonna hoard, etc.), but they generally project an outlook that not all hope is lost, even for the most hopeless.
I’ll also confess that I watch these shows for the pure tear-jerking aspect. Sometimes you need a good cry, and shows like these never fail to make me a little weepy. Since SCIENCE has recently proven that we watch tearjerkers because they make us feel better (because they cause us to reflect on the close relationships in our own lives) I feel justified in this behavior. However, I do worry that eventually my interest in tearjerky docudramas could transform into an obsession. Friends, if you see me exhibiting the signs of an unhealthy relationship with A&E and Discovery Fit & Health, please be sure to remind me there’s a lot of people here who love me like crazy and want to see me get better, okay?