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John Doyle: CBC’s Workin’ Moms reeks of entitlement and privilege

The new and heavily promoted CBC comedy Workin' Moms (Tuesday, CBC, 9:30 p.m.) is not so much a comedy as it is a celebration of middle-class mothers going back to work after maternity leave. This is a tad confusing: See, it's not funny.

"Eat a bag of dicks," Kate (Catherine Reitman, also the show's creator) mutters to a group of moms with strollers who just want her honkin' big SUV to move so they can cross the street. It's a peculiar moment in the show's second episode. Why is she insulting these other moms? One gets the impression it's because they are not bourgeois, working at an advertising agency and driving that big honkin' car.

The core characters, those "workin' moms" are Kate, Jenny (Jessalyn Wanlim), Anne (Dani Kind) and Frankie (Juno Rinaldi). We meet them at some sort of yoga/therapy class. Two are discussing their postbaby boobs. Yes. We get a look. It's that kind of show.

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Kate, who features heavily, is eager to get back to work at the agency. Husband Nathan (Philip Sternberg, who is also Reitman's husband) is all for it, but issues mild warnings about Kate taking on too much. At the office, Kate meets her boss (Peter Keleghan, doing his patented, unctuous smoothy) and right away there is an issue with Kate, her breast pump and a meeting. Naturally, Kate triumphs, impresses the client and outmanoeuvres a male colleague. It's utterly predictable. Anyone who thinks the material is funny is delusional.

Frankie is a successful real estate agent and struggling with depression. A least it might be depression. It's hard to tell because there is a lot of emphasis on how kooky Frankie is. Anne is a blunt-taking psychiatrist who figures she is done with having kids but, then, fate intervenes. This is one of those shows set in a world in which neither birth control nor abortion seem to exist.

Jenny, who we really get to know in the second episode, is an IT specialist, and reluctant to return to work. Her partner is not pleased, because he wants her to work while he writes his screenplay about vampires. Glumly back at work, she is bored, and a colleague e-mails her a sexy story about a plumber. While Jenny does the breast-pump thing at the office, she masturbates too. It's that kind of show.

Thing is, mind you, exactly and precisely what kind of show this purports to be isn't all that clear. The moms represent only a very specific, urban-bourgeois type. Their troubles are tiny, they live in luxury and their only contact with anything approaching the reality of contemporary life is via their nannies. A nanny is fired fairly promptly, by the way.

Me, I have every sympathy for working mothers. And the show asks us to have sympathy for the characters, but where the funny comes into it is beyond me. The series just reeks of entitlement and requests us to have sympathy for elites.

Oddly, to me, Workin' Moms celebrates what was mocked with deft scorn by the Baroness Von Sketch series and the Canadian comedy Sunnyside. So, whose side are we supposed to be on? If it's these appallingly smug people, heaven help us all.

Granted, a huge industry has been built around new motherhood and a vast online world is devoted to discussing and exalting the arena of breast pumps, back-to-work issues and finding the balance between baby, work and partner. Perhaps there is a ready-made audience for Workin' Moms in that world. Perhaps not – maybe that audience too will be appalled by the smug shallowness and the privilege being revered here.

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Also airing on Tuesday

Taboo (FX Canada, 10 p.m.) is new and a hard drama to pin down. A historical-fantasy epic co-created by and starring Tom Hardy (the other creator is Steven Knight, who did the wonderful Peaky Blinders, and, yes, the series is a U.S/Britain co-production), it is set in London in 1814 and has Hardy as James Keziah Delaney, who returns after being missing for 10 years and was believed dead. He is the son of a wealthy, much-hated shipping tycoon. On his return, he causes ructions, especially for his family, their assets being eyed for acquisition by the East India Company. His half sister, Zilpha (Oona Chaplin), and her husband, Thorne (Jefferson Hall), are especially resentful of the return. Besides, James is acting kind of crazy. Something infected or strengthened him while he was away and it's all very mysterious. It is slow going in the early stages, but beautifully made, and British veterans David Hayman and Jonathan Pryce give some very sharp performances. The supernatural elements are not over-cooked, which is a relief.

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About the Author
Television critic

John Doyle is The Globe and Mail's television critic. His column appears in the Review section Monday to Thursday and on Saturday. He has been the paper's critic since 2000. More

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