Today on Talkin’ Nerdy I’d like to discuss something which has getting up my craw for some time now, and is really just part of a darker, more disturbing trend that’s been grinding my gears for much of my creative life: namely, the trend of leaving mother characters out of the fun in fiction, specifically the curious lack of mothers on notable Hub shows.
For instance, take Transformers Rescue Bots….please. OK, that was kind of a cheap shot, but when I first heard about this show and it was compared to the likes of Marvel’s Super Hero Squad Show, I actually thought TRB was going to be lighthearted wacky spoof show a la SHS or Batman: The Brave and the Bold. Instead, we get this somewhat stale show meant to teach kids about safety and clearly and very visibly intended to sell a new wave of Transformers toys to prepubescent boys. Look, I have nothing against safety and lessons about safety; heck, as a kid I received an Officer Friendly coloring book and I liked it well enough, and I understand that it’s show business and many of The Hub’s shows are designed to sell toys, but I have a greater appreciation for the ones that at least try to entertain me a bit in the process of pounding lessons into my head and coaxing me to buy stuff. Rescue Bots‘ biggest crime is that it’s just dull.
It’s second biggest crime is the point of this discussion: OK, the premise of TRB is that these 4 Transformers land on an island town somewhere in Maine called Griffin Rock, where a group of Autobots named Heatwave, Boulder, Blades and Chase respond to Optimus Prime’s message for any active Autobots in space to arrive to Earth. Coming out of a long stasis, learning what became of Cybertron and that they are the only Rescue-Bot team remaining, they are partnered with the Burns family composed of first response rescuers. Together, they learn teamwork and heroism alongside their human friends as they deal with various disasters. Each bot is paired with a different family member relating to what type of vehicle they are: Chase turns into a police car and so is partnered with dad Chief Charlie Burns, Heatwave turns into a fire engine and is partnered with firefighting son Kade Burns, Boulder turns into bulldozer and is partnered with construction engineer son Graham Burns, and Blades turns into a rescue helicopter and is partnered with helicopter pilot daughter Dani Burns. The youngest member of the family, the very blond Cody Burns, is the bland kid protagonist of the show. What’s wrong with this picture? Where’s Mama Burns? Forget where is she, who is she? They never mention a mother or her whereabouts. If Charlie’s a widower or a divorcee, then it must have just happened, since Cody doesn’t appear to be any older than 10. But why does the Burns family not have a mother? Would it have killed the show’s writers to include a mom as part of the team? Actually, from a marketing standpoint, I think I know why: Transformers Rescue Bots is aimed primarily at young boys, who by and large think “girls are icky”, and only a boy with mountain-sized self-esteem would be willing to own a Rescue Bot piloted by a mom. I think the only reason they have a daughter character is to avoid pressure from women’s groups. This show is so overtly boy-centric that the only 2 female characters of any importance on TRB have the androgynous names Dani and Frankie. So while I can see why there’s no Mom Burns, I still think it’s bullocks. If you’re going to put a daughter on the team, then you might as well have a mom. And for anyone who says that moms don’t make good action heroes, Helen Parr/Elastigirl from The Incredibles and Drew Saturday from The Secret Saturdays say hi. Heck, even the Bionic Six had a mom, and she was actually one of the heroes, she didn’t just stay home and bake cookies while the rest of the family was out saving the world.
But, wait: Cody’s platonic little friend Francine “Frankie” Greene doesn’t have a mother either. She has a dad, Doc Greene, but again, no sight, sign or mention of a mom. What the what, Hub? Do the producers of this show have some kind of mother-phobia or something? I could probably see 1 motherless family on the show, but 2? Really?? To add insult to injury, one episode featured a lady scientist whom Doc Greene seemed to have a thing for, and those feelings seemed to be mutual. OK, so it’s all right to have potential girlfriends dangled before the audience’s eyes, but moms are a big no-no? WTH? If the writers are going to give Doc a potential girlfriend, they could’ve just given him a wife to start with, and been done with it.
The Hub’s “Moms are kryptonite” mentality unfortunately isn’t restricted to 1 show on the network. Another guilty party in this alarming trend is Littlest Pet Shop. I actually like LPS so it pains to have to put this show on my hit list, but they’re guilty of the same crime: its’ protagonist, Blythe Baxter, lives with her dad, your typical goofball father Roger Baxter, but Mrs. Baxter is nowhere to be seen and is never mentioned, not even in passing. Even during a series of flashbacks in the “So You Skink You Can Dance”, we see little Blythe and her dad interacting, but still no mom to be seen or heard from anywhere. So was Blythe grown in a test tube or what?? I can at least understand why the Burns family on TRB doesn’t have a mother, though its one of the things I hate most about the show, but I at least get why from a marketing standpoint. Littlest Pet Shop, by contrast, is based on a toy line aimed squarely, if not exclusively, at girls, so I really don’t get why Blythe couldn’t have 2 parents on the show. Part of the reason why Roger is so frequently annoying is that there’s no contrast; the household needs a somewhat more competent parent to provide a counterbalance to Roger’s goofiness. It’s like having the Odd Couple with only Oscar. Heck, I would even take a goofy embarrassing mom over no mom at all. And what’s more, the show’s rivals/frenemy characters, Whitney and Britney Biskit, likewise don’t have a mother. They’re constantly mentioning their father, Fisher Biskit, whose even made a couple of appearances on the show, but again no mother. At first I though maybe Mrs. Biskit was just perpetually off-camera, but then the episode “Bakers and Flakers” aired, and the only parent to show up at the school bake-off was Fisher, basically confirming that the Biskits are likewise motherless.*
The closest thing Littlest Pet Shop has to a mother figure is the character of Blythe’s friend Youngmee Song’s Aunt Christie, but as her title implies, Christie is Youngmee’s aunt, not her mother. Though given her quasi-maternal relationship with her niece and also how so far we have yet to see any of Youngmee’s other adult relatives, the LPS writers could have easily made Christie Youngmee’s mom and it wouldn’t have altered the stories in any way. But apparently protagonists on Hub shows can’t have moms or else it would split the Earth in two. Even an upcoming Hub acquisition, Wizards VS Aliens, features a lead character who lives with his dad and grandma. So grandmothers are OK, but mothers? That’s the line, right? Got it, Hub.
I’m just going to say this right now, if you haven’t guessed already: I hate single fathers in fiction. The Dead/Missing Mom trope is one of my least favorite cliches in fiction, and it’s one I’ve vowed to never employ as a writer. Why, you may ask? I can’t provide a better answer than Jason, who when asked the same question, responded with this: “Because I like marriage humor and MILFs, and with single dads, you don’t get either.” I can’t speak for Transformers Rescue Bots, as I don’t proactively follow that show nor do I regularly converse with its’ fans, but I know that I’m not the only one who’s been asking about the identity or whereabouts of Blythe’s mother. It’s probably a subject that the show’s writers have no plans of ever addressing unless they’re pressured to by fans, similar to the question of whatever happened to Chuckie’s mother on Rugrats; the producers largely ignored this question but fans persisted in asking about it, so the producers were finally forced to acknowledge it and change the status quo accordingly, first with a Mother’s Day special, then by making it the plot of the 3rd movie. I don’t know if LPS needs to go that far, but it wouldn’t kill them to address it at least once, like, say, have Blythe lament “I miss Mom” in some given scene. Of course, if they had given Blythe a mom in the first place, they wouldn’t have to do anything.
Finally, I’d like to give an honorable mention to Dreamworks’ The Croods. It remains to be seen how well this movie will perform at the box office, but I’ll give Dreamworks one iota of credit in regards to the mother of the cave family, Ugga, namely, that they actually have a mother! In far too many animated family movies of this ilk, the mother is just straight-up dead before the movie even starts, but Dreamworks avoided that cliche here, and for that, I’m grateful. If we can see this tired old trope continue to get snuffed out over time, I’ll be a happier camper.
*ADDENDUM: In the subsequent seasons since this article was written, Hasbro has since rectified their ‘no mother’ situation on Littlest Pet Shop at least. Season 4 featured the first ever on-camera mention of Blythe’s mom Betty, and in an admittedly clever bit of comedy, in this same season it was also revealed that Whittany and Brittany Biskit also indeed have a mother. Furthermore, the writers turned the Biskits’ mom Eliza’s sudden appearance into an in-universe joke, implying that Eliza Biskit had been there all along and we the audience had simply never seen her before. Jason plans on doing a full retrospective on LPS’ 4th (and evidently, final) season sometime after season 4 is complete, but in the meantime…