If Lifetime is searching for a way to connect with thirtysomething, biological-clock ticking women who are feeling restless and resentful, it has hit on the ultimate comedic formula in this clever new sitcom that tells the semi autobiographical story of the show’s creator and executive producer, Susan Beavers. It stands a good chance of being the most irresistible new half hour to land in living rooms this TV season. And you don’t have to want to have a baby to think so.
The chief reason that “Oh Baby” works is simple: inventive writing (Beavers penned the premiere) and a superb cast headed by Cynthia Stevenson. Long an underappreciated talent (she was the only reason to watch “Hope & Gloria”), Stevenson is cute, sassy, smart and just plain perfect in portraying Tracy, a single marketing executive for a software company who is pushing 40 and saddled with a commitment phobic boyfriend named Grant (Daniel Hugh Kelly) and a hungry but tragically empty womb.
As the show opens, however, we see that Tracy has a bellyful of baby, having made the choice months before to be artificially inseminated in the absence of a marriage minded male. And now, armed with a remote control and a video monitor, Tracy is going to narrate for us in stop action flashback what led to this momentous decision via key scenes from her recent past.
She addresses us directly: “I convinced the network to give me 22 minutes to prove to them that you could care about me and my story.”
So here is Tracy receiving a three year anniversary ring from boyfriend Grant that turns out to be turquoise. There’s Tracy chatting with best pal Charlotte (great work from Joanna Gleason), the company psychiatrist who is herself a twice divorced single mother and who explains that while Tracy plans to make a sperm bank withdrawal, Charlotte came upon her single motherhood the old fashioned way: “My husband left me.”
And there’s Tracy sounding flabbergasted that her gynecologist would dare utter the dreaded m-word to her: “Menopause? I’m still dating, for God’s sake! I live in an apartment! I have Rollerblades!”
Adding a crowning touch of offbeat zest is the way “Oh Baby” satirizes the video age itself, with Tracy struggling to have the show come in under the required 22 minutes and, finally, getting cut off at the end. Just prior to that, she peers straight into the camera and says matter of factly, “We only have about nine minutes left, so I’m going to just fast forward right to my nervous breakdown.” Pretty it ain’t. But smart and joyously irreverent it is.
Beavers and pilot director Bob Berlinger inject the enterprise with a certain breezy magic that not only transcends the bounds of sitcomdom but makes the most of Stevenson’s inherent adorableness as well as the considerable talents of the supporting cast. The show is fresh and charming in a medium that too often leans toward strident and edgy.
Can “Oh Baby” sustain the winning comic momentum it establishes in the premiere? Tough call. Regardless, it’s off to a better start that anyone had a right to expect. Impending single motherhood has never seemed quite so tasty.
It’s almost enough to bring Dan Quayle out of retirement.