If Fox irked ABC by premiering “Trading Spouses” before the similarly themed “Wife Swap,” ABC’s latest get-there-second British import truly suffers from a sense of deja view, with not even a dime’s worth of difference between this nanny-saves-the-day concept and Fox’s “Nanny 911.” Both shows possess a certain starched British appeal, if only to feel smugly superior to the horrible parenting skills of others. In a sense, it’s a perfect leadout to “The Bachelor,” reflecting the logical next phase in post-courtship humiliation.
The big problem with both nanny shows, frankly, isn’t so much that the parents allow themselves to look like nincompoops, but that they agree to let their minor children resemble the bad seed. Fortunately, in flies Supernanny, a.k.a. Jo Frost, to clean up Dodge in a brisk 43 minutes.
The initial guinea pigs are the Jeans, a couple with three girls under 5. Depicted as complete wusses, Jo enters the picture and observes their hectic schedule and nonexistent disciplinary skills, which prompts her to do a lot of head shaking and mugging directly to the camera. OK, she’s super, not subtle.
Eventually Jo intercedes, setting down new rules that at first leave the Jeans feeling blue. Placing their daughter on the “naughty stool” — as opposed to, say, smacking her with it — seems like a real chore before they get they hang of it, by which point they mercifully drop the “Supernanny” designation and start calling their savior “Jo.”
Both “Nanny 911” (whose lone difference is featuring different nannies as opposed to just one) and “Supernanny” hide behind the legitimacy of learning parenting skills to justify voyeurism, in the same way “The Apprentice” teaches business strategy. The core fantasy, however, is that a latter-day Mary Poppins can whisk in and retrain kids with the same crisp, British efficiency that Barbara Woodhouse brings to teaching an Irish Setter not to poop on the rug.
Then again, why not? Outsourcing has been in the news of late, so perhaps it’s time the U.S. farm the whole child-rearing process out to the Brits. At least American kids would sound better at school plays.
As for Fox’s lack of finesse in differentiating its nanny show from the format ABC acquired, it’s time someone put their foot down and treated this poor behavior with all the seriousness it deserves.
That’ll be five minutes on the naughty stool.