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`Oh,' the reality of baby ambivalence

April 28, 2006|Robert Lloyd | Times Staff Writer

"Oh, Baby ... Now What?" which premieres tonight on A&E -- the channel also of "Dallas SWAT," "King of Cars" and "Dog the Bounty Hunter" -- is about Brad and Sara and how the arrival of baby Hunter affects them and a few friends (none of them mutual). Set among the groovy climes of young L.A., it is being advertised as a documentary, and in some broad definition of the word, I suppose it is. That is, everyone represents him or herself, and no one is reading a script (although Brad is an actor, or would like to be).

Documentary film is ideally a search for or a setting down of the truth. It makes art out of what already exists, and its value as entertainment, if not exactly incidental or unimportant, is secondary to an almost holy regard for the world as it is. A good documentarian respects the reality even of the things he or she disdains and accepts what he finds. It's the opposite of reality TV, which puts entertainment first and whose producers typically have a result in mind even before they start.

"Oh, Baby ... Now What?" belongs to the second category. In earlier days, executive producer R.J. Cutler produced "The War Room," which went inside the first Clinton campaign, and directed "A Perfect Candidate," about Oliver North's 1994 bid for the Senate, but lately has been involved in such gimmicky TV stunt series as "Black.White." and "30 Days," which claim to deliver truths about American society but are too cursory and shallow to say much at all.

We begin with tabloid urgency. "A young couple ... unexpectedly pregnant. A group of friends ... falling apart. Can a new baby bring Brad and Sara together? And will Brad step up and play his role as a dad? Or will the pressure break him?" Apart from such obviously unstaged happenstance as Hunter's bad sunburn ("Disaster strikes!"), it's impossible to say which encounters, parties, lunches and therapy sessions have been suggested or arranged by the producers, but one senses that helping hand.

People who make these shows can't afford to wait around forever for something good to happen, and so they tend go fishing with dynamite. We are supposed to know this, and also not to care, but willful suspension of disbelief is not something you should have to bring to a work that claims to document real life.

Like many reality shows, "Oh, Baby" is inspired as much or more by the movies as by life -- it's essentially a down-market Silver Lake version of "Nine Months," the Hugh Grant-Julianne Moore vehicle, and has been filmed with big-screen creaminess. You have the hot leads, the less-hot-but-attractive-in-their-way friends, the comically caustic, unhappy roommate.

Because pictures can lie, making people look bad who are not as bad as all that, and because there is an advantage to the producers in making them look that way -- conflict and complaint are the fuel on which these things run -- nothing I say here about the people in this film should be taken to represent a comment on the actual people being filmed. It's not impossible that they resemble the people on screen, but nothing in life is ever as simple as it usually seems on TV. That said, they do not come off well, seeming mostly cranky, petulant, self-involved, immature and insistent on their version of the facts.

"I don't believe in birth control," we see Sara say. "Every relationship that I've been in I've stated that, and it has successfully freaked a guy out enough so that he's very careful.... Not so much with Brad, obviously." Obviously. Brad, for his part, says he was "completely done with the relationship" when Sara told him she was pregnant and is reluctant to get married or even move in together. Brad's friends (who are not Sara's friends) think she got pregnant on purpose, that she "took advantage of his sexual ignorance," says one, which is not a thing you ought to be able to say of anyone in his 20s, and rag on her continually. Even the news release calls Sara "an outspoken ice queen."

However much the filmmakers want this to be a story of growing up and coming together, nothing the camera captured, or the editors have left for us to see, suggests that Brad and Sara belong together or, indeed, will stay together, nor is there any sense of what brought them together in the first place other than being sort of nicely packaged people.

The show weakly strains to fill its two hours, reminding us at every commercial break that something exciting is just around the corner. ("Coming up ... as the home birth begins ... tempers flare.") At the same time, though none of these people particularly argues for a longer time in the couples' company, Cutler comes too late to the story and leaves it too soon; Sara is already ready to deliver when we meet her, and, for all the protestations of personal growth and renewed commitment, nothing seems resolved at the end, and little is learned apart from the not-stunning revelation that having a child can make you think of someone other than yourself.


`Oh, Baby ... Now What?'

Where: A&E

When: 10 tonight.

Rating: TV-PG

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