TV Eye

You've Come a Long Way, Baby

How times change. It was only a short 10 years ago when Candice Bergen's titular character on Murphy Brown turned up pregnant and decided to keep her baby. Murphy was a successful television newswoman, financially stable, and unwed. Oh yes, and Murphy was a fictional character. But that didn't stop then-Vice-President Dan Quayle and the family values police from bemoaning the breakdown of the American family due to Murphy's choice.

Now, Friends' Jennifer Aniston's character is single and pregnant (by ex-boyfriend Ross, played by David Schwimmer), and she's decided to keep her baby, too. So far, there hasn't been a peep. Not one group or individual has come forward to publicly wag a self-righteous finger at Rachel and her decision. Not even Vice-President Cheney. Of course, he's too busy running the country while the president instructs little kids to mail a dollar to the White House to help children in Afghanistan.

Recent events have no doubt put into perspective the worth of arguing sitcom morality. People are more concerned about opening their mail and flying in a commercial plane than they are with the personal decisions of a fictional TV character. Still, it's interesting that Rachel's decision has met with little comment and zero controversy from the popular press and family values watchdogs.

Does this mean that ideas about women, their opportunities and decisions has expanded? Not exactly. In comparison to Murphy, Rachel is a lightweight. Although a comedy, Murphy Brown was known for its outspokenness on social issues. Rachel's strongest opinions are about fashion and men. Think of the hardy-har-hars come sweeps time when she goes into labor, not to mention how she'll deal with an expanding waistline and swollen feet. Following the occasional thoughtful moment, I expect Rachel's situation to be played for laughs, until the requisite poignant moment when the little one arrives.

Another unplanned pregnancy was played for laughs on a recent Enterprise episode when engineer Trip Tucker (Connor Trinneer) returned from a visit on an alien vessel sprouting nipples on the inside of his wrist -- apparently, a tell-all sign that Trip was pregnant with a cross-species baby. Trip's biggest worry was that his shipmates would find out. (Gee, at least Rachel struggled with the idea of becoming a single mother.) The reaction from the captain and the few shipmates who knew of his condition were lip-biting titters. Tucker didn't want to kill the offspring -- he just wanted to remove it, as painlessly and effortlessly as an ingrown toenail, and allow it to be raised in the alien community instead. When he revisited the alien ship for just that, he happily returned to the Enterprise for business as usual. What? No discussion of giving up his own offspring? No thoughts of his offspring growing up in an alien world? No talk about choice, or that perhaps Dr. Phlox (John Billingsley) would want to see the birth to term, if for no other reason than scientific curiosity about what an alien-human baby would be like? Perhaps the subversive message of the show was that the right to choose is no longer an issue by the 22nd century. Or maybe it's just not an issue for men.

I don't expect every television character to stand on a soapbox to expound on a social issue each week, but it seems like a missed opportunity for Enterprise not to discuss the subject, particularly in today's climate, where women are still penalized or worse for making choices regarding their bodies. If only the right to govern one's own body were treated as casually as Trip's decision to dump his mutant alien-human love child.


Speaking of Sweeps --

November is a sweeps month, and that means special guest stars and plot spikes on your favorite shows, movie premieres, or special network events. No. 1 on my must-see list is the musical episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer on Nov. 6. A mysterious force causes the Scooby gang to break into song in this episode written and directed by series creator Joss Whedon, who also composed the music. Oh, and in case you forgot about that whole Dawn (Michelle Trachtenberg) as the key plot line from last year, it reappears in this sure to be talked about episode. Buffy the Vampire Slayer airs Tuesdays, 7pm, on UPN. An encore presentation airs Friday, Nov. 16.

Based on the Japanese cult cooking show, Iron Chef, the UPN will present Iron Chef USA: Showdown in Las Vegas. William Shatner presides over the cook-off pitting two world-class chefs in an hourlong culinary battle. The original Iron Chef airs Fridays, 9pm, on the Food Network. Iron Chef USA airs on Nov. 16, 8pm, UPN.

Over on cable, those vodka-swilling sweetie dahlings from across the pond are at it again in the British comedy Absolutely Fabulous. Edina (Jennifer Saunders), Patsy (Joanna Lumley), and the rest of the original cast return for a new season of outrageousness on Comedy Central on Nov. 12 at 8pm. To celebrate, Comedy Central will air a pre-premiere marathon hosted by Saunders on Nov. 11, and a "How to Be Absolutely Fabulous" special on Nov. 5. Check local listings for air times or visit the Comedy Central Web site: www.comedycentral.com .

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

Murphy Brown, Candice Bergen, Jennifer Aniston, Friends, Dan Quayle, Absolutely Fabulous, Enterprise, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Jennifer Saunders, Joanna Lumley, Iron Chef, Iron Chef USA, William Shatner, Connor Trinneer

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