As Season 1 Ends, Should Teenage Newlyweds Be Annulled?
How successful has fyi's latest foray into unusual marriages been?
We've now spent eight episodes with several young people who've just married (only one-third of whom are still Teenage Newlyweds down from half in the series premiere). And as much as I enjoy judging people -- especially ones far younger than I am who think they know everything -- I feel like this is one "weird marriage" gimmick from which fyi should separate, and here's why.
It barely addressed the reasons the couples married so young
Yes, of course we know why: they're religious and they wanted to fuck. But even among the three profiled couples, circumstances are different. For Mormons Halie and George, any kind of premarital fooling around would be a big, big deal. (Speaking of which: once George's ex-LDS brother Adam came back with his son in that early episode, didn't it seem like we'd get more contrast between his life and how different it is from George and Halie's given their observance of Mormon doctrine? That went nowhere.) But Brenda had already lost her virginity when she was (even) younger before deciding to remain celibate until marriage: why didn't we get to learn more about how her faith informed that decision? Based on the fact that we never saw one moving into the other's home, Emma and Joey seem like they might have been living together before marriage; what were their reasons for getting married instead of just continue cohabitating? The fact of the participants' ages is the whole premise of the show, yet how they actually got to their weddings was barely a topic of conversation.
It had a real pacing problem
In last week's episode, both George and Halie and Emma and Joey interacted with people over several different days (or at least different outfits). Brenda and Travis spent all but two scenes in a therapist's office talking about their opposing beliefs with regard to women's health -- something we'd already seen them clash about several episodes earlier, so that we were essentially watching them do a spoken-word recap for Dr. Ramani. The same thing happens in the finale: Joey's conversation with his parents about Emma's expectations of him, and the fact that he hasn't been meeting them, is cut into several segments and takes up all but the last scene of the episode. If there's this little show to be made, maybe shorten the season? Emma and Joey's storyline of Episodes 7 and 8 clearly should have taken place in the same episode.
Everyone's a baby
Not that I didn't expect that of a show called Teenage Newlyweds -- I'm not an idiot -- but even for young people, some of these kids are REAL young. I've been pretty tough on Joey all season -- the breakfast sandwiches! -- but the finale actually leaves Emma and Joey seeming like they have the best shot, not only because Emma is patient, level-headed, and mature, but because Joey recognizes the importance of compromise and change. Learning about his father's issues with alcoholism and the car accident that shattered his family, after which Joey took on a lot more adult responsibilities, makes some of his behaviour more understandable in retrospect. If Joey's dad Tim, as we learn, left the home for a year and Joey fulfilled some of his head-of-household tasks while he was gone, then maybe when Tim returned, Joey relaxed back into a childlike attitude, and then never un-relaxed. And if Amy, as she says in an interview, still feels guilt about how much she leaned on Joey when he was at an age when he shouldn't have had to be her support system, that might explain why she never required Joey to pick up around the house like he might have before. But Joey loves Emma and understands that he'd be lost without her, so he can do better for her; these two are definitely the most mature...or, at least, she is mature enough for both of them.
But Halie is, as I've been saying all season, a very young eighteen, and watching her spend most of the season mope and cry about how much she hates being away from her parents has been about as compelling as reading a middle-schooler's melodramatic letters from camp. George has been doing his best to be her whole world, but that might work better if he'd ever dated a girl before; instead, through the season he's accidentally let slip how mysterious and exotic he thinks women are and he's just not up to the challenge of meeting all Halie's emotional needs. Having her parents move to Utah, as they reveal in the finale they're planning to do, may seem regressive, but clearly it's the only thing that's going to make Halie happy at all (to say nothing of Christy, who's constantly egging Halie on in her grief), so they might as well all just accept that this is going to have to happen for Halie to get through life, even if it just shines a spotlight on how premature her wedding was.
I was most interested in Brenda and Travis because of their pro- and anti-choice stances, but what a disappointment even that turned out to be! (I mean as a storyline, but of course I was also disappointed in Travis's cube-gleaming trip to get a pregnancy test.) I assume it goes without saying that I agree with Brenda on this issue, but when Dr. Ramani directed both halves of the couple to understand each other's positions, they both really crapped out. Travis could have surely found a reasonable Catholic priest who could have espoused the view that life begins at conception and affirmed the idea of supporting both a mother and her child through pregnancy -- planned or not -- and beyond; instead, he found a protest so radical that even he didn't want to take their side. Brenda did better by finding a minister who has worked directly with women who've suffered due to a lack of access to safe reproductive health care providers, but as soon as they leave her office, Brenda shows no evidence that she's thought through her beliefs at all. What I might have said to Travis, were I given the chance, is that his assertion that bringing an unplanned pregnancy to term is more important than the effects that will have on an already living woman is more evidence of the privilege he has enjoyed all his life: he can't see the other side because he's probably never known a woman who's had to deal with an accidental pregnancy. Maybe Brenda hasn't either, though, because all she seems able to say about why she's pro-choice is that she's a feminist and values women's lives, without actually offering any argument that might persuade Travis. Maybe she doesn't think she needs to, since she has such a distorted vision of his own politics: she tells Dr. Ramani that, unlike the aggressive anti-choice protesters, "Travis would never condemn or shame another woman for having an abortion." WOULDN'T HE, THOUGH? Because he says in the same episode that he thinks abortion should be illegal and that women who terminate their pregnancies should face criminal consequences!
Also: was I the only one who spent the whole season waiting to learn that the reason Travis is so staunchly anti-choice is that he was the product of an unplanned pregnancy and is adopted? Because to me he looks nothing like either of his parents.
It wouldn't make me agree with him, but at least I'd get where he was coming from. My point is: for all the story being built out of two opposing abortion stances under the same roof, given that these two both seem more like they're still parroting beliefs they've received from their parents than especially passionate about the issue themselves, once again it just highlights that Brenda and Travis are babies. Then again, maybe they're both still so young that there's time for their politics to evolve and end up closer to one another than they are right now.
It's not that I don't appreciate fyi's effort to beat every American bush and find the most outré exemplars of contemporary marriage. But this one didn't work for a simple reason we all know: young people who have no life experience aren't that interesting -- not in our lives, and not on TV. So next time, maybe find another angle on the institution. What about couples who got divorced and then remarried each other? What about couples with a significant age gap? What about -- and stay with me, now -- a couple who aren't straight? I know it's nuts, but think about it! And leave the children alone.