I was browsing through Netflix looking for something lighthearted to binge-watch, and I came across NBC’s Great News. I had heard that it was predictable and kind of silly, but I started watching it because it’s a show about a mother and daughter so close that they end up working at the same news station.
I typically shy away from shows whose protagonists are successful, business-minded white women because, well, their lives are so dissimilar to mine. But even though Katie has perfect skin and hair, a steady career in journalism, and very few worries other than struggling to assert herself at work and managing her overbearing mother, I found myself liking her. She fumbles a lot and requires a great deal of support, and that’s a quality I can relate to.
I’ve always been drawn to mother-daughter narratives because I never had a positive relationship with my own mother. My aunt, who filled in when my mother was no longer capable of caring for me, did her best to give me the love and affection that I needed, but my depth of need soon exceeded what she could provide.
To some, Katie’s mother is campy and overbearing. But to me, she is the real hero of the show: a mother that would stop at nothing to help her child and had the presence of mind to know when she had overstepped her bounds. Each episode wraps up neatly with Carol realizing that she has embarrassed her daughter in some horrendous way, apologizing, and hugging it out.
Carol struggles with boundaries, and while it is a constant source of frustration for the child, it was refreshing for me to see a mother so genuine and doggedly dedicated to helping and protecting her child. Katie even complains constantly, albeit validly, that her mother is so involved in her life that she feels smothered.
I understand that feeling. My aunt was a helicopter parent too. But, unlike Katie, I realized early on that this involvement was doing more harm than good, and my efforts to address the problem with my aunt drove a wedge between us so deep that I learned to fear her. Eventually, I assumed that she hated me, and I began directing that hate back at her. There was never that outpouring of support and affection that is common on Great News, and it wasn’t until I started watching this over-emotive show that I realized how much I had craved it growing up, and how much I still need it.
I think, if I am being honest with myself, that the altogether inappropriate protectiveness that Carol exhibits towards her daughter was so appealing to me because I associate that sort of attention with maternal love.
I have to admit that I was an emotionally needy child that carried that same neediness into adulthood. My aunt tried really hard to fix me up with the bent and rusty toolbox that she had from her own traumatized childhood, but her feelings about having to continue to carry a stunted adult child surfaced one night after I had asked her yet again for the validation that I still can’t seem to give myself.
“Jessica, you are exhausting. You are just exhausting! It’s never enough for you!” she snarled at me, frustrated that I was asking for something she didn’t think she should have to provide a 24-year-old.
But she was right. Mentally ill children are exhausting. Mentally ill adults that keep pleading for exaltations of love and acceptance from tired parents are annoying. I am an emotional burden that my aunt has been trying to shed since she realized that she couldn’t give me the type of love that I wanted, but I kept pushing, I kept asking and begging and antagonizing and now she is tired, and she is disappointed, and she is done.
On the show, Carol never gets tired, and she is never finished with smothering her daughter with affection. She goes to extraordinary lengths to make sure Katie has as many wins as she needs to feel successful. But then, Carol’s toolbox is neat and shiny, filled with sugars and spices and the desperate desire to feel needed. She literally lives for Katie. That isn’t healthy or right, but I still watch Great News and think, “That woman loves her daughter.”
Carol is entirely fictional. I know that. I tell myself that when I find myself comparing my relationship with my aunt to Carol’s scripted TV relationship with her daughter. There is a lot about how she shows her love that is problematic. But she does show it sincerely and unabashedly, and that is the part of their relationship that I love to watch and that I yearn for.
My aunt and I barely speak, but maybe we can sit down together one day and watch an episode or two of Great News and laugh like we used to.