'Baby' shows disdain for working moms

January 11, 1992|By Knight-Ridder News Service

CBS's "Battling for Baby," which airs tomorrow night at 9 (Channel 11), is two parts frothy fluff, one part hateful excoriation working mothers.

"Baby" has an old-fashioned comic approach and cast -- Suzanne Pleshette and Debbie Reynolds -- but its backlash politics put it on the cutting edge. This is is a nasty, hypocritical movie, its silly surface obscuring a vicious core.

Ms. Pleshette is the concert pianist who missed her baby's early years, thanks to her career, and is now paying the price: She's brittle and insecure, and her daughter calls her by her first name. Ms. Reynolds is the stay-at-home mother-beautician. Ms. Pleshette's daughter (Courteney Cox) is newly wed to Ms. Reynolds' son (John Terlesky). This is awkward for Ms. Pleshette and Ms. Reynolds, former childhood friends who hate each other now. Then Ms. Cox gets pregnant.

Ms. Reynolds, who tends to show up with a can of rug cleaner as a token of her affection, is thrilled. Ms. Pleshette is horrified. "How dare you make me a grandmother?"

Politics aside, there's a class war going on in "Baby": Ms. Pleshette's caterer vs. Ms. Reynolds' Jell-O mold. Because TV must satisfy a middle-class audience's need to believe that the price of privilege is misery, the Jell-O mold wins. Ms. Reynolds is warm, soft and caring; Ms. Pleshette is a mess.

Ms. Pleshette is hardly as lovable as Ms. Reynolds, but she's a hoot. When she learns that the other grandmother has offered to provide day care, she jumps in. "I am going to save that child from a polyester mentality. Even if it means, God help me, baby-sitting."

Wearing all white, Ms. Pleshette cringes at a diaper change. She's as funny as Tom Selleck in the same scene in "Three Men and a Baby." The question is whether the message of these scenes -- men are boobs with babies, and working women are just as bad -- is more hateful to men or to women.

Eventually Ms. Reynolds and Ms. Pleshette have a fight in a sandbox, bringing us back to familiar TV territory: aging women with teen-age problems. They share secrets; naturally, Ms. Pleshette's are worse.

Once the grandmothers have passed through adolescence again, the focus shifts to the kids. There are about six places where this movie seemed to be over, but it was evident that the end wouldn't come until Courteney Cox finally comes to her senses and says, "I want to stay home with you and the baby." Her husband rewards her with a grateful kiss.

* The TNT cable network will be broadcasting tomorrow night's annual cable ACE awards, which will be carried live from the Pantages theater in Los Angeles, starting at 9 p.m.

Dennis Hopper's "Doublecrossed"(HBO) figures to be best movie -- another of Mr. Hopper's works, Showtime's "Paris Trout," wasn't nominated in that category, incredible as it may seem -- and Mr. Hopper deserves to win as best actor. He was nominated for both movies in the acting category.

Lynn Whitfield is likely to repeat her Emmy win in the best-actress category for HBO's "The Josephine Baker Story," and that film may also beat "Doublecrossed" as best movie.

Like the Emmys, the ACE awards now have so many complex overlapping categories that picking favorites is a waste of time. No normal person will have seen enough nominees to make it sporting.

Still, the awards show will boast plenty of star power, so it should be a nice way to kill an evening, if it doesn't run on and on.

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