Supernanny 2/7: When You Wischmeyer Upon a Star
It's a bird! It's a plane! No, it's Supernanny, also known as "that show you watch after The Bachelorette"...if you're too lazy to change the channel.
Jo Frost is Supernanny, an English childcare expert welcomed into the homes and lives of families whose rugrats have come completely unglued.
Nanny Jo may not be a big deal to us Yanks, but back home in England, Jo's big time, ABC's Web site assures us. She's a part of the national zeitgeist and helped make "Your behavior is very naughty!" a popular catchphrase.
Dear god, I hope that doesn't happen on our shores. If my boss ever told me that my behavior was "naughty"--even as a lark--I'm not responsible for what happens next.
I (and my boss) have nothing to worry about, however, if history is any indication.
History is a stern, no-nonsense teacher who never issues bathroom passes and never, ever rounds up to the nearest letter grade.
And history teaches us that most poor devils who make it big at home and end up in Hollywood with a dream in their pockets and American dollar signs in their eyes go home with nothing to show but a string of failed sitcoms, box office bombs and pop singles that barely crack the top 100.
But, hey, Jo, here's hoping you're the exception rather than the rule, right?
Meet the Wischmeyers
The premise and format of Supernanny is similar to that other nanny show, Fox's Nanny 911, which, if not already relegated to the Big Living Room in the sky, is halfway there.
It's no coincidence that all the nannies in these two programs hail from Britain. If there are two things that the British still do better than anyone in the world, they are A. beer and B. discipline.
That world-renowned sense of discipline is what John and Melora Wischmeyer will rely upon to resolve their issues with their little monsters.
Melora was a marketing representative working under John when they started dating. That's when she really started "working under John," if you get my meaning.
With Valentine's Day fast approaching, how romantic is it that love overcomes all, even a little something like sexual harassment?
John and Melora were fruitful and multiplied. They begat Jared (9) and the twins, Ashlyn and Alaia, 4.
Alaia appears to be Melora's no. 1 problem child. She screams, kicks and strikes her parents. As we're introduced to the little scamp, she's shown declaring, "I'll give you something to cry about!" Charming.
Ashlyn is an albatross around her parents' neck during bedtime.
Jared thinks the girls get more attention. You know what they say, Jared: Squeaky wheels, and all that.
Melora still works as a marketing representative, though she now works from home. Melora no longer worries about being chased around a desk by John, so she hopes to maintain both a professional and homemaker lifestyle.
From the footage of the girls running around the house and screaming things like, "Na-na, na-na, boo-boo!" the viewers are forced to wonder how much work is being done, either as Marketing Rep or Mom.
Meet the Nanny
The Supernanny observes the Wischmeyers
from her secret ocean fortress her base on the moon on a portable DVD player from the back of a London black cab. Does Nanny Jo fly/teleport/magically appear in the Wischmeyers' living room? No. This causes one to question just how "super" Supernanny really is. (Whadda ripoff.)
And, for that matter, is the London black cab truly necessary? The producers at ABC beat Jo's nationality to death, as if the viewers can't figure out for themselves she's English from listening to her accent. For example, in the fey image whenever the show cuts to commercial, Jo's in silhouette carrying an umbrella...emblazoned with the Union Jack.
How much more stereotypical can the people at ABC be? During sweeps, maybe Jo could be shown levying taxes on tea or setting fire to the White House.
But I digress.
Jo proclaims: "Wischmeyers, you need my help, and I'm on my way." And, with that, Jo puts on a pair of sunglasses and presses a red button on her dashboard, producing two rockets on the back of the black cab and wings on its chassis. Jo's cab breaks the sound barrier as it races toward the Wischmeyers' home.
Well, not really. That only happened in my imagination because less than five minutes into this episode, I was already bored out of my ever-lovin' skull. And because I think a supersonic London black cab would be really damn cool.
The Observation Lounge
When Jo arrives at the Wischmeyer residence, the first thing that Melora observes is that Jo appears friendly.
"I thought the nanny would be mean!" Mom chirps.
Nanny Jo explains to John and Melora that for the first part of her two-week stay, she's merely observing their family dynamic.
And what a family dynamic it is.
This is what Jo observes: While Melora tries to work on her computer and take calls, the girls climb everything in sight, smack their mother and break the toaster.
Melora confesses that she "feels bad" over not spending enough time with her children because she works so much. Jo agrees by saying that Melora appears stretched thin.
Alaia plants a solid right hook on Melora's chin, much to Jo's disapproval.
It's appalling to see a child behave like this, Jo says.
Then the girls use one of their favorite chants: "Na-na, na-na, boo-boo!" followed by "Stinky butt!"
Melora is close to tears at this point and says that if she doesn't get back to work, if she doesn't get on the phone to make her calls, she'll get fired.
Uh, really? "Marketing" people can get fired for that? I mean, "dating hotline" workers and cold-call sales reps, sure, I can see them being fired for not answering the phone, but marketing?
Maybe I've spent too much working in IT, where my job duties include scowling at anyone with the gall to interrupt my personal Internet usage by assigning "work" and asking users on the phone just how stupid they are.
Did We Forget to Mention We Have a Son?
Nanny Jo then has the pleasure of making Jared's acquaintance. She accompanies Melora to meet Jared at the bus stop.
The blame usually falls on Jared for his sisters' ill behavior, as seen when Jared tells one of his sisters to "shut up" for calling him a "stinky butt." Melora sends Jared to his room.
When Nanny Jo goes to see how Jared is doing, she encourages him never to stop letting his mother know how he really feels.
Maybe it's this heart-wrenching scene, but more likely it's the four Blood Marys I consumed in the course of watching this show, but I tearfully drunk called my mother to "let her know how I feel" and to admit I lied about playing hooky back in kindergarten. Like the other recipients of my drunken phone calls/emails/private messages, my mother ignored me and hung up.
When John comes home, he and Melora try getting the twins in bed. The twins' behavior is hideous (but not as hideous as the moose pattern on John's pullover).
The twins are shrieking for Melora to lie with them in bed, and she folds like paper.
Of course, Nanny Jo disapproves.
John reveals that it's been four days since he's "spent time" with Melora. That confession isn't as shudder-worthy as a Cialis TV commercial, but damn if it isn't close.
As soon as Melora is fast asleep, the girls emerge from their bedroom to pester their father for milk. They're stalling bedtime, as if you didn't guess.
The Parents' Meeting
When Jo finally corners John and Melora, she sits them down for a conference on what she's observed.
Highlights from the conference:
-John and Melora are struggling.
-Discipline is a major concern.
-Jo is stunned by the girls' screaming, lashing out and refusing to go to bed.
-Jared shouldn't be disciplined for speaking out.
-The root problem is that Melora works full-time while trying to raise her children, and it's simply not working. However, adults deserve personal satisfaction, too, and Jo hopes to help Melora achieve balance between work and home by showing her and John a new way to manage their household.
The first thing that Jo introduces is a new household schedule allowing six hours for Melora's work.
When Jo sits down with John, Melora and the twins, she tells the children to stop the biting, hitting, etc. The girls have none of it. They plug their ears and yell, "Can't hear you!" I try this tactic that night with J. when she wants to discuss cleaning out the clutter in our garage, but it doesn't work for me, and it doesn't work for Ashlyn and Alaia, either.
Take Time Out for Your Children (Or Just Give Them One)
Jo also teaches the Wischmeyers proper time-out technique: First, issue a warning in a low, stern tone. Then, come down to the child's level and let him or her know his or her behavior is not acceptable. Finally, punish by making the child stand in the "naughty corner."
Frankly, the "naughty corner" doesn't sound like a time-out punishment. It sounds more like a storefront for "novelties, party gags and intimate apparel."
The first test of the naughty corner directive comes when John asks Alaia to go down for a nap. When Alaia refuses and throws a tantrum, John puts her in the naughty corner.
Not all goes well for the first run of the naughty corner, though. Alaia leaves the naughty corner and stomps to her room.
Jo is all over the situation like a commando. She sends John after Alaia to take her back to the naughty corner. This time, she and John hope that Alaia will stand in the corner for the full four minutes. (One minute = one year of age.)
As John watches his daughter stand in the corner, he admits to tearing up.
"But she doesn't love you any less," Jo reassures John.
"How did we get to this point?" John wonders.
Alaia spent the full four minutes in the corner and Jo tells John to coax an apology out of her before she's allowed out of the naughty corner.
When she does, Jo chirps, "Well done!"
Think Outside the Box
Jo introduces the concept of the "thought box" to Jared and his mother. Jared is encouraged to write down his thoughts for the thought box. At night, during Melora's free time, Jared and his mother will discuss what they find in the thought box.
Jo then tackles the issue of bedtime: The parents are instructed to say goodnight and put the girls to bed. If they come out and continue coming out, John and Melora are to take the twins by the hand and put them back in bed.
Bedtime is a war of attrition.
The girls emerge from their bedroom no less than 11 times before they finally fall asleep 45 minutes later.
With the groundwork in place, Jo leaves the Wischmeyers to their own devices for a few days. She views video footage of the Wischmeyers to see how closely they follow her advice.
Need I say Jo doesn't like what she sees?
First, when Jared asks his sister to leave his room while he finishes his homework, Melora wastes no time in barking at Jared for how he speaks to his sister, not realizing (or maybe not caring) that her tone of voice is even worse.
When he includes the incident in his thought box, Melora fires a withering glare at him and dismisses his take on the situation.
"You've got to learn to listen to your son!" Jo exclaims.
Secondly, when Melora attempts to discipline one of the girls with a naughty corner time-out, she holds her daughter against the wall when her offspring refuses to remain standing there.
Jo chalks up this experience as a loss of control on Melora's part.
Finally, and worst of all, the Wischmeyers revert to their bad old habits during bedtime for Ashlyn and Alaia. The twins whine for a drink. They beg for their toys.
"I want my hamster guy!" one of the girls shriek.
(Sorry, ladies, but ABC couldn't book Richard Gere for this episode of Supernanny.)
Jo offers up constructive criticism by talking back to her television, Queer Eye for the Straight Guy style.
"Do not give in!" she says. And: "They're running rings around you!"
Return of the Jo Jo
When Nanny Jo returns, she comes bearing a video of what she's seen and heard during her absence. By the end of her second run with the Wischmeyers, she also has the children using her nickname, "Jo Jo" (a name that shows Jo's street cred, maybe).
She points out that Melora is "suffocating" her daughter by holding her in the corner during time-out. Melora and John have also lost control during bedtime. Last but certainly not least, Jo rebukes Melora for speaking to Jared about having a disrespectful tone of voice by addressing him with (what else?) a disrespectful tone of voice.
Melora passes Jo's first test by disciplining one of the twins for shutting down Jared's PlayStation.
When Melora gives Alaia a time-out in the naughty corner, Alaia stays for the full four minutes and apologizes to her mother.
So far, so good.
Melora also validates Jared by heeding what she finds in the thought box, bringing them closer together.
Jo feels that Melora finally has a grasp on managing her work hours and her time as a parent.
The final test of the Wischmeyer mettle comes in the twins' bedtime.
This time, the twins only emerge three times to pester their parents under Jo's tutelage.
Of course, one of those times, they cry "Na-na, na-na, boo-boo!" in unison while flapping their arms around. That alone, to me, is worth the entire ordeal.
The Last Word
The Wischmeyers stick to Jo's routine and their family is miraculously transformed. (Hallelujah!) In the new spirit of playfulness in the Wischmeyer household, Melora is shown trying to apply lip balm to Jared's lips, who shakes his head and refuses.
Melora tries to convince him to use lip balm by telling him that girls won't plant one on a guy with chapped lips. Because Jared is nine years old, he doesn't appear particularly distressed about never knowing the touch of the fairer sex.
"One day, you'll want them to kiss you, and you'll say, 'Oh, my god!'" Melora tells her son. (Way to go on souring Jared on women forever, mom.)
It's time for one more dance with Melora, Jo and the girls before Nanny leaves the Wischmeyers.
Jo tells goodbye to her little charges as Jared plainly says that she made his family "better, tighter."
Jared's opinion appears to be proved out by the "family update": John is described as "happy" and "positive," Melora has achieved a balance between her professional and personal life, and even the children have nothing but glowing recommendations to add to Nanny's resume:
"Jo Jo made mommy and daddy happy," Ashlyn says. (All together: Awww.)
"Jo Jo made me good," Alaia agrees.
The last word goes to Alaia as we close this chapter of Supernanny by bidding a fond farewell to the Wischmeyers, and nanny moves on to a new group of charges...
...but not before we're treated to one last sight of Jo during the credits, imitating Jared's slouch and Jared's complaint: "That's rough."
Bizarre. And not altogether interesting. But, hey, it's an ABC reality program--what did you expect?
Come stand in the naughty corner at firstname.lastname@example.org.