Single Parents has gone to great lengths to keep things “PC.”
Despite the straight, white majority cast, the series does its best to steer clear of stereotyping any members within its ragtag crew. However, in its quest for doing so, the show almost goes so far in the other direction that we miss meaningful, nuanced portrayals of some of its main television characters.
This is particularly evident in the show’s portrayals of Angie and Poppy, the female contingency of the Single Parents crew.
On one hand, we have Angie D’Amato. Angie is an angry person; that much has been made clear. And why wouldn’t she be? Angie has a lot on her plate and much of it was unfairly placed there. She works at a law firm for a micromanaging boss who demands too much of her time. She moonlights for a grocery delivery service because she struggles to make ends meet with just one income. And most importantly, she’s a single mother who constantly feels that she’s spreading herself too thin. She’s pissed at the world and at her circumstances and, mostly, at the father of her child, aka long-absent ex-boyfriend Derek.
Meanwhile, Poppy has largely been shown to be above it all. She often acts as a wise sounding board for Angie’s neuroses and acts relatively unscathed from her own relationship turmoil. As she explains in one episode,
“Look, after my divorce, I was angry. I’m talking, Beyonce-circa-‘Lemonade’ angry. But I worked through that. And working through that made me the woman that I am today – Beyonce circa ‘Everything Is Love.'”
For much of the series, Poppy’s composure has left me conflicted. Sure, on one hand, her emotional maturity works as an easy foil against Angie’s hostility. And I always love to see a confident, powerful black woman on my television screen as there are still far too few.
But I can’t help but feel that something is lacking in her character portrayal, that there’s a relatability factor missing here. For one, she makes motherhood seem like, more or less, a breeze. Rather than giving Poppy the space to be overwhelmed by or exasperated with her child (like the writers do Angie, or even Miggy, many times over), the show displays Poppy’s relationship with son Rory as something closer to a friendship; he gossips with her like a mini-adult and clinks his grape juice glass with her own glass of red wine. She chats with her son, often talks to him about her dating life, runs a business, and never complains about how tired she is.
But the bigger issue is that Poppy deserves to be angry, just like Angie gets to be, but is rarely given that platform. Though Poppy’s ex-husband Ron is still a co-parenting presence in Rory’s life (unlike, Derek, who ditched Angie completely), their relationship is still a roller coaster.
Hints of shrouded animosity are present in Poppy’s demeanor on a handful of occasions, so we know that she has more complicated emotions lurking just beneath the surface. (Poppy is less than pleased when Ron’s new girlfriend moves in with him after a whirlwind two-month romance and when Ron whisks Rory off for a Christmas trip to Hawaii, leaving Poppy alone for the holidays.)
Despite all this, Poppy simply hasn’t been afforded the chance to exhibit the same emotional depth that Angie gets to display episode after episode. At most, she might get to dole out a few passive-aggressive comments before the show moves on to a different subplot. It’s only in one episode, when she takes her frustrations to the volleyball court, that she gets to exhibit true anger, and only when confined to this “acceptable” setting.
I can’t help but wonder if this reluctance to delve deeper into Poppy’s emotions – particularly, her anger – is because she is a black woman. Are the Single Parents creators worried that, if they were to allow Poppy the chance to be angry, they would hit a nerve with an “angry black woman” stereotype? Perhaps they have seen how that stereotype is clouding reality television and are worried that those same connotations would carry over into their own program.
Regardless, it’s unfair that Angie gets to live out loud while Poppy is expected to remain a perfect picture of serenity.
We have already seen so much white female anger in network television, particularly from long-suffering sitcom mothers. We’ve seen Claire Dunphy yell, exasperated, at her children a hundred times over for neglecting their chores or picking fights with one another. We’ve seen Lorelai Gilmore furiously admonish Rory after she catches her staying out all night. And we’ve seen Marie Barone chide daughter-in-law Debra for burning the casserole or forgetting to pick the kids up at school.
Female anger in sitcoms has long been used as a way to move a conflict from point A to point B, but only when such anger comes from white protagonists. Single Parents has the opportunity to give a full, nuanced picture of black female anger on network television. Instead, it constantly makes Poppy take the emotional high road over and over again so it doesn’t have to confront complicated feelings from its only black female main character. As a result, the program forces black women to, yet again, be held to a different standard than their white counterparts.
To its credit, season two appears to be making strides to change their one-note portrayal of Poppy. After attending Douglas’ support group, Poppy confesses that she’s jealous of the other women in the group, and also of his former relationship with his deceased ex-wife. She says,
“I can’t stand the fact that I feel this way because you’re the caveman, and I own a feminist bookstore. You know, I’m supposed to be above all of this, and I’m not and it sucks and I am deeply embarrassed. And I’m officially making a scene. Great. So, if this winds up on YouTube, Poppy Banks, feminist hero, is canceled.”
Poppy Banks, feminist hero, is not even close to being canceled. However, Poppy Banks, feminist with flaws, is a lot more interesting and has a lot more to offer than the blandly upbeat feminist archetype the show often reduces her to.
Poppy deserves to be able to make the same mistakes, to show the same range of emotions, that Angie and the rest of the Single Parents crew get to exhibit on a regular basis. And, by allowing her to be more than just a one-note feminist business owner and parent, she may finally get the meaningful character development she deserves.
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Feature photo: ABC/Scott Everett White