Abortion In Sitcoms? Yep, It Works

Buckle up, fans of parenthood sitcoms. Netflix has released the second season of  “The Letdown,” and it’s even better, thanks to a detour into virtually unexplored (and tender) territory.

Audrey, the 39-year-old angst-ridden new mom, finds herself unexpectedly pregnant. And her decision to terminate the pregnancy sparks all kinds of epiphanies about motherhood, friendships — and the relentless absurdities of trying to be a perfect parent.

On one hand, it’s hardly edgy for this show to go there.

Audrey, played by Alison Bell, who is also co-creator, is 39, brainy and awkward. Surrounded by similarly “mature” moms from her new parents group, they’re exhausted, conflicted and overwhelmed. And as maternal misfits go, they’re three steps to the left of liberal. (Audrey denounces Babar the Elephant as a fascist colonial dictator and Pepé Le Pew as a sexual predator.)



Laughs come from their confusion — and usually plenty of alcohol. Are they Xers? Millennials? Should they smash the patriarchy? Get Botox? Go back to grad school, or Burning Man?

She desperately wants to get this motherhood thing right, but still occasionally misplaces her daughter, little Stevie Nicks. Her relationship with Jeremy, who is commuting from Sydney to Adelaide, is sweet but stressed. The thought of another child terrifies them both.

Without being heavy-handed, the six episodes explode just about every misconception about abortion, a topic that’s been taboo on TV for decades.

Yet it’s not rare — one in four women will have one. The procedure is safer than carrying a pregnancy, particularly given Audrey’s medical complications. Most women — about 60% — who choose to terminate already have at least one child, reports the Guttmacher Institute. And while both Audrey and Jeremy regard it as the right choice, it’s still hard, and somehow so shameful, she keeps it a secret for the first few episodes.

TV doesn’t usually go to any of these places.

In one scene, a tearful Audrey is watching sad movies to make herself cry, which baffles Jeremy. He struggles to suggest abortion-friendly programming that would make her feel better. A quick Google trip back to 1972 gives him an answer: “Maude’s Dilemma,” the Norman Lear comedy made years before either of them were born, in which she opts for an abortion. Similarly in the 1970s, Gloria considers having an abortion in “All in the Family,” before she miscarries.

Ironically, “The Letdown” hits the U.S. at a time when abortion is under attack. States are enacting radical new laws to ban or restrict it. And while six in 10 Americans believe it should be legal in all or most cases, according to the latest polling from Pew, it’s a far more nuanced issue than polling can detect.

 “The Letdown” should be lauded for its honest approach, making it clear that abortion is complex. The reasons women chose it are deeply personal. And it’s an integral part of people’s lives, even if television is reluctant to broach it.


1 comment about "Abortion In Sitcoms? Yep, It Works".
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  1. John Grono from GAP Research, August 6, 2019 at 7:47 p.m.

    Sarah, a great piece on a great Aussie production.

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