Meet Britain's Chinese Tiger Mums, BBC2, Thursday
Stella, Sky 1, Friday
New Girl, Channel 4, Friday
A documentary about Chinese Tiger Mothers lacked swivel-eyed parents and weeping kids
Sunday 08 January 2012
When Amy Chua's book about Chinese child-rearing methods, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, was published a year ago, it seemed to jab at a raw nerve in the middle classes.
The subtext of the ensuing media scrap was only marginally more sophisticated than the prospect of robotic Chinese graduates marching out across the globe and taking jobs from nice little Jacks and Olivias.
And so to Meet Britain's Chinese Tiger Mums, a documentary in BBC2's Wonderland strand about the ambitions of British-Chinese parents. True to the prevailing cultural clench, I found myself tutting away at certain scenes: six-year-old Matthew's parents did not know what a play-date was, and kept him hard at his seven-day extracurricular timetable. As for Nathan, 10, his piano scales never quite seemed to satisfy his mother. There was bravado too, to back up the regimens: "We are Chinese, we have to be [the best]."
But what actually emerged from Hannah Berryman's film were some rather earnest parents (in fact, mainly mothers) understandably, if a little alarmingly, concerned about their children's future.
These women's high ambitions for their children seemed fired not by conformity to a shaky stereotype, but rather by a more familiar cause. Two of the mothers had, they admitted, chafed against their own rigid upbringings, before replicating with their own children the sins of their parents. It didn't make for the sort of suburban drama that perhaps the film-makers had sought, and the results flagged – but at least you felt as if a media myth had been declawed.
The children of Stella are unlikely to be attending weekend Mandarin lessons. That's because Mum is sleeping off the excesses of the rugby club curry night. Stella is played by Ruth Jones, co-creator of Gavin & Stacey, and this new 10-part comedy drama on Sky 1 doesn't stray too far from the formula of that hit show. In Stella, as before, Jones is endlessly watchable. As 42-year-old Stella struggles alone with her two children (and another in prison) in a Welsh valleys village, there are scenes of wry pathos – at one point, an unhappy Stella tries to fit into her 16-year-old daughter's outfits, with unfortunate results.
The problem, so far anyway, comes in the cast of orbiting characters: Stella's dim ex, the lollipop man who lusts after her, and the libidinous older brother. By comparison with Gavin & Stacey's cutely defined personalities, each seems a bit of a cut-out here. Let's hope nine more one-hour episodes will smooth the rough edges.
Before Stella on Friday night came New Girl, Channel 4's new American sitcom. "Kooky" would seem to be the watchword here, or at least American network television's high-gloss spin on the concept. Jess (the indie film pin-up Zooey Deschanel) is a teacher who moves in with three young men. She's beautiful, obviously, but wears dungarees, references Tolkien and repeat-watches Dirty Dancing – a modestly offbeat outlook on life which the show seems to punish her for and then rescue her from over the course of a dispiriting half-our. Hilarious!
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