“a different kind of comfort from mere escapism”
January 7, 2018 10:18 AM   Subscribe

(I should mention - if you haven’t seen the Christmas special yet and plan to, one of the storylines is discussed in this article.)
posted by Catseye at 10:42 AM on January 7, 2018

Call The Midwife is great. But it's kind of a paradox; many of the stories are deeply tragic and heartbreaking (babies die, other people die, one time Jenny's Christmas present to a homeless lady was FIGURING OUT WHERE HER CHILDRENS' UNMARKED GRAVES WERE) and yet...I watch it to feel better about life. I think because it's ultimately a show about compassion and the value of women's lives, in the face of injustice and other soul-crushing realities.
(My husband utterly does not understand how CTM could be "feel-good" and will flee the room when I watch, to avoid the weeping and birth-giving and etc. etc. I can understand that reaction, but sometimes I wish he'd try and watch...there are so few other shows that validate women's viewpoints in this way.)

I'm excited for a person of color to be added to the regular cast, for sure.
posted by daisystomper at 11:22 AM on January 7, 2018 [26 favorites]

I need to catch up with Call the Midwife--I think I've only completely watched the first three or four seasons. I also really enjoyed reading the books they were based on, which strongly (almost episode-by-episode) influenced the first few seasons.

I too take great comfort in the show. As cheesy as it sounds, it makes me proud to be a woman. At least with the seasons I've watched, I feel like Call the Midwife shows compassion and tragedy without fetishizing or glorifying women's issues. I'm struggling to explain what I mean, exactly, but I can watch many episodes of Call the Midwife back-to-back-to-back in a way that I can't with other shows that tackle difficult content, like Law and Order: SVU.
posted by lucy.jakobs at 11:42 AM on January 7, 2018 [4 favorites]

"I'm excited for a person of color to be added to the regular cast, for sure"

Eh? Don't watch (either) show but can we give this a name like "The Midsomer Malaise" or something? Thought the Beeb were a bit better than that.
posted by I'm always feeling, Blue at 11:42 AM on January 7, 2018

CTM shows up just how often women in drama are foils to react to what's going on in the lives of men. All of the women in CTM have a background, wishes, ambitions. I think the feel-good thing stems from the overwhelming hopefulness for a better future where things like polio don't exist and houses aren't slumlord holes.

She is still annoyed by a review that claimed Midwife presented an “alternative universe of sunshine and lollipops”.

Reminds me of Marian Keyes mentioning a review describing her novel Rachel's Holiday, a book about addiction primarily set in a rehab clinic, as fun and frothy. If it's primarily for and about women, it must be without substance, right?

I have never ever cried so much at a fictional death as Sister Evangelina's.
posted by threetwentytwo at 11:42 AM on January 7, 2018 [20 favorites]

The early shows where people live in large housing blocks with limited access to water and with shared toilets do a terrific job of showing what real poverty looks like. All through the series, they've had people out of work due to illness, and have shown the dire results. It's all wrapped up as if it's going to be a cozy show, and it's much more.
posted by theora55 at 12:07 PM on January 7, 2018 [8 favorites]

Oh no, Sister Evangelina died?? No! I stopped watching after season 2 because I got annoyed with Jenny's moralizing, but Sister Evangelina was my favorite. The episode where she goes to the cargo ship and takes care of that woman whose dad basically prostitutes her to sailors -- she's awesome.
posted by basalganglia at 12:09 PM on January 7, 2018 [3 favorites]

(A friend lent me Rachel's Holiday a while back and I was absolutely expecting silly, frothy chick-lit. At some point I realized that was not at all what I had gotten end to and by the end I was completely impressed).

I knew that birth control and legal abortion had made a huge difference in women's lives, and I knew that women in the past had many children and often died in childbirth, and that the stigma of pregnancy for an unwed mother used to be far worse - I'd read quite a lot and had a fair bit of information. But nothing so far has connected the dots for me like Call The Midwife. Though I've been single for 99% of my life I am so grateful to have access to birth control.
posted by bunderful at 12:11 PM on January 7, 2018 [10 favorites]

With only two more seasons, I suppose we will never get to see Timothy Turner become the youngest member of the Royal College of Physicians in history.
posted by ALeaflikeStructure at 12:35 PM on January 7, 2018 [2 favorites]

Spoiler alert, but, basalganglia, Jenny leaves the show after season 3, if you want to pick back up. I also found her tiresome, despite liking the actress and understanding the role the character served as the bourgeois do-gooder surprised by actual poverty.

Call the Midwife is definitely comfort viewing for me as well, which surprised me a bit because I'm deeply unenthusiastic about babies and medical dramas generally. The focus on women's stories definitely is part of the appeal, as is the emphasis on community and the defense of the welfare state. I know Heidi Thomas is quoted as bristling at the description of the show as "comforting" in the article, but I'd like think she'd accept it as a descriptor without the sneering tone of the review she's responding to. It is a challenging show wrapped up in a lovely cozy show, and I think that combination explains its wide appeal. Well, that and its fascinating period detail.

I really enjoyed the most recent holiday special, which was about the dangers and difficulties of the big freeze of winter 62-63 in the U.K. , which has made it feel particularly timely here on the east coast of the U.S. in the last ten days or so of frigid temperatures.
posted by the primroses were over at 1:25 PM on January 7, 2018 [1 favorite]

I've seen the storyline on Sister Evangelina and now I'm crying again all over! I need to catch up with the current season.

Not only are the women's stories (in their complete glory) front and center but the men are great, too. I'm so tired of the caricature of the male as a grumpy bastard who never understood a woman. He's taken a role in countless media and he is so boring. I much prefer the friction and nuance and compassion of men like the men in our daily lives. And, yes, as foil for the female narrative, he is lovely too.
posted by amanda at 1:41 PM on January 7, 2018

"I'm excited for a person of color to be added to the regular cast, for sure"

Eh? Don't watch (either) show but can we give this a name like "The Midsomer Malaise" or something? Thought the Beeb were a bit better than that.

let me get this straight... you think adding a person of color to a T.V. show is bad and that the BBC should be... better than that? wtf?
posted by Homo neanderthalensis at 1:42 PM on January 7, 2018 [3 favorites]

I have a nearly lifelong eyeroll about television childbirth, from which I mainly learned to never get on an elevator with a pregnant lady and a selection of zany people, because we will get stuck and I will have to deliver a baby (and for some reason, they never mention the shitting part), but CTM is just fine storytelling. It’s a little too…ideal at times, shades of Tales Of The City, but for its highs and lows, and for some brilliant actors at their best, I forgive it almost anything.

CTM won my heart with Pam Ferris on a Lambretta.
posted by sonascope at 1:45 PM on January 7, 2018 [4 favorites]

It’s a little too…ideal at times.

Every now and then I think that and then an episode rips your heart right out. I mean, you wouldn't go into that line of work if the highs didn't outweigh the lows. It's important that even poor people can have uplifting stories and that even the rich suffer just the same as the rest of us. I can't do this show everyday but I do think it is just really excellent television.
posted by amanda at 1:49 PM on January 7, 2018 [4 favorites]

When I first started to watch Call the Midwife I expected it to be saccharine. It's the cozy framing: The uplifting music, beginning episodes with the excerpt from a diary, the nuns...

...and yes, sometimes it's a little too much for me. For example, there is a plotline where a racist white woman torments her black neighbor, but helps her neighbor in her time of need because she has some kind of epiphany brought about by shared motherhood or something. It seemed awfully tidy and convenient.

Then there is Jenny's search for a hopeful meaning in even the most dire of circumstances (again, narrated over often uplifting music).

But I still loved the first seasons of the show and have watched them all at least twice. It's usually not my type thing, but everything people are saying here rings true. It really affirms these types of stories as important and meaningful, even when they're sad.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 2:14 PM on January 7, 2018

let me get this straight... you think adding a person of color to a T.V. show is bad and that the BBC should be... better than that? wtf?

No, they were pointing out another show that lacks any POC, Midsomer Murders is a particular offender since a producer is on record as saying a Midsomer village wouldn't be a proper English village if there were minority groups. I believe the point I'm always feeling, Blue was making was that more POC would be a desirable outcome.
posted by biffa at 2:58 PM on January 7, 2018 [4 favorites]

Oh AND, another thing that cheers me up about CTM is that it shows a version of fervent Christianity that isn't evangelical cult-style crypto-nationalist profiteering.
posted by daisystomper at 3:46 PM on January 7, 2018 [10 favorites]

I wish he'd try and watch

Okay, I will try it again. ... Really not looking forward to the sad, though.
posted by Jonathan Livengood at 3:46 PM on January 7, 2018 [3 favorites]

...i am pretty sure i saw a south asian man drown in a cement mixer in Midsummer Murders, but carry on...
posted by thegirlwiththehat at 4:03 PM on January 7, 2018

No, they were pointing out another show that lacks any POC

Its not accurate to say that CTM doesn't have any POC, more that they have always been plot of the week characters, not the core crew. Glad to see the show is updating to reflect changing times though.
posted by threetwentytwo at 4:23 PM on January 7, 2018

I like this show much more than I expected to. It did paint a rather rosy view of race relations in the 1950s, which was a time when landlords would display “no blacks or Irish” signs with impunity.

<derail>The Midsomer Murders “no POC” remarks were made in 2011, and the person who made them was suspended. </derail>
posted by monotreme at 4:51 PM on January 7, 2018 [1 favorite]

Here were women’s lives – messy, difficult, beautiful, glorious.

I really love this show.
posted by ChuraChura at 5:01 PM on January 7, 2018

I love EVERYTHING about this show. Every. Damn. Thing.

Some of the things that have stuck out to me the most are surrounding birth control. I remember the narration at the end of one episode was about rumors of a pill as birth control around the same time as the US rumors of going to the moon. The narration was along the lines of "women thought going to the moon was more achievable than a pill to stop pregnancy." And it just sliced me in half.

Then, the episode about the pill. Just seeing the fallout, discrimination, damage, and death. It's something I was aware of, but was powerfully illustrated. Women's lives didn't matter. Their health didn't matter. Their choice didn't matter. Women routinely died in an effort to prevent or end pregnancy. They had no control otherwise. They couldn't tell their husbands "no" and they couldn't get them to use a condom - if they even had access to them - and of course they were much less effective then anyway. And it slices me again STILL seeing all the backlash and horrible rules still surrounding birth control and abortion. It very much feels the same, even if on the surface it's "better."

And I agree, I sob at this show but also find it uplifting. It IS good to see how much more we know, how much better medical technology there is. How supportive the community could be. It's absolutely one of my favorite shows and I adore everything it tackles in each storyline.
posted by Crystalinne at 5:04 PM on January 7, 2018 [12 favorites]

I wasn’t expecting to like it cause these gauzy British period pieces tend to be suffused with reactionary sentiment, but I was surprised! So much of the first season is about how necessary and good the NHS is and the responsibility of the state to provide community healthcare and to actually care about women’s health and issues. Like, Victorian slums are still within living memory!
posted by The Whelk at 5:33 PM on January 7, 2018 [3 favorites]

I'll add my voice to the rest saying that I sob my way through the episodes (and happily binge them over and over) but end up uplifted through the sadness. There's still always so much hope conveyed somehow, even in the darkest of times.
posted by elsietheeel at 6:00 PM on January 7, 2018 [1 favorite]

(Also how can you not love a show that gives you the remarkable non-sequitur, "Put down the bananas. They are superfluous to the situation!" I love Sister Monica Joan so much. And Chummy. Oh I miss Chummy. And Sister Evangelina. *sobs*)
posted by elsietheeel at 6:03 PM on January 7, 2018 [6 favorites]

my s. o. and I have a CTM shorthand for any tragic, sad storyline : "baby Susan!"
posted by gorbichov at 6:29 PM on January 7, 2018 [3 favorites]

Was that the Thalidomide babies storyline? Exposed and left to die in a cold hospitable room? And Sister Julienne holding the body, dear god that was gut wrenching.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 6:41 PM on January 7, 2018

I love this show! Much more since (spoiler alert!) Jenny left. I didn't like the character at all and I was relieved when the actress quit.
posted by 41swans at 6:47 PM on January 7, 2018 [1 favorite]

My wife and I call CTM our "tear facial" because basically every episode makes us cry. I don't know why we don't just get the tissues ready beforehand.
posted by Jpfed at 7:23 PM on January 7, 2018 [4 favorites]

The other thing that's great about CTM is how much of it focuses on women's close, mutually-supportive friendships, in a way that's really rare to see on TV, and a way that's really real, even though it's the 1950s and some of them are nuns. The things they laugh about, the ways they support each other, the ways they get salty with each other and push each others' buttons, but then reconcile. They're women with complex interior lives, which we don't get to see a lot on TV, but they're also women embedded in supportive and loving networks of women, which you hardly EVER get to see in pop culture!
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:42 PM on January 7, 2018 [11 favorites]

So much modern programming, fictional and non-fictional, is about showing how:

- people are terrible to each other; or
- people don't care about other people's problems; or
- people do care but are powerless to help other people

This show gives compelling, historically-based examples, over and over, of how:

- people instinctively care about each other;
- people almost always want to help, and sometimes go to great lengths to do so; and
- these efforts can make a very big difference to multiple generations of a family and a community.
posted by amtho at 7:46 PM on January 7, 2018 [20 favorites]

I'm going to have to catch up on Call the Midwife. I forgot about it and am not even sure how far I'm behind.

Meanwhile, I've noted that there's um, knitting on CTM.
posted by orange swan at 8:09 PM on January 7, 2018

Baby Susan isn't left to die, they even revisit her storyline in a later season.
posted by rewil at 10:44 PM on January 7, 2018

I've watched some episodes here and there and would like to catch up. I enjoy the support and camaraderie of the characters but I've found I really need to be in a particular place mentally to handle some of the stories.

Aside from wishing for more diversity among the regular cast of characters, I've also wondered when the show would include a female doctor at some point, even for a guest spot. Has there been a female physician in a story yet, or any substantial discussion of women as physicians?

Years ago I watched Bramwell, also set in England but in the late Victorian era. Jemma Redgrave played the lead character, a physician who gets fired from her position at a hospital because of sexism and sets up her own free clinic in East London thanks to a wealthy (female) benefactor. I haven't seen that show in ages, but I remember it being fairly interesting; I also remember being frustrated by some of the writing (e.g. Dr Bramwell always had to be involved in some sort of romantic drama).

Anyway when I first watched Call the Midwife and saw Fred (Cliff Parisi), it was almost like seeing his character from Bramwell (Mr Bentley, the porter at her clinic) reincarnated on a different series/network, and that was so nice! because -- minor spoilers -- Mr Bentley wasn't there for the entire show's run. In any case I've really wanted to see female physicians represented on CTM and am hoping I just missed those episodes.
posted by rangefinder 1.4 at 3:12 AM on January 8, 2018 [2 favorites]

I love CTM! Haven’t seen the Christmas special yet but thank you for the reminder.

Two things about this show:

- an episode on abortion changed the views of a formerly vehemently anti-abortion evangelical friend

- when I lived in the UK for a couple of years and my GP office told me my exam would be done by Sister Something this show gave me the very wrong impression that she must be a nun doing the nursing thing too. So I made reference to that in a couple of conversations later and TURNS OUT NO, IT’S JUST A TITLE FOR SENIOR NURSES how embarrassing
posted by olinerd at 4:23 AM on January 8, 2018 [6 favorites]

My husband utterly does not understand how CTM could be "feel-good" and will flee the room when I watch, to avoid the weeping and birth-giving and etc. etc. I can understand that reaction, but sometimes I wish he'd try and watch...there are so few other shows that validate women's viewpoints in this way.)

My wife loves the show, for all the reasons people have mentioned above. So I tried watching an episode with her, and made it through less than a third. I don't have any issue with childbirth, but I'm not interested in watching a show where crying is a routine part of the audience experience. It's an emotional experience I find draining and difficult, rather than cathartic or uplifting. It's too bad, because otherwise the show sounds great.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:52 AM on January 8, 2018

I am at the point now where just the opening music starts the waterworks - I am thoroughly (classically) conditioned. We watch it anyway, by God, if only to see the remarkable Judy Parfitt switch from befuddled to razor-sharp to befuddled again without missing a beat (and Mrs.Mogur and I would happily watch a prequel starring Sister Evangelina and Sister Monica Joan together when Monica Joan was still sharp. Each sister absolutely terrifying in her own way but each absolutely dedicated to helping others - maybe set in the 30's?)
posted by Mogur at 7:03 AM on January 8, 2018 [3 favorites]

Oh My God a prequel series with younger Sisters Monica Joan and Evangelina would be brilliant.

Ohhhhhhhh but now I'm just reminded of that Sister Evangelina jubilee episode where all the young adults of Poplar come forward and say "I'm one of yours Sister Evangelina, thank you." and I'm sobbing all over agaaaaaaaaiiiinnnn.
posted by elsietheeel at 7:37 AM on January 8, 2018 [8 favorites]

I absolutely LOVE this show. It uplifts me for exactly the reasons amtho mentions above - the basic decency of people, the sense of community, and the beautiful sense of purpose. I'm embarrassed to admit that I'm completely jealous of the midwives and the difference they make in their patients' lives. I look at my own corporate job and find it extremely lacking in comparison.

About 15 years ago, I actually considered becoming a midwife because I have always been drawn to how it empowers and connects women - my great grandmother was a midwife, which was considered the most prestigious and honorable profession for women at the time, and I still remember the pride in my mother's voice when she talked about her grandmother. For many reasons I decided not to (which was the right choice; I'm completely unsuited for the work), but I remain so drawn to midwifery. I think I was 12 years old when I decided I would do a waterbirth when I was ready to have kids... It was honestly one of my greatest regrets in life that I was unable to use a midwife for my own pregnancies. I had a midwife and water birthing center all lined up - and then it turned out that I was expecting twins, and for insurance reasons I could use neither. And to be fair, I ended up having complications and delivered via C-section at 31 weeks, and I'm certain my babies would not have survived if we had not been in a hospital. Then I was disappointed again with my second pregnancy when it turned out that again, for insurance reasons, midwives and water birthing centers can't do VBACs (vaginal birth after Caesarians). But I'll stop complaining now, because I have 3 healthy, amazing, beautiful kids, even if the birth experience I got was not the one I had planned for...

But to get back to CTM - clearly it is extremely relevant to my interests, but I think even for someone without an obsession with midwifery this is an amazing show. The way it handles the issues of the day is really excellent, with lessons about tolerance we can use today. And I love how inclusive it is - the women don't have to put men down or exclude them in order to be strong together.

And clearly I'm in the minority here, but I actually really loved Jenny's character and still miss her. I also LOVE sister Julienne and I wish I had someone like her in my life. And Chummy! Miss her so much and keep wishing she'll come back. The one I'm not crazy about is Barbara - she's a little too anemic for me. But that's a minor squabble in what is one of my favorite shows of all time.

posted by widdershins at 9:06 AM on January 8, 2018 [1 favorite]

Oh, and I just RTFA, and really enjoyed it. Thank you for posting, Catseye!
posted by widdershins at 9:14 AM on January 8, 2018

I've now binged the thing on Netflix after years of ignoring it, and it's a great show to have under your belt if you're going to tackle a big physical project. We recently had to resurrect the backyard from... well, from just about nine months of neglect. The stupid Staugustinegrass was hip high; it was a nightmare. I had beer, but what really made it bearable was knowing to scream, "THE HEAD IS BORN!" whenever I noted visible progress.
posted by Don Pepino at 2:08 PM on January 8, 2018 [4 favorites]

Is there interest in getting the new season going on fanfare? There's been some pretty scattershot coverage, but nothing sustained. I posted for a Chirstmas episode a year or two back and nobody else commented so I didn't make any other ones, but I could try again if other people are interested.
posted by vibratory manner of working at 3:42 PM on January 8, 2018

" I posted for a Chirstmas episode a year or two back and nobody else commented so I didn't make any other ones"

That tends to happen with UK shows that air later in the US. US people don't go looking for the thread when it airs in the UK so it only gets a few UK comments and the conversation is a bit anemic, and then when US people come around a few months later the UK people have all moved on and the conversation feels dead so they don't comment. (People should feel free to comment however much later they get to something! That's why Fanfare threads don't close! But I get the psychology of why people don't.)

Anyway, you might try a schedule rewatch now that a lot of people can watch the first several seasons on Netflix and there's no transatlantic episode delay. Or you could post when the new UK shows air and a US person could agree to be responsible for going and finding the threads and reviving them when they air in the US. Or something! I'm sure this problem can be overcome!
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:04 AM on January 9, 2018 [1 favorite]

Sure, I’d be up for a Fanfare rewatch (just bought series 1&2 in a £12.99 deal on iTunes) or a discussion for the upcoming one.
posted by Catseye at 11:33 AM on January 9, 2018

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