Catherine Reitman On 'Workin' Moms'
LEILA FADEL, HOST:
Four friends are sitting in a circle, chatting and topless. They've just breastfed their babies, and they start to compare.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "WORKIN' MOMS")
JUNO RINALDI: (As Frankie Coyne) I feel like a proud show dog that didn't understand her days were numbered. Like, look at these things - just, like, chicken skin.
DANI KIND: (As Anne Carlson) What are you talking about? Yours are OK.
CATHERINE REITMAN: (As Kate Foster) Look. They're not winning any blue ribbons, OK? But they stuck in there. You know, they might be a little deflated, but they're not throwing in the towel. I like them.
FADEL: The camera pans out, and the friends are at a mommy and me support group. The other women are staring at them. That opening scene from the first episode of "Workin' Moms" sets the tone for the show's provocative and unapologetic approach. The Canadian TV series is about friends - full-time moms with full-time jobs - and what that actually looks like. The third season recently dropped on Netflix.
Catherine Reitman created it. She directs and stars, too. And she joins me now from Toronto.
Thanks for being here.
REITMAN: Thanks for having me.
FADEL: I'm not a mom, but I definitely binge-watch. But all my working mom friends, colleagues watch this. And they talk about being in tears of hysterics at times, frustration at times, sadness. You're really hitting on something with people. What is it?
REITMAN: You know, I think the greatest compliment I could receive is that someone who's not a mother is connecting with it. You know, the title is "Workin' Moms," which was sort of a quick Band-Aid title. But the truth is, it's not really just for mothers. It's about the growing pains of what happens when you hit your 30s, when all of a sudden, everything you thought you were going to be changes. The expectation on you remains, but you yourself feel like you're changing. It's something that happened to me right before I wrote the show. And so now when people are connecting with it, because it's so personal to me, I can't tell you how rewarding it is.
FADEL: And what happened to you right before that - you wrote the show that sort of inspired all this?
REITMAN: So I gave birth to my first son Jackson, who - hard to believe - is now six years old. But when he was just a few weeks old, I went back to work. I was shooting a movie in Philadelphia, and I was away from my son for my first Mother's Day. You know, I hang with a lot of improv comedy people and - particularly a lot of boys clubs. So I'm on set with all these guys, and they start making fun of me for missing my first Mother's Day. They're teasing me.
REITMAN: And in their defense, they were being very funny. But I was no longer the same person I was from six weeks prior to having that child. I couldn't take the joke. I couldn't keep up.
And in that moment - I didn't realize it at the time - but I was having an identity crisis. I think everyone told me about what it would be like to be a mother - the leaking nipples, the connection or lack of connection I might have with my child. But what would happen internally for me - whether I would feel good enough anymore - wasn't something I was prepared for.
I broke and started crying in front of these guys. And when I got back to the hotel room and I called my husband, he said, you got to write this down; you got to do something with this. And from there on, the show existed, and it became my responsibility to sort of tell - to maintain that honesty that I had in that scene where I break down in front of those guys.
FADEL: Do you think the conversation is changing around motherhood and working and what that means?
REITMAN: I think the conversation is absolutely changing. I mean, on my show, I really wanted to create for women that were ambitious.
REITMAN: And particularly for the central character of Kate, I wanted her to be a balance of relatable but also someone who was shattering the glass ceiling, someone who was the vision of success because it's something I'm so desperate to connect to and see myself on TV.
REITMAN: You know, I think there's some pushback sometimes about the level of wealth she's - you know, she's keeping and...
REITMAN: I think for me, it was about seeing that, just like Donald Draper, like so many of these male characters that I've seen that are all of a sudden winning but struggling - right? - and the comedy and the pain that comes with that - it's something I wanted to see on a woman.
FADEL: Yeah, 'cause I was going to ask you - in the end, these are all working moms but, like you said, ambitious and successful. And they can afford help that maybe other mothers watching the show wouldn't be able to afford.
REITMAN: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, you know, particularly with Kate and Anne, I wanted to show two women who were aspirational.
FADEL: And Kate and Anne are the two best friends - sort of main characters of the show.
REITMAN: Exactly - the brunette and the redhead. I wanted to create two women that we not only aspire to be financially - but also, these women have a friendship that I can't seem to maintain in my own real life - is just the sexiest part to me.
FADEL: You know, let's talk about the third season. It picked up on a huge cliffhanger from season 2, which I won't say on the air in case I spoil it for anyone. What are some of the challenges Kate is going to have to deal with this season?
REITMAN: The fork in the road, the choice that Kate has to make is one that so many people face, particularly when you have a family.
REITMAN: If you were given the opportunity to start all over once you have children, once you are married...
REITMAN: ...Do you take it? What is the correct choice?
FADEL: Right. You're alluding, obviously, to the fact that Kate goes through a lot this season. But one of the things I'm interested in is she becomes this accidental poster child for the men's equality movement. Can you talk about what you're trying to accomplish with that storyline?
REITMAN: (Laughter) I loved the idea. You know, one of Kate's great flaws is that she's ambitious to the point of self-destructive, which is something I relate to. And I think having her realize, OK, everything in my life seems to be falling apart, but I'm putting it all in on this business - and when you see a big fish come in and you find out that all that money comes with a significant price, which is that this client happens to be just an incredible misogynist and a deeply bad person...
REITMAN: ...She accidentally becomes the woman behind men's rights at a time where that is so deeply controversial.
REITMAN: And in the writers room, as we started to talk about it, it just kept making us laugh because it was so deeply politically incorrect, but in a way we could have a conversation about it that felt correct.
REITMAN: So that is where that came from.
FADEL: Speaking of the writers room, you have an all-female writers room.
REITMAN: For the first two seasons, it was an all-female writers room. Our crew in general, all of our key hires are 69% female. But at this - season 3 and season 4, we have let - I've let a couple men into the room. They're doing just fine.
FADEL: Catherine Reitman is the creator, director and star of the show "Workin' Moms" on Netflix.
Thank you so much.
REITMAN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.