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Spot the difference: how Bad Moms borrows its emotional climax – and everything else – from Mean Girls

It won’t reach the sanctified pop culture status of Mean Girls, but the influence of Tina Fey’s film is obvious, over 12 years on.

“I’m not, like, a regular mom. I’m a cool mom.” Amy Poehler’s turn as an overly-permissive, desperate to be liked mother in Mean Girls is one of those culture moments burned into our brains. Her role was brief, but threatened to upstage the film’s younger cast. A few years ago, it emerged that a film based on Queen Bee Moms and King Pin Dads, (the sequel to the book Mean Girls was based on, Queen Bees and Wannabes) was in the works, called Mean Moms. And now we have Bad Moms.

In the words of Alison Herman at the Ringer, Bad Moms is the summer’s latest “Wokebuster”: a “lightly feminist” blockbuster that is “theoretically about social progress and dismantling gender norms”, but in practice reinforces the same premises it claims to challenge. It follows a group of three women, Amy, Kiki and Carla, as they realise that they can never meet societal expectations of “good” motherhood, and decide to embrace being bad mothers. (If Amy is meant to be a representation of a bad mother, it fails abysmally – instead Mila Kunis, an archetypal Cool Girl herself, actually plays a Cool Mom like Poehler’s, driving her kids to school in a sports car, feeding them fast food lunches, absorbing piles of nachos and excessive amounts of alcohol, while staying perfectly skinny and fucking the hottest dad at school).

If Mean Girls’ tepid message was, “You all have got to stop calling each other sluts and whores. It just makes it ok for guys to call you sluts and whores”; then Bad Moms’s is, “In this day and age it’s impossible to be a good mom.”

Of course, the villain of the piece, and the embodiment of all the gendered bullshit women are subjected to, is still a woman. In Mean Girls it was Regina George. In Bad Moms it’s Parent-Teacher Association president and self-proclaimed perfect mother Gwendolyn James. Even the name, ludicrously, sounds like an imitation: let’s take a slightly obscure, regal-sounding name and pair it with a common male first name. Ah, perfect. (Later in the film, Gwendolyn even pulls up to the girls in her posh car, yelling “Hey, bitches, get in!” – the parallels are obvious.)

If the enemy of the piece is hypocritical patriarchal expectations (the people yelling “slut!” and “whore!” at all teenage girls or “bad mom!” at all mothers), both films choose sisterhood, honesty and vulnerability as the solution. We all remember the “All junior girls report to the gymnasium! Immediately!” scene from Mean Girls:

The girls take part in a workshop – supposedly in order to own the mean things people have said about them, disregard them as ridiculous, admit their own human failings, and learn not to judge people in return.

So, too, do the women of Bad Moms gather in a school auditorium and confess their sins. After Amy delivers a speech in support of her run for PTA president urging the parents not to judge themselves for their quirks, a barrage of mothers spill their secrets in order to reject the expectations of perfections thrust upon them by the PTA and beyond. “I can’t tell my twins apart!” says one. Another: “I like my nanny more than my husband!” Every one of these mothers has felt personally victimised by Gwendolyn James. “I don’t even have kids!” one finally yells into an awkward silence. The scenes match right down to the “she doesn’t even go here” punchline in Mean Girls.

Bad Moms is watchable, mostly funny for the ridiculous slow-mo scenes of raucous behaviour from three great comic actors. It won’t reach the sanctified pop culture status of Mean Girls, but the influence of Tina Fey’s film is obvious, over 12 years on.

Anna Leszkiewicz is a pop culture writer at the New Statesman.

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How did Don’t Tell the Bride lose its spark?

Falling out of the love with reality TV’s wedding planning hit.

Steph, 23, from Nottinghamshire, is standing in a drizzly field wearing a wedding dress. Her betrothed, Billy, is running around in a tweed flat cap trying to make some pigs walk in “a continuous parade”. A man from Guinness World Records is watching with a clipboard, shaking his head. Bridesmaids gaze sorrowfully into the middle distance, each in a damp pig onesie.

Thus ends the second wedding in E4’s new series of Don’t Tell the Bride – and the programme’s integrity with it.

When the classic programme, which follows grooms attempting to plan their wedding (punchline: human males doing some organising), began a decade ago on BBC Three, it had the raw spark of unpredictability. For eight years, the show did nothing fancy with the format, and stuck with pretty ordinary couples who had few eccentric aspirations for their wedding day.

This usually resulted in run-of-the-mill, mildly disappointing weddings where the worst thing that happened would be a reception at the nearest motorway pub, or an ill-fitting New Look low heel.

It sounds dull, but anyone who has religiously watched it knows that the more low-key weddings expose what is truly intriguing about this programme: the unconditional commitment – or doomed nature – of a relationship. As one of the show’s superfans told the Radio Times a couple of years ago:

“It’s perfect, and not in an ironic or post-ironic or snarky way. The format has the solemn weight of a ceremony . . . Don’t Tell the Bride is not about ruined weddings, it’s about hope. Every wedding is a demonstration of how our ambitions curve away from our abilities. It’s a show about striving to deserve love and how that’s rarely enough.”

It also meant that when there were bombshells, they were stand-out episodes. High drama like Series 4’s notorious Las Vegas wedding almost resulting in a no-show bride. Or heart-warming surprises like the geezer Luke in Series 3 playing Fifa and guzzling a tinny on his wedding morning, who incongruously pulls off a stonking wedding day (complete with special permission from the Catholic Church).

For its eight years on BBC Three, a few wildcard weddings were thrown into the mix of each series. Then the show had a brief affair with BBC One, a flirt with Sky, and is now on its tenth year, 13th series and in a brand new relationship – with the more outrageous E4.

During its journey from BBC Three, the show has been losing its way. Tedious relationship preamble has been used to beef up each episode. Some of the grooms are cruel rather than clueless, or seem more pathetic and vulnerable than naïve. And wackier weddings have become the norm.

The programme has now fully split from its understated roots. Since it kicked off at the end of July, every wedding has been a publicity stunt. The pig farm nuptials are sandwiched between a Costa del Sol-based parasail monstrosity and an Eighties Neighbours-themed ceremony, for example. All facilitated by producers clearly handing the groom and best men karaoke booth-style props (sombreros! Inflatable guitars! Wigs!) to soup up the living room planning process.

Such hamminess doesn’t give us the same fly-on-the-wall flavour of a relationship as the older episodes. But maybe this level of artifice is appropriate. As one groom revealed to enraged fans in The Sun this week, the ceremonies filmed are not actually legally binding. “It makes a bit of a mockery of the process that the bride and groom go through this huge ordeal for a ceremony which isn’t even legal,” he said. Perhaps we should’ve predicted it would all eventually end in divorce – from reality.

Don’t Tell the Bride is on E4 at 9pm

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.