Call the Midwife/A Dad is Born (BBC2)
Rachel Cooke finds a surfeit of baby dramas leaves her feeling underwhelmed.
Call the Midwife/A Dad is Born
I don't even remotely understand the appeal of Call The Midwife (BBC2, Sundays, 8pm), a show watched by more than eight million people every week. Are we really so afraid of the future that we must retreat into this version - cosy, safe, irredeemably mawkish - of the past?
In episode five, Jenny (Jessica Raine) discovered that her patient Frank, suffering from cancer, shared his bed with his sister, Peggy: they lived as man and wife. For a moment, she was discomfited. We knew this because she smoothed her uniform with the palms of her hands. But then Sister Evangelina (Pam Ferris) pointed out that Frank and Peggy had survived the workhouse as children, and Sister Julienne (Jenny Agutter) said something about how a person must find comfort where he can, and suddenly it was OK: even incest had become yet another preachy life lesson. Meanwhile, Chummy (Miranda Hart, who seems to grow taller by the week, rationing or not) helped to deliver a piglet in the cloister garden, a task that ruined her frock but revealed to the world yet again what a thoroughly decent gal she is.
Whatever its ratings, so far I have turned up only one person who will admit to loving Call the Midwife: my hairdresser (who is, by the way, a father of two). Unfortunately, under close questioning, he revealed that he also enjoyed All Creatures Great and Small and Heartbeat. On a Sunday, he likes cosy, and that's that. It is, however, worth noting that the schedules are noisy with the sound of pattering feet on other nights, too (see how feebly I'm edging my way towards a theory!).
Viewers who found the baby-count on Call the Midwife too low - episode five featured only one human birth: a picturesque but textbook delivery in a Thames-side smokehouse - could turn instead either to the new series of One Born Every Minute (Channel 4, Wednesdays, 9pm; does what it says on the tin), or to A Dad is Born: a Wonderland Film (BBC2, Thursday, 9pm), in which the director, Kira Phillips, followed three Londoners in the weeks before and after the birth of their new babies.
I went with Wonderland, which was a mistake, for it was hard to know which of the men I liked least. Pushed, I'd plump for Viktor, Hungarian cabbie and former womaniser ("if there was a good-looking girl, I would f*** her like thunder," he explained, charmingly). Viktor worked 18-hour days; he knew how to change a nappy; he wasn't completely useless. The other two just made me queasy. Jamie, an obsessional reader of baby books, cried when his paternity leave came to an end, which seemed a bit much, given that it was his poor wife who was going to be on her own all day with sore tits and a steaming nappy bucket.
Greg, meanwhile, was a multimillionaire trader and motivational speaker who proudly photographed his baby on his BlackBerry the moment his girlfriend's elective Caesarean was over (luckily, she wore full make-up for the birth). Which might have been quite sweet had he not told us first the precise number (4,000-plus) of Facebook friends to whom this would be sent and then the cost, in lost earnings, of his paternity leave (£3.5m).
The film's major flaw, though, was not its subjects but its director, who seems to believe that parenthood confers on people - all people - a special kind of humanity. As a result, she needed her men to be seen to change, which was tricky in the case of Greg, who'd left the mother of his first child when the boy was only 18 months old. Change, one gathered, was not really his thing. Phillips was all sympathy when he talked about this decision. We heard her, in the face of Greg's workaholic cheeriness, note how hard separation from his son must be - and when son two arrived, she filmed daddy with the baby warm on his chest, remarking, perhaps approvingly, how much "softer" he seemed. All of which began to seem mildly embarrassing when, only days later, Greg hired a maternity nurse, cut swiftly short his paternity leave and headed to Australia on business.
Look, babies are cute. Daddies, too, sometimes. But this is no excuse for losing one's cool. The documentary maker, like any parent, must learn when to cuddle her baby and when to let it cry.