When Shakespeare said "neither a borrower nor a lender be," little did he know what we'd end up exchanging.
And that's the mind-boggling question at the center of NBC's "The Baby Borrowers," TV's latest life's-a-joke assault on the boundaries of bad taste: Who in heaven's name would lend their infant out as a reality-show challenge? Yet there they are, five babies given to five teenage couples in a "groundbreaking experiment" that, as the show progresses, will find the same couples caring for toddlers, pre-teens, teens and, in the end, senior citizens.
Tonight at 8 ET/PT, "Baby Borrowers" wants to have things both ways, teasing you with the quickly dismissed possibility that the babies might be at risk while ignoring the cold, hard fact that they are at risk, no matter what safeguards exist. If the borrowers drop those babies, how could the show's "shadow nannies" catch them before they hit the floor? And even if the babies aren't in danger, what is the upside for them in this arrangement? They certainly don't seem very happy about it.
On the heels of the now-disputed story about a New England teenage pregnancy pact, NBC is selling the show as if it were electronic birth control. Even if societal improvement were the goal, and it's not, "Baby" wouldn't do much to achieve it. Any teenager who has watched a reality show knows these kids were chosen to fail, and to be ill-behaved brats while doing so.
What manipulation can't achieve, editing does. The show lovingly dwells on every snit-fit and flaw, particularly that adolescent know-it-all attitude that causes them to respond to criticism as if it were an assault on the deference they assume is their natural due. Still, try to keep in mind that they've been lent to the show as well -- and by adults who should know better.
When exactly did setting up our fellow Americans for mockery become the new national pastime? In an increasingly frivolous nation, we have now turned caring for our children and our aged parents into a game, and their suffering when the care falters into entertainment. How lovely.