Lots of cable networks claim that their trashtastic reality shows are "documentaries," but almost no shows actually deliver on that promise. Not so MTV's 16 and Pregnant, which could be a typically exploitative and melodramatic reality product but turns out to be a remarkably clear-eyed look at the personal and social cost of teen pregnancy. Which isn't to say it's not also deliciously good TV: Teen pregnancy has a way of bringing out natural drama (what with the accompanying sexual, financial and psychological implications), as you might have noticed from the recent success of Juno, Saved, Life Unexpected, Gilmore Girls and Secret Life of the American Teenager, not to mention the infamy of Jamie Lynn Spears and Bristol Palin.
Long story short, we're absolutely fascinated by this reality show, and we'd love it if you would tune in to tonight's all-new episode of 16 and Pregnant. Here's why you should watch:
1. Girls Become Women: Oh lord in heaven, teenage girls are almost painfully self-absorbed and deluded (who knew?), and pregnant teens are perhaps even more so. For example, last season's standout brat Farrah repeatedly insisted that she "wasn't planning" to get bloated toward the end of her pregnancy, as if her strength of personality alone could turn back the tide. While these girls are still just pregnant teens, there's a sick appeal to watching their helpless flailing and their melodramatic tantrums, but the real reward of this show is watching them after the baby is born. Suddenly, when faced with a real, live helpless infant, the girls morph into full-grown mothers. They may not be the most capable parents ever, but by god, once they meet their munchkins, they do try.
2. Baby Daddies Disappoint: There can be no better propaganda for condom use by sexually active teens than the behavior of some of these teen fathers. A few of the dads stand by their newfound families (Josh, Weston and Tyler from season one, you are heroes, and we salute you), but the majority continue to be obnoxious little punks. One can only pray that the teen girls watching this show take the paternal abandonment on display to heart and insist on using birth control every time they have sex with their JV lotharios.
3. The Parents Don't Know What to Do, but They Sure Try: As much as your heart will go out to the teen moms and their babies, you will also sympathize with the parents who are about to become grandparents. Their kids take advantage of them for resources like housing and cash—the grown-ups are usually the only people in sight with any money for luxuries like prenatal care and diapers—and rarely will you hear a "thank you." For that matter, the parents are heartbroken about the course their childrens' lives have taken, but there is absolutely nothing they can say or do to make their daughters unpregnant or their sons unresponsible. The emotional consequences of teen pregnancy are not just for the teen and her baby.
Every episode of 16 and Pregnant is both specific and universal—some of the teens are smart, some are stupid, some are rich, some are poor, but they're all too young and too unprepared for something so consequential as a child—and the show is produced with great intelligence, sensitivity and respect. It's impossible to watch and not feel for these families, as well as learn something substantial about modern society and personal choice. Give 16 and Pregnant a shot, won't you?
16 and Pregnant airs Tuesdays at 10 p.m. on MTV. Are you already a fan? Do you watch Teen Mom, too? Tell us in the comments!
Follow Kristin Dos Santos on Twitter @kristinalert.