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A Mary Richards for a New Generation: 'Old Christine' Teaches New Tricks

Behind the desk at the women's gym she owns, there's a poster of a woman with the palms of her hands pressed together in a yoga position. The caption: Strength.

Strength may not be the character trait that immediately comes to mind when one thinks about Julia Louis-Dreyfus' character, Christine Campbell on "The New Adventures of Old Christine [1]." Slapstick moments filled with awkwardness and embarrassment might leap to mind, but strength . . . not so much. But when one really examines the social commentary the CBS sitcom offers each week, one's got to admit that "Old Christine" promotes a strong, anti-parental perfectionist model of an everyday, working mom just trying to make it through her days as best she can.

Christine Campbell is the Mary Richards of a new generation of women, only with a kid and an ex-husband thrown into the mix. Christine is a fearless divorced mom who is simultaneously ill-at-ease in most social situations. She's a business owner who struggles with her business partner and best friend Barb (played by Wanda Sykes) over who's in control over the gym. And despite her awkwardness, she's unwilling to simply cave in to the demands placed upon her by the overachieving "super moms" at her son's school. Though a showcase for Emmy winner Louis-Dreyfus' physical comedy, "Old Christine" provides some of TV's best comedic satire about life as a working mom.

Take, for instance, a November 2006 episode when after-school care for Christine's fourth grade son Ritchie fell apart. Christine's brother Matthew, who lives with her, decided to take some classes and wouldn't be available to watch Ritchie anymore. Her ex-husband Richard was similarly unavailable. For the first time, Christine had to consider hiring a nanny. While discussing with her brother getting a nanny to cover the after-school hours when Christine (who has primary custody) is still at work, Christine gave voice to concerns that many moms might feel. She was fearful that Ritchie might like a nanny more than her and that the nanny would judge her for her absence from the home, as well as for her sub-par homemaking skills. Even though Christine was able to work out a flex-time situation while Barb covered for her at the gym, Christine still has moments of childcare angst, like when her ex, Barb, Matthew and Christine all showed up at school to pick up Ritchie because they'd messed up their schedules.

In addition to providing a gloriously flawed working mom archetype, "Old Christine" is on its game when it's satirizing perfect-mom pressures felt in many an American suburb. Portrayed as the anti-Bree Van De Kamp, Christine is completely disinterested in cooking. She's seen dropping frozen rectangles of mac-n-cheese into a baking pan and calling it dinner. She forgets to sign school papers. She forgets when she's supposed to pick up her kid.

And its lampooning of the over-zealous moms, nicknamed "the meanie moms," is a pure joy for those who sometimes might feel powerless against the parental judgment police. The two moms whose children attend Ritchie's school -- Lindsay and Marly -- constantly provoke Christine, criticizing her for being divorced, for working, for not volunteering at enough school activities and for not spending oodles of cash (which, unlike them, she doesn't have) to throw her son an over-the-top birthday party. In a recent episode, incessant school fundraising, spearheaded by Lindsay and Marly, was also spoofed. Sitting at a table in the school courtyard, the moms asked Christine why she hadn't yet purchased her tickets to The Gala, which they described as the biggest school fundraiser of the year. "Didn't we just have a fundraiser last month?" Christine asked. "Yes, that was to raise money for The Gala," one of the moms replied. Later on, at The Gala, the emcee ironically said, "Tonight is the most important fundraiser because it kicks off all the other fundraisers."

While a bit goofy at times, Christine is a flawed all-American working mom, the ideal antidote to today's perfect parenting madness.

"Old Christine" will air new episodes starting March 12 at 8:30 p.m. EST. You can watch earlier episodes from this season on CBS' Innertube [2] web site.

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