The Bad Seed

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television show about a fertility clinic: perhaps, just perhaps, it's an idea whose time has come. Stars such as Courteney Cox Arquette and Brooke Shields have recently drawn welcome attention to the issue of infertility, which affects more than six million women and their partners. Unfortunately for NBC — partly for the same reasons that, I'm guessing, soldiers returning from Iraq have not made Over There appointment television — none of those women will be watching the new comedy/drama Inconceivable.
    And frankly, I'm not sure who else will be watching, either. Inconceivable follows the daily comedy/drama occurring at the Family Options fertility clinic, helmed by the fancy-suit-wearing rugby-playing rogue Dr. Malcolm Bower (Pierce Brosnan wannabe Jonathan Cake), who keeps a trophy case of champagne from satisfied parents ("Soon you'll be adding to my collection," he reassures a nervous patient) and possesses as much doctorly gravitas as anyone on the medical staff of General Hospital. His business partner: Rachel Lew (Ming Na), who evidently went into business with him because he, medically speaking, got her pregnant when other clinics couldn't. Rachel's main function is to serve as a steady magnetic north on the clinic's moral compass, and to look helpless when her nine-year-old son asks if his sperm-donor dad can come to his next soccer game. The distinguished Alfre Woodard, inexplicably, plays the staff psychologist, who screens potential surrogate mothers and says things to Rachel like, "Face it, girl, when it comes to that man you have a blind spot." Angie Harmon is spliced into the end of episode one and dominates episode two as a rich renegade


doctor and ex of Malcolm's who comes to the clinic's rescue when it becomes clear that Malcolm and Rachel have no chemistry whatsoever. According to NBC's marketing copy, the show will touch on infertility's "moral and ethical gray areas." Sure, if you call Malcolm's disgruntled ex, a nurse at the clinic, collecting his sperm via a goodbye blowjob and swapping it with that of one of his patients, a "gray area."
    This icky sperm-switch caper might work if it had come from somewhere other than nowhere: that is, if it had been perpetrated by a deliciously well-drawn Nurse Fatale in a show whose mood and tone were suitably they-went-there dark. But Inconceivable is no Nip/Tuck. Nor is it, at the other end of the color spectrum, Scrubs. A potentially funny conceit — a fussy gay dad-to-be inspecting his very pregnant surrogate's trash and ambushing her at the grocery store ("Are those PORK RINDS!?") — falls flat because the comedy comes from the gag ("Let's have a gay dad put his surrogate under surveillance!") rather than the truth ("Let's develop a character who, in sympathetically funny ways, captures the helplessness of a dad — any dad — as he watches his baby grow inside someone else"). It's too bad, considering that the show's creators are gay dads who have gone through the surrogacy process themselves. Also not funny: making fun of the poor husbands who have to produce sperm samples in the clinic's porn nook. (Unkind, people, and way too easy.) Inconceivable is neither dark enough, nor light enough. To borrow something a friend of mine once said about Desperate Housewives: It lacks both teeth and heart.
    Oh, wait wait wait, I have to tell you about the soundtrack. The theme: indie newcomer Michelle Featherstone's "Sweet Baby." See, baby, 'cause the show's about babies. And when the obstetrician tells a laboring mom to "push down," guess what you hear? Queen's "Under Pressure." 'Cause . . . yeah.
    Admittedly, I am a little sensitive, because I do happen to know my way around a fertility clinic, and Family Options is way nicer than mine. (Put some of those stirrupy beds in the lobby of the W Hotel, and you've got the picture.) Family Options also has remarkable amenities: a endless supply of that fancy water that comes in those pretty blue bottles and, if you didn't guess from the "Under Pressure" scene, a maternity ward.
    Okay, can I just say something about that? Most fertility clinics I'm aware of explicitly discourage patients from bringing any children into the office. I assume this policy would also extend to bringing children into the world in the office. But at Family Options — where the Endearingly Dippy office manager (Mary Catherine Garrison) thinks nothing of parading gaily through the clinic with a strollerful of IVF triplets — the labor and delivery rooms (labor and delivery rooms!) furnish such shockers as the inevitable, "The white surrogate's baby came out black!"
    That said, criticizing this show for being unrealistic is like criticizing the President for being unfunny — so not the point. Nor is its setting alone what brings it down. If you — and by "you" I mean the creators of Six Feet Under and Nip/Tuck — can write a smart show about a funeral parlor or a cosmetic surgery practice, then nothing, even a fertility clinic, is inherently off-limits. Bottom line, you can make TV about anything, as long as it's good. But wow, is Inconceivable bad.
    While the fertility-clinic part is, again, not what makes Inconceivable bad, it is what makes me sad that it's bad. It's a bit of a missed opportunity, is all. A good show, dark or light could help lift infertility even an inch out of the hush-hush realm of Shameful Things that Happen to Other People. As it is, Inconceivable will promptly be cancelled, so it will at least — though I can't say the same of its doctors — do no harm.  

Lynn Harris is author of the satirical novel Death By Chick Lit and its prequel, Miss Media, as well as co-creator of the award-winning website A regular contributor to Glamour, Salon, The New York Times, Babble and many others, she also writes the "Rabbi's Wife" column for Visit her at

Commentarium (6 Comments)

Sep 25 05 - 12:07pm

Hi, Lynn,
Not to be contrary, but my brother-in-law, an Army sergeant, is one of the Iraq returnees you mentioned early in your piece, and he and his wife are devoted fans of "Over There."
Rich Davis
Senior Contrarion
The Higher Institute for Being Extraordinarily Contrary and Cranky

Oct 06 05 - 4:55pm

Your critique of Inconceivable was obviously about the pilot. You haven't watched the 2nd show of Inconceivable.

The pilot was poor, yes, but the show made AFTER the pilot is really quite good and cutting edge. Check it out and then try a rewrite of your critique.

I think a show like this appeals to a whole segment of society that is ignored largely by the child-hating industry folks who can't comprehend (and put down) what lengths that people will go to to have a baby.

It's about time for a show like this. Let's give it a chance.

Aug 17 06 - 2:40pm

As someone who is suffering infertility I loved the show inconceivable rightly or wrongly with their storylines at least I could relate to a lot of the things being said. I wish it stayed on the air and agree it is time to bring infertility issues of all sorts out to the public to be able to discuss that there really are people out there dying to have a child but for one reason (or many) cannot and must spend thousands upon thousands for just a try at having a baby of their own or at least 1/2 their own.

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