I am a huge Patricia Heaton fan.
I loved her as Debra in "Everybody Loves Raymond," which premiered as I too was adjusting to joining a big Italian family by marriage.
I loved her even more as Frankie Heck in "The Middle." By then, I too was an often frazzled and exhausted working mother of three, including a child with special needs. My whole family enjoyed the shenanigans of Frankie, her husband Mike, and their kids Axl, Sue, and Brick.
Yes, the Barones and the Hecks were exaggerated and over the top, which made for great laughs, but these TV families were also, when things got serious, loving, accepting of and faithful to each other, which kept us invested.
In real life, Heaton has the courage to witness to her own priorities of faith and family, as she did recently on Stephen Colbert — a rarity in the entertainment world, where it is so much safer to keep quiet.
So I was looking forward to the premiere (September 26) of her new show, "Carol’s Second Act," where Heaton is the lead as well as an executive producer. I had high hopes, and I wasn’t disappointed.
"Carol’s Second Act" is about Carol Kenney, a 50-year-old divorced mother of grown children who had been a high school science teacher, but is embarking on as second career as a doctor. She arrives on her first day as an intern and meets her three young fellow interns, and her chief resident — and the fun begins.
The laughs come as Carol’s beaming enthusiasm for getting her second chance contrasts with the young interns’ angst and competition, and when, for example, Carol makes a boomer reference that leaves the Millennials clueless. (“I’m a regular Angela Lansbury,” she says to intern Daniel [Jean-Luc Bilodeau] who retorts: “Stop talking about your friends.”)
There is a substantial message at the heart of the series, and that is that people over 50 can reinvent themselves and have a lot to offer (ahem, yes I can relate to this too). Yes, Carol is much older than her fellow newbies, in their scrubbed fervor and anxiety. They have the intensity and energy of the young; but anyone who has spent time in hospitals can recall times when interns, especially on rounds, lack sensitivity and the basics of bedside manner. Or, in trying to appear confident and decisive, make mistakes. In this first episode, while the young ones are good at following procedures, it is Carol’s empathetic listening to a patient’s wife that gives her clues about the eventual diagnosis her cohorts have missed.
The new sitcom makes a good point, says Jalal Baig on NBCNews.com: Carol Kenney “represents a real and growing demographic in medicine. While the average age of those entering medical school has remained 24, the number of students beginning the grueling process at 26 or older is now approximately 17 percent … and with this spectrum of ages comes an even greater spectrum of backgrounds: designers, teachers, lawyers, musicians, firefighters, etc.” And “older medical students with disparate pasts often have strong emotional resilience and a greater sensitivity toward patients.”
This point is made in Carol’s exasperated speech when she is expecting another in a series of dress-downs from the chief resident, Dr. Maya Jacobs (Ito Aghayere):
"You think a woman my age should just disappear into the woods and knit.
But I see the world in a different way than when I was 28.
I know that life doesn't work out the way you want it to.
I know that at least one of your kids is going to be a disappointment.
I know all kinds of stuff that you won't know for another 20 years.
And guess what, my age is what's going to make me a great doctor."
So there! As it turns out, Carol has some important wins on the first day of her second act. I’m looking forward to following her adventures.
Maria McFadden Maffucci is the editor of the Human Life Review, www.humanlifereview.com, a quarterly journal devoted to the defense of human life, founded in 1974 by her father, James P. McFadden, Associate Publisher of National Review. She is President of the Human Life Foundation, based in midtown Manhattan, which publishes the Review and supports pregnancy resource centers. Mrs. Maffucci’s articles and editorials have appeared in the Human Life Review, First Things, National Review Online, National Review, Verily, and Crux. A Holy Cross graduate with a BA in Philosophy, she is married to Robert E. Maffucci, and the mother of three children. Her interests include exploring opportunities for individuals with special needs. To read more of her reports — Click Here Now.
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