Earlier this year, Children Ruin Everything was a hit sitcom on Canada’s CTV, and Roku decided to not only pick up the first season to show on their free, ad-based service, but they’ve decided to produce a second season as well. After a look at the first episode, it looks like they made a good investment.
Opening Shot: We hear echoes of voices of kids fighting with each other. Then we hear the voices for real as a man wakes up in his daughter’s bed, a huge wet spot next to him.
The Gist: Astrid (Meaghan Rath) and James (Aaron Abrams) have two young kids, Felix (Logan Nicholson) and Vivian (Mikayla SwamiNathan). They love their loud, fighting kids, of course, but they are always missing the lives they had before the kids came along. Before she became a stay-at-home mother, Astrid was a data analyst for the city of Toronto, talks in voice over about how there have been studies about how much happier childless people are with their lives — they even live longer.
Astrid has been offered a position with the city for when she’s ready to get back to work; James is all for it, for many reasons. But Astrid’s thoughts keep coming back to having another kid; whenever she sees a baby, the song “I Only Have Eyes For You” plays in her head. But going back to work is also important; her brain has become so mushy she forgot that the name of the country with Tokyo in it is “Japan.”
The couple try to celebrate Astrid’s decision to go back to work by having a nice family dinner, but Viv gets freaked out by the meat section at the supermarket, and the dinner itself is basically an exercise in the kids fighting, playing and doing mouth farts at the table. Oh, and when they try to do a ruined toast over again, the glass Felix is holding shatters. He swears to god that he has glass in his bum after the dinner is over.
Later that night, James goes to the high-rise apartment of his single co-worker and friend Ennis (Ennis Esmer), who offers the couple his reservation at a swanky restaurant. They get Astrid’s mother Nisha (Veena Sood) to babysit and they go, but they see Ennis is there with a woman he just met. They force the issue, anyway, but their night is interrupted when Nisha calls and says that they’re going to the ER with Felix, because he has stomach pains.
What Shows Will It Remind You Of? Any number of shows about parenting, like Married, Single Parents and Breeders. Though it does seem that the closest relatives of Children Ruin Everything are Catastrophe and its fellow Canadian series Workin’ Moms.
Our Take: What we appreciated about the first episode of Children Ruin Everything, created by Kurt Smeaton (Kim’s Convenience, Schitt’s Creek), is that it doesn’t try to paint the situation Astrid and James is as some sort of dirge of quiet desperation. They do what most parents do; they sit there in their messy house among their screaming kids and try to figure out if they’re better off now or during “the before times.” Unlike in some other shows on marriage and parenting, the parents aren’t miserable and the kids aren’t wild hellions (they are loud and fight with each other like normal siblings do, though).
No, James and Astrid are just simply normal parents who want a piece of their old lives back. They want a nice dinner out, or to be able to enjoy a glass of wine, or maybe even hang out with their friends without guilt. This is more than enough to put them in situations where comedy can come out naturally.
In other shows, sometimes the “reality of being a parent” comedy gets usurped by one or both of the parents acting like complete idiots; that’s what we saw as the first season of Breeders went along. Sure, acting like an idiot to fellow parents or to your boss is a part of parenting, but when every episode is about some sort of huge misunderstanding or mistake, then the little moments that all parents — or prospective parents — find hilarious are lost.
It seems like Children Ruin Everything wants to keep things real, at least in the first episode. There are some broader jokes, like when James’ boss loves how good COVID has been for their grocery delivery business, and both Astrid’s mother and sister Dawn (Nazneen Contractor) talk about how Astrid’s mode of dress isn’t “shiny” enough. But most of the funniest material comes right out of being a parent and the desire to not exactly go back to the childless life, but at least have enough of a taste of it to remind you of just who you used to be.
Sex and Skin: Astrid and James try to get a little sugar after the glass-breaking incident, but Felix interrupts with his notion that there’s glass in his bum.
Parting Shot: At a picnic with Astrid’s mom, sister and brother-in-law, they toast to her return to work. They talk in voice over about having as many cool and loving moments with their kids as they can to “almost” make up for what they lost.
Sleeper Star: Veena Sood plays Nisha as an atypical mother in law; there’s actually joy in her performance because she likes to watch inappropriate movies with her grandkids and she actually likes James. Even her telling Astrid to dress “shiny” feels much less hectoring than a typical sitcom mother would be.
Most Pilot-y Line: As she talks to her boss about coming back to work, she gets distracted by another baby. To snap herself out of it, she yells to herself “Stop it! Stop it!” Then has to say to say “not you” to her boss when she realized she did that out loud. That “not you” gag is about as old as TV itself.
Our Call: STREAM IT. Even though there is a ton of parenting shows out there, we like Children Ruin Everything because it tries really hard to keep things down to earth. Let’s see if the rest of the first season — and the second season, which Roku will produce — continues that trend.
Joel Keller (@joelkeller) writes about food, entertainment, parenting and tech, but he doesn’t kid himself: he’s a TV junkie. His writing has appeared in the New York Times, Slate, Salon, RollingStone.com, VanityFair.com, Fast Company and elsewhere.