Monday, March 30, 2015

Real Influential Women Role Models (Real and Fictitious) - Fictional Woman of the Week: The Women from "Reba" (2001-2007)

The final installment of my series this year is the Texas sitcom "Reba", starring country singer Reba McEntire as title character Reba Hart. Like I said, this show is a little too good to be true, and I'll explain why.

The show's main focus is the foundation of family and getting through life's obstacles as a unit. However, the real concept is questioning the true definition of family. The series opens up with Reba and her family at a court-ordered family counseling session. She is separated from her dentist ex-husband Brock (Christopher Rich) and they are trying to solve their marital problems and custody battles. It is revealed in this opening scene that Brock has to marry his dental hygienist Barbra Jean (Melissa Peterman) because she is pregnant, and that their high school senior drill team daughter, Cheyenne (JoAnna Garcia), is pregnant as well with her star football player boyfriend Van Montgomery's (Steve Howey) child. These are the plot points that set off the fireworks for the rest of the series. Reba and Brock also have two other children: the cynical Kyra (Scarlett Pomers) and the innocent, youngest Jake (Mitch Holleman).

Reba Hart (nee McKinney) (McEntire) is literally the mom of the group. When Van's parents disown him due to the pregnancy, Reba takes him in. Reba eventually has a full house minus Brock, which includes baby Elizabeth when she is born during the Season 1 finale. Right away you know that she is a good mother and genuinely cares about others. Though being a stay at home mom seems to be her main role, she is also seen working as a secretary for Brock's dentist rival and eventually goes into the real estate business with Van.

But of course, this full house also means that the other woman, Barbra Jean, feels entitled to show up unannounced at any time. She calls Reba her best friend, leaving Reba nauseous at the very thought. The conflict between these two is the true heart (Haha, Hart/heart) of the show, but it usually is more lighthearted and comical as opposed to serious, angry female rivalries. They are a typical duo with Reba as the short deadpan snarker and Barbra Jean as the tall goofy one.

But see, that's the thing. Though Reba clearly shows her dislike for Barbra Jean, she sucks it up and tolerates her, but while often insulting her to her face and wanting absolutely nothing to do with her. Very rarely would a jilted wife in real life put up with the other woman's antics let alone even deal with her in a civilized manner. There are even times when she is the mediator between Barbra Jean and Brock when they go through a rough patch. What ex-wife would do this? This is probably why Barbra Jean misreads Reba's good nature.

However, Reba isn't perfect herself. A lot of times she has a lot of pride and thinks she knows what's best for everyone but she ends up having to eat her words. It especially pains her when she has to apologize to Barbra Jean or get her approval on things, particularly in my favorite episode "Date of Mirth" when Barbra Jean has a crush on her marriage counselor and Cheyenne and Van convince Reba to get permission from Barbra Jean to date him, and in the episode "Parenting with Puppets" when Reba is convinced that Barbra Jean's parenting tactics are incorrect, leading her to mistakenly blame Barbra Jean and Brock's son Henry for breaking a lamp.

But then again, Barbra Jean "BJ" Hart (nee Booker) (Peterman) using puppets as a parenting technique is pretty juvenile. But that is her nature. The reason why Reba can't stand her, other than the fact that she stole her husband, of course, is her immaturity and over the top personality. She often has these cutesy or crazy ideas with which Reba originally wants no involvement. However, Reba is eventually roped into Barbra Jean's schemes, such as when she takes Reba to see her marriage counselor to explain her crush issue in "Date of Mirth". Other examples are the time they diet together with Cheyenne in "Have Your Cake" and when she and Reba go out man hunting during Barbara Jean's separation from Brock, an activity that Reba surprisingly finds herself enjoying, in "The Two Girl Theory", two of my other favorite episodes.

Barbra Jean may be a pest, but she is also caring and a sweetheart. She is often the one to bring up the Lord or pray in the middle of a scene, though often dramatically. When I watch "Reba" episodes, I see people criticize Barbra Jean in the comments for this reason, saying that she is a phony praying and calling herself a Christian, yet getting pregnant by someone else's husband. Now is my chance to defend her.

Even though Barbra Jean may not realize that some of her words and actions done in innocence may aggravate Reba, she does recognize that she is a sinner. She feels a lot of guilt for what she did to her. She states this every so often, particularly in "The Ghost and Mrs. Hart" where she thinks that ghosts are haunting her because of the wrong she did to her "best friend." Perhaps Barbra Jean tries to forge a friendship with Reba to amend her wrongdoings. Does nobody think that maybe Barbra Jean is turning to Christianity because of the wrong she has done and is trying to make peace with God? For some reason, people seem to have this misconception that we Christians think we are perfect and preach it but don't act it. That couldn't be farther from the truth. As Christians we acknowledge that we are flawed and Barbra Jean is a fictional character that also does this.

Another person who acknowledges the error of her ways is Cheyenne Hart-Montgomery (Garcia), the pregnant teenager of this series. Like with Nikki Parker and Maya Wilkes, we see Cheyenne live with the aftermath of her actions, such as watching her juggle student life and motherhood, but unlike them, we watch her go through the actual pregnancy as well. During the first season, Cheyenne endures a lot of ostracizing and ridicule for her position, along with the fears of having to grow up too fast and put any of her aspirations on hold. Towards the end of Season 4 and into Season 5, she develops an alcohol problem to cope.

Notice too that all three teenage mothers in my series this year keep their babies and raise them. I find this interesting because no other option seems to be considered.

Though she is vain and ditzy, Cheyenne actually has a heart of gold. In "The King and I" it is suggested that she was kind to the nerdy kids in high school, she volunteers, and she's a very good mother to Elizabeth. Her partner-in-crime husband Van pretty much fits this description as well.

But the thing about Van is that his willingness to commit himself to Cheyenne is very unrealistic, just as unrealistic as Reba's strange relationship with Barbra Jean. I had this issue with the show when I first watched it too. In many cases, never is there the guy who impregnates a woman going to be the type of man Van is. Perhaps the show wanted to create a character like this to encourage deadbeat dads to stand up to the plate, but it also gives false pretenses to young women that guys are going to be like Van, when the sad reality is that they are more likely not. In the first episode of the series, he is willing to marry Cheyenne and the marriage lasts throughout the series even though oftentimes the two bicker about things and face bumps in the road. Regardless, they never separate like Brock and Reba and eventually Brock and Barbra Jean. Unlike the previous generation, Cheyenne and Van have a very successful partnership. Interestingly, Cheyenne is portrayed to anticipate and enjoy sex more than Van, so that is different.

Finally there is Kyra Hart (Pomers), who can basically be considered a sub-character, often involved in the sub-plots earlier in the series but receiving a bigger role as the story goes on. She is the smart sarcastic kid who is your typical middle child - often forgotten. Well, at least she feels this way. Towards the end of Season 2 and into Season 3, Kyra moves in with her father and Barbra Jean, feeling like there is no place for her in the filled Reba household. She is the rebellious one who often masks her feelings and makes fun of the stupidity of others, specifically that of Van, Cheyenne, and Barbra Jean.

Although she may come across as an antagonist, often stirring up conflicts to her advantage, there are moments when she softens her heart (Haha. Hart/heart again :P). A shining moment for her is in the episode "Mother's Intuition". In this episode, Kyra keeps canceling dinner plans with Reba and it is revealed at the end that the reason for this is that she needs to stay home to keep Barbra Jean, who is depressed because Brock has moved out, active in life. In the final scene Barbra Jean lacks motivation to go to the park with Kyra and Henry, but Kyra persuades her to get off the couch and join them, much to Barbra Jean's appreciation. What's nice about this is just that. We actually see a nice side to Kyra, and that is rare. She has a strong mean streak to her, especially towards Barbra Jean. It shows that she genuinely cares about her stepmother and has warmed up to her. It also shows that it is not impossible for Kyra to be kind. Kyra is also the one who usually reluctantly, yet willingly, takes part in Barbra Jean's shenanigans.

At the end of the series, Kyra begins to focus on music and has a band.

"Reba" was cancelled a bit suddenly as well, but at least this series has a decent finale that wraps everything up. During the final scene, everything is hunky dory. Cheyenne and Van are getting on their feet, Barbra Jean decides to not leave Texas for work so she could work out things with Brock, and Reba actually ends up finally calling Barbra Jean her best friend. Then Reba delivers the following monologue:
"I'm just so happy that all of our lives worked out...Six years ago I thought I was cursed. Turns out that I'm blessed. Blessed to be in the middle of the craziest, most dysfunctional, WONDERFUL life I could imagine. And I love all of you."
This gets Van all choked up and he suggests that they take a group photo to capture the moment (but really, the only reason why this is done is to mirror this same event that takes place in the closing scene of very first episode). Then Reba delivers the following line as an homage to the show's theme song "I'm a Survivor", sung by McEntire herself:
"We got through it all. Because we're survivors."
This ends the series with the picture being taken, accompanied by the song playing and audience applause in the background, and a final montage of scenes from the show.

I'm not sure if I like this series finale much either, so therefore I don't like any of the series finales on this list. lol :P

To me, everything ends too perfectly. I know that they were probably going for a happy ending, but this final scene insinuates that because the show is over, their lives are essentially over and they will never have any more problems because they "got through it all." It's as if because it was the series finale, it had to be entirely conclusive with everything tied in a precious bow.

But then again, the whole show is like that, so you have to take it for what it is. It has its serious moments, sure, but ultimately it's a sweet show about family and crazy family members and experiences. Perhaps instead of emulating everyday life, "Reba" is there to give us hope of what life could be and that it's possible that we all can have a positive outcome.

Well, that is all for this year's "Fictional Woman of the Week"! I hope you enjoyed this spin on it! Happy Women's History Month, everyone! We'll see what I'll cook up next year! :D

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