“Call The Midwife”: Lively Baby-Mama Drama

by Maureen Ryan
When it comes to scripted drama, babies are the nuclear option.

If a show needs a sure-fire way of ramping up tension and making viewers pay attention, all it needs to do is put a baby in some kind of jeopardy, and the easiest way to manipulate viewers’ emotions is to show a mother in childbirth experiencing complications. It’s so easy for TV shows or movies to use stories like these for cheap, exploitative effects that it’s hard not to be suspicious any time a pregnant lady or a stroller shows up on screen.

That’s why the modest accomplishments of “Call the Midwife” (premieres Sunday, Sept. 30 on PBS Masterpiece; check local listings) are all the more laudable. Here’s a show that, for long periods of time, respectfully and sensitively depicts the difficulties and joys of labor and delivery, and the lives of working-class mothers, some of whom don’t have access to quality medical care. The ingredients of this six-episode season, which is based on the memoirs of a midwife who worked in London’s East End in the late ’50s, could have been used to create a mawkish melodrama, but, despite a tendency to err on the side of superficiality, “Call the Midwife” is generally sensitive and understanding when it comes to maternal matters.

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