From “Mad Men” to “Big Little Lies,” TV has stressed the difficulty for women trying to maintain a successful career while raising children.
Pay too much attention to the job and grandma will end up raising your kid. Pay too much attention to the kid and you’ll end up losing your cool at work – and your job.
The preoccupation with the good mom versus career woman storyline is understandable. Most women who walk this line in real life know it takes sacrifice on all ends, including wearing the same clothes two – maybe three days in a row – and eating your kid’s leftover mac and cheese for breakfast.
“Mad Men” and “Big Little Lies” explored the idea from non-traditional angles, calling attention to the double-standard working women have been held to on TV, and everywhere else, since the 1950s.
ABC’s mystery-crime series “Ten Days in the Valley,” debuting Sunday, had the potential to view the career-mom narrative through a fresh filter. But the 10-part series is so half-realized — at least in the episodes available for review — that it ends up reinforcing the very tropes and stereotypes it presumably set out to challenge.
Jane Sadler (Kyra Sedgwick) is a celebrated documentary filmmaker whose research on police corruption and crime is the foundation for her first scripted drama series, which she’s developed and is shooting with her own company. But her life becomes as dramatic as the show she’s created when her 8-year-old daughter Lake (Abigail Pniowsky) is snatched from her bed in the middle of the night.
How did it happen? Jane was working, of course, instead of paying attention to her daughter.
She had a late deadline and stole away to her backyard office/shed, 10 feet from Lake’s bedroom, to rewrite a scene for the next day’s shoot. In only thinking about herself, she left the sliding glass door open. Selfish Jane.
Jane is sure it’s the work of her estranged husband, Pete (Kick Gurry). He’s violated their custody agreement before, so she’s not all that alarmed when her daughter disappears. In fact, it’s her sister Ali (Erika Christensen) — the responsible sibling who’s trying to get pregnant — who is the first to call the cops.
But when the police, led by LAPD Det. John Bird (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje), don’t find the girl with her father, what appeared to be a commonplace divorce dispute suddenly becomes something far more sinister.
The investigation uncovers that everyone in Jane’s life has a secret or two, or 50. What’s certain is that no one can be trusted – including Jane herself.
To cope with her high-stress life, impossible work hours, a nasty divorce, motherhood and a traumatic back story yet to be revealed, Jane pops pills to sleep at night, snorts cocaine to stay awake and swills red wine to get creative.
She also mistakenly inhales the rave drug Special K while trying to prove to a narcotics dealer that she’s not a cop (we’ve all been there, right? Such a drag).
But what’s harder to believe here than the above scenario or the lush rainfall scenes in L.A. is that Jane doesn’t appear all that broken up about her daughter’s disappearance.
Instead, she — or at least this series — focuses on the other dramas in her life: coddling her show’s temperamental star, sleeping with the hot cop who’s a consultant on the show and covering up her own drug use.
The story here is sloppy and underdeveloped, and no matter how much Sedgwick tries, she can’t make the viewer care about the fate of a kid that her character doesn’t seem all that invested in rescuing.
Even the moments that appear as if they might turn the stereotype of a selfish career women on its head, where others judge her mothering skills and blame her negligence for the kidnapping, end up reinforcing the idea that she’s too ambitious to care, or at least too much of a workaholic to bother with tucking her daughter in safely.
Maybe “Ten Days in the Valley” wasn’t meant to say anything bigger. Maybe it was just supposed to be one more suspenseful crime drama that takes us through the various neighborhoods of L.A., Hollywood and a corrupt police force. But it appears to start out with wider ambitions, just like its main character.
It ends up, however, speaking volumes about an everyday reality that TV apparently still sees as a fantastical dichotomy – the mom with career aspirations.
For the record: An earlier version of this story misstated the number of episodes available for review. There were four made available, not three. It also mistakenly referred to Pete as Jane’s ex-husband. They are still married, but separated.
‘Ten Days in the Valley’
When: 10 p.m. Sunday
Rated: TV-14-DLS (may be unsuitable for children under the age of 14 with advisories for suggestive dialogue, coarse language and sexual content)