16 & Pregnant vs. Underage & Pregnant

I love the BBC. In the pie chart of reasons why I moved to the UK, it’s a colour you would see right away. There’s Doctor Who and Masterpiece Theatre-destined exports, and crazy docu-series, including high-brow versions of trashy American TV. Case in point: Underage & Pregnant.

Like 16 & Pregnant it seemed to have spawned from the Juno zeitgeist, with both premiering in June 2009. However, unlike 16, Underage is slightly misleading. One of my favourite bits of 16 is the reveal at the beginning of the show. You know: “I’m a normal teenager! I like doughnuts! My boyfriend is sooo sweet! I do art! And… I’m six months pregnant.” And then you recoil as far back into the couch as you can because seriously? That bump is huge. It’s cheesy, but fantastic; MTV’s does some effective editing to ensure, even though you know it’s there, you don’t really see Baby-to-Be until that moment. Cheap thrills.

Underage? Not so much. I think because it’s a BBC show it needs to show the license fee payers that they’re getting something of value, something educational. So, it follows the relationship dynamics of a 16 – 18 year old, her baby, and her family, friends and/or support system. Sometimes there’s the bump-to-birth, other times you’ll jump right in to family life, (not) managing school, housing and a child. And, there are some pretty depressing stories. Coping with a disabled child, coping with a child after your baby daddy dies, coping with having no friends. It’s all very grey, but in a non-judgemental way.

16 also has a script that it follows pretty consistently in each episode. Nesting, fighting with the baby daddy, painful labour, and, my personal favourite: the “how did it happen” chat with their friends. The educational bit. The bit where you smack your head against a wall and wonder how people can be so stupid.


That’s what’s up.

I definitely prefer 16. The mix of cluelessness and optimism is much more “reality TV,” and hence, essential viewing stretched out on the couch on Saturday mornings in a bathrobe. Even as you’re engaging in a bit of schadenfreude, you still manage to care for most of the stories being followed. I also keep the fact they have a tidy bit of renumeration coming from participating on the show in the back of my mind. 16 also has drama: fights with parents, fights with boyfriends, fights with friends. I know half of it’s fake, and done up for the cameras, that makes it all the better.

Underage unfortunately requires too much thought. It’s grim, realistic and depressing. You get pregnant at 16, you have to drop out of school, you’re not going to be a doctor, your boyfriend’s a loser, your parents hate you, your friends think you’re strange, you’re not shaped like other teen girls anymore and you’re depressed. I haven’t watched the entire three series’ but it’s definitely not something I put on to feel better about the world.

Winner: Definitely, definitely 16 & Pregnant.

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About tara

Often heard to refrain "I left San Francisco for this?" Formerly homeschooled. Living the dirt-poor post-student expat life in various non-urban areas of England's North. Sanity preserved by cooking yummy foods for a multiple allergy diet.
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