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TV Review: Strangers Making Babies

17 May 2021
Appeared in BioNews 1095

As anyone who has met me will attest, I am very rarely lost for words, but Channel 4's Strangers Making Babies documentary has left me dumbstruck. However not for the reason it seems to have shocked tabloids or Twitterati, but as a queer person who considers co-parenting as the way I want to have children in the future I feel let down, othered and societally shamed.

Please don't take my disdain for the show to be about participants, it is 100 percent not, as all are incredibly genuine and brave. I wish them all the best in their journey to parenthood. 

So, let me explain what the show is beyond the clickbait title…

Billed by Channel 4 as 'a group of single, would-be parents looking for a platonic partner to have a baby with, without the complication of finding love first,' the group is guided by Dr Marie Wren deputy director of the Lister Clinic, London, and matchmaking expert Gillian McCallum. We watch three single heterosexual women be matched with a series of potential co-parents. Dr Wren explains there are over 70,000 people looking for a co-parenting arrangement in the UK and fearmongers that it is through unregulated websites and fraught unvetted strangers. She clearly has never been on Tinder! The show uses unexplained 'science' to whittle down applicants to find the best 'co-parenting matches'. We then follow the people who have been matched together, meeting and going through various stages in considering being co-parents. 

Fair warning – spoilers ahead. 

All the shows applicants are vetted with questionnaires and background checks before being introduced, but despite the first episode of the series stating how many people were seeking co-parenting arrangements in the UK, they only found three women to match with six men. This meant that there was little choice in the matching process. Weirdly in all those questionnaires, where they lived or co-parent ethos weren't a factor, with participants living at different ends of the country!

Venicia, a professional nanny to high-profile families, choose to only match with heterosexual men, as she doesn't want to rule out a romantic connection, she is matched with Nigel, Vik and Jean-Paul.

Sarah, an amateur ballroom dancer, only wishes to be matched with gay men and is introduced to Ian, Chris and Chris. 

Finally, businesswoman and sports enthusiast Trinity, who previously considered raising a child on her own, but a health scare made her realise how important it is for a child to have two parents. She's matched with Ian, Jean-Paul and Nigel.

After one date, the women meet with experts and eliminate one match. The series goes on to see the couples meet again, find out about the results of fertility tests they have taken for the purposes of the show, and ultimately whether or not they decide to continue plans to co-parent together. 

I have read a lot of reviews and 'Twitter opinions' about the participants that judge their choices or how they come across on TV, and I am not going to do that. I will focus on the show's premise and structure, which is where it is really let down.

Nowhere in the entire four episodes of the series does anyone get to start making a baby. This means the series has an unnecessarily provocative and destructive title - these people wouldn't be strangers by the time they had a baby anyway they would be CO-PARENTS, who had discussed it and planned for over a year. Frankly, most nightclubs have better success rates in aiding strangers in making babies than this show. 

From the start it is set up on a false premise, trying to be a mash-up of Married at First Sight Australia and One Born Every Minute. It fails to be half as good as either show, why? Because it sits between reality TV and fly-on-the-wall documentary, and thus fails to either entertain or truly inform the viewer.

I remember the realisation as a gay teenager I could have a family, while watching acclaimed television series Queer as Folk and seeing the storyline of a lesbian couple and gay man having a child. There was so much potential for this show to present the possibility of co-parenting for gay people with a much more diverse range of participants, which in my mind should have sought to include lesbian couples. 

The show brags it has consulted medical and legal experts, but what it could have really done with was featuring someone with actual experience of co-parenting and raising donor-conceived children. Despite the show's attempt to paint the idea of co-parenting as a thoroughly postmodern phenomenon, it is not. It has been going on for decades (Queer as Folk was written in, and set in, the 90s). I can only assume that respected co-parenting and donor-conceived charities stayed away from the programme and the show certainly suffered for it. 

The show has given ammunition for people to critique non-traditional parenting and I think it could be considered to be exploitative and is just a reality show disguised as a pseudo-social experiment.  

One silver lining is it was a ratings bomb and was moved to 11pm and replaced by re-runs of 24 hours in A&E after episode one.

Strangers Making Babies
Channel 4 |  23 May 2021
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