In the opening moments of Maid, the 10-episode Netflix drama about Alex’s (Margaret Qualley) struggle to leave to leave her emotionally abusive boyfriend and support her three-year-old daughter Maddy (Rylea Nevaeh Whittet), she plays “Shoop.” The infectious 1993 ode to female desire by Salt-N-Peppa is Maddy’s favorite. Just hearing the opening beats of the song calm Maddy and put a smile on her face. You get the sense that “shoop” may have been one of the first words Maddy ever said.
We know via a flashback that the song has been lodged into her Alex’s car cassette tape player for years. Now there’s no limit to the number of times Maddy wants to listen to it. Alex knows all the lyrics and, at one point in the series, Qualley impressively raps. When her car is totaled in an accident, Alex makes sure to take the tape with her before her car is towed away. Even later in the series, when Alex has a new car, “Shoop” is still in heavy rotation.
It is these smaller parenting moments that Maid gets so right—any parent will be familiar with a child’s laser focus/obsession with a song. I can perform the entirety of Frozen (both the original and the sequel obviously). I can sing you every theme song from every single Disney Junior show. And more than once I have been driving around in the car by myself and realized like an hour later that I’ve been listening to Kidz BOP Greatest Hits on an endless loop.
Maid is, in part, a love letter to parenting. Alex is an outstanding mother. She never loses her patience with Maddy. She never takes out her insurmountable stress and frustration on Maddy. Throughout the series, Maddy’s living arrangement is never consistent. They spend a night in the car and on the floor of the ferry station. They live in a domestic violence shelter, with Alex’s mom in a trailer, in a subsidized (and mold filled) apartment, with a friend who would like to be more than Alex’s friend, and with Maddy’s dad Sean (Nick Robinson). But what is consistent is Alex’s love and devotion. Maddy’s mom is always there for her, always providing a nurturing loving environment. Every time Alex and Maddy go for a walk in the woods, Alex recites the lines from “We’re Going on a Bear Hunt,” the beloved children’s book by Michael Rosen. Alex never seems to tire of saying the same words over and over again—she makes every day an adventure for her daughter. Everything Alex does is with Maddy in mind.
Much of the power of Maid is in laying bare societal inequities, and the chasm between the have and have-nots. While one client throws away a refrigerator full of food, Alex passes out from hunger. The daycare that takes her childcare vouchers doesn’t even know who Maddy is, and one time brings her the wrong little girl to take home. The logistics Alex must navigate just to provide her daughter with her most basic needs are ridiculous. “I need a job to prove that I need daycare in order to get a job?” Alex asks the social worker incredulously. Qualley and her real life mom Andie MacDowell deliver heartbreaking, nuanced performances that will stay with you long after you watch the series finale.
But Maid also shines in the way it gets so many small yet universal details about parenting right. Maddy is always in a car seat. Maddy is never without her Shmariel, the dollar store stuffed mermaid that is Princess Ariel adjacent. Alex makes a big deal about Maddy’s third birthday because birthdays are a huge deal when you are a kid. Alex has tips for how to transfer a sleeping baby in a car seat to their crib. That’s a feat I was never able to pull off, but also I never tried Alex’s strategy of playing classical music on her phone as she gently transitions the baby. Alex does everything possible to get Maddy into an outstanding daycare where they take field trips to a farm and each child gets their own display shelf to showcase their work. “We put their art on display as a reminder that their interests are important in this world,” the center director tells Alex. Like Alex, Maid understands that Maddy is a little person and not a prop or a plot device.
Television so rarely gets parenthood, and motherhood specifically, right. I have long made fun of shows like Grey’s Anatomy that seem to forget their lead characters even have children until they are needed for a very specific storyline. A recent episode of Grey’s Anatomy found the title character Dr. Meredith Grey (Ellen Pompeo) travelling from Seattle to Minnesota for days (weeks?) with nary a mention of her three children or who was caring for them. Meredith was much more concerned with flirting with guest star Scott Speedman. In comedies, devoted moms are often played for over the top laughs—see Wendi McLendon-Covey’s “smother” Beverly Goldberg on ABC’s The Goldbergs.
But in Maid, Maddy and Alex are a unit. We never see Maddy without Alex. Maddy’s whole sense of love and security comes from Alex’s steadfast devotion. We could all learn about parenting from watching Alex in action.
All 10 episodes of Maid are currently streaming on Netflix.
Amy Amatangelo, the TV Gal®, is a Boston-based freelance writer and a member of the Television Critics Association. She wasn’t allowed to watch much TV as a child and now her parents have to live with this as her career. You can follow her on Twitter (@AmyTVGal).
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