What a Bunch of Babies!

Apple TV+’s ‘Becoming You’ exhaustively explains how babies develop

The first thing we see on Apple TV+’s six-party docuseries Becoming You: a Japanese child named Ruru going on his first errand. Little Ruru wanders from his apartment, at first reluctant, then increasingly purposeful, as he ventures to get his family some sushi. Ruru waits as a fast-moving train passes in front of him. He crosses a busy intersection with no help. He travels through an empty tunnel that in a different show would be stuffed with dozens of hungry zombies.

Ruru, hand clinching his tiny loose shorts to keep them up and running in a circle to fetch a loose coin, completes his mission.

He’s three years old.

If you’re an American, this opening salvo reads like a low-key rebuke to Western helicopter parenting. Becoming You is most interesting when its exploring, with Planet Earth-style 4K-visual style, the way children develop in cultures across the world, from Tanzania to Mongolia to London to San Antonio, Texas. But despite its globetrotting, Becoming You’s focus is on child development itself, not on the ways location, culture, upbringing, trauma, disease, or genetics can alter that growth chart.

Perhaps that would have been too tall or too broad an order for even a lengthy project like this one; the resulting docuseries instead is perfectly pleasant, so pleasant in fact that Living Human Treasure Olivia Colman is its plucky, all-knowing narrator.

But pleasant rarely equates to surprising, much less revelatory. In a series so focused on the moments from zero to five years old that demarcate Helpless Baby from Rapidly Developing Human Being, it spends a lot of times stating the obvious. Baby’s brains are freakin’ miracles; they absorb and process information better than any supercomputer we have. (So why all the spilled Cheerios, then?) The Twos really are Terrible. Even scientists believe kids at that age are complete assholes. The development of basic vocabulary to full sentences for a toddler happens so quickly parents aren’t even aware of what a big leap is happening right in front of them.

In chapters devoted to developing identity, movement, social skills, emotions, speech, and problem-solving skills, 100 kids from around the world do the darndest things, climbing upon reindeer, memorizing Buddhist monk scrolls, surfing gigantic waves, hunting birds in the African savanna, participating in spelling bees, and attending a New York City acting class, easily the low point of the whole series.

By so narrowly and so directly focusing its attention on developmental stages, and not on the prickly questions that keep parents up at night–what is the best parenting style, will my kid be emotionally stunted by remote COVID education, WHY ALL THE GODDAMNED CHEERIOS AND SAND EVERYWHERE?–Becoming You ends up safe and comforting, not complex and challenging. That may feel like what we need right now, but I wonder if we’d not be better off with a little bitter medicine to wash down with our warm cocoa.

The kids, as they often say, are quite all right. Just ask Olivia Colman. Meanwhile, it’s 2020 and every parent I know is a fucking mess.

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Omar Gallaga

Omar L. Gallaga is a technology culture writer, formerly of the Austin American-Statesman, but he's not interested in fixing your printer. He's written for Rolling Stone, CNN, The Wall Street Journal, Television Without Pity, Previously.tv and NPR, where he was a blogger and on-air tech correspondent for "All Things Considered." He's a founding member of Austin's Latino Comedy Project, which recently concluded a two-year run of its original sketch-comedy show, "Gentrifucked."

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