Its message is muddled and its tone is all over the place, but He’s Expecting is determinedly weird enough to be engaging.
This review of He’s Expecting Season 1 is spoiler-free.
In the Season 2 premiere of Netflix’s well-liked Thai horror anthology Girl from Nowhere, the avenging ghoul protagonist curses a high-school womanizer with a pregnancy. I bring this up because it’s the first thing I thought about upon starting He’s Expecting, a new eight-part Japanese comedy-drama about, you guessed it, a man who finds himself suddenly and unexpectedly with child.
This is probably why the essential selling point of the series didn’t feel that novel to me. This show’s tone is very different from Girl from Nowhere’s, which is largely about unpleasant people receiving terrible comeuppances. The pregnant man here, a self-centered advertising executive named Kentaro Hiyama, isn’t so much evil as he is… well, a self-centered advertising executive. You know the type. But the underlying message is mostly the same. The point is to use a male pregnancy to bring awareness to the physical, emotional, and social hardships that women experience. Mostly, anyway.
It’s the “mostly” that’s the problem. I assumed at first that the story might be an interesting one about pregnancy among trans people, but the dialogue really goes out of its way to establish Kentaro’s cisgender credentials. But it isn’t really a magical, medical miracle story either, since it’s set in a kind of alternate reality where male pregnancies are pretty commonplace, and nobody really makes a big deal out of it. Pretty soon, Kentaro finds enough fellow pregnant men that the series shifts focus from being about a man learning what pregnancy is like and starts being about a man trying to explain to the world what male pregnancy is like.
Is this a bad thing? Not necessarily, but it’s an odd choice. Since cisgender men don’t actually get pregnant, it adds an unwelcome layer of fantasy to what begins as quite a well-observed exercise in empathy. He’s Expecting is much more engaging when Kentaro is having to grapple with morning sickness, lactating, his clothes not fitting, his bosses and colleagues treating him differently, and the mother of his child judging him for wanting an abortion. Including other pregnant men in the story feels like a too-easy way for him to come to terms with the idea, and the show tries to get around the issue by making pregnant men in this context a convenient stand-in for basically any form of marginalized minority. It’s still trying to foster empathy, but for something that doesn’t exist, and in so doing it redirects focus from real women to a made-up male underclass.
He’s Expecting often can’t decide how it wants to go about this either. Sometimes it wants to be funny, and sometimes it wants to be deathly serious, but the two modes are switched between without much warning and not always in a way that makes sense. It handwaves away some aspects of its world – including some pretty important biological ones – that it might have been interesting to explore, and keeps the drama firmly rooted in Kentaro’s perspective even when it would have been better to consider other points of view. Either way, the show is interesting and short enough to persevere with, but it’s a bizarre series that I imagine a fair amount of people will take issue with, probably for wide-ranging reasons. Mileage will vary.