Adults Adopting Adults: A reality show even weirder than it looks | Reality show


JThere was a time, maybe a decade and a half ago, when the documentary series format existed primarily as a sort of freak show. You would log on and watch for an hour a couple who had an uncontrollable number of children, or a locked up person who was afraid of pimples, or a girl who only ate hair. In retrospect, it was all scary and exploitative, and the fact that shows like these don’t exist as much anymore is a sign of humanity’s ability to improve.

Or at least there was, because now there’s a show called Adults Adopting Adults, and god, the bad old days are back. Adopting adults is exactly what it sounds like. There are plenty of adults, seemingly satisfied with their lives, who have decided to adopt other adults for various reasons. And while there is theoretically a universe in which Adults Adopting Adults is a sobering look at the justification for such a momentous decision, it clearly isn’t that universe.

Adult adoption seems to be one of those gray areas that varies in terms of legality wherever you go. It’s illegal in the UK, for example, but US regulations vary from state to state. Some require the biological parents to be notified, others require the adoptee to have reduced capacity. Others just let anyone go to hell for leather. Anybody.

Take Ohio residents Danny and Christy. They made the decision to adopt a 20-year-old Austrian woman they found on social media and had never met. Why? It’s hard to say, although it becomes immediately clear that one half of the marriage is much more into the idea than the other. This half is Danny, a man who had previously tried to adopt another woman, but the process went wrong because he developed romantic feelings for her. And now it starts again. And also, he has a history of cheating on his wife.

Christy, meanwhile, is much less willing to let a stranger into her home. She doesn’t like spending money on her adopted adult daughter. She buys a trailer to live in. His friends tell him they want to kill Danny. Gradually, and publicly, Christy begins to unfold. Based on the first two episodes alone, Christy looks to everyone like a woman who accidentally fell into a horror movie. It’s really very moving to watch.

And that’s the problem. Perhaps the producers of Adults Adopting Adults set themselves with a sliver of compassion, convincing themselves that this would be a sensitive portrayal of a little-understood process. But that’s not very concretely what it is. A large portion of adult adoptees are a middle-aged woman sobbing uncontrollably into an iPhone. If there’s any duty of care involved anywhere here, it completely disappears during Christy’s segments.

Granted, not all of the show’s adoptions are as unsettling as Danny and Christy’s. We meet two adult children who want to adopt their long-term foster families, which feels more like ratification of an existing relationship than anything more sinister. Later in the series, we are promised an aging German prince who wants to adopt an adult so he has someone to pass on his inheritance to. And this is obviously unconventional. It’s a nightmarish cross between Willy Wonka and Love. But hey, whatever, let the man have his fun.

Others, meanwhile, are getting closer. A woman, under the desperate gaze of her long-suffering husband, decides she wants to be adopted so her children can have grandparents. The problem is that they already have grandparents, because his mother is still alive. They’re separated, but not so far apart that the woman can’t drag an entire film crew to her mother’s house to inform her that she’s been replaced. The mother, for what it’s worth, responds exactly the same as anyone else.

There’s also the woman who chooses to adopt a 23-year-old woman despite the fact that the last time she tried something like this her ex-husband had sex with his new adult daughter. Of this last daughter, the wife looks at her second husband and coos: “She’s daddy’s girl.” I can’t tell you what happened after that because my whole house was suddenly filled with red flags and my television viewing was obstructed.

It must be assumed that most people who adopt adults do so simply for the paperwork, that they emphasize a pre-existing relationship to avoid legal difficulties in the event of death. But Adults Adopting Adults has no interest in this aspect of the process at all. It’s a sight that happily dabbles in the muddy waters of exploitation. As such, it’s not something you would want to watch a lot. I definitely won’t, although I may skip to the finale to make sure Christy is okay.


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