Rock It, Mom: The Hit Chinese TV Show You Seriously Need in Your Life
Rock It, Mom (摇滚狂花 yáogǔn kuáng huā) is the biggest hit in China right now that you don't know about, and it's burning up the streaming charts there. It is a riotous comedy, the most subversive and raucous show in years on Chinese television. It features a 40-year-old pissed-off rocker chick who returns to China to reunite with her even more pissed-off teenage daughter, who resents her for abandoning her to pursue rock stardom in the US.
Yao Chen, one of the biggest stars in China, a UN refugee ambassador and social activist with over 100 million followers on social media, plays Peng Lai, a rock and roll singer who left her cheating husband to pursue stardom in the US, only to wash out and return to China after he dies to revive her career and patch it up with her now teenage daughter Bai Tian (which means "White Sky"), played by Zhuang Ta Fei, who's as much of an angry misfit as she is. The series charts Peng Lai reluctantly mentoring Bai Tian into the world of rock and roll. Rocker chicks aren't new in the West, but it's considered kind of shocking to the mainstream in China, which has had a rocker scene since the 1990s. Rock It, Mom shows how far the pop music scene in China has evolved to something like Korea and the West. It also shows a China that's thoroughly modern rather than the stereotypical villages and glass penthouses and nothing in between. It is not Communist Party propaganda but a comedy-drama for local Chinese audiences with social commentary, not a piece of exoticism for the West. It also kicks the stereotype of a submissive and passive Asian woman to pieces.
Rock It, Mom is an Unexpectedly Edgy Comedy for China
The comedy of Rock It, Mom comes from the mother and teen daughter acting like absolute mean assholes to each other. They're both equally immature and juvenile, more like two angry teenage girls being mean to each other than mother and daughter. Chinese dramas tend to split moms into either Loving Mothers or Evil Mothers. Peng Lai is something unexpected on Chinese television: a chain-smoking, foul-mouthed, perpetually drunken loose cannon with zero f's to give. To Chinese audiences, she's a breath of fresh air, a flawed character instead of a stereotype with a strong individual personality and rock and roll wardrobe to die for as she stomps around the city in biker boots. People like her exist but are rarely seen in Chinese TV dramas. The scenes of her and Bai Tian hating each other are an absolute blast after the endlessly sentimental and corny dramas on Chinese television. Bai Tian pushes her into oncoming traffic. She picks a fight with Bai Tian and her musician boyfriend by messing with their equipment. Bai Tian sets her stuff on fire. The put-upon local cop begs them to please find a way to get along like normal mothers and daughters and not keep getting hauled into his station. In other dramas, it's the daughter who's the problem child. In this show, it's the mom. Peng Lai gets so drunk she passes out on stage at her first sold-out comeback concert before she can even belt out the first song.
Introducing the Drunken Middle-Aged Bad Girl to Chinese TV
Peng Lai is an archetype that goes all the way to Absolutely Fabulous in the 1990s. That sitcom was pioneering in its portrayal of unapologetic, hedonistic, drunken ladies over forty and their pratfalls. AbFab paved the way to every TV series featuring an unapologetically flawed female protagonist ever since, from Cybill to Designing Women to Weeds to Fleabag to Catastrophe to Happy Valley to Mare of Easttown to P-Valley to The Serpent Queen… hell, every Showtime and Starz series with a female protagonist, and now it's suddenly China taking up the mantle. Yes, Rock It, Mom goes to great lengths to explain Peng Lai as the result of parents who abandoned her to be raised by an alcoholic, abusive aunt, leading her to run away from home to find an outlet in Rock music and the lifestyle that hardly gave her lessons in parenthood. Yao Chen can play both snarky comedy and pathos without ever pandering to make the audience like her. Her performance is totally committed and uncompromising and made the show the runaway hit it currently is. She's not famous in the West because she didn't star in Chinese period arthouse flicks that play as exotic fare at international film festivals.
The Other Radical Thing about Rock It, Mom
You have no idea how refreshing and different Rock It, Mom is from virtually every other Chinese TV drama right now. For starters, it's only twelve episodes instead of the usual thirty-three or thirty-nine, the complete stories are told in one season without filler episodes that used to stretch a show to forty-four episodes. Chinese dramas were getting so bloated at forty-four to even fifty episodes that a new rule was introduced in 2019 prohibiting dramas from going over forty episodes. The twelve-episode format is still somewhat new and an increasing trend. For another thing, most Chinese TV dramas are imperial period dramas involving women of the royal court plotting against each other, increasingly twee fantasy period romantic dramas with impossibly attractive leads with magical powers and wire-fu martial arts, grimly noir cop dramas involving serial killers and/or corruption influenced by British and Scandinoir cop series, or aspirational workplace dramas where everyone wears suits and designer power dresses as they jockey over office politics and romance. Rock it, Mom is that rare show set in a working-class bohemian milieu.
Rock it, Mom Still Ends on Conventional Genre Tropes
In the end, Rock It, Mom is a mother-daughter bonding drama, which is a full-on genre with established tropes. A mother reuniting with a daughter generates conflict. The arc is an eventual thawing of hostilities, so they start to bond. In Asian drama, the trope is to climax with a melodramatic tearjerker climax. Asian drama seems to demand it as part of the melodramatic payoff, and Rock It, Mom pays it off in spades in the finale. It sticks to its genre tropes, after all: a mother's love and sacrifice come through in the end. Which is kind of a shame since its subversiveness and edginess had been its biggest selling point all along. Yes, mother-daughter love prevails after all, but until then, it was fun while it lasted. Rock It, Mom could easily be a US remake on Fox or CW or even Showtime or STARZ, or even Lifetime, but its sharpest edges might be watered down in a US show.
Rock It, Mom is on YouTube without English subtitles but is available on iQiyi with subtitles, but you need a subscription.