Feminist Replay: How To Make It In America

 

Rachel and Ben

 

 

A few days ago, the Hollywood Scoop reported the same crew behind HBO's boys & toys hit Entourage were cooking up another show for the network. This one would be a spin-off of Entourage, but this time based around women in Los Angeles.  The only report is that it would be like Entourage meets Sex and the City–which is a bit confusing because it's all the same show. However, I'm looking at this development a bit more skeptically than usual. 

Trouble is, HBO already aired a different show that the Entourage crew executive produced. It was called How To Make It In America, and if we've learned anything from the treatment of female character Rachel Chapman (played by Lake Bell), we know that a well-written woman is hard to find.

During the first episode, forlorn protagonist Ben is confronting reality–his ex-girlfriend Rachel left him for some richer guy, leaving Ben to spend the first episode ruing his job at Barneys and moping. Rachel is the quintessential "That Bitch!": a plot device where a woman is shown callously trodding on the hero's heart in the opening scenes, in hopes of creating an empathy bridge between the spurned young man and the sympathetic viewing audience.  In true "That Bitch!" fashion, Rachel hit all the notes:  unrepentant about leaving, traded up, flagrantly waving the new boyfriend in Ben's face. And Ben mopes. How does he mope. He mopes so hard, I created a new word called "emoping," where everytime the character is onscreen, the background music should switch to Dashboard Confessional.*

But there was something strange about Rachel–she didn't disappear. One of the key conventions of the "That Bitch!" archetype requires the bitch in question to vanish. She appears in the beginning, occasionally makes an appearance or two to torment the main guy, and then gets her comeuppance at the end when the main guy meets the more awesome Manic Pixie Dream Girl. Or something.  

Rachel, on the other hand, didn't vanish. After she was introduced as "That Bitch!" she strangely remained as a dangling participle of a subplot, something strange and uninspired and more than a little confusing. Why were we supposed to care about Rachel again? For the first two eps, she was just Ben's evil ex. Yet the writers and producers kept awkwardly shoving us into Rachel's life, presenting us with strange moments like fighting over cheese puffs, getting E from her boss, and watching her rich Prince Charming make out with a guy in an effort solidify their relationship.

In an interview with Complex Magazine, actress Lake Bell inadvertently shines some light on Rachel's strange lack of characterization:

Complex: How did you get involved with the show?

Lake Bell: I came on to do a couple of lines in the
pilot as the ex-girlfriend and I had a five minute audition at HBO,
hung out with the guys, and just left. Then I heard it got picked up
and not only was it picked up, but they want you to be a regular on the
show and I was like…how did this happen? I only said four lines [Laughs.]
but Amen! So they pitched me how they wanted to go about it and it
sounded great. So during at one point I sort of said to myself that if
I do TV again I really hope it's gonna be an HBO comedy in New York and
this sort of fell in my lap and I was like Jesus, I am not going to
shutter at this, I'm just gonna thank my lucky stars.

Ah....they liked her, but didn't know what to do with her. So, Rachel was intended to be "That Bitch!"–she just lucked out and was offered a reoccurring role. How To Make It In America was recently renewed for a second season, but Rachel's character was written out: After settling the past with Ben and quitting her job and new boyfriend, she decided to "throw darts at a map and travel until the money runs out."  Must be nice.

Rachel could always make a comeback–but sometime between now and when the new shows begin to debut, let's all hope those lucky few writers and producers learn that women are more than just eye candy and plot devices.

*Okay, so Dashboard Confessional apparently doesn't fall within the definitions of emo, or so say those folks in the scene. But every time I see Ben, I think of Ben moping along to "Screaming Infidelities."  Taking a little artistic license.

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Comments

3 comments have been made. Post a comment.

Emo

I understand that Bitch is written by numerous contributors. Still, I find it strange that here, emo is being used as a perjorative when not that long ago there was a piece on the usage of emo and how it judges emotional expression, especially by men. Surely there is a better way to express what was meant.

Emo

@MrsDragon, You're right, we do have many contributors here and not everyone agrees on everything (or has even read everything previously published here). Abbyjean challenged the term emo because, as you said, it can stigmatize emotional expression (especially in men).

As Latoya employed the word emo here though, to describe a certain television character's emotional moping as a way to identify the tropes being used by the show's creators to vilify the female protagonist (a construction within a construction, if you will), I don't think it functions in an ableist or problematic way. It's definitely up for debate, though.

Thanks for your thoughts!

Kelsey Wallace, Web Editor

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Kelsey Wallace, contributor

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I watched all 8 episodes of

I watched all 8 episodes of How to Make it in America and the problem wasn't only "That Bitch" Rachel, it was every single character. I didn't care for anyone on the show. If they didn't make it in America I wouldn't have cared one bit. Understanding now that Lake Bell's character was kinda thrown in last minute makes a lot of sense, but what about the others?