On TV, there's a new guard of heroines calling the shots. From chipper Leslie Knope on Parks and Recreation to fractured Carrie Mathison on Homeland to narcissistic Amy Jellicoe on Enlightened, we see women anchoring our favorite shows. So what makes these characters so often cringe-worthy?
In The New Yorker, TV critic Emily Nussbaum took note of this new small screen female archetype, the Hummingbird:
They're different ages; some are more manic, some sweeter or more sour...But they do share traits: they're idealistic feminine dreamers whose personalities are irritants. They are not merely spunky, but downright obsessive. And most crucially, these are not minor characters. On each show, the Hummingbird is a protagonist—an alienating-yet-sympathetic figure whose struggles are taken seriously and considered meaningful.
At first glance, this seems like a mere gender shift from the lauded male antiheroes whom TV audiences have embraced. Think Tony Soprano, Dexter, Don Draper, and Walter "Heisenberg" White. And to some extent, it's true: Contemporary audiences love to root for the bad guy, so why not the overwhelmingly eager woman?
This Sunday is the season finale of HBO show Enlightened, starring Laura Dern as Amy Jellicoe, a woman who has a nervous breakdown after her self-destructive tendencies cause her life to implode. Like the show's creators, I'm afraid this may be the last-ever episode of Enlightened. I'm not sure I can describe how fantastic Enlightened is and convince you to tune in for the final show, but I'll try my best.
Enlightened is a darkly comedic look at California new age pseudo-spirituality, corporate culture, and misguided activism. It's also a serious look at addiction in a multitude of ways—from substance abuse to Amy's own reliance on her newfound spirituality to temper her rage and justify her terrible behaviors.