Onscreen, young women of color with immigrant parents are often far from traditional. Consider All-American Girl's Margaret Kim (Margaret Cho), Grey's Anatomy's Callie Torres (Sara Ramirez), The Office's Kelly Kapoor (Mindy Kaling), and Elementary's Joan Watson (Lucy Liu). Though these characters' parents are from various socioeconomic backgrounds and countries of origin, these young women all strive to balance their parents' expectations with their own expectations against the backdrop of society's often sexist and racist assumptions. And though these are some of my favorite characters on television, their experiences often veer from those of real-life second-generation immigrant women.
On the New Girl episode "Table 34," Cece (Hannah Simone) attends an Indian marriage convention hoping to meet an Indian guy for a long-term relationship. She had been with lovable douchebag Schmidt (Max Greenfield) but wants to date someone whom her Indian-born parents will approve of. When her friends hear about the convention, they decide that they want to check it out, too—though only Schmidt dresses like, in Winston's words, "the fortune teller in Big." At the convention, she has to fill out an application including her resume. The event hostess seats her at Table 34, which is clearly the losers' table. Has there been some mistake? The event organizer says, "Over 30 [years old], no advanced degrees, part-time employment. Table 34." Cece replies that she's a professional model, "I was in Lil Wayne's last video. I was the girl he was throwing strawberries at in slow motion?" The woman says, "Definitely Table 34."
Fashion model Cece is downwardly mobile compared to her parents, but she hopes that landing an Indian man will help her gain their approval.
On television, there's no shortage of portrayals of young, aspiring writers. From ruthless journalists to confessional novelists to sensationalist writers, current TV shows offer us a wealth of female publishing hopefuls. And while this inspires a new generation of women to make themselves heard in a largely male-dominated landscape, the growing number of TV portrayals of female writers reflects how the world represses young voices in general—and young, female voices in particular.
Love it or hate it, Girls fits into a specific, maligned literary genre, noted television critic Emily Nussbaum in this week's New Yorker. Nussbaum compares Girls to previous works about young women, most notably Mary McCarthy’s 1963 novel The Group. Like Lena Dunham's show, critics at the time called The Group drivel about self-important, privileged young women. But that hasn’t stopped dozens of women from continuing to publish similar stories. As Nussbaum writers:
These are stories about smart, strange girls diving into experience, often through bad sex with their worst critics. They’re almost always set in New York. While other female-centered hits, with more likable heroines, are ignored or patronized, these racy fables agitate audiences, in part because they violate the dictate that women, both fictional and real, not make anyone uncomfortable.
This week’s Girls episode, “One Man’s Trash,” reads like a short story from McCarthy, Sylvia Plath, or, I would even say, from Raymond Carver. It’s a story that’s based on the uncomfortable nature of two lonely people who just want to experience something else for a brief moment.
In its fourth episode of the season, Girls continues to let us know that our early twenties years contain some of life's best experiences: publishing a piece of writing on a hipster blog, dating an artist of midlevel fame, going to the "best warehouse party ever!", losing your virginity, getting a surprise marriage. But amid these exciting times, Girls characters are exploring those big, troubling questions that maybe they’ll never shake. In this episode, "It's a Shame About Ray", even gruff Ray gets a little vulnerable. “What makes me worth dating?" he says to Shosanna. "What makes me worth anything?”
Much of Girls so far has dealt with romantic relationships. But in last night's episode, "Bad Friend," the drama centered on the hard work of handling friendships. Namely, best friendships. The tension that has been simmering between Hannah and Marnie since the beginning of this season finally exploded in a coke-and-bad-sex-with-a-terrible-artist-fueled showdown.
When Girls premiered last year, so many pop culture–loving feminists had pinned hopes on the show that it disappointment was almost inevitable. In a raft of post–Season 1 interviews, Dunham hinted that many critiques of the show—chief among them the issue of its attitude toward race—would be addressed in Season two.
If you’d asked me a couple of months ago when the pop cultural trend of dads as primary caregivers began, I might have guessed the 1970s (when we saw an increase in single moms on TV). Turns out I’d have been off by a couple of decades.
Like many people, I associate the 1950s with nuclear families like those on Leave it to Beaver, The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet, and I Love Lucy. But the ‘50s also brought an avalanche of shows about single fathers, most of whom were widowers. The earliest example, My Little Margie, was about the relationship between a dad and his daughter, who was 21 but still lived at home (and would always be his little girl, etc).
With its over the top premise and mining of dementia for “comedy”, I could never get into Raising Hope, but there's one thing I do appreciate about the sitcom: it’s one of very few successful shows to feature a working-class single dad.
It centers on Jimmy Chance (Garret Dillahunt), who is 25 when he finds out that a former one-night stand has become a serial killer, been sentenced to death, and left him with sole custody of their baby girl, Hope. As he still lives at home, his haphazard family helps him out as best they can.
Similarly, in Ugly Betty, sisters Betty and Hilda Suarez both lived at home, where their dad Ignacio acted as a surrogate father to Hilda’s adolescent son Justin, helping to take care of him both practically (including cooking and housework) and emotionally. These shows highlight the fact that for many working-class single parents, a support system which provides affordable childcare is essential. They also illustrate that single parents may have to move in (or never move out) from the family home for financial reasons, a fact rarely explored in discussions (or statistics) about homelessness.
There are some obvious similarities between 2012 sitcom Baby Daddy and 1987's Three Men and a Baby. They’re both about three guys sharing an apartment in New York who are unexpectedly gifted a doorstep baby (and the chaos that ensues). But there’s a lot that’s different, too. In Baby Daddy, our eponymous hero Ben (Jean-Luc Bilodeau), his best friend Tucker (Taj Mowry) and brother Danny (Derek Theler) are a lot younger and less affluent than Tom Selleck & co., making raising a baby more of a challenge.
While Three Men's baby nana was delighted about her new grandchild, Ben’s mom Bonnie (Melissa Peterman) is less impressed, saying he’s too immature to raise a child and chiding him for not having safe sex (“you knocked up some girl because you couldn’t figure out the basics of birth control”), which may be judgmental but makes a change from blaming single mothers. When Ben hears from his ex/baby mama Angela that she’s lined up a couple to adopt baby Emma, he’s torn about whether to sign away his parental rights. Although she later softens, Bonnie tells him he has no idea how hard it is to be a parent and how much sacrifice it involves, at least inviting the possibility that having a child isn't necessarily the most fulfilling thing ever.