I just finished watching the new NBC comedy Up All Night, and though repeat viewings might reveal plot holes and problematic jokes (it is a network sitcom, after all), I absolutely loved it. Will Arnett and Christina Applegate are terrific as Reagan and Chris, a completely charming married couple who support one another but aren't too sappy or perfect, and Maya Rudolph is hysterical as Reagan's boss Ava, the Oprah-esque talk show host with a flair for the dramatic. I may be speaking a bit too soon since I've only seen one episode, but color me psyched about this show. (Yep, I said color me psyched. That's how psyched I am.)
A few of us saw The Change-Up for the most recent Popaganda podcast (the things we'll do for you...) and one of the many things I was struck with during the movie (among an inexplicable plot, a million penis jokes, etc.) was the character of Sabrina, played by Olivia Wilde. Around the time she called her date out for ordering a bottle of wine (the nerve!) and ordered a manly scotch instead, I knew what we were in for. She's a conventionally hot and sexy legal aid who loves drinking, sports, and daring people to get tattoos: A version of a trope—a woman who likes "dude things" yet is still traditionally feminine—that we've all seen before in countless movies and TV shows.
The dogs are hot and so am I! Baseball!
However, my scouring of TV Tropes for a name and a clever description yielded no results. Thus, it's time to Name That Trope!
I'm not saying that violence should never be shown or described. We need our movies and TV shows and games and books to address issues of the violence in our culture, and violence against women is included in that. But some of these examples just play into the same old misogyny—without asking anything more of the audience—which is a shame and a missed opportunity.
Last night's episode of True Blood contained the usual outrageous plot twists and soap opera-levels of drama, which is great and which is why I (and probably you if you're reading this) look forward to summer Sunday nights. However, it also contained a totally fucked-up gang rape scene which the show's creators (and many media outlets) are calling anything but.
My life has been unusually stressful lately, for a variety of reasons, and my personal strategy to get through such times has always been to devour certain television shows as though they were comfort food. The advent of the show-on-DVD has been a great comfort to me in that respect, because when I'm down and needing to spend some quality time with my cat and my couch, I can get lost in these stories for days. I am one of those people who is sad that movies are only two hours long: I like my narratives long and intricate, nineteenth-century style, which that explains why I'm such a nerd for any show best viewed as a DVD box set. (And, umm, the completely sad amount of money I've spent on acquiring them.)
All of that by way of saying I've been watching a lot of Six Feet Under, lately. Sometimes television snobs laugh at me when I tell them that Six Feet Under is by far my favorite of the high-end cable shows of the last few years. Though the show was always critically acclaimed in its own way, of course, it somehow never got the kind of artistic street cred that either The Wire or The Sopranos did. I have my theories about this, many of which are related to ideas I also have about people's evaluations of worth in literature.
(In case any of you are too young to know the reference [OH GOD AM I THIS OLD], Ally McBeal was a mid-nineties David E. Kelley show, starring Calista Flockhart as the eponymous young lawyer. Like all David E. Kelley shows I am aware of, it started out playing its narrative straight, an excellent if ordinary show about a young lawyer and an imaginary dancing baby. But within about three seasons it degenerated into Kelley’s particular brand of "quirk," which made it frequently incomprehensible. I’m sure it’s Netflixable.)
The creators of HBO's Big Love have just announced that the fifth season, which begins airing in January, will be the series' last. It's hard to greet this news with anything but relief; the last, abbreviated season of the show was something of a mess, with a subplots, I kid you not, about Mexican grindhouses and genetic engineering that exceeded any reasonable person's suspension of disbelief. But until that point the show was probably the all-time best case study I can think of for the phenomenon I've been trying to document in this space: the strange fact that the premise of any television show is almost irrelevant as the basis of any critique, because the key to doing a good job of depicting women is about execution, not playing to type.
Big Love after all, has pretty much the mother (ha!) of all potentially anti-feminist dramatic premises. The Henricksons' is not a world where patriarchy is implicit, or simply the product of social arrangements that have been handed down through the ages. It is one in which a very literal form of patriarchy has actually been chosen by the characters, even though other alternatives were available. The head of the family, Bill (Bill Paxton) has come actually kind of late to his firm belief in the righteousness of the Principle of plural marriage, after having been expelled from a polygamous compound as a young man. His wives, Barb (Jeanne Tripplehorn), Nicki (Chloe Sevigny) and Margene (Ginnifer Goodwin) are not constrained by law or social custom to agree with Bill on that point. Throughout the show, it's made clear that all three remain in the marriage willingly, although their own personal relationships to the Principle range from ambivalent (Barb) to largely emotional (Margene) to almost entirely inherited (Nicki).
Along with the rest of the ladycentric internet this week (including Bitch), I’ve been following the kerfuffle over Maura Kelly’s post at Marie Claire about how disgusted she is by fat people. The post, ostensibly, is about the television show Mike & Molly, which is a romantic sitcom about a couple that meets in an Overeaters Anonymous meeting. The creator of the show has already fired back, noting that Molly will perhaps cancel her subscription to the magazine in an upcoming episode, and making the point we've all been thinking: the show "is just about human beings."
As to the merits Mike & Molly particularly, I have only this to say: I watched a couple of episodes at the beginning of the season, thinking I might cover it for the blog, but ultimately the show itself is very bad, and very bad shows don’t tend to provide me with much meat for critique. So I let it go.