Category Archives: tv

TBBT: WTF?

When The Big Bang Theory came out in the seemingly halcyon year of 2007, it was immediately shunned in my household.  It was clearly mocking nerds who worked at CalTech spinoffs and lived in Pasadena.  This was NOT ACCEPTABLE.  And that was before the nerds actually went to Bar Sinister to pick up goth girls:

raj-and-wolowitz-go-goth[1]

Paul would like everyone to know he finds this personally insulting to imply that nerds would go to a goth club only for the hot goth girls!  He would like everyone to know that as a nerd, he also went for the music!  Furthermore, he never degraded himself with fake tattoos, eyeliner, or studded belt accessories and finds this entire scenario ridiculous. A nerd should be capable of forming a relationship with a goth girl without having to look like a Hot Topic threw up on him.  (Side note: when I met Paul at the aforementioned Bar Sinister, he was wearing a black shirt and black pants and zero accessories and he still managed to successfully ask me to dance despite his minimal wardrobe pretension.  Then I made fun of him for being a nerd living in Pasadena.  Then he got his job at a CalTech spinoff in summer 2006)

And yet, despite the show’s initial ridiculous premise, here we are twelve years later with the show on it’s deathbed, but still the top sitcom by no small margin.  I read the recaps rather than watch the show, with no small amount of schadenfreude.  There is something about TBBT that irritates me when I binge-watch it on airplanes, the way the writers try to portray female nerds and yet rely heavily on female tropes.  I wrote about my issues with the funny/straight girl dichotomy in a past post on gender equality in sitcoms:

It’s the shows where a character can behave based on who they are, regardless of their gender role, and have it be accepted in that universe that I’m fascinated by.  Otherwise, having a “cute” girl who’s programmed to react in socially appropriate ways just makes the “funny girl” seem like she’s there for comic relief.

That is a part of what irritates me about TBBT: that when the female nerds act in non-“traditional” ways, they are still being compared and contrasted to a “normal” female role in the form of Penny, the original female character.  And Penny’s response to everything seems to be “I’m gonna drink some wine!  Because women love wine!”  Despite plays at depicting equal female characters, the show ultimately continues to remind those women that they are, well, women, and therefore are required to:

  • laugh off lazy male behavior
  • over-coddle their men
  • DRINK A LOT OF WINE

And yet, I feel I should credit the show for its depiction of female scientists who are just as committed to knowledge, curiosity, learning and their careers as their male counterparts, making being a nerd a gender-equal proposition.  The best balanced character is undoubtedly Mayim Bialik’s Dr Amy Farrah Fowler, whose enabling of her romantic partner is less about tolerating lazy male behavior and more about working with a neuro-atypical partner’s brain.  I think a lot of this is the real-life passion for knowledge that the actor herself brings to the role, but the character herself is remarkably balanced in her work and personal interactions.  This is a step forward in sitcom culture, but, like all acknowledgements of females as equal, it just isn’t enough.

Also to the show’s detriment, with the exception of the somewhat brownface Apu-esque depiction of a South Asian astrophysicist, there are no scientists of color on this show, even outside the core cast.  If the show wasn’t so lazy about this, they could use this glaring omission in the last season  to deliberately highlight the lack of diversity in tech and sciences.  However, that would require CBS to acknowledge the problem and then find a way to cleverly and compassionately write in characters of color who could serve to make some meta-level awareness about the show’s universe being strangely devoid of all non-white people (with the exception of Neil DeGrasse Tyson, of course).  I find it strange that more writers and critics don’t call this out: for a successful show, it could have done a better job depicting people in science from less white privileged backgrounds.

There are plenty of reasons this show has been successful despite its flaws though: Vulture nicely sums up the more tangible, quantifiable reasons.  What I genuinely cannot figure out though, and the reason I have to actually give Chuck Lorre & Co more credit for this sitcom, is that this show has been successful given the culture of stupidity and anti-science that we’ve cultivated in America since before it debuted.  The show came out in an era where being an “anti-intellectual” was becoming a valued quality thanks to the then-president; it is still running and still popular in an era when half the country literally does not believe in science.  Who are these viewers watching this show?  Are they wannabe geeks?  Real nerds who are happy to be acknowledged?  Middle Americans who just really like hearing the same familiar jokes over and over again?  How is this show still popular in the post-truth era and why can’t we use it as a vehicle to convince the population of this country that science is real and climate change isn’t something you can choose to believe in or not?

How is it that in an era when 40% of the country believes in creationism over evolution, and a similar number do not believe that climate change is caused by humans, has a show about a bunch of actual working scientists, featuring actual working science, been the #1 sitcom hit for as long as it’s reigned?

I supposed despite my mixed feelings, the missed opportunities to do good, and general resentment of its use of gender cliches, I should accept TBBT as being an overall positive in society for its depiction of female nerds, and autism.  Still, at this point in the show’s arc, I agree with the deathbed metaphors: this show, much like The Simpsons, has been phoned in for years.  It’s like someone set up the plot arc, yelled SEE YA and peaced out, leaving a combinations of interns and AI to write the scripts.   It’s extremely formulaic, with what I suspect ratio of 3:2:1 jokes: three Sheldon Behavior jokes for every two Gender Trope jokes for every one single genuinely funny nerd reference joke.  And most egregious of all, it still has that goddamn laugh track, which is the second biggest reason my nerd husband won’t watch it.  One wonders if, without a laugh track, the show would become an existential commentary on the futility of being overeducated similar to Garfield Minus Garfield.

Still.  This show insults nerds who live in Pasadena and work at Cal-Tech spinoffs!   I’m contractually obligated to mildly resent it in the same way I obligate my husband to mildly resent shows about quirky girls who move in with multiple guy roommates.  In the land of general TV it’s the least of many evils.  It’s not a CW groundbreaking sitcom, but one can hope that it’s a very small step forward in depicting difference in characters in future television.

 

why dietland matters

Coming off of SaTC week, let’s focus on some very different television: Dietland.  Based on the 2015 book by Sarai Walker, this show tells the story of a “morbidly obese” woman, Alicia “Plum” Kettle, who has put her entire life on hold until she is no longer fat.  She denies herself more than just food: she denies herself feelings, love, sex, socializing, a career, her writing, baking, hopes and dreams.  Her life is limited to a few blocks of Brooklyn (HI PARK SLOPE!) except for days she goes in to her employer, a Hearst Media style publisher in Hudson Yards (which is where L’Oreal is based in reality), where she ghostwrites for a glamourously thin editor played by Juliana Marguiles.  By the third episode though, she’s realizing she isn’t denying herself life because she hates herself.  She’s denying herself life because the world hates her.

Show protagonist Joy Nash – in “normal” joyful clothes as herself, and as the self-denying trying-to-be-invisible Plum Kettle

So far the reviews have been mixed: the show is well written, well put together, and different than anything else on TV, but tries to cram in a lot.  The original material is almost hallucinatory in its surreality at times, so I suppose this shouldn’t be a surprise.  The problem is that the sheer density of the book has resulted in reviews which speak too much to the crowded nature of the show, and fail to notice that this is the first show to openly talk about two important topics.  The first of these is the way American society has, for years, taught women to enable and ignore poor behavior by men, while, at the same time, punishing and mocking women for behaving (or appearing, which seems to be considered a behavior in itself) in non-standard ways.  The second of these is the national addiction to antidepressants, and the impact of long term use and withdrawal.  Selling pharmaceuticals to one in four Americans is so lucrative than I’m genuinely shocked anyone called out that it might not be a good idea.

watch-dietland-season-1-episode-3-what-y-medication-drug-plum-verena-amc

First of all, I’m incredibly impressed that this show actually depicts and narrates the constant pressure women feel  in society to allow men to engage in the behavior that makes women feel bad, while simultaneously pressuring us to not engage in behavior that would make anyone else around us uncomfortable.  It is the first time I’ve seen a show on TV that portrays a fat woman being sexually harassed for no reason, and acknowledging that she is reluctant to speak up or clap back because g-d forbid she she should make it worse. Dietland actually takes this a bit further, and not only calls out men’s shitty behavior, but actually tries to show us all how to hold men accountable for it, without putting all the pressure to resist on the women who are the victims of said shitty behavior.  In last night’s episode, when a man harassed a woman in a convenience store, the other women in the bodega banded together to film and shame him.   We do not all have to torture and kill rapists as the shadowy “Jennifer” organization does, but as a society, we do need to call out men who harass women on the street or who slut-shame them in convenience stores.

This is one of the reasons why Dietland matters.  It shows men’s response to women who do not follow a socially acceptable code of conduct, which includes not only behavior, but appearance.   Society should hold men accountable for making choices to “grab women by the pussy”, rather than giggling and infantilizing those choices as “boys will be boys“.  And when a man bro’s out at the expense of a woman, making a comment on her weight or appearance for his own amusement (as a custodial worker does, mocking Plum to his buddy in an elevator), it is the responsibility of the other men to tell him he’s an ass.

The second reason this show matters is that it shows a protagonist going off anti-depressants and the consequences for doing so.  There are many voices of reason that remind Plum she was on doctor prescribed pills, that she should, at the least, wean off them rather than go cold turkey.  But antidepressant withdrawal is a BFD as we begin to discover that it is easy to reap initial benefits from medication, but difficult as hell to get back off said medication when it becomes ineffective.  No one really wants to talk about how awful it is to try to come off antidepressants, a consequence that is not well researched and on which patients are certainly not well educated when they start the medication in the first place.  It’s doubtful that I would have turned down antidepressants in 2005 had i known it would be such an awful experience to come off those drugs in 2018.  However, I was not prepared for how awful the withdrawal would be, nor was I really prepared to face the fact that the antidepressants hadn’t been working for years.  The NYT has been running a whole series on this recently, which is as much about the withdrawal as it is about the fact that no one is studying withdrawal.  To have a mainstream TV show address the idea of antidepressant withdrawal feels extremely timely as we start to investigate what the real long term effects of these medications are.

I do wish Dietland addressed the proven fact that antidepressants rarely remain effective for more than a few years.  In the book and TV adaptation, Plum is on Y, an antidepressant that seems to have successfully repressed her feelings ever since she began taking it to cope with rejection from a man she trusted with her feelings.  The show addresses the ready willingness with which we sacrifice joy to avoid despair, the way we are encouraged to embrace antidepressants out of emotional risk aversion.  It does not address the real challenge, which is that if an antidepressant is prescribed for real depression, we are very likely on borrowed time with it – and we must take ownership for hacking our own brains in anticipation of the day it no longer works.

So for these two threads alone – Dietland matters.  It’s got its clunky parts, and can be jarring and unfinished in places.  The reviews are not wrong in that it is trying to cram a lot of plot and theme into a single hour long episode.  However, I believe this is important TV.  The more we portray these issues in television, the more we address the way we, as a society, still choose gender inequality.  This show reminds us that as women, our inequality is constantly reinforced through the beauty and body image standards imposed on us, both by men and by ourselves. The more we show the methodology in which women are made lesser, the more we can find ways to make us equal.

 

 

 

happy 20th to impressionable women everywhere

Parts of the Internet this week have been celebrating Sex & The City: The 20th Anniversary, since the show debuted on June 6th 1998.  These articles and discussions seem to be based in one of 3 major streams of discussion:

  • The show is fantastically dated, in a way that makes it a time capsule of (white, middle-class) Manhattan at the turn of the 21st century.  It is from that parallel dimension of existence, modern life without the Internet or smartphones or even widespread email.
  • The show was both forward and backwards for its time.  Forward in its focus on female relationships and for its lack of judgement of pre-marital sex, backwards in that it only includes LGBTQ+ characters as caricatures and punchlines.

1228877

#WokeCharlotte is the BEST 

(There is a good post up on Jezebel illustrating the blinding whiteness of the show, btw)

  • THE MEN ARE ALL GENUINELY AWFUL.  In hindsight, every single one is terrible.  Except Harry.  And Smith.  But it took the show until season six, five minutes before ending, to come up with these grown ass man characters who could be in genuine equal partnerships between a man and woman.  (Also, no one should be Team Big because I agree with the Dirtcast podcast that he is likely a Republican BUT THATS OK BECAUSE NONE OF THE GIRLS EVER VOTED LOL WTF)

The show, however, did apparently inspire an entire generation of women to move to New York City and live fabulous, SaTC type lives.  This mostly applies to women my age, women who were in our impressionable 20s when the show was at its height, who then went on to use it as a model of sophistication and worse, a model of potential for what life should look like in a big city.

I actually think the portrayal of New York City was limiting to what is possible here.  This city is a kaleidoscope of experiences, and is never the same two days in a row, a constantly shifting myriad of possible experiences and storylines told through the eyes of millions of people from thousands of cultural backgrounds.  If anything, Sex and the City had blinders on to the majority of experiences possible in the city, limited as they were to their stratum of society, their parties and galas and balls and weekends in the Hamptons and only the most two-dimensional of art.  It calls into question how one should define sophistication: should it be familiarity with a conventional white upper-class culture, or should it be the ability to know one’s city from multiple perspectives?

However, I didn’t pick up my drive to live in a big city from SaTC.  I’ve wanted to live in a big city since I realized there were big cities to live in.   What I did absorb was a lot of  modeling for heterosexual relationships with emotionally immature men.  This is fine when you are 24 and you are dating a Jack Berger type and you need a framework with which to understand what the hell his problem is.  This is not fine when you actually find the love of your life and find yourself actually afraid to express emotion because you have picked up too many bad lessons from a TV show.

It’s this latter point that worries me a bit about Sex and the City.  Are there other women my age who use the show’s storylines as one way to map out our experiences with males?  By creating characters for a dramedy, could Sex & the City have inadvertently have given us a set of male character references that we’ve internalized by mistake?  Did the show contribute to the normalization of emotional immaturity in men by providing us with those models at a vulnerable time in cultural history?

I do not hear my friends actively making statements like, “oh, he’s just being like Big” because a) they’re not idiots and b) that reference is two decades old.   Still, could the idea of Carrie and Big’s relationship dynamic, where he is an emotional man-child who sabotages all her other relationships to keep her attached to him, and she still ends up with him as a reward for his bad behavior – has that permeated our culture as acceptable?  Could the idea of these insecure men like Steve or Berger, men who couldn’t accept high earning women (and yes, I know Steve got over it) have entered our brains as an acceptable thing that we should just put up with and make excuses for?  Has SATC reinforced these behaviors as acceptable or did it just reflect our own inter-gender dynamics back to us?

I am afraid I can’t answer this through my own experience: I’ve been with my husband since I was twenty-seven, when the guys I was dating were also in their late 20s and early 30s, and were all still emotionally immature.  My knowledge of male behavior by men over the age of 30 is therefore limited to third-hand insight: pop culture, advice columns, and the tales of my friends.  Therefore, the idea of this kind of poor male behavior being normalized may be a pop-culture stereotype.  But as we begin to hold men accountable for their immaturity and entitlement , we have to re-evaluate what behavior women have normalized and internalized over the years as part of heteronormative dynamics – and SaTC may be one of the sources we have to question.

Still.  Happy birthday to Sex & The City, happy 20th to all of us for having the show, and all its modeling of women, their friendships, their sex-positivity and their ability to pursue vocational callings in the big city.   Even if their characters still couldn’t figure out how to use a smartphone (aaaaaaaargh) in 2009, we still should celebrate Miranda having a BlackBerry in 1999, buying her own apartment and being an unapologetic “Esq”. We should still celebrate Charlotte eventually recognizing that Harry’s love and devotion to her was something special.  And we should celebrate the merciful death of the movie series thanks to Kim Cattrall, whose Samantha was the best of the characters, not because of her sexual independence, but because she was a business owning badass who loved herself more.

For that, and for silly women everywhere, happy 20th.

 

 

passiviTV

I have been watching more TV lately.  This started when I realized how much content I could download to my phone or Kindle to watch while in transit on the subway.  This was initially great!  I could immerse myself in television programming any day of the week, not just the one or two days when a favorite show came online.  I started picking entire series to watch, starting with Parks and Rec and adding Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.  I watched a huge chunk of the first season of Outlander while traveling to and from Toronto.  And I could keep watching all the weekly shows that come up in “real time” like Divorce, so long as I watched them on the above ground bus to work in NJ.

Then the TV watching time began to creep up.  I started watching episodes of TV at home, on an actual TV.  I would watch two or three episodes at a time.  Suddenly, entire hours were disappearing.  I would look up and realize I was looking at a screen still at 11pm or midnight, throwing off my sleep schedule and my body’s ability to stay asleep due to the light suppressing the melatonin production I need for a good night’s rest.  I’d make up for that with a melatonin pill, and then I’d wake up groggy and start compensating for that with caffeine.  Which, as I learned last fall, I can only consume in moderation as well.  TV is both a bad influence and a bad habit.

Image result for download netflix meme

It isn’t as if I’m watching crappy TV even!  I’m watching a lot of consistently smart, female led, well reviewed content.  CexG , for example, is an extremely smart show, digging into its characters motivations and human frailty and mental health and changing sense of identity with a great sense of compassion and insight, sometimes expressed through musical numbers.  Parks and Rec is one of the best comedies ever, mostly based on the strength of its ensemble.  Neither show relies on gender tropes to build their characters.  Neither is based on laughing at its characters, as some sitcoms consistently do.  They are both well written, compassionate programs.  But they’re also passive content, and as long as I’m sitting there consuming the content, I’m not engaging in anything else.

Image result for crazy ex girlfriend

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend: the only show to compare our mammary glands to the density of white dwarf stars.

It’s addicting to consume passive content.  It’s addicting to have an entire entertainment feed directly into my brain.  I have always read so much that I’m used to what Jasper Fforde called the “imaginotransference” process in the Thursday Next books.  To have multiple senses provided for me, without having to use any imagination myself, is fantastic.  It is so much richer an experience to see each nuance of a character’s facial expression, to see their setting, to hear their voice. This is why we all universally love television and movies, after all: they are a full display of storytelling that shows us a full, exacting vision, without relying on our brains to place the information in context or create our own visuals.

So as much as I try to justify my consumption of television, I also know I’m being lazy when I watch.  And I also know that as long as I”m watching, I’m not creating anything of my own.  I’m not blogging or writing.  I’m not practicing piano.  I’m consuming someone else’s creation, and as smart as that creation may be, the only good it does me is to be entertained by it.  I’m not thinking my own thoughts when I’m consuming passive content.  Sometimes, that’s OK, because I need a break and it’s nice to be entertained and heartwarmed by someone else’s vision of, say, Pawnee, IN: a place full of hope and positivity.  Other times, it’s just consumption, and it’s just taking up my time…and, to an extent, my energy.

Am I judging passive content?  No.  I’m judging how easy it is to be passive when consuming media.  With the infinite access to entertainment that is Netflix and its counterparts, one can access the cream of the art form of TV, the best comedies that are out there.  Even those of us with very specific comedic preferences (“Female Driven Sitcoms With Women Who Swear A Lot“) can find hundreds of hours of our preferred content on these platforms and watch those hours all at once.  Yes, I’m sure passive TV watching happened before this, but it didn’t happen to me.

I have to figure out more balance in this area.  Still, I enjoy watching these shows.  I’ve rarely watched much TV.  Doing so now opens up my ability to participate in more conversations around what makes a good vs. bad piece of video content.   And it’s also given me a whole new respect for the writers who make their visions happen in the long run.

Image result for parks and rec meme

 

From symbolism to symbols

There is a moment, in the First Sex in the City movie, where Carrie realizes that Big isn’t coming to their wedding venue (because he is a ridiculous man child, obviously, who only showed devotion when he could buy his way out of it BUT I DIGRESS) Carrie, panicking, asks for a phone. Samantha throws her an iPhone. She looks at the screen, covered in the first generation of apps, and says, simply, I can’t use this. I don’t know how.

Thinking of that scene, it seems so quaint. How could anyone be so clueless as to not be able to use a smartphone? How could anyone have lacked the intuition to grasp the technology, driven as it is by pictures and icons? It is a moment made for empathy from the audience, as if to say, see this confusing technology? It’s OK not to understand it! Even sophisticated New York women cannot efficiently use this newfangled geek device from Silicon Valley!

Now, at the age that the character was in that movie, I think, how did we manage to grasp all this technology? How is it that most of us swam so smoothly into the tide of all of this change? All of these smartphones, all of these computers, all of this digital existence? How is it all of us, all of my generation, managed to transition from the first days of a text-only Internet, to the bright icons, shapes, colors, all of the wordless material that makes up the apps and pictures on our phones? How did our brains transition from having the information, in the format of words that we were used to for centuries, and just suddenly seeing it flow through in a completely different interface every few years?

Look at all these tiny pictures!

In the world of today, I feel fortunate enough to be from a unique generation. I remember A World Before the internet, but only barely. I am still able to see the internet as something miraculous, a conduit that allows for a flow of information and communication we never could have imagined in the past.

That, however, was words. The smartphones are all about images. They are a new way of looking at information, full of symbols. There are the pleasingly aesthetic squares of apps, the shortcut sentences of emojis, the flash of lights on the phone itself to represent a message from another person. My phone speaks to me in a code of shortcuts.

This is why I had to delete the Facebook app off my phone: the notification icon babbles at me otherwise.

How did the Xennials all learn this so quickly, changing the way we interpret information in so few years? How were we poised for this absorption of information? Words alone, I get – Western culture prizes ourselves on our ability to absorb words and change them into images and emotions in our brains. We have done that collectively for half a millennium, since the printed, widely distributed word accelerated the ability to read. The Internet as it was in 1995 makes perfect sense to me. The way we choose to communicate now though, it goes around the words. It is a direct transfer of simple information, including emotions, without the need to take in words and change them, in our brains, to a concept.

🍆🍆🍆🍐🍐🍌🥒🥒🥒🍑🍑🍆🍆🍆

Pretty sure this means something filthy IN PHONE SPEAK

Maybe this is how we moved so quickly to smartphones and this image and metaphor laden technology. It isn’t that we went forward, it’s that we went backwards. Most of what is done in smartphone communication is images and symbols because it is too cumbersome to pull together a coherent set of words. Going without words entirely may be more efficient on this device, but it strikes me as lazier .

I’m actually typing this on a smartphone, using it as a small computer. It isn’t efficient, but it’s how I write on the subway. The concepts I’m trying to express, I want a reader to interpret through the nuances of words. There are no cookie cutter symbols that can replace original paragraphs. Maybe there are images, but I’d rather forces a reader to create those themselves. It’s effort for both the writer and reader this way.

Oh and that smartphone Carrie caught in the movie? Thrown to her by Samantha. Who is ten years older than the other girls. Proving, of course that anyone can learn this nerdy new tech, especially when it helps them run their successful small business. And I am sure the writers would have forced a gratuitous use of a series of sex icons like the ones above in lieu of dialogue on the extremely well spoken and articulate Kim Cattrall if the 3rd movie had taken place, proving my point about laziness as well.

NYC is about being Younger

I have always been a fan of Darren Star’s work. I watched 90210 in high school, Melrose Place in what should have been college years, the entire run of Sex and the City. It sometimes surprises people when I can quote entire swaths of the latter, complete with episode numbers and titles (Side note: My favorite season is Season 2, although I appreciated Seasons 5 and 6 more as I grew up. and I am Team Aidan, since he isn’t creepily old like Mr. Big.  I realize that is supposed to be sophistication but yeesh. )

It should therefore come as no surprise that I am a huge fan of Younger, the TV Land series produced by Star and costumed by Pat Field, the SatC wardrobe mistress. It is the story of a forty year old divorcee, Liza Miller (Sutton Foster), who, after being a SAHM her whole adult life, finds herself not only on her own, but with no assets due to her husband’s gambling debts. Liza doesn’t even have a roof over her head after losing her New Jersey suburban home. She goes to stay with her dear friend, artist Maggie (Debi Mazar) who owns a loft in Williamsburg she bought in the 90s (SLIGHTLY PLAUSIBLE). Liza attempts to go back into the workforce in her old career as a book editor, but soon learns she is unhireable after being out of the industry for sixteen years. It is only when she starts lying about her age and says she is 26 that she secures employment as an assistant to the marketing lead of the fictional Empirical Books, Diana Trout (Miriam Shor).  (Note that this addresses every mother’s worst fears: that staying home will kill our careers.)

The clever premise of the show is the way that this lie, while created for work, extends to personal. Through the inadvertent friendships and relationships she forges along the way, Liza must keep up the facade of being 26.  The show is therefore ultimately about relationships and trust, and the stress it places on the former when you lack the latter.

Trust – or lack thereof – is not the part I find relatable though. What I do find relatable is the need to be young in New York City. Los Angeles thrived on youthful appearance as a commodity; New York seems to thrive on the cultural aspects of being young, or rather, it is a city that emphasizes the culture that one cares about most while young. Fashion is the most obvious: the street style here is amazing no matter the age of the person wearing it. There’s an expectation though to know the best restaurants, bars, neighborhoods, music, art, plays – all these cultural touchpoints that most people stop paying attention to when they reach a certain age, that in New York are still as relevant to a 26 year old as a 40 year old.

Perhaps I am biased in that regard, since I work in an industry that is extremely heavy in millenials. Still, I feel like there’s more opportunity here to keep the most culturally dialed in parts of one’s 26 year old self. When I was 26, I cared about all of the things 26 year olds care about:seeing indie bands at Spaceland, shopping in Venice Beach boutiques, going to parties at MOCA. In New York, I still care about those sort of things.  I may not actually do those things, but I know they are there in a way that I might not if it wasn’t always a possibility to engage with culture. Perhaps it says something about American culture in that, when one gets older, one is supposed to stop caring about fashion and music and art, but in New York, those things are so perennially important that they can’t be abandoned as one ages.

It’s also the access and option to participate in so much youth culture that conflicts with my responsibilities as an almost 40 year old. There are always going to be club nights I want to go to, new restaurants to try, trendy fitness classes to do – things I might have had time and energy to do at 26 but not at almost 40. More than Los Angeles, I feel younger here myself: having access to this much ageless culture makes me feel like I am caught.  I’m torn between having the same enthusiasm I had for being in the Big City in 2004, and being the responsible adult I am in 2017.

So that’s why I empathize so much with Younger. It isn’t the emotional premise, as it was with SaTC, but rather, the cultural premise. Liza’s character dresses like a millenial for work, a pronounced difference between her image and her boss’. She lives in Brooklyn(!)  Her friends go to House of Yes. She goes out to parties and rooftop bars in Manhattan. She does all these things that are age appropriate for 26 – but are still so available to those of us who are almost 40.

gender equality, sitcom style

“Funny”, in females, is not portrayed in American media as a desirable trait.  It’s something reserved for the sidekick or the comic relief wing-girl, not something for the romantic lead.  I have often believed that girls are encouraged to keep their hilarity within the confines of what’s still considered cute: witty banter, not full on vulgar humor.  There have been women who have gone outside of this mold as comedians, from Joan Rivers to Sarah Silverman, but they are an exception.  Comedy, whether vulgar or smart, can be constricted to gender roles.

Recently, there has been a sort of paradigm shift in how women are portraying themselves in television.   They didn’t come here to play “cute”  They came here to laugh, and they are all out of f’s to give if people do not like it.  There are sitcoms now with female leads that are far from charming, who are not polished, who are just going to go with their characters and all the vulgarity that comes from it.  Now, we have Julia Louis-Dreyfus making statements like, “I just got Brit-fucked by that balloon animal,” and Ilana on Broad City saying, “I am so hard right now,” Now we are getting somewhere in allowing women to put their energy into being hilarious, and not asking them to make sure it stays “cute”.

Fifteen years ago, the closest thing we had to a show where women just went for that kind of bawdiness was Sex and the City – and that was only because Kim Cattrall is an amazing comic actress.  Still, the show felt it had to represent all the areas of the female psyche, so it gave us the traditional female elements and their shocked reactions along with the less traditional characters and their shocking statements.  When Samantha talked about Richard’s “long, pink, perfect dick”, there was a reaction from half the characters where they were somehow still shocked at her crudeness.  Those reactions are there to provide empathy to the poor shocked audience, to show an acceptable reaction to a woman making a sexually explicit statement.  Now, we have episodes of Broad City where Ilana says, “I think I’m just craving pink dick,” and her friend doesn’t even blink.  And just the way she says it, and the way it’s accepted, makes it NBD.  That is what I’m looking for: a universe where hilarity and comedy can come from anyone, and not be defined by their gender.

I often wonder if this is an actual generational gap. Is it that the generation of fifteen years ago felt constrained to these traditional gender roles?  I think that is what frustrates me the most about that mentality when I re-watch Sex & the City.  It was a groundbreaking show for the time, but it still frustrates me how much it adheres to traditional female archetypes, especially since it is essentially conceived and developed by men.

And now we have sitcoms with flawed female leads!  Look at 30 Rock, a show I’m shocked not only was made, but that ran for as long as it did.  Or Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, a total phenomenon based on a woman whose behavior is completely out of touch with social expectations.  Or Parks and Rec. It’s not “ladylike” behavior.  It’s just funny behavior.  We have hundreds of shows where brassy, bossy, bawdy behavior is taken for granted when it’s done by guys.  Now we finally have a handful where it’s done by women, and in the universe they live in, it’s totally OK.

I love that we are finally getting to shows that do not feel like they need to map characters to traditional female roles.  It’s no longer required to put a Charlotte in, or to channel Helen Lovejoy in a sort of Greek chorus.  This is where something like Two Broke Girls fails: it has a traditionally female character to be shocked by her smartass friend.  It still has a traditional female gender role to balance out, and tell us that we should be leery of this kind of unladylike behavior.

It’s the shows where a character can behave based on who they are, regardless of their gender role, and have it be accepted in that universe that I’m fascinated by.  Otherwise, having a “cute” girl who’s programmed to react in socially appropriate ways just makes the “funny girl” seem like she’s there for comic relief.  Having a person just be hilarious, without anyone reacting based on gender stereotypes, is what I really love about this next generation of female comedy.  I hope the next seasons of all these sitcoms I’m so into can keep it rolling to remind us that our gender restrictions can no longer keep us from being equally bawdy and hilarious.