Women in entertainment are having a pretty good year. Both Tina Fey and Mindy Kaling published witty, well-reviewed memoirs. Christina Applegate and Maya Rudolph kill it on (lady-created) Up All Night and Parks and Recreation has made Leslie Knope a top sitcom name. Am I overlooking another good, female-driven and/or written sitcoms on television? Nope! “But Andrea,” you may cry, “what about New Girl? Or 2 Broke Girls or Whitney?” Sorry readers, but all three of those sitcoms have turned out to be epic fails for me.
1. New Girl. I truly wanted to like this show. Zooey Deschanel may be a bit twee and manic pixie dream girl-ish at times, but I’ve enjoyed her past movies, music and fashion sense. Unfortunately Jess, Zooey’s character on the show, is what Bella is to Twilight: a blank slate that viewers like because they can easily project themselves onto her character. She’s a pretty, single girl who likes to sing and… teaches? But we never see her in a classroom. And she maybe has a family somewhere? And some friends, aside from the two that have been featured? The lack of depth in her character is truly confounding. Blogger Sarah Handelman sums up Jess’ personality (or lack thereof) well:
It’s nonsensical. How did someone acquire so many quirks in the first place? Take away the funky glasses, colorful dresses, and bursts of song, and Jess Day ends up having more in common with a naked paper doll than her TV-sitcom predecessors or viewers. While sitcoms generally lack the narrative space to pad characters with substantial histories, Jess truly seems to have appeared out of thin air. That she’s clueless isn’t the issue. She’s blank. [via The New Inquiry]
This simplicity makes it easy for viewers to project themselves onto the stylish, quirky girl who can sing, which is why I think it resonates so well with my 20-something friends. It’s also probably why audiences can put up with her antics, which would make any other person (real or not) seem like a psychotic, socially-inept freak. In one episode, when faced with the task of dethawing a turkey, she wraps her body around it to warm it up. That’s not normal, it’s not endearing, it’s not funny. Watching a grown adult act like a child usually isn’t. But since she’s cute, viewers seem to think that her chronic immaturity is too.
2. 2 Broke Girls. This was another sitcom I wanted to like. I even put up with the laugh track! (That is a very big deal for me, because I despise laugh tracks and usually won’t watch shows with them.) It passes the Bechdel Test, which is always good in my book, has two strong female leads and is about broke people, like me!
I enjoyed some of the jokes, even if most of them tried too hard (Oh HIPSTERS! They suck, right? Let’s have our hipster main character make fun of them!). But then there were those racist characters. And then there was that rape joke. And then another rape joke. And then it was just trying way too hard to be funny anymore.
The show’s black cashier, Korean owner and Ukrainian cook are all cringe-worthy, racist caricatures of their respective groups. Emily Nussbam gave a spot-on assessment of the characters:
There’s plenty to dislike about ’2 Broke Girls,’ especially the ensemble, which is conceived in terms so racist it is less offensive than baffling. The girls’ Korean boss, Han (Bryce) Lee, talks funny, is short and sexless, and wants to be hip; the black cashier is played by Garrett Morris, who should sue for the limp gags he’s fed; and the horny Eastern European cook has punch lines such as ‘Once you go Ukraine, you will scream with sex-pain.’ [via The New Yorker]
I get that the show is trying to be “edgy,” but supposed humor like this really just detracts from the good jokes. While I do enjoy some aspects of 2 Broke Girls, the glaring, offensive flaws make it unwatchable.
3. Whitney. I approached this sitcom with an “oh, I’ve run out of my regular shows to watch on Hulu. What’s this?” attitude. It’s creator and star, Whitney Cummings, actually co-writes 2 Broke Girls, so I probably shouldn’t have tried. But I like to give female-based comedies chances. Unfortunately, this one isn’t doing much for us ladies. Whitney proves to be an overly dramatic, immature character constantly seeking to one-up and fight with her boyfriend. She sets up cameras to catch him doing wrong, makes him go on an absurd “first date” because they technically didn’t have one and uses the silent treatment as a weapon. Whitney basically reinforces every awful female stereotype that I was just beginning to hope were becoming less prevalent. The fact that her boyfriend acts like a mature adult when faced with many of her antics doesn’t help. Nussbam, in the same article as before, speaks to this problem in the show:
In one episode, Whitney accuses her boyfriend…of a thought crime: he has glanced at another girl. Because he won’t admit it, Whitney gives him the silent treatment, which upsets him until he realizes that he no longer needs to listen to her. When Whitney catches on, she decides that the best punishment is to talk endlessly: about whether she’s fat, about different shades of blue paint, about getting her period. She’s parodying and confirming sexist ideas all at once, which is pretty much the ethos of the series. [via The New Yorker]
I don’t want a petty, needy female lead in my sitcoms; I want a Leslie Knope or a Liz Lemon! Thankfully, we still have them on our TVs, and Amy Poehler is even producing a show adapted from a female-created web series. There is some hope for the future of female-centric TV… I hope!
What do you think of these shows? Are there any other ones you would recommend instead?