Sloppy Jane

Dear Millicent,

Because the Nu woman is such a hard label to talk around (I say it out loud and it seems to mean nothing), I am renaming her the Sloppy Jane. No, the Sloppy Jane is not a new sexual position, but it is still for the advanced.  The Sloppy Jane is that rare female protagonist who is as flummoxed, average, and compelling as men are portrayed, and who usually has a messy life that is full of unguarded or foibled moments of humanity.

And, as we have talked about before, the Brits are really good at writing Sloppy Janes, and the Americans aren’t. I would even argue that the Brits are so good at it that they have created an overdose of the Sloppy Jane.  Julia Davis’ Nighty Night was recommended to me by commenters here, and I crown Davis The Uber Jane. She is one of the most, perhaps the most, uncomfortable and unlikeable women I have ever seen take on television. She finds a panty liner in shrimp salad that she is serving to guests at dinner, and simply picks it out before serving more.  Her dog poops on her kitchen floor, and she blames the turds on her wheelchair bound nemesis. She is as over the top as a classic Sloppy Joe, David Brent for example, but she is much much harder to excuse.

In 2004, The Guardian, in an article title “The Witches” wondered if Davis had changed sitcoms forever:

It wasn’t until Absolutely Fabulous unleashed upon the world Edina and Patsy – especially Patsy – that we really had a proper introduction to women behaving badly.

Yet no one is a patch on Jill. In evolutionary terms, she is a huge leap forward, a feat of genetic engineering. The Office might have popularised the comedy of embarrassment, but Nighty Night has moved it on. The monstrous woman has arrived. Best be nice to her.

Also of interest, several female comedians are asked their take on Davis’ character “Jill”, and several reference the impossibility of an unlikeable protagonist until Gervais’ The Office. The article is a fun read, especially for Catherine Tate’s take on unattractive characters in comedy:

Apart from Friends, comedy is rarely glamorous. You’ve got to compromise your dignity in some way for it to work and what’s nice about grotesque characters is that they display a lack of vanity. I think women now are not frightened to appear unattractive, as unpleasant characters. Characters work best when they’re a mixture of recognition and exaggeration and the funnier you can look within the realms of naturalism, the better. It’s through the mouths of these grotesques that you can get away with things you couldn’t otherwise. I do a character of an old woman who says things that, on a script in black and white, would be unacceptable. That these characters don’t believe they’re wrong is what makes it funny while taking the edge off the offence.

But that article was in 2004. Nighty Night went off the air in 2005 (though Darren Star is/was producing a US version). What monstrous Sloppy Janes are still out there, especially on this side of the pond?

Here’s my working list, with high hopes to add more. They range from empathetic three-dimensionality, to intense grotesqueries of heart and spirit.

  1. Toni Collette, United States of Tara
  2. Alexandra Goodworth, Head Case (a Netflix wonder)
  3. Lisa Kudrow, in most roles she takes
  4. Felicia Day, The Guild
  5. Jennifer Anniston, Management (and I could be argued out of this one)

Who else do we need to crown Ms. Sloppy Jane USA?



8 Responses to Sloppy Jane

  1. bungars says:

    Have you seen “Black Books”? It’s on Hulu. I do believe you will enjoy the female lead quite a bit.

    • Carla Fran says:

      I have watched the first few episodes of Black Books, and am happy to see Caroline from “Green Wing” there, but haven’t sunk in enough to see her character show up more. Will keep at it thanks to your rec.

    • Carla Fran says:

      Also, Tamsin Grieg is in a new show on Showtime, nice to see her on US tv!

  2. InfamousQBert says:

    would Minnie Driver’s character in “The Riches” count? she’s definitely a hot mess, but the show is a drama, so it’s not played for laughs except on rare occasions.

    • Carla Fran says:

      This seems right. I wonder if the inverse is true in drama vs. comedy. Are the slightly repugnant hot messes of comedy men, and drama women? It doesn’t quite work, since the majority of all leads are men (women are only 29% of speaking roles in movies), but women do seem to get some of the messiest bits (I’m thinking of the Lifetime Channel specifically here).

      Minnie Driver’s character, and the show, does truck in between comedy and drama. She could be a precursor of the United States of Tara in a way as well. Definitely more dimensions than most of her counterparts.

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