Part 2: The Brits Get It

Dear Millicent,

So, as far as accepting and reveling in the fact that women are as uncertain and undefined (unshaped? we do wear formative undergear), America is kind of one note.  We have raunchy women (Chelsea Handler, Margaret Cho), we have shocking women (Sarah Silverman), we have mature irreverent women (Bette Midler, Whoopi Goldberg, Bonnie Hunt), etc.  Usually, they more or less stay in the bounds of their particular stable.  Women are allowed to be all of these things, but they have to stay in their compartments, just as a Sex in the City character must stay in costume as if they were assigned Power Ranger Colors.

In part 1 of my ramble on women and comedy, I introduced the Nu woman (a label that sounds irritatingly like a birth control brand).  What I meant by it is a woman 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.  This means she is not a smart Miranda, a creative fucked up Carrie, a sweet Charlotte, or a ravenous Samantha.  She is a dash of all of them, and some other stuff that Patricia Field will never get to accessorize.

The Brits, who have a long history of not demanding perfection from their televisions (see jokes about teeth, unhappy endings. etc.), understand the Nu woman, and benefit in spades. Their television is at least twice as good as ours, and at times is actually perfect (I attribute some of this to the fact that they are willing to end shows before they collapse in on themselves, usually limiting a show to 2 seasons with a reunion special somewhere down the line.)

When asked who she would want to direct her movie “Best Buds,” which promises to be a Nu woman heavy film starring Natalie Portman, screenwriter Jamie Denbo said:

“Somebody with a great comedic sensibility, who doesn’t distinguish between male and female comedy. So basically, somebody British. It seems to be a very American thing, distinguishing between male and female comedy. Overseas it feels like, If it’s funny, it’s funny.”

Here’s the proof in the pudding:

1.) Green Wing: In this show, the women are as sexually voracious, despicable, introspective, and timid and coarse as any of the equally extreme male characters.  Dick jokes abound, as do vagina jokes, and calls on male violence, female jealousy, and all the very ugly things that people do to each other to answer their own needs.  It’s a ridiculous show, and a marvelous one.  Topics include incest, seduction, murder plots, and apparitions of Jesus as well as passing exams, kissing too many people at parties, and the difficulties of having a roommate with wonderful hair. The two standout women are Michelle Gomez who plays Sue White and Pippa Haywood who plays Joanna Clore.  Both woman are masters of physical comedy, and neither shy away from very direct gags about female sexuality.   When I first saw this show, I had seen nothing like it, which is ashame, because it skewers and reveals in the way that only brilliant comedy can.

2.) Spaced: Spaced was written partly by Jessica Hynes who is also an odd saint on this site, a la her character Daisy Steiner.  Daisy lives with Simon Pegg’s equally effed up character, as they both mope around and try to figure out a life that isn’t exactly finding them.  Daisy is an inspiration because she thinks she is grander than she is, she futzes and is happy to eat chips and watch television, and she is a lackluster pet owner.  She is an aspiring writer, with all of the narrative, and none of the rest of it.  She is a wonderful mess, and one that was a balm to my own messy heart.  The first female character I had seen that was so honestly ungood and reaching. The show does an amazing job of articulating that particular pang of late twentyhood, and it is neither slick nor snarky.  A rare feat, and she and Pegg are equal foundations for it.

3.) The Book Group: Okay, an American wrote this…but she wrote it for Scottish television.  The protagonist is portrayed without glamor or sympathy, and by the end of season 2, eveyr chance of a classic formula arriving is squashed.  It is an assault on the narratives we tell ourselves.   Creator Annie Griffin seriously delights in refuting the neat endings of any character, emotion, or happenstance.  It is gloriously messy, confusing, and ugly–again making for a sum total of something that is fascinating to participate in. Also, it stars the divine Michelle Gomez, who does not let us down.

4.) Peep Show: Peep Show is a male heavy show, but I bring our attention to Nu woman Sophie, who starts as love interest and becomes a bit of an albatross to both characters.  She is as effed as both our narrators, and unapologetic as she clumsily navigates in and out of the plot.  One could argue that she is there only for Mark and Jez’s growth, except that her performances (especially at her wedding) are so pivotal and grotesque, and understandable, that she is very much in the pantheon (and she also stars on Green Wing, where she quietly does a stunt on motherhood, sexuality, and doddiness that will amaze).  Also, the show insists men are as self-conscious as women are often portrayed.

5.) Lizzie and Sarah:  I know less about this show, except that it is written by Jessica Hynes, of Spaced, and that it has been described as

“challenging comedy. Lizzie and Sarah are two suburban housewives (played by Davis and Hynes) whose lives suddenly go very wrong – although, as it turns out, things had actually been going very wrong for a long time. The humour is brutal enough to make Nighty Night look like You’ve Been Framed, and there are moments of cruelty so biting that it’s hard to know whether to laugh or cry; spousal abuse, murder, grief and adultery are all thrown into the mix. It would be easy to dismiss it as shocking for the sake of being shocking, were it not also brilliant. It’s funny, inventive and angry comedy, and there’s little that can compare.”

Hopefully, this all hops the pond soon.  Drew Barrymore recently said about Whip It!

“I’m a woman so I’m going to make stories about women because I understand them, but I’m also a boy and I can’t stand the term ‘chick flick.’ That turns me off. I’m as turned off by that as any guy because I am a ‘dude.’ I have a very male mentality — the comedy in the film is not little girl comedy. It’s boy comedy, it’s androgynous comedy.” [Mirror]

Perhaps “dude” is code for Nu? Maybe instead of this kind of qualifier, we can just have better television and movies, more gasps of delight, more women who aren’t as much “attractive” or “shocking” as much as fucking brilliant.



The Best of Millicent and Carla Fran

So, our “Best of” category currently republishes all the posts we like in their entirety. It’s been kind of tough to navigate, so we’re experimenting with other ways of organizing old posts. This is going to be an updating work in progress, but this post should work as a sort-of-helpful index to the site.

Here, in no particular order, are some posts we regard as decentish:

The “Sloppy Jane” or “Nu Woman” Series (the advent of the awkward female in film and television)

From Carla Fran:

From Millicent

Masculinity and Media

On Nostalgia

The INTERNET series

On Consent

The “Women’s Reproductive Health” series


Millicent’s “Selfish Women” series

Delightful Historical Flotsam


The Women on TV Series

Carla Fran on Hollywood Series

Millicent on the weird racism at the Oakland Zoo.

Carla Fran’s “Weddings” series

Millicent’s “Arcane Scholarship Applied to Contemporary Issues” series

Death and Mourning



Millicent’s “Christianity” series

The “Memory” Series

The Eugenics Series

Millicent’s Natural Disasters and How They’re Told Series

On the 2009 UC Berkeley Strike



  • The Catherine Ferguson Academy for Young Women in Detroit is being shut down. This is a tragedy.  A big, sad, infuriating tragedy. The school is a wonder of education: a school for pregnant teens and young mothers that was also a working farm right smack in the middle of the city. It has a 97% attendance rate, and 90% graduation rate. I heard about the school on a Canadian news show about a year ago, and the students who were interviewed were so excited about their kids growing up eating the food that they had grown, and well, it all just seemed like one of those programs that was too good to be true. Pregnant women being respected! Young women full of self confidence! Organic agriculture in the middle of urban blight! It really seemed like a movie made to make indie leftie liberals faint in delight as they (we) ate kale salads and talked about John Stewart. The school is closing because of funding.  Rachel Maddow has been covering the story, but very few others have. As of yesterday, even the local Detroit press had not picked it up.  The school closes on June 17.  Take a moment to sign this petition over at .
  • Some famous Brits tweeted their homebirth on Monday.  The best part of this story is that, as it was followed by thousands, and it was during morning rush hour, there were impromptu celebrations on the tube once the baby was finally born. I love the idea of a subway car of strangers hollering for the arrival of a new person.  The tweets are short, and tell a pretty lovely story, complete with an eyemask that says “Fuck Off!”.  Twitter, again, does something very interesting.
  • More baby things, I just found the very interesting blog Public Health Doula, which has tons of good things. She recently posted this Ted Talk by a doula in Singapore that does a great job of explaining what a doula does.  PHD also has a stellar post on what she wants her friends to know, which I would like to say ditto ditto ditto to.
  • Did you know AJ Langer, she who was Rayanne from My So-Called Life, had a waterbirth? And, she’s full on Brit royalty these days.
  • You should definitely look at these portraits of rich Russian kids.  I have a bunch of old Life Magazines, and one from the 1950s has an entire spread on Russian children’s fur coats, followed by Barbra Streisand’s love letter to her panther fur jumpsuit.  Children should not have multi-thousand dollar things, especially ones they will grow out of! Barbra gets a pass, but just this once.
  • Seriously, go sign that petition.

Bridesmaids and The Ghost of Rom-Coms Past

Dear CF,

Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo are (to quote what one says of the other in their real-life womance) “amazingly funny and so f*cking talented.” Let’s just get that on the table and marvel at what they created: a screenplay built around a wedding that manages to be neither a twee redemption nor a savage parody of a genre the comedy world has decided to despise. It’s unembarrassed by chick flicks (oh the opprobrium!) even as it systematically outperforms them.

Wiig is, as many have noted, a hell of an actress, with impeccable timing and just the right kind of understatement (that scene on the airplane! Calling Steve Stove! The unhinged, quiet, aggressive-but-flirty “Are you an appliance?” “I am Mrs. Iglesias!”).

When you wrote about Apatow’s sneaky marketing and how the reviewers you heard used him as the reference-point for a conversation about Bridesmaids, I realized I’d cropped Apatow out of the movie’s creation. That’s wrong; he was obviously involved in some capacity–mainly editorial and, I suspect, marketing, which explains much of what you’ve noticed; for example, how this unrepresentative atrocity of a movie poster inexplicably puts Apatow front and center:

This has his fingerprints all over it (and nobody else’s, tellingly–the writers/actors/directors are nowhere named). Which explains, to my mind, why precious little about that poster is true to the movie’s content: not the wedding dress, not the bridesmaid’s dresses, not the attitude, not the shoes. The women here match temperamentally and sartorially. They’re all weirdly sassy in the exact same way. This is a movie about mismatches—between the economy and a great bakery, between friends, between roommates, between a wedding dress and the woman wearing it. For a plot that speaks (largely) in the language of dresses and shoes, the fact that the poster reaches outside the movie’s universe into a totally different wardrobe shows how Apatow misunderstands what the movie gets so, so right.

(I just—seriously: that wedding dress shows up NOWHERE in the film! Those bridesmaids’ dresses are sartorial deafmutes–they couldn’t do less to signal the lifestyles that are at war in the bridal shop–a war waged in aggressively-styled dresses and gifts.)


Before talking about the language of dresses, here’s what Kristin Wiig has to say in March, two months before Bridesmaids was released:

We f*cking wrote this script… No. We started writing it almost five years ago for Judd [Apatow], which, on its own, to me, was just an amazing opportunity to go through that whole process with him and rewrite the notes and learning how to write a movie. Neither one of us had any experience at all. And then to have it actually happen and have Paul Feig direct it — who is one of the best people I’ve ever known. I still pinch myself, I can’t even believe it’s going to be in theaters. And it’s real. I’m so excited.

How was that, writing with Judd? Obviously he has experience on how to make a successful movie. Would he read the script and say, “No, that part won’t work in a movie.”

It was never, “No.” It was more like, “Maybe we could punch this up. Do you guys have any other ideas? Why don’t you think of 10 more things.” Sometimes it would be one of those 10, sometimes it would be the original thing and maybe we would shoot some of the other 10. It was very collaborative, there are scenes in the movie that are his idea.

A movie’s authorship is impossible to meaningfully discuss because it’s such a collaboration, but if I were to attempt a textual history of Bridesmaids, my working hypothesis would provisionally attribute the final product to Wiig first, Mumolo second, Feig third, and Apatow fourth, lurking in the foreground but having the good sense not to interfere overmuch. Like the American Revolution, Bridesmaids the movie (as opposed to that conventional, manhandled hot-pink poster that perfectly encapsulates what the movie isn’t) is what can happen with salutary neglect.

On the subject of dresses, I wanted to revisit the moment you mentioned: Helen’s appearance at the engagement party in a full-length formal gown. You’re right: this says SO MUCH. It demonstrates her need for attention, her insecurity, her territoriality, and, importantly, her actual inelegance–bad form to upstage the bride, and her attire was just inappropriate for the venue. Helen The Perfect Woman’s lapses in taste are crucial for our understanding of the movie. She’s trying too hard, not just for Lillian, but in general.

For awhile I thought the font on the bridal shower invite-box (that emblem of wedding-industrial magic) was hopelessly wrong for what she was supposed to be. It was an elaborate Print Shoppy cursive. I realized later that this was right; Helen’s choices should be a little saccharine, something other than perfect taste. As much as Helen gets right in delight and luxury (like the lemonade–“Shit, that’s fresh!”), she gets a LOT of the practical stuff wrong. You can’t drive and drink lemonade. Throw all the money you want at a party, but the movie admits that it’s deeply wrong for women to wear mini-dresses on horseback. The puppies as party favors are conceptually lovely and actually the worst idea in the world. The wedding Helen planned is a tacky horror, but it doesn’t matter. It does matter that she keeps buying living things—butterflies, horses, puppies, Wilson Phillips—as offerings for the stereotype of the ultimate female event.

I’ve been toying with the theory that Helen is the conventional rom-com heroine in the aftermath of her Hollywood happy ending. Once perfection has been achieved and her “quirks” (which are actually adorable) are no longer working to distance-then-attract her man, she has nothing to do but plan other happy endings. And she isn’t bad at it. It’s a lovely touch that she brings Annie and her officer together. But she isn’t and will never be “classy”, and it’s something of a tragedy that this is the only storyline that remains to her.

Helen’s flaws are important because, aside from showing her lapses in taste, it also establishes her as HUMAN—the antithesis of Jane Fonda’s Monster-In-Law, the vengeful scheming woman who cattily does all the catty work. Helen’s makeup is competent but unprofessional, her skin isn’t flawless, her stepkids don’t like her. Helen isn’t Regina George, this isn’t a high-school movie,  and Annie can’t get away with sacrificing everyone else’s subjectivity in order to hate and self-soothe.

The reason she can’t do that is that Melissa McCarthy’s character descends upon her with nine puppies’ worth of vitality and womanhandles her into fighting for her life. You’re right. She steals every scene she’s in, and establishes the possibility of the successful female freak (without making her a lesbian). I think that’s part of what the pearl necklace was doing. That scene on the couch is what a female fight club would like—and it worked because it wasn’t coded as semi-sexual or male (which is how Hollywood likes to characterize its lesbians, for the most part). Women need to fight. That’s her message. And “you’re an asshole,” which, as you point out, is exactly what Annie needed to hear when she was sitting there saying, to someone who lived much of her life being either invisible or the target of firecrackers to her head, that she had no friends.  McCarthy might need an Oscar for that performance. Luckily, she’s getting her due—Paul Feig is apparently planning to direct a movie she wrote with Mumolo in which she’ll star. (Fun fact: she’s married to Ben Falcone, the air marshal!)

McCarthy’s other triumph is how handily she pops a cap in the Wimmenz Be Crazy meme. I worried. I did. When she was talking to the air-marshal, she was so close to lunatic-friend territory. The fact that she was RIGHT is what makes this movie transcend its old and tired formulas.

Speaking of crazy (I love how many reviews of this movie describe her “unhinged”), Annie does heroines everywhere a service by articulating something that usually remains underground when it comes to female dysfunction and failure. All the behaviors Annie exhibits in this film are ones that have shown up in some form or another in Hollywood, with the important difference that this time they aren’t emblems of crazy, they’re logical consequences of a story that isn’t crazy at all. They make sense. They get as much backstory and explanation as Ben Stiller’s character in Meet the Parents, whose exploits are at least as bizarre.

Still, we should talk about her craziest moment. It’s at the bridal shower, when she loses it and goes to “try” the enormous cookie, the ultimate substitution, the perfect trigger. SHE’S A BAKER! That cookie is a horror! The lettering is crooked and cheesy—it looks like it came from a mall (Helen is consistently bad at fonts–the neon lettering at the wedding is atrocious too). But the horrible wedding shower is indestructible. She can’t overturn the chocolate fountain, she can’t kill the puppies, and when she dives into the cookie she’s only hurting her reputation as a social performer. There might be no greater failure than a baker drowning in bad cookie dough, in public, at an event dripping with decorum, screaming.

Painful as it is, her eruption in that scene also offers huge relief. At LAST! It emotionally fulfills the visual promise the movie made in the bridal shop, with its horizonless white expanse. We’re primed to expect a defiling—all that exhausting, demanding white! All that purity! All the pristine trappings of a wedding, of a marriage! You loved the bride shitting in the gutter. I did too, partly because I remember realizing I had to go to the bathroom in my wedding dress, flinching at the conceptual disconnect and wishing for a picture of the ridiculous spectacle I made holding all that fabric up bunched in the stall, trying to keep everything but my body away from the bathroomy surfaces.  I was actually disappointed that the dress completely covered the shit; the reality was acknowledged to exist, but it stayed veiled, draped in white. As metaphors go, it’s not a bad one for the underside of many a marriage, but it wasn’t the symbol I wanted, not the fabulous broken cookie the movie eventually delivers. The bridal shower remains intact. The friendship and the cookie are broken. That says volumes.

Much has been made of the fact that this is a lady-movie featuring (oh-so-predictably) a wedding. In its defense, I want to offer that the premise matters both because weddings are complicated and because they allow one to believably stage female interactions. The shower, like the bridal shop, is another pristine women-only space. In a movie that wants, at least in part, to prove to the blinkered that women can be funny, that spares us the tiresome dichotomy of women as enforcers of the social order and men as it’s happy-go-lucky violators. Women do all the violating here. Annie flouts social and, later, traffic laws. She’s the transgressor trying to expose the codes for the empty containers they are. She flails and fails, perhaps because she’s not awkward enough. She dresses well. Despite her discomfort, she isn’t actually out of place at most of the events she attends. I was thinking about what you said about Subashini’s (totally fantastic) post, and it occurred to me that Melissa McCarthy is the awkward female who consistently violates social norms and succeeds. Her taillights aren’t out, they aren’t failed or broken; they’re neon purple.

Speaking of cars, which are surprisingly prominent storytelling vehicles (heh) in this movie, Helen’s total surrender in the car was interesting.  At first I thought the idea was for her to name all the small things that drove Annie wild and acknowledge that they were real—a tidy expository review of all that’s gone down between them.

I was wrong—it’s more complicated than that, in ways I’m still not sure I quite get. She says things that seem unlikely (that she liked the simple dress Annie picked out better than the high-fashion one) and things that just aren’t true (it probably wasn’t food poisoning!). That’s so complex, so smart. One explanation might be that she’s ingratiating herself with Annie, but she’s also showing her limited engagement with the truth. She’s not going to change. It’s not all awesome now. They won’t be best buddies, but they might have a lunch.

And finally, the central womance. Oh, my. The scene between Maya Rudolph and Kristen Wiig shocked me with how easeful it was, how funny, how utterly opposite from the strained high-octane jokes that characterize The Sweetest Thing. This was quieter and more hilarious—it was actually how I picture the girls in Whip It when they grow up.  (It’s not a coincidence, I suspect, that Wiig was in that movie too.)

A good friend of mine objected that the movie was built around cattiness, and that she would have liked to see more of the comedy deriving from women loving each other. In a funny way, I think that’s actually where the “cattiness” in this film comes from—too much love. The rivalry isn’t about status or about any of the things that comprise the “catty” oeuvre; it’s about competing for the truly limited space for friendship that exists in a married woman’s life. Plenty of critics have noted that this film has a heart; I’d add that cattiness is exactly the wrong word for the good intentions that surround the events of the film. It isn’t mean. In an interview, Kristen Wiig says, “Mean comedy is not really something that I personally gravitate towards or something that I do.”

I don’t think the on-screen chemistry between Rudolph and Wiig is really in question—it’s tremendous, and it’s comedy gold. Their off-screen riffing is just as good. When asked what they’ll be doing next, Maya Rudolph says, “I’ll be gestating a human.” Kristen: “I will be too, but in my lab.”

Which brings me to the final scene between these two women in Lillian’s apartment. I cried. Then and afterward. It took me a couple of days to get enough distance from that moment to talk about it.

We’re used to validating masculine marriage-jitters, used to mourning their losses of couch-and-cereal-bowl, their frat-houses of exuberant fun. We’re used to defining female happiness as coextensive with weddings and marriage and losing your name. (Runaway Bride is in some sense the exception that proved the rule—Roberts’ tendency to conform to external preferences means she doesn’t even know how she likes her eggs.)

When Lillian, hiding under her covers, says she’ll never live in her apartment again, that she won’t be down the block from Annie, that she worries about what’ll happen to Annie, to their friendship … those things are unutterable, unanswerable, and true. Every woman who has watched a friend walk down the aisle and realized that things will never be the same can recognize the power of that scene, the exquisite pain of the private loss that goes hand-in-hand with the celebration of a public union. Sometimes you work through it. Many a friendship muddles through on borrowed trips, lunches, phone calls, e-mails. But marriage, with all its virtues and all its beauties, kills many more friendships than it saves. I’ve never had bridesmaids or been one, but as I write this it occurs to me that the structure offers a way for friends to be involved in an event that carries a very real danger of excluding them. In that sense, Bridesmaids is exactly the right name for this movie.

In case it isn’t obvious, I loved it. I left the theater crying in relief and floating on sweaty air.



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?



She had me at ungraceful exposure of honest thought, Part 1

Dear Millicent,

The attacks against and defense of Tina Fey in the past week have made for an interesting keyhole to peek in on the state of women’s humor in our fine media.  Fey has been called out on being too attractive, judging other women, and saying whore all the time.  My biggest problem with her grand work on 30 Rock is that Jack always saves the day for Liz Lemon when she gets in a pickle.

But what I love love love about Fey isn’t her insistence she is ugly, as much as the depiction of society’s insistence that she is ugly–that she lives in a world where the aptly captured pretty bubble exists for the likes of John Hamm and Cerie (the braless socialite receptionist).  Jack also lives in this bubble, though his is also padded by extreme wealth, and the joke is that the world does suck for the not infinitely blessed.   We can’t hate on Fey for being good looking.  That isn’t what she is doing here.  As our parents told us all through high school, we  are all very attractive, and as we learned in high school, that does jackshit for your self esteem when you are swimming with beautiful sharks every day who don’t have the same trials of plainitude as the masses.  How can anyone fully announce their prettiness, when they are obviously not within the pretty bubble? I think Rebecca Traister nailed it in her defense of Fey when she said “Occasionally suffocating self-awareness is the hallmark of Fey’s style. She’s not pretending to be anybody’s ideal, least of all her own.”

But what this really got me thinking about is how my favorite TV creation, and one that is rarely stumbled on, is the messy woman that is neither adorable or nunnish.  This might be considered the omega female, but it doesn’t have to be.  Instead of full out loser, she is simply as uncensored as the menfolk.  She is allowed the ambiguities and inanity of being a real human.

She may be attractive or unattractive, but what makes her interesting is that the camera doesn’t cut away when things get unladylike.    Also, I should add that I’m not suggesting that fictional characters have to be painfully set in realism, as much as that male characters (especially in comedy) are allowed all kinds of disgraces and the depth they offer, where women usually don’t.

For lack of a more creative term, I’m calling these dames the Nu woman, as Nu is  stuck in the middle (like most of us) of that Greek alphabet which has become our powerseat rating system.  (Let me know if you think of a better name, the other choice I had was the Mu, or the MuNu?).  The Nu women have a little sprinkle of both Alpha and Omega in their landscape, and they are a very rare breed.  I get so spooked (happily) when I see one on my TV that I usually lean forward, and my pulse quickens. “They went there!” I think, or “A woman definitely wrote that.” or “Oh, I do get that.”  I watch with glee and worry at what they are exposing about the darker corners of my adult charade.

Faux Nu women are rampant, and perhaps we owe them a trailblazing award, but I’m not feeling generous.  They are usually identified by their escapades with the nitty gritty of grooming or birth control (I’m thinking of Bridget Jones cursing as she waxes herself, or Rachel Griffiths in the very good Me Myself I watching as her diaphragm zings across the bathroom). I’m also thinking of all the sitcom tries at this…Rachel, Monica, Phoebe…Caroline in the City…even the ladies of my beloved Girlfriends.

Elaine Bennis leans heavily toward the Nu woman, especially with her lack of sentimentality (who can forget her questioning of “sponge worthiness”), and it was her prickly self-absorption that made her a character first in that ensemble cast, instead of a woman that was only there to prod the boys along in their understanding of themselves.  We also have Maude.  Yes.  Maude was definitely a Nu.

Also, as I have mentioned before, I think the 70s were kinder to Nu woman development. We have Diane Keaton in Annie Hall, leaving her body during sex, and all the ambiguity that her character symbolizes about relationships and their unarticulated endings. And, Ellen Burstyn  in Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore, who treats her child with a less than standard ideal of care.  They often have moments where expected sentimentality is strikingly lacking (a woman untender and unhysterical towards her lover, a mother disliking her child or her station), and it ultimately isn’t because they are lacking, as much as resisting any pat formula that is ready to fall on them and wrap them in the expected veil.

And that is why I love the women on TV who exist as creatures of the same universe as the men.  Sarah Haskins embarked on this well with her “Women and Advertising” series, always contrasting the image of a woman (tamed, perfumed, in love with housework) to the earthy existence that wasn’t a Cathy version of pathetic ladyhood as much as the fact that girls live very much as men: they drink beer, they poop, they wake up looking less than pert.  Are their differences? Yes, but the brass facts exist that a real woman is a sloppier less attractive thing than what is usually presented, and a more interesting thing as well.

And, as we’ll discuss in Part II, the Brits are so much better at this than we are.



James Cameron Is the King of the Echo People, and Other Good News!

Dear CF,

The Oscars are over. There, and elsewhere in the world, there was much that was terrible. I’ve stuffed myself with Cloon’s Crispers (motto: Put That Pot-Belly in Yours!). But we won’t think about that today. Today we will turn a page. We will dare to dream. We will think outside boxes, we will make love not war, we will look on bright sides and celebrate our own grass, which is as green as James Cameron and twice as springy. Today, in the spirit of Half-Full Glasses (and our sponsor, Dame Judi’s Denchers (TM), which reside beautifully therein) I give you the week’s Good News. 

  • I left my car window open in the middle of town while I worked in a cafe for five hours. Nothing happened. Not so much as a CD gone. My stupidity? It lives to see another day! 
  • That blue-people remake of Pocahontas didn’t get Best Picture. 
  • This news is dampened slightly by the fact that Bigelow’s win happened to the strains of “I Am Woman,” which should beggar belief, except it doesn’t because—you may not know this—but KATHRYN BIGELOW IS NOT A MAN. She is a directrix. Directress.  Huh. Do we need a word for this now?
  • Had James Cameron won, this is what I hoped he’d say:

  • Utah defeated the bill that could charge pregnant women with homicide for miscarrying because of “recklessness.”
  • I finally saw the first four episodes of The Wire.
  • “Green Wing,” which you showed me on Hulu, paralyzing my life for the last three days, proves that the Brits are totally over the conversation we keep having about why can’t American filmmakers believe that women can be weird humans not just sexy-hot sunshiny Miracle-gro that makes the weedy funnymen chafe-develop? Women of Britain, rejoice! In the annals of comedy, you have been admitted to the status of American men!