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?

Yours,

CF

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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.

Yours,

CF

Odd Saints: Daisy Steiner (a la Jessica Hynes)

Dear Millicent,

As a Hulu wonder, I have discovered the Simon Pegg/Jessica Hynes vehicle Spaced.  In doing so, I think I may have found a female equivalent of Jez from Peep Show.  Here, both roommates (Pegg and Hynes) are Jez, but it is a special delight to see the female character take hold.  She is ambitious, lazy, full of self-narrative, and as rife with failure and ambiguity as the majority of the actual population.  I love Spaced.  It’s jokes aren’t as transcendent as Peep Show, but they come from the same source: a throwdown of what we are, and of  the pretensions that keep us keeping on.

Midway through this clip (it starts with their neighbor preparing to meet the transsexual love of his life) Daisy goes for an interview at a hip lady’s magazine, and implodes.  When asked how it went by her roomie, she ultimately concludes, “I was a tit.” Could this be a lady version of a dick joke gone right?  Her roommate perfectly understands. When she does finally get the rejection, she gives a full monologue of how they might have loved her, the quirky addition to the office she might be, and then reads, “It’s a no.”

On both Hulu and Youtube for your viewing pleasure.

CF

Safe Sex

Perhaps the next installment in our “Now We Know” series:

Also, both of their hair reminds me of those pastel decals that are sometimes on strip mall beauty shop windows.  The 80s or early 90s?

The Maudlin and The Musical

Dear pepperpot,

I hope that, whatever you are doing, you are wrapped in something warm and wearing the diamondhand while doing it. I am thinking of you. I stumbled on these bad examples of maudlin and musical things and thought you could add them to your list of bright shiny distractions of the British variety.

Exhibit A: French and Saunders do Mamma Mia! (with Joanna Lumley from AbFab who was actually in MM) for Comic Relief. (I can’t embed this one, but click on the link.)

(The person playing the director is sort of a comic genius—any idea who she is?)

Exhibit B, decades earlier: A super-young Stephen Fry in a moving scene with Emma Thompson.

Hearts,

Millicent

The Brits Explain the Subprime Mortgage Crisis

John Bird and John Fortune: incisive, weak-chinned and devastating:

Sex: Now We Know

In response to your lovely observations on how, when it comes to sex, we really sort of always knew. Or else we still have absolutely no idea.

Listen to Me, Lovelet!

This reflects my frame of mind after trying to write Part 1 of Flirting. Tomorrow I will make a return to language, and tackle Part 2 with renewed vigor. In the meantime, I leave you with this delicious tidbit, in which thoughts are held, ideals are bibbled, and Hugh Laurie thinks Stephen Fry said “vulva.”

Peep Show Series 1: Having Fun With the Olives

Dear CF,

You’re so right about the haziness of the impression PS leaves behind. Maybe it’s because it’s so conversational—things aren’t punctuated even as much as they are in the BBC Office, which gives Brent the Talking Head moments to really showcase his one-liners. Here, though, it’s sort of a delicious stream-of-consciousness sequence in which one delightful discomfort quickly displaces the one that came before. You’re enjoying Mark’s fantasy of crushing the small scary boys outside (why, incidentally, do they call him Clean Shirt?) when BOOM! you’re on the floor looking up into Toni’s face, disfigured with rage over her failure to get Alpen. Next thing you know, you’re watching her eat, her forehead shiny and enlarged, and somewhere, a poo retreats.

I share most of your favorite moments, and thought a few were worth reproducing here.

Mark Moments:

  • “I am the lord of the bus, said he!”
  • “Where is she? Knickers, she’s not on here.”
  • “Of course, she’s giving you the book-off. People don’t want your hands on their bottoms, Mark.”
  • “I don’t want to go to Weight Pros. I want a fuckbuddy.”
  • “The longbow beats the crossbow, my idiotic friend.”
  • “I wonder what kind of socks Sophie wears. Do women wear socks? Well, yes, sometimes, that’s the answer to that. Socks before or after trousers, but never socks before pants. That’s the rule. Makes a man look scary, like a chicken.”
  • “People like him should wear stickers! They’ve got them for their cars. Oh yeah, great idea, Adolf.”
  • (Aloud): “Later, potat-er.” Potat-er. What have I become?
  • “Okay, pen, let’s flirt with Sophie. … Come on. Go crazy. You’re hungry, like the wolf!”

Super Hans Moment:

  • “Oh, so Mr. Fucking Ocean-Color Pants doesn’t get it. Quel fucking surprise.”

Jeremy Moments:

  • “I’m a dirty hobbit and she’s a sexy elf. So she might be “Oh, you dirty hobbit, take off my bodkin and my jerkin. Oh yeah, sexy ears. … Yeah, yield to me, hobbit-slayer. You will touch my magic cock.”
  • “Oh Toni, I feel incredibly tired. Let’s just both lie down on your bed. I hope she gets out the bong, not the fucking cafettiere.” (Next scene: her with the cafettiere.)
  • “Well, yeah, I mean it’s first pressing. Or do you want to wait until everyone else has had their fun with the olives? Fourth pressing. Yeah, like that’s gonna be a party in your mouth, I don’t think.”

Great Exchange #1:

  • Jez: “How thick is wall?”
    Mark: “Depends.”
    (Pause.)
    Mark: “So. What Starbucks does she go to?”

The grocery list, which I must reproduce in full:

  • “I’m making chicken tikka. Plus, I bought us loads of great stuff. Dune on DVD, Bakewell slices, gin, and Sara Lee.”
  • Mark’s optimism is so touching here, and his disappointment when he says the following is an instance, I think, of your point that their delivery is sometimes nothing short of brilliant:

  • “Oh, right. I see. I get it. You were lampooning me. It was a simple lampoon.”

Great Exchange #2

  • Jez: “You’re a posh spaz.”
    Mark (overenunciating): “Oh, really? Well, I’d love to know in what way am I a posh spaz?
    Jez: “In the way you’re always doing posh spazzy things like tidying up and ironing your socks.”
    Mark (outraged): “I do not iron my socks!”
    Jez (cocking his head): “Socks, shirts. Whatever!”

Scenes:

  • The bathtub conversation—yes. Why did we never do this?
  • Mark’s delight in his toast routine, and how he’s actually pulling a fast one because he happens to love wheat toast.
  • Jez idly stabbing at the toaster with a knife while Mark’s telling him about a job opportunity.

Pyramid-Selling Great Exchanges:

  • Toni: “I mean does that look like a pyramid to you? Clearly it’s not a pyramid, it’s a pie.”
    Jez: “It’s like a big lovely club with free money for everyone. I mean it sounds great, but—”
    Toni (schoolmarmishly): “Free money for everyone, ha. Look out the window, Jeremy. That’s never gonna happen, not in this old world. No. See, the early birds are going to find their bird table covered with money pie.”
    Jez, after a pause: “Right.”
    Toni: “But the Johnny and Sally-come-latelies, they’ll get a slice of the pie, but then they look closer, and oh dear, it’s only pastry. Boohoo, Johnny and Sally! Are you with me?”
  • Later, Jez in the bathtub, Mark sitting on toilet:

  • Jez: “Are you trying to piss on my bonfire?”
    Mark: “I’m trying to protect you from pissing all over yourself.
    Jez: “I’m not about to piss all over myself. I’m pissing into the—big time.”
    Mark: “You’re still coming to the interview.”
    Jez: “Yeah, well, I thought–”
    Mark: “Listen, Jeremy. You don’t seem to understand. Nothing you want is ever going to happen. That’s the real world. Your hair isn’t red, people don’t walk around on stilts. Maybe somewhere you can earn money drinking margaritas through a curly plastic straw, but in this world you’ve got to turn up, log on and grind down.”
    (Helps Jez fill his glass from the shower head.)

I think Episode 2 might be my favorite.

Mark’s incredible range between know-it-all high-horsiness and humiliated paralysis is so real–they strike an amazing balance between the impulses that make somebody a righteous prig and a sad little ball of insecurity who regularly imagines that “nothing this bad has happened to anyone, ever,” and switches in the next second to “this is the best thing that has happened to anyone ever!” Which might in the end be about wheat toast. Mark’s non sequiturs and small delights are so much more satisfying than Jez’s because he wants to resist them so badly. His lapses of self-consciousness are so pleasant; how nice, we think, that he forgot himself and actually enjoyed something for a second.

I like, too, that nothing that works for Jez works for Mark. Jez’s whole system—“maybe if I don’t think about it, it didn’t happen,” and vice versa—is based on a sort of anarchic splattering of everything with Jezness in the hope that some of it sticks, and some of it does.

Why is it that Mark is actually comfortable, relaxed, even kind of witty with the goth girl? Is it her youth? Her gothness? Her evident willingness to accept him just as he is and evaluate him according to his own miserable standard and still hang out with him?

Fondly,
Millicent

The Glories and The Bad Thing

Dear Millicent,

So, I am not yet through all of Peep Show season 1, but in my half review, I remembered how the first time I watched the show, it made for a particular syndrome for me.  I would watch and laugh aloud, sure that they were some of the funniest things I had seen in awhile, and then not be able to remember any of the punchlines.   It is almost as if Peep Show is simply too much.  We get the effect of the drug, the afterglow, but the actual stimuli is more of a blur than anything apropriate to later recall in conversation (perhaps like orgasms or dreams).  This was, of course, until I started watching this time with pencil and paper in hand.  These, so far, are things that have, as they say, cracked me up:

  • The first scene of Jez (Jess?) telling himself how awesome he is in the mirror.
  • The list of makeup groceries Mark has planned for Jez. So very normal, so tender.
  • Drinking in the bathroom! Why did we never take to our bathroom like a long lost bar? That moment of scotch in the bathroom made me homesick for life with roommates.
  • Mark’s glee at finding shelter in the supply closet–“I’m in the Ardennes!”
  • Speaking of drinking in the bathroom, the brilliant timing of Jez laughing at his own interior monologue. And then, asking for more water from their pathetic sink shower nozzle thing.
  • Mark’s note of “Ha! You’re not going to help with small talk, fine then. Let’s all die together.”
  • Jez, at a party in episode 3, about how it’s the 21rst century, and olive oil is a definite small talk subject.
  • THE BAD THING.  A: well, it’s funnier than anything expected, and  B: the genius of thinking of smoking a bunch of cigarettes through a sub sandwich. So innocent in relation to the real bad thing, but so delightfully absurd.

Why is this glee so sharp? Is it because they handle the POV so well, and the timing as deftly as Gervais and Merchant delivered in The Office? Is it because they nail anxiety and delusion is a way that Seinfeld only hinted at? Is it because the props and references are painfully, wonderfully exact? Is it because they say “pedo” all the time, and there is a character named Big Suze?

Like crack, as Super Hans (why not Super Hands? it wouldn’t not make sense for his character)  would say, it has a more-ish taste.

I kinda love all of them, and will do my duty and watch more pronto,

CF