Ah, the ladies. I know a thing or two about them. Mainly because I am one of them. I think.
I did find a hair growing on my chin that may be the first indication of a beard. But, nevertheless, I’m fairly certain I retain all the requisite parts: fallopian tubes, mammary glands and an extra set of toes. I own an apron. I know how to cook. Sure, that apron may have Benito Mussolini bedazzled in rhinestones, and maybe the only thing I’ve ever managed to cook are pop tarts, and once I boiled a sea lion skull I found on the beach (I didn’t eat it. For decoration only). But, Mussolini’s delicious and despite these shortcomings, I’m still a girl.
My kind are well-represented on television. There are plenty of ladies strutting their stuff on the small screen. From Tina Fey’s lovable loser Liz Lemon to devil spawn Chelsea Handler to glorified dress hanger Vanna White. Unfortunately, the numbers decrease when it comes to writers and producers. According to an article by former CollegeHumor staffer and current SNL writer Sarah Schneider, “Of the 27 creators responsible for the 15 sitcoms currently running on primetime, only three are women.” It’s a dismal statistic, but that was 2011. It’s 2012 now: The Year of the “Girl.”
Now that “Bridesmaids” has freed women from the curse of Jerry “Women Aren’t Funny” Lewis, the 2011-2012 television season has ushered forth a deluge of damsels in the sitcom arena.
There’s Fox’s “New Girl,” CBS’ “2 Broke Girls” and recently, the trailer was released for HBO’s upcoming “Girls.” All are created (co-created in the case of “2 Broke Girls”) by women and all feature, as the titles ham-fistedly suggest, ladies doing funny things. So, what’s different about these girls? Why now?
The title and protagonist of Fox’s “New Girl” signifies something novel about the type of woman we are seeing on screen. Played by anthropomorphized cream puff Zooey Deschanel, Jess Day is the kind of chick not often found on screen. She’s the embodiment of quirky (Fuck, I hate that word). She sings to herself, makes other uncomfortable and calls testicles “bubbles.” She’s weird. I get it. And it’s a credit to the show’s creator Elizabeth Meriwether that Jess comes off as empathetic instead of just enervating. Because women are flawed just as well as men.
The problem is that Jess isn’t a woman. She’s a girl like the title tells us. She’s immature and often infantilized by semi-developed character traits like her inability to say the word “penis” without laughing. And, to be honest, I’m about as immature as it comes. I ordered a book called “The Cultural History of the Fart” only last night.
But then, I’m not on television — thankfully. If I were on TV, people would hate me. Like Jess, I’d be a conglomeration of frustratingly weird behavioral ticks, not a three-dimensional person with fully-formed thoughts and feelings.
The sitcom rarely allows for this kind of character depth and if a show has the objective of representing women differently, like I’m assuming these new programs do, then there is a problem. The media world (TV, film, even commercials) is entirely fixated on these 20-something losers found in the world of Judd Apatow movies that their translation to sitcoms was inevitable. After all, that’s where Apatow began.
But in films like “Bridesmaids” (apparently the sacred bible for funny ladies), characters have a longer time to develop and appear as more than just a contrived set of annoying habits. We can get a sense of their interiority in a way that the sitcom format doesn’t always allow.
I’m not saying that women can’t be funny or mature on television. They can. Tina Fey and Amy Poehler are the champions of this. But, despite all these shows dedicated to the purpose of reflecting women in their totality (weirdness and all), those two traits are seldom found together.
It remains to be seen whether Lena Dunham and her show “Girls” can pull this off. Maybe they will, maybe I’m bitter. Maybe it’s PMS.