It’s not something I like to admit, but I’m a bit of a TV buff. I’m snobby about it; I don’t watch much network TV and I watch zero reality shows, unless you count “Jeopardy.” (Though I did go through a “Project Runway” phase.)
The reason I Don’t Even Try with network TV is the typical blandness of the casts–everyone is so pretty, so thin, so perfectly coiffed they end up all looking the same. It can be hard enough to suspend disbelief when the writing is shaky (“Lost”) or d0wnright corny (“Falling Skies”); it gets painful to watch when everyone looks flawless, even if they’ve just run through the jungle and swam through a muddy, parasite-infested river. Why painful? Because I keep rolling my eyes, wondering how stupid and superficial the producers think we are.
Example: the new show “Agents of Shield.” I won’t watch it, because I stared at the subway ads for months, examining how similar everyone looks:
Why all the leather and skintight pants? And zero body fat? And grimaces? And lack of true representation of the diversity of the human race?
And, yes, I’m about to go there: “Game of Thrones'” Robb Stark and Theon Greyjoy. Sure, they’re nice to look at, but sometimes I get them mixed up, and don’t know who’s good or bad or from the North or the Iron Islands. (I still don’t know who Stannis is, and why he’s always hanging out with that hot redhead (that is Stannis, right? *Sighs*).)
The same problem exists on television news, and not surprisingly, especially with the XX chromosome-set. Frizzy or short or grey or curly or pulled back or anything-but-blown-out-straight-and-shiny hair is apparently the TV anchor’s anti-Christ. And forget about having dark skin, let alone a visible blemish, double chin, wrinkle or under eye circle. Those are all too human, apparently.
But! Possible good news on the horizon?! As Anand Giridharadas writes in today’s New York Times, A New Image of Female Authenticity, there’s a promising new trend afoot among many televisions shows, even those on network stations: imperfect *female* characters, who are not just not-pretty, they are, at times, downright frumpy. The apex frumptress being Lena Dunham, whose brazen display of her not-size-4, frizzy-headed, tattooed body on HBO’s Girls actually pisses people off. It’s a reaction that shows how much we’ve lost touch with reality: That, hey people, our imperfections and differences are what make us interesting. (I suspect a lot of the anger stems from jealousy… that Dunham, who writes and produces the series, is so talented it doesn’t matter what she looks like. Is that even allowed of American women?)
Giridharadas mentions several other faves of mine, like the fantastic Orange is the New Black. Granted, the hairstyles of two of the lead actresses (Piper and Alex) is suspiciously clean and shiny–they’re in federal prison, people–but most of the cast look like real human females. This commitment to paint realistic characters goes a long way into sucking you into each episode, and you find yourself envisioning yourself there, cowering from the seasoned inmates, plucking at your soggy cornbread.
And then there’s Tina Fey and her deeply self-deprecating Liz Lemon on “30 Rock,” and Mindy Kaling’s Dr. Mindy on “The Mindy Show.” Without their flaws, these characters wouldn’t just be bland, they’d basically cease to exist.
“And now I am heading home for a nooner—which is what I like to call having pancakes for lunch,” is typical of the things Liz says. This joke subtly explains why the women-laughing-while-eating-salad meme was such a viral hit, how our expectations of women are absurd enough that there is a huge pile of stock photos devoted entirely to women experiencing euphoria while eating “leaf piles” (<–that’s Ron Swanson‘s term, not mine, but I agree with the summation). In other words, how eating pancakes becomes funny.
These funny-AND-frumpy-AND-female characters are signs of progress. (And really, they’re not that frumpy, just not-perfect, but that’s not as aptly alliterative, amigos.)
However, I won’t be satisfied until I see a network news anchor with the hair of my favorite Orange character, Nicky.
- ‘The Mindy Project’ fills the void that ’30 Rock’ left behind. Mindy is the new Liz Lemon. (megoblog.typepad.com)