Splitsider

Monday, December 26th, 2011

2011: The Year of Women in Sitcoms, at Least According to the Liberal Media

Man Up! Last Man Standing. Two and a Half Men. In my day, it was Three Men and they didn’t even need a woman to raise a baby. These days, television is chock full of emasculated male heroes, trying to muddle through somehow in a woman’s world. What’s that Beyonce? Who run the world? Girls? I’m pretty sure that’s what the Equal Rights Amendment was all about, castrating the other sex. Or being like them enough so we can become them and overtake them? I don’t know. I didn’t take women’s studies; I had boyfriends. High five, Dr. Pepper Ten and Light Beer Commercials! Boobs.

I am pretty tired of the whole Girls Aren’t Funny/Girls Are Funny Too conversation. Frankly, I find the excessive coverage of women “really doing it” in the comedy boy’s club kind of patronizing. I’m always excited to see ladies breaking through the laugh ceiling, and encouragement for more women to try is also important. But, this obsession with “look at this funny woman doing it just like the boys do,” is just putting lipstick on the same problem pig. On the flip side, I think we can put a moratorium on discussing Whitney’s awfulness. For women, for comedy, for NBC’s promo team. Enough. These things tend to kill themselves without more of our bullet holes. Unless they’re on CBS. Then they live forever.

Leading up to this fall television season, there was a maelstrom of hype about all the new female-centric shows and the new show runners that didn’t have a third arm dangling between their legs. Great! Yes! We go girls! As long as these shows didn’t just reinforce gender stereotypes and were, you know, actually funny. The latter is much harder to do with any new sitcom no matter what genital hangs behind its creation.

With shows like Lena Dunham’s Girls premiering on HBO and the return of 30 Rock in 2012, I have a feeling all this “look at you up there, doing your little sitcom thing” for women in comedy is going to stick around for a bit longer. I just sincerely hope by 2013 we don’t have to make the distinction anymore. Then we can focus on actual problems in primetime, like a total lack of diversity.

But who am I kidding? The future of women in sitcoms hinges entirely on the new laugh-at-men-dressed-as-women-you-dumb-animals sitcom Work It. And humanity, for that matter.

I may be a hypocrite for railing against the singling out of women in sitcoms, and then putting together a retrospective about women in sitcoms. But I wanted to highlight a few of the shows and ladies who are just killing it. Not as girls, but as comedians. The power of positivity, people!

And if my inability to control my emotions or chocolate cravings tempers what I write don’t blame me, blame my period. Whoops, I just got a job writing for Whitney. (Last one, I promise).

The N00bz

Up All Night
Created by former SNL writer Emily Spivey, Up All Night is probably one of my favorite new shows this year. It might be influenced by my undying love for Christina Applegate, who I will follow to the ends of the earth (read: The Sweetest Thing). But with seasoned pros like Maya Rudolph and Will Arnett rounding out the cast, the show had all the ingredients for success. It had good enough ratings to earn a full season — though with NBC that’s not saying much — and will probably benefit from The Office bump when it moves to Thursday nights in January. Let’s make it the hit it deserves to be.

What’s great about the show is that it flips a convention without relying on the role reversal for all its jokes. Unlike a show like Work It in which cross-dressing is the joke, Will Arnett’s character is a stay-at-home dad but the show does not find humor in emasculating him. Instead, it opts for poking fun at yuppie parents desperately trying to stay cool and Oprah. The episodes are still hit or miss, but the show has way too much heart and talent to not grow into something beautiful.

New Girl
Adorkable should be stricken from our public consciousness. It’s a sandwiched portmanteau that threatened to completely overshadow this new show. Deschanel’s character Jess is not so much “adorkable” as kind of a crazy kook, and the more the show embraced that fact the better it got. Created by Liz Meriweather, a member of the so-called Fempire, New Girl certainly has its flaws, but also so much darn charm I can’t help but watch it every week. I’m still not sure whether it’s a guilty pleasure or a good show, but there’s always at least one moment each week that makes me laugh out loud. Usually it’s the douche-bag dork Schmidt, though Jake Johnson as the cranky Nick is someone who I think might be very famous one day.

Either way, I am curious enough about the show’s development to watch every week, and if it continues the upward trend of rewarding this curiosity, then I forecast a bright and sunny twee future for New Girl.

Enlightened
From the minds of Laura Dern and Mike White. What more do I need to say? In each episode, this show presents the kind of uncomfortable, unpleasant comedy Young Adult only wishes it could achieve. Dern plays a corporate executive who suffers a pretty epic mental breakdown, goes to Hawaii to get her head right and then must come back to her old life. It poses the question of whether this idea of enlightenment is just smoke and mirrors or if people can actually change. Heavy stuff for a comedy, but worth every minute.

Melissa McCarthy
Mike and Molly has been on the air for a while, but it was her scene-stealing turn in Bridesmaids that took McCarthy to a whole new level. She won an Emmy, she hosted SNL and then she sold a pilot to CBS about a woman having a spectacular mid-life crisis. Yes, please.

Jury’s Out

2 Broke Girls
Created by Whitney Cummings, starring a stereotype-busting Kat Dennings and go-to show for tasteless rape jokes. It’s the #1 new comedy this season so far, which means it will definitely have a few more seasons to evolve.

Suburgatory
Created by Emily Kapnek, featuring breakout performance by Jane Levy and a new vehicle for the always-sublime Cheryl Hines, the show has played to mixed reviews from critics. But with its strong supporting cast and a little time, Suburgatory could become the next great ensemble comedy.

Still Got It

30 Rock
Naturally.

Parks and Recreation
Knope 2012.

Happy Endings
I’m not buying the claim that this show will be the new Friends, but Casey Wilson is a dream and the ensemble continues to have great chemistry.

Mindy Kaling
Personally, I’ve never liked The Office, but I’ve always loved Kelly Kapoor. With a successful new book, a slew of film and TV development deals, Mindy Kaling has still got it and will probably be getting even more in the coming years.

Jane Lynch
Glee? Whatever. But she hosted the Emmy’s and her Nook commercials are dominating my Hulu Plus account. As far as I’m concerned, she’s always had it, she’s still got it and I hope she stays on television forever. Somebody get her to CBS, stat.

Laura Turner Garrison sometimes writes commercials, she sometimes writes comedy, but she always rights wrongs.

  • kevinmeagher

    I can't hate. Female-driven comedy busted more balls than Joan Rivers this season. My favorite over-achiever was New Girl. Zoey handled her own AND the writing was fantastic. Stillll a little on the fence about 2 Broke Girls but they give me enough JO material for a year.

  • Anthony Coro

    Kudos for the Happy Endings mention, but while Casey Wilson deserves all the praise she gets for her portrayal of Penny (I swear, if I ever see her walking down the street, I will go up without saying a word and give her a massive, inappropriately long bear hug to apologize for all my misguided remarks about her comedic ability from her SNL stint), I think critics and fans have overlooked the sheer brilliance of Eliza Coupe (Jane). She steals every scene she's in, which is quite a feat given the strength of Casey, Damon Wayans Jr and Adam Pally (and the other two are consistently improving their funny factor). I've had a comedy crush on her from the moment I saw her in Scrubs…I honestly think she's the best comedic actress of our generation.

    • Anna Jayne@twitter

      @Anthony Coro agreed. Eliza Coupe always makes the funniest/best/most interesting choice possible with each line/gesture/instance of her fingers ending up in her mouth.

  • ladyfriend@twitter

    I've given it a fair chance, but I still can't stomach the Jess character in "New Girl." What are meant to be adorable ticks instead play off as something…perhaps diagnosable? It's borderline offensive, having a cute female lead thrust at us who I in no way believe could have gotten to that point in her social life (let alone career) with so little self-awareness.

    But of course she lives in L.A., where everyone has a best friend who's a model. And "Dirty Dancing" as a post-breakup movie? really? There's no subtlety! Nothing original! Man, I really hate this show that I regularly watch while hungover.