‘The Complete Man’ Offers a Masculine Take on the Poisonously Sexist, Old-Timey Awfulness of Yesteryear
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I was such a big fan of The Complete Woman, Amanda Lund’s brilliant satire of 1950s and 1960s-style institutional misogyny and cultural repression, that I not only wrote about it for this column, but I wrote about its sequel Complete Joy as well. It went beyond that. I was so morbidly fascinated by, and impressed with, the sad, sour, tragicomic universe Lund created in her two mini-series masterpieces as deeply sad self-help guru Marabel May that I actually went and read and wrote about The Total Woman, the surprise bestseller that very directly inspired Lund’s retro satires for my website.
I was surprised and overjoyed to discover that the real-world inspiration for Lund’s pointed comedy was, if anything, infinitely crazier than its parody. Morgan’s book essentially encouraged wives to change everything about them for the sake of pleasing their partner. Morgan’s Total Woman is equal parts impossible sex fantasy, tireless cheerleader, uncomplaining servant, and willing slave. Morgan encouraged women to sublimate their own needs and desires for the sake of their God-like husbands. The masochistic romance manual argued that if women only devoted every waking moment of their day to serving their husband, then hubby won’t have any choice but to treat them with the respect they desperately crave.
As you might imagine, I was also excited about the release of a Complete Woman spin-off called The Complete Man written and starring podcast all-star Matt Gourley (who perhaps not so coincidentally is Lund’s real-life partner) as Marabel May’s husband Freck. But I was also a little skeptical. After all, The Complete Woman and Complete Joy are brilliant satires of old-school sexism. It seemed counter-intuitive to have a spin-off of a satire of sexism devoted to a dude. So it took me a while to actually listen to The Complete Man despite my enormous fondness for the series.
It turns out, not surprisingly, that I should have trusted Gourley’s instincts over my own. The Complete Man isn’t as essential and doesn’t cut as deep as the earlier entries in the franchise, but it nevertheless more than justifies its peculiar, unexpected existence. Fans of The Complete Woman get an opportunity to know Freck as the genially terrible, deeply closeted husband of the mini-series’ anti-heroine Marabel May.
Although not to the extent of the female-centered entries, The Complete Man is about the awful, extreme price we pay, and have historically paid through the decades, for enforcing rigid, cruel gender roles that do not allow for the fragility of the human psyche, nor the unfathomably complicated nature of gender and identity. Like his wife, with whom he “enjoys” an aggressively sexless marriage, Freck is at once victim and victimizer. Just as Marabel nursed a semi-secret desire to escape the stifling repression of her everyday life and sing her pain out loud, Freck continually denigrates poets, and poetry and dancing, in ways that do little to betray his own intense but buried desire to express himself not through his golf game or lawn, but through his poetry.
Gourley has a gentle, soothing voice that makes the awful things Freck says seem incongruously pleasant. He plays Freck as a man who, in another, kinder era, would be able to fully embrace his identity as an elfin gay poet but who feels compelled to fulfill a conception of masculinity so impossible no one could live up to it, but especially not a sensitive wisp of a man like Freck.
Like The Complete Woman and Complete Joy, The Complete Man depicts the long-ago United States that Trump and his minions depict as a beaming golden age of prosperity and peace as a grim, sad dystopia of epidemic self-loathing and repression. Freck and Marabel are theoretically dedicated to their families, but neither seems to know how many children they have, or what their names are.
The Mays are so obsessed with keeping up appearances and looking good for the neighbors that they ignore their own spiritual needs. They’re smiling and peppy on the outside even as they’re dead on the inside.
The Complete Man feels looser and more improvised than Complete Joy and The Complete Woman. The characters break character often enough by laughing at what their fellow improvisers are saying so often and so unashamedly that the out-of-character chuckling, or “corpsing,” begins to feel intentional. The mini-series similarly breaks from the reality of its 1960s setting with wildly anachronistic references to entertainment like Thelma & Louise.
The Complete Man is the least essential of the three mini-series in the Complete Woman universe. The Complete Woman saga would have been complete even without Freck representing for all the sexually confused, closeted fellas out there, but this is nonetheless a worthy addition to one of the funniest, deepest, and saddest ongoing podcast sagas in existence.
Nathan Rabin is a father, the author of 5 books, a columnist and the proprietor, owner, Editor-in-Chief and sole writer for Nathan Rabin’s Happy Place, which can be found at nathanrabin.com.