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Single Ladies By Sundi

There is certainly no shortage of young, funny women on tv this season. You can stop on any channel and see these ladies running a bustling medical practice, single-handedly making dorky sexy, and even successfully moving back in with her parents. Single women are having a moment, and it is hard to pin down whether this kind of character has  come along as a result of a cultural shift or if we are just now noticing how funny girls can be (consider the success of Bridesmaids as the catalyst for this realization). Maybe those two things are the same. Nonetheless, all the single ladies to which I refer can be found in some of the network’s funniest and smartest shows. The Fox Network is leading the charge with The Mindy Project and New Girl and ABC has How to live with your Parents (for the rest of your life). These three shows might single-handedly remind us how funny women are. While all three characters are different in their own right, it is their particular brand of feminine-centered comedy that strikes a chord with me, and I believe that is the capital appeal among the target demographic.  

 

Mindy Kaling has finally found a character in which, much like Lena Dunham’s Hannah, there is an coexistence of extreme confidence with crippling self-doubt. This makes us relate to her; and instead of laughing at her, we are laughing with her. Last week’s episode featured Mindy training for a triathlon in which she assures her teammates she can run a fifteen-minute mile. We know she can’t do it, and she knows she can’t do, but it is endearing to see her bravado and indignation at the suggestion that she can’t. It is also pretty awesome when she pukes at the end of the episode after a short sprint. This is fearless acting, as I see it. Few other female characters can claim such a nuanced psyche and flesh out the dynamics of even the most subtle of female dynamics AND become a master at self-deprecating humor.  While sharing a scene with the beautiful and ephemeral Chloe Sevigny, Mindy is approached by a group of construction workers. She is astounded that they are coming to the more “beautiful” women’s aid; going so far as to ask her if Mindy is bothering her. Mindy has the confidence to be outraged, but the insecurity to allow it to bother her. This is the new kind of woman on television. One that can be sad, or pathetic, or weird, or a mess, and we can still love her. We still root for her, and we still think she is wonderful.

 

The weird coalesces with the wonderful with Fox’s Jess on New Girl . When this show first started airing, the phrase “a-dork-able” was thrown around quite a bit.  When, in our lifetimes, has it ever been sexy for a woman to be dorky? Can I please pause for a second to say, “Thank you,” to Zooey Dechanel for opening the door for girl-nerds?!! This is a whole new brand of “girl power” feminism; the likes of which we have never seen. Tuesday’s episode was a flashback episode where each character shared stories of their first times, and Jess’ was embarrassing, and funny and completely without the hokey nostalgia or the feminist subtext. Jess, as the main female lead, is both a highly feminist character AND a rebel to feminist establishment. She pokes fun at traditional female empowerment, recalling how her and her prom date were the founding and only members of the “Gender Equality Society.” They both asked each other to the prom and they both said yes, “in the spirit of gender equality.” This quickly turns satirical  as he is trying to separate her from her dress with meek-mouthed pleas such as, “I’m going to take off your dress. Do I have your permission?” After much fumbling and awkward misses, she yells, “Just be a man and rip it off,” firmly cementing her place as the anti-heroine.

 

While the character of Jess is loosely a symbol for the evolving ideals of what sexy is, what funny is and what it means to be both, Sarah Chalke is back on network television in a role that is not entirely new or particularly ground-breaking, but is worth watching, nonetheless. Worth watching because her character Polly is failing so beautifully at life that the audience will forgive her anything. The many neuroses that make up her character make me much more inclined to forgive the parenting cliches and voice-over life lessons the show forces on the viewer. Polly; however, is another incarnation of the dazzling mess that rings a little truer than her counterparts on other channels. The fact that she makes bad decisions concerning her daughter, feels damaged by her parents’ self-centered take on child-rearing, yet still hauls out the lingerie to intrigue her new love interest feels more familiar than any other character out there. I am happy to overlook the goofy and completely implausible relationship with the ex-husband, the over-sexed grandparents and the awkward supporting cast, because Polly encapsulates this new idea of television-women: those that are messy, and flawed, and have conflicted feelings about their lives; the kind of women that you’re friends with, that you’re related you, and that you might be yourself.

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Page updated 6/7/13

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