TV: Orange is the New Black’s Morello’s Fractured Relationship with Romance*.

OITNB-Bath-Bride

One of the most explosive backstories on this season of Orange is the New Black has been Lorna Morello’s.

The Italian-American, played by Australian actress Yael Stone, is presumably in prison for credit card fraud, as the opening segments of her life before Litchfield in episode four of the second season that aired last night on Showcase would indicate. We see a Jersey Shore-esque Morello returning to her chaotic familial home after seeing Twilight at the cinema for the “14th time”. She retreats from her accusatory sister, ignorant father, wayward nieces and nephews and sick mother to her bedroom which is adorned with posters of West Side Story (the classic tale of Romeo & Juliet in 1950s New York, with a healthy serving of racism, which Morello is inclined to dish out), male celebrities and wedding collages. She pauses to caress the glossy face of one of them before calling a mail-order luxury clothing company to request a refund for the patchwork Prada platforms she’s currently wearing but claims she never received.

Many of the women of OITNB have been busted for financial fraud—Sophia and Gloria come to mind—so it seems logical that Morello would be in for a similar crime. But as the episode progresses, it is revealed that Morello’s inner demons are much more extensive. During a trip to the post office to retrieve parcels of designer goods she’ll no doubt attempt to get reimbursed for, she “literally crashes into” the infamous Chris-tuh-phuh, as Morello pronounces it. Christopher promptly asks her out for a coffee after their meet-cute, and the rest is history, if the future Litchfield inmate is to be believed.

The juxtaposition between the following flashback scenes—Morello getting ready for a weekend away with Christopher and her trial on charges of stalking, harassment, violating a restraining order and credit card fraud—illustrates the fractured reality she exists in. Despite Christopher electing not to pursue Lorna after their first date, Morello still believes they’re together years later.

Stone plays Morello so sympathetically the audience feels sorry for her when we—or at least her fellow inmates—should approach with caution. The consensus at Litchfield seems to be that Morello’s fantastical romance with Christopher may not be etched in truth and word slowly starts to get around that her former “fiancé” is marrying another woman. When you’re bonding with Crazy Eyes (whom the show is taking pains in its second season not to fetishise and to address by her given name, Suzanne) about unrequited love, it’s clear that something’s not quite right.

Morello’s abovementioned childlike room, her harping on about how her and Christopher’s romance is “meant to be”, like something out of Notting Hill, Pretty Woman or Cinderella, and her psychotic break that sees her stealing the prison van to break into Christopher’s marital home, shows just how damaging society’s “wedding industrial complex and… [its] need to infantalise grown women”, as Nicky puts it, can be. It’s also an all-too-common one drummed into Western women everywhere they turn.

In a recent Buzzfeed longread, Anne Helen Peterson dissects the films based on Nicholas Sparks’ novels and their contribution to a Taylor Swiftian world where men perform romance and women have it thrust upon them:

“… Many women (and some men) use Sparks narratives to replace the lack of emotional intimacy and satisfaction in their own lives and, as a result, cultivate unrealistic ideals about what a relationship—and love—should resemble…

“The Sparks narrative offers a life—and a love story nested within it—that extracts its protagonist from [the concerns of everyday life] and consolidates the demands of life into one, simple task: Open yourself to love, and love in return.”

In a way Morello is like the mirror image of the Santa Barbara shooter, Elliot Rodger: the same but opposite. Rodger took his anger at his lack of attention from women—spurred on by porn and men’s rights forums—out on the female population in general in the most violent way, whereas Morello continues her stereotypically feminine obsession with romance and fixates on one man, dangerously crafting an alternate life with him. In Morello’s fictional existence no one died, but that’s not to say she didn’t try to kill anyone. (In the courtroom she is accused of strapping a homemade bomb to Christopher’s fiancé’s car.) Think that’s too heavy handed a tar with the same brush? They are both criminals with mental health issues, after all.

In one of the closing scenes of the season, Morello simplistically attempts to explain to the cancer-stricken Miss Rosa the plot of one of her favourite movies, Toy Story (again with the juvenile interests. Though, to be fair, Toy Story has universal appeal.) Her warped grasp of the children’s classic leads Rosa to exclaim, “You have one fucked up view of the world, kid!”

*Blanket spoiler alert.

Related: Physical & Mental Health on Orange is the New Black.

Taylor Swift—The Perfect Victim.

Elsewhere: [Buzzfeed] Why Nicholas Sparks Matters Now.

Image via Bitch Flicks.

Leaning In to Grey’s Anatomy*.

ELLEN POMPEO, PATRICK DEMPSEY

Grey’s Anatomy is one of the more feminist shows currently on the air. Hell, it’s created by Shonda Rhimes (she of Scandal and Grey’s spin-off, Private Practice, fame), a big champion of woman-centric storytelling on TV.

Across its ten season run, Grey’s has dealt with parenting, childlessness, abortion, romantic relationships—both heterosexual and otherwise, illness, loss, friendship and career mostly through the eyes of its female protagonist, Meredith Grey, and her colleagues, friends and family: Cristina, Izzie, Lexie, Callie, Arizona, April, Addison, Bailey and so on. This season, though, seemed to really tap into the oft-mentioned feminist issue of “having it all” (meaning kids and career) and what happens when a woman shuns that path.

Early on this season tensions were brewing between Meredith and Cristina when Meredith gave birth to her second child, Bailey, named after Dr. Miranda Bailey who helped deliver him, and leant out of the surgery game. As Meredith’s life became increasingly family oriented, Cristina felt alienated from “her person”, with whom she used to compete for surgeries and get drunk on tequila at Joe’s bar. This is not to suggest that just because Cristina doesn’t want children (a character consistency since season one) she’s not involved in that part of Meredith’s life: Cristina is often shown caring for and engaging with Meredith’s daughter Zola. But this story arc illustrates that having two children is a lot different than parenting just one (cue Elizabeth Banks-style outrage over mothers of one child being less than mothers of more) and Meredith’s redirected attention certainly takes its toll on her friendship with Cristina.

This comes to a head in episode six of this season when Meredith chooses to continue her mother’s portal vein research using 3D printers (which Cristina later co-ops for one of her groundbreaking medical coups). This is partly because of Cristina’s recriminations in the previous episode, “I Bet It Stung”, that Meredith doesn’t do as many surgeries or as much research as Cristina because she chose to lean in to her children. There is much talk about “choosing valid choices” but ultimately Meredith identifies an impasse between the two friends and surgeons because Cristina doesn’t “have time for people who want things” that she doesn’t want.

meredith cristina april's wedding grey's anatomy

Business continues much this way until April’s wedding, in the episode “Get Up, Stand Up”, in which Meredith and Cristina are both featured as bridesmaids. During a dress fitting, Cristina takes issue with Meredith calling her “a horrible person, over and over… because I don’t want a baby”. Harkening back to their very first day on the job, Meredith accuses Cristina of sleeping her way to the top, while Cristina retorts that in her struggle to maintain work/life balance, Meredith’s “become the thing we laughed at.” By episode’s end, Meredith acknowledges her envy of Cristina’s surgical trial successes:

“I’m so jealous of you I want to set things on fire. You did what I tried to do and I couldn’t… I don’t want to compete with you… but I do.”

Come the shows’ mid-season return, Meredith and Cristina’s friendship is back on track, with them bonding over Meredith’s anger at her husband Derek reneging on their agreement to focus more on Meredith’s career upon her realisation that she doesn’t want it to slip by the wayside in the wake of motherhood. They do this while drinking wine and looking after the kids at Mere’s place while Derek’s out of town.

Derek’s absence throughout the season, in Washington D.C. on business at the behest of the President (I know!), is juxtaposed with Meredith’s desire to be an attentive mother, which she didn’t have growing up and was the cause of many of her ills, whilst balancing her first love of medicine. In last season’s “Beautiful Doom”, Meredith worries about leaving Zola in the care of others while she operates. Callie, a working mother herself, assures Meredith that “it’s good for Zola to see you work. It’s good for her to see you achieve. That’s how she becomes you.” The season finale sees Meredith decide to stay in Seattle despite Derek accepting a job in Washington D.C. She doesn’t want to become her father, who was a “trailing spouse” to her abovementioned mother.

grey's anatomy do you know cristina yang

As far as Cristina’s concerned, though, her ex-husband Owen’s desire for a family is what’s kept them in flux from on-again to off-again for the better part of the past three seasons. In the Sliding Doors-esque episode “Do You Know?” Cristina is given the option of two life paths: one in which she has children, whilst in the other she continues her focus on her career; both involve Owen, and both see Cristina becoming miserable. The married-with-children scenario elicits a certain empathetic desperation as it’s made clear Cristina’s only succumbing to it for her lover. And when Owen meets maternal-fetal surgeon, Emma, whom Cristina described as “picket fence; a dozen kids; fresh-baked goods,” it seems he’s found his happy ending. But Owen’s desire for Cristina, despite his better judgment, causes him to cheat on and subsequently end things with Emma who is befuddled at how her boyfriend went from house hunting to breaking up with her in the space of a day. Owen asserts it’s because Emma wanted to stay home with their kids when they had them and he wanted someone who is “as passionate about her work as I am.” Make up your mind, Owen!

While Owen’s indecisiveness is annoying, it’s refreshing to see a woman who doesn’t want children framed as desirable over the traditional portrait of womanhood. This is not to mention Cristina’s hardheaded drive. On the other hand, Emma represents the losing battle women face in the fight to “have it all” perpetually highlighted by the concern-trolling media: you’d better want to be a mother, but you’ve also got to be driven in your career; you have to be around to raise your children, but you’d also better be leaning in in the workplace.

Grey’s has always been a staunchly pro-choice show. Upon April and Jackson’s shotgun wedding, Jackson’s mother brings up the issue of April’s faith when it comes to raising their future children who will be on the board of the Harper Avery Foundation, but no pressure! Catherine Avery asks whether April believes in limiting reproductive rights, and whether she’ll raise her children with those views. If so, will that colour their judgment in providing funding to hospitals that perform abortions, like Seattle Grace/Seattle Grace Mercy West/Grey Sloan Memorial Hospital/whatever it’s called now?! And what about stem cell research?

Grey’s certainly doesn’t sweep these issues under the rug because it’s convenient for a storyline or for the show to remain politically unbiased. Rhimes has spoken about Cristina’s unintended pregnancy in a season one/two crossover storyline in which she was scheduled for an abortion but miscarried before she could have the procedure due to an ectopic pregnancy:

“… [T]he network freaked out a little bit. No one told me I couldn’t do it, but they could not point to an instance in which anyone had. And I sort of panicked a little bit in that moment and thought maybe this isn’t the right time for the character, we barely know her… I didn’t want it to become like what the show was about… And [Cristina’s miscarriage] bugged me. It bugged me for years.”

Come 2010/2011’s seventh season, Cristina again finds herself with an unwanted pregnancy to Owen. Rhimes said:

“I felt like we had earned all of the credentials with the audience. The audience knew these characters. The audience loved these characters. The audience stood by these characters. You know, we were in a very different place even politically, socially. Nobody blinked at the studio or the network when I wrote the storyline this time. Nobody even brought it up except to say, that was a really well written episode.”

With no signs of slowing down, but with perhaps one of TV’s most feminist characters departing, Grey’s Anatomy is sure to continue presenting women, work and the myriad choices in between in a positive and realistic way.

*Blanket spoiler alert.

Related: Grey’s Anatomy Final Asks “When Does Life Begin?”

Grey’s Anatomy: “You Killed Our Baby”.

Grey’s Anatomy: You’re Abnormal If You Don’t Want Children.

Cristina Yang as Feminist.

Elsewhere: [HuffPo] Elizabeth Banks Angers Parents of “Onlies”, Says She is “Really a Mom” After Having Two Kids.

[Time] Why 2014 Should Be the Year We Talk About Abortion on TV.

[Cosmopolitan] Why Cristina Yang Leaving Grey’s Anatomy Is So Devastating.

Images via TV.com, Grey’s Reviews.

Physical & Mental Health in Orange is the New Black.

orange is the new black season 2 cast

Whereas last year’s inaugural season of Netflix’ women’s prison effort, Orange is the New Black, introduced us to the myriad characters in Litchfield Penitentiary through the incarceration of the WASPy Piper Chapman, this year is all about the more diverse women that wear orange (well, mostly beige).

Specifically, we see the challenges of staying physically and mentally healthy in America’s prison industrial complex.

Last season we did see some of these issues come to light; transgendered inmate Sophia Burset, played by the incomparable Laverne Cox, had her hormone medication limited due to concerns about the drug’s side effects, while Suzanne “Crazy Eyes” Warren’s mental illness was a comedic calling card for the show.

This year Suzanne’s backstory gets more airtime, as well as an explosive trajectory for Lorna Morello, which reveals that though both women probably need psychological counselling, they’re not going to get it at the indebted Litchfield. Instead, their issues fall through the cracks so much so that only Nicky is privy to exactly what Morello did to land her in prison.

Season two has been applauded for giving more airtime to the minor characters who also happen to be from racial minorities: Gloria, the Hispanic cook who took over the kitchen from Red and is serving time for welfare fraud, and her Latina cohorts; Vee, Taystee and Poussey’s familial-love triangle cum drug ring, and Rosa, the bank robber with terminal ovarian cancer.

There’s also been an influx of older women this season, whom feminist recapper Sady Doyle describes as a “knitting circle” with “an alarming tendency to shiv people”. This includes dementia-ridden Jimmy, who wanders the grounds (and even inadvertently escapes!) looking for her presumably long-dead husband, Jack. Due to her deteriorating mental state, Jimmy is given “compassionate leave” which is revealed to be not-so-compassionate when you take into account that she has no family to look after her and is without the mental faculties to secure herself a home or care. Inmate Frieda predicts she’ll be out on the streets and “dead within a week”.

Jimmy’s release is apparently due to the above mentioned “budget cuts”, which seem to be happening all too regularly at Litchfield. Reporter Andrew Nance contacts Piper’s ex-fiance, writer Larry, and later Piper herself, to see if he can get the inside scoop on the missing millions from Litchfield.

There was talk of the building of a new gym, but that money—along with the gym—is nowhere to be found. The inmates’ bathrooms are leaking raw sewage and they have no heating in the Eastern winter. The prison’s dire financial state comes to a festering head in the penultimate episode of the season as a storm rips through Litchfield, leaving the prison flooded and without power, a backup generator and whatever functioning plumbing they had left.

These appalling conditions contribute to newcomer Brooke Soso, Yoga Jones, Sister Jane and some girls from Pensatucky’s former laundry crew going on a hunger strike. Sister Jane’s past as an activist comes to light, and let’s just say she’s not as selfless as she makes herself out to be. Having said that, though, she berates prison administrator Caputo for releasing Jimmy with no accountability:

“The elderly are the fastest growing population in prison and they have special needs. So-called ‘compassionate release’ in lieu of care is completely unacceptable. You can’t dump sick old ladies on the street. It’s unconscionable, inhumane and illegal.”

Surely Rosa would be a better candidate for compassionate release as she has weeks to live?

It’s not all doom and gloom, though. Sophia leads the inmates in an episode-long exploration of “which hole” pee comes out of and the importance of knowing your body.

This season really attempts to get at life in America’s underfunded and overcrowded minimum security prison system. While there’s still a ways to go in achieving a realistic portrayal of the dire reality many incarcerated women face, it’s the only piece of pop culture striving to do so. If it keeps heading in that direction, who knows the depths season three will plumb, so to speak.

Elsewhere: [In These Times] Orange is the New Black Makes Other TV Look Quaint.

[Global Comment] How Progressive is Orange is the New Black, Really?

 

TV: Gossip Girl — “Hell Hath No Fury Like a Lonely Boy Scorned”*.

dan humphrey gossip girl

It’s been a year and a half since Dan Humphrey was revealed as the titular character of Gossip Girl, a show that began as a poignant guilty pleasure but that culminated in convoluted trash. I recently went back and rewatched the show’s six seasons in an effort to dissect the clues as to who Gossip Girl was all along.

*

The Stephanie Savage and Josh Schwartz-produced effort based on the book series of the same name by Cecily von Ziegesar debuted just prior to the financial crisis of ’08. Fancying itself a commentary on the decadence and debauchery of “Manhattan’s elite”, the show may be narrated by a Kristen Bell-voiced bitchy blogger behind a computer screen (or, more likely, a smart phone), but it is told through the eyes of Brooklyn social pariah, Dan Humphrey.  In his stop-at-nothing quest to get “inside” the society scene of the Upper East Side, Dan becomes the exact thing he despised. Let me count the ways…

In season one Serena Van der Woodsen is a wide-eyed ingénue back from boarding school who wants to “take a year off… to teach English in South Asia” and Dan is her sensitive but invisible admirer. “Lonely Boy”, he is not so affectionately known as. Season one establishes Dan as the “ultimate insider”, embodying “a likable everyman” whose “pursuit of his dream girl begins his descent into the bowels of hell.” His family often comments on how judgmental Dan can be, and he makes Serena feel like shit in “Roman Holiday” when she eagerly buys him a watch for Christmas, which he asks her to return due to its conspicuity. By the same token, Serena effectively emasculates** Dan when she pays the cheque at a fancy restaurant on their first date and constantly ditches him for someone or something more important, like Blair’s crises or a society shindig.

While it’s been suggested that the writers only started plotting the big reveal of Dan-as-Gossip Girl in the final season when it was evident it would be the shows last, keen-eyed and -eared viewers can unearth some early scenes where Lonely Boy as the undercover chronicler of “the scandalous lives of Manhattan’s elite” seems plain as day. For example, in season two’s “Gone With the Will”, Gossip Girl describes Dan as “brown-bagging it for lunch”, a reference to the receptacle in which he brings his tuna sandwich to school that day. However, as the footage clearly shows, the only people who saw Dan’s brown paper bag were Dan, Serena and Blair. Of course, Serena has her dalliance as Gossip Girl in season five, but combined with the fact that Dan “loses” his phone the very same day that a GG blast*** is sent about Dan and Serena’s shared sibling—about which only Dan, his father Rufus and Serena’s mother Lily know—the evidence mounts in favour of Dan-as-Gossip Girl. Furthermore, in season five, it is revealed that Dan “sent” a video to GG of Blair telling Chuck she still loves him on her wedding day to Louis. What becomes apparent is that he didn’t so much send the video file to Gossip Girl as he uploaded it directly to the site that he is webmaster of, Gossip Girl.

In the season two finale, “The Goodbye Gossip Girl”, when Dan, Serena et al. graduate high school, Gossip Girl has a graduation ceremony of sorts of her own, and crowns Dan “the ultimate insider”, as we come to know him throughout the show’s trajectory. Gossip Girl has always been famed for only writing about high school, specifically Constance Billard and St. Judes, the girls and boys schools the GG cast attend respectively. But, it’s only fitting that if GG is a student at one of those schools that she follows in their footsteps to college, right? Serena, for one, was so happy not to have her digital nemesis tarnish her foray into tertiary education, but no such luck: Gossip Girl now covers college.

As Gossip Girl graduates from high school and into the more grown up university scene, so does Dan, who moves on from Serena to date movie star Olivia Burke, played by Hilary Duff. This is mirrored by GG’s growing penchant for chronicling celebrities and events outside of her previous jurisdiction. This will later be exemplified by Dan’s book, Inside, and his Dominick Dunne-esque society serial in Vanity Fair.

Speaking of, Dan’s fictionalised memoir (which Dunne was also oh-so-fond of) is about his quest to get “inside” “the scandalous lives of Manhattan’s elite” but its publication in “Memoirs of an Invisible Dan” ends up ostracising him from his friendship (I use that term loosely) group. Serena is upset that she’s painted as a vapid socialite to whom everything comes easy, while Nate expresses disdain that Dan sees him as half a person, so much so that his character is amalgamated with Eric’s. While Dan may have offended pretty much everyone close—and not so close—to him, he makes sure to emphasise his own character’s status as “a judgmental dick who can’t even look at himself in the mirror. My character comes off the worst of all of them.”

As Serena find out in season five’s “Raiders of the Lost Art” during her foray into gossip serialising, getting “inside” actually cuts you off from the rest of the world and makes you post hateful things about your friends and family in an effort to stay relevant and get the most hits. Serena, like Dan, becomes drunk with power. After all, “the more readers I have, the more power I have,” he opines in the final seasons’ “Dirty Rotten Scandals”.

By the series’ end, Dan has become just as bad as the conniving and scheming Blair and Chuck and their cohort. As Gossip Girl, Dan is implicated in the car accident that put Chuck in a coma and induced Blair’s miscarriage, Jenny’s banishment from New York and the general unhappiness of his “friends” and family, yet the gang still welcomes Dan back into the fold, and Serena even ends up marrying him! Why are they so quick to forgive him? Because just as Chuck raped Blair and Jenny, prostituted Blair out to his uncle in exchange for real estate and exposed her to intimate partner violence; Blair had an affair with Chuck’s uncle, sabotaged Serena’s college application to Yale and her catwalk debut, and ran Jenny and Georgina, amongst others, out of town; the supposed moral compass of Gossip Girl, Vanessa, and good girl gone bad Jenny help Juliet drug and abduct Serena in one of the series’ best story arcs in season four; Lily framed an innocent man for statutory rape in order to protect Serena’s image and didn’t tell her one true love Rufus about their baby she gave up for adoption way back when; not to mention the myriad transgressions I haven’t listed here, “you and all your other friends would gave done the exact same thing”. They forgave each other for their seemingly weekly betrayals, so what’s one more?

Related: Is Serena Our Generation’s Dominick Dunne?

The Problem with Serena van der Woodsen.

Elsewhere: [Remind Me of The] Gossip Girl, Jenny Humphrey & Rape Culture.

*Blanket spoiler alert.

**I don’t really believe in emasculation, ideologically speaking. If anything, society drums into us that men have to behave a certain way—in Dan’s case, providing for Serena—and when someone or something challenges that, it’s easy to cry “emasculation” without really examining the root of that notion.

***Another term for a Gossip Girl “post” or “status”. Which begs the question: if everyone hates GG so much and wants her taken down, why do they subscribe to her notifications?

Image via Wet Paint.

Book VS. TV: Stephen King’s Under the Dome.

under the dome

Under the Dome by Stephen King had been sitting on my pile of books to be read for nearly two years when I nabbed it off a friend who was moving interstate. When the TV series of the same name premiered earlier this year, I thought it was high time I delved into the 1074-page world of King’s Chester’s Mill, a small town in (where else?) Maine.

I’ve only ever read one other King book, 11/22/63, which wasn’t faultless by any means, but which I enjoyed. I’d hoped I’d feel the same about Under the Dome, but that wasn’t to be as it is one of the most boring, misogynist, needlessly violent, cringe worthy and pointless books I’ve ever read.

The first half is somewhat intriguing, but UTD could have been cut down by 500 pages and still make for an okay effort on King’s part. The descriptions of the female characters are unnecessarily focussed on their physicality, ages and physical appearances, whereas I don’t recall the men being written about that way. Many of the women are sexually assaulted both in life and death, and the apparent heroines are rendered pathetic as the story progresses, life under the dome becomes more hostile and their male paramours step up to the plate. There are far too many characters that they’re hard to keep track of, but were seemingly only written in to the story to be killed off in horrifically violent ways. The dialogue is some of the clunkiest I’ve ever read; the same goes for the inner monologues. And can someone please explain to me why King felt the need to get into the head of a dog who comes face to face with a ghost?! You’re really undermining your credibility here, King.

1000 pages later, UTD ends very unsatisfactorily and somewhat childishly.

Now, this could very well be the way every King novel finishes; I just haven’t read enough to know whether UTD is a terrible fluke but I suspect this is the case as 350 million readers can’t be wrong… Can they?

*

I finished reading UTD with about two or three episodes of season one left to air, but I didn’t end up watching it until last week. I think I just needed a break from all the nonsense before I gave the screen adaptation of King a chance. But I’m glad I did, because the series is far better than the book.

The characters are nuanced and you find yourself rooting for them onscreen far more than on the page. Whereas Jim Rennie was pure evil according to King, up until the last few episodes when his true evil proclivities are revealed, viewers are in Rennie’s corner. The same goes for his son, Junior, who is a mentally ill necrophiliac in the book, but has more facets when he’s played by Alexander Koch (though Junior is still the Dome’s most inconsistent and annoying character). I also really liked that the show did away with the unnecessary throng of characters, amalgamating several traits into one person, and thus the senseless killing: every death on TV meant something.

For anyone who’s read the book prior, you know what’s coming next, but the CBS series makes its characters empathetic, its storyline watchable and the motivations surrounding the dome that much more intriguing that its audience wonders if they’ll be different on the small screen…

Image via L.A. Times.

In Defence of Sex & the City.

carrie-and-the-girls-baseball

Earlier this year there was somewhat of a resurgence of appreciation for the art of SexSex & the City, that is.

In the wake of the death of Sopranos star James Gandolfini and the culmination of decade-defining Breaking Bad, the apparent age of the anti-hero is upon us. The Sopranos was no doubt a watershed moment for cable network HBO, but what about another HBO show that aired six months prior and also elucidated a generation: Sex & the City?

TV critic Emily Nussbaum was thinking along the same lines when she wrote her own defence of the series earlier this year for The New Yorker. A sample:

“But Sex and the City, too, was once one of HBO’s flagship shows. It was the peer of The Sopranos, albeit in a different tone and in a different milieu, deconstructing a different genre. Mob shows, cop shows, cowboy shows—those are formulas with gravitas. Sex and the City, in contrast, was pigeonholed as a sitcom. In fact, it was a bold riff on the romantic comedy: the show wrestled with the limits of that pink-tinted genre for almost its entire run. In the end, it gave in. Yet until that last-minute stumble it was sharp, iconoclastic television. High-feminine instead of fetishistically masculine, glittery rather than gritty, and daring in its conception of character, Sex and the City was a brilliant and, in certain ways, radical show. It also originated the unacknowledged first female anti-hero on television: ladies and gentlemen, Carrie Bradshaw.”

Carrie Bradshaw—like the anti-heroine Hannah in the apparent anti-SATC of this generation, Lena Dunham’s Girls—is not someone to look up to. She’s mind-numbingly selfish (“This can’t be the day I was broken up with by a Post-It!” No, Carrie, it was the day your friend Charlotte got engaged. But, by Charlotte’s own admission, it would be her second marriage so it’s not that important, right?); lives in a rent-controlled pre-war brownstone on the “gated island for the wealthy”, as Nussbaum puts it, apparently paid for by a $400-a-week-if-she’s-lucky-freelance-gig; and cheated on Aidan with Big. (In the ill-fated second movie, Carrie then cheats on Big with Aidan.)

While Carrie may not be a wholly identifiable character, the friendships she shares with Miranda, Samantha and Charlotte certainly are. Carrie is obviously everyone’s best friend who is asked to be maid of honour at their weddings and pick them up from the hospital when they’re sick, but the dynamics between the other women are interesting. Samantha and Charlotte can certainly clash over their differing ideologies on sex and relationships—the season three episode, “Frenemies”, perfectly illustrated the virgin-whore dichotomy between the two, but I love the maternal side Samantha shows around Charlotte, supporting her in “The Baby Shower” when she discovers the mum-to-be stole her future daughter’s name. I most strongly identify with Miranda, who often clashes with Carrie due to her whimsical attitude about things like money and men. For example, when Carrie reveals she’s going to lunch with Big after countless heartbreak in the season three finale, Miranda becomes exasperated at Carrie’s masochism and storms out of a vintage store they were shopping at. On the other side of the coin, Carrie disapproves of Miranda unquestioningly cutting ties with Steve for cheating on her in the original movie.

And let’s not forget the ground SATC broke in terms of women and talking about sex and TV. Looking back on it now, some of the attitudes the girls share about gender (Samantha’s treatment of the transgendered sex workers outside her apartment), sexuality (Miranda comments that bisexuality isn’t a valid orientation because the women end up with men and the men end up with men) and sex work (when everyone finds out Stanford’s boyfriend, Marcus, was a sex worker); but, at that time, can you recall many other shows that were so open and frank about sex and how women feel about it?

So while the show might be called Sex & the City—and let’s be clear, there’s a hell of a lot of it!—it’s very much about women and friendships in New York City.

Elsewhere: [The New Yorker] Difficult Women.

Image via Musings of the Girl Who Was Death.

TV: Sexist Tropes on The Mindy Project.

mindy project pretty man

Last night’s (or very early this morning, if you’re still keeping track of when it airs) episode of The Mindy Project dealt with Mindy’s tendency to date douchebags. And who’s douchier than a prostitute, amiright?

Mindy certainly has sexism and racism problems, and the former was never more evident than in “Pretty Man”, in which Mindy picks up a guy, Adam, in a bar who turns out to be a sex worker.

Mindy is disgusted by this and kicks him out of her apartment before they actually engage in what Adam is employed to do, but that doesn’t stop him showing up at her office the next day to get remunerated for his time.

There are lots of ill-thought out jokes about prostitution (even Adam refers to himself as a “prostitute” which I’m not so sure is the preferred term amongst the sex work community), trustworthiness and Pretty Woman (after all, The Mindy Project is a sitcom born out of its protagonist’s love of romantic comedies).

But what the Adam storyline really serves as a metaphor for, whether intentionally or otherwise, is the desire to change a man.

While Mindy is encouraging Adam to pursue is real dream (because no one could ever really want to be a sex worker) of being a singer/songwriter and buying him clothes à la Pretty Woman, Mindy’s friend Alex is trying to mould new boyfriend Danny into the partner she wants him to be: more outgoing and less uptight.

So while this episode is not necessarily man-friendly—it is a change to see a male sex workers portrayed as negatively as female sex workers are—, it’s more detrimental to the womenz: we’ll find faults with any man, whether they’re a prostitute or a rich doctor.

Elsewhere: [Jezebel] Mindy Kaling Only Makes Out with White Guys on The Mindy Project.

Image via Fox.