The Rise of Self-Indulgent Comedy*.

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*The following contains spoilers for Master of None, Girls and Trainwreck.

The past year has been a banner one for alternative voices in comedy.

Hannibal Buress refocused the spotlight on Bill Cosby’s history of alleged sexual assault during a stand-up gig in Philadelphia at the end of 2014. The Mindy Project was cancelled by Fox but found a new, more risqué home at Hulu, while Fresh Off the Boat, Black-ish and Master of None are changing the historically white male face of comedy. Closer to home, Black Comedy and The Family Law are making similar strides, and we can’t forget the success Amy Schumer found in 2015.

But despite comedy’s newfound diversity, not all of it hits the spot.

A common theme many of these shows share is that they’re created, directed and/or produced by their stars which, while it’s an answer to the paucity of women and minorities both on screen and in positions of production power, it can also lead to self-indulgent storytelling that pigeonholes its creators into catering to a niche audience.

Master of None debuted on Netflix late last year to rousing success, becoming the streaming service’s most popular show. Several of its episodes were met with critical praise, particularly “Parents” and “Indians on TV”. Creator and star Aziz Ansari’s musings on children, race and sexual harassment were true to life, but they can be considered sporadic standouts amongst a largely self-indulgent experiment filled with bad acting and rambling jokes.

Take, for example, the 1:16 minute interaction between Ansari’s character Dev and Arnold (played by Eric Wareheim) about the meta dynamics of the Eminem movie 8 Mile and its theme song, “Lose Yourself”. I, too, have often wondered about the specifics of where Marshall Mathers ends and Eminem begins, but the bit’s backstory is something only die-hard comedy fans might be privy to and therefore could be alienating to a casual audience. The character of Denise (Lena Waithe), who has sat, off-camera, opposite the two throughout the duration of this exchange shares many audience members’ feelings when she says, “Can we please talk about literally anything else?”

When I asked stand-up comedian Martin Dunlop, who’s currently performing in his Melbourne International Comedy Festival show, Murder, He Spoke, for his thoughts on this flat transaction he said, “Like so much of the show, [this scene] doesn’t function as comedy. They’re not playing off anything… But it doesn’t really work as a slice-of-life scene either. Wareheim’s character is particularly ill-defined, an odd drifter who’s role in the series as a whole never becomes clear, though a lot of the blame for that falls on Wareheim, who doesn’t seem to be a very strong actor. That describes my problem with the series as a whole. Where something like Louis functions as a drama or a comedy at different times, Master never really worked for me as either.”

Osman Faruqi, Sydney-based writer and broadcaster, agrees, telling me that he “found the 8 Mile scene pretty jarring and lazy. Non-sequiturs can be funny but this came across like something two 15 year olds would have joked about in school. It was pretty self-indulgent and out of place… I think Master‘s comedy worked best when it reflected on aspects of contemporary society the audience was familiar with. When it deviated from that and inserted random jokes that had nothing to do with the story, it fell flat.”

And while I haven’t seen Ansari in much of anything else, I found his acting to be less-than-stellar, always coming across as if he’s been taken by surprise or an extra in one of those poorly acted insurance infomercials. His character acts primarily in commercials in the show, but I’m not sure it was Ansari’s intent to also give off this vibe himself. The use of Ansari’s real life parents in the roles of Dev’s elders may be an indictment of , but I found Fatima Ansari as Dev’s mother to be grating. Ansari’s the showrunner and what he says goes but the use of his parents seemed selfishly at the detriment to the show.

For all the things Master gets right, on the whole it’s a thought experiment about an unlikeable bad actor rife with rambling jokes and poor casting that left me wondering how far removed from Ansari his character is.

 

Whereas Ansari is struggling to come up with content for a nonetheless greenlit second season of Master , Amy Schumer almost had too much material for her runaway box office hit, Trainwreck. Schumer’s character of the same name works at a misogynistic men’s magazine as a plot device to introduce her to her love interest, a sports doctor played by Bill Hader she’s writing a profile on, but she could just as easily have been a freelancer who works from home, sparing us the drawn out office scenes. Professional wrestler John Cena was hilarious as Amy’s muscle-bound meathead boyfriend but his scenes were a good twenty minutes of homophobia that could have been reserved for the director’s cut DVD edition.

As with some of Schumer’s stand up work, a lot of her shtick didn’t land,and for some inexplicable reason, the funniest jokes made it into the trailer but were absent from the theatrical release.

Trainwreck felt more like a rough draft of a film with far too many incidental storylines that came across as pandering to its writer and star (are we seeing a common theme amongst these comedies?). In refusing to make these edits, producer Judd Apatow does a disservice to Schumer as Trainwreck really did have all the attributes to become a different kind of rom-com, both from the Kate Hudson fare of the ’00s and Apatow’s own gross-out anti-women bro comedies such as Knocked Up and This is 40.

Another rom-com of sorts, Lena Dunham’s Girls, also produced by Apatow, is perhaps one of the most criticised comedies on air today. Dunham has been accused of everything from racism to exhibitionism to sex worker-exclusionary feminism to child molestation, with her responses to some of these appraisals coming through on Girls, now in its fifth and penultimate season.

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Of the three comedies discussed here, Girls’ Dunham is perhaps the least able to be extracted from her character. Dunham shot to mainstream notoriety with the release of her HBO show in 2012 whereas Ansari starred in Parks & Recreation for seven years prior to Master and Schumer had been going viral with her Inside Amy Schumer sketches long before Trainwreck. Perhaps her rapid success influences the oftentimes “painfully narcissistic [and] shockingly tone deaf”, as Ray puts it in this season’s opener, themes Dunham chooses to deal with in her show. Her repetitive nudity, though refreshing from a body-positivity standpoint, and the inclusion of a token black lover (played by Donald Glover) as a response to an unrealistically white Brooklyn she chose to portray in Girls’ first season come across as childish trigger responses to larger issues, which Dunham is normally open to discussing.

The argument could be made that criticisms are only foisted onto Girls and, indeed Master and Trainwreck, because they’re not made by white dudes. Do we hold Louie and Seinfeld to the same standard?

I asked fellow Girls devotee and freelance writer Camilla Peffer what she thought of the show’s self-centredness and whether objections to it can be boiled down to the fact that it’s for and mostly by women. “I think the self-indulgent shtick gets thrown around because society values high impact stories, not stories that rehash the minutiae of everyday life,” she told me. “To a man, the heartbreak of falling out with a best friend might hold no resonance. Neither does creating meth to save your family from poverty, but stories like that create a sort of prosthetic experience, much like playing a video game.

“Is Girls more self-indulgent than the work of Ansari or Woody Allen? It’s just as self-indulgent. But why is that a dirty word? All art is self-indulgent. Creating relies upon a certain level of introspection, so without that self reflection, it’s impossible to make anything that can truly have an emotional impact on an audience.”

Girls, along with Dunham, can be “painfully narcissistic”, as Ray put it, but it has moments (a lot in this season alone) when it’s one of the more realistic portrayals of young, white, New York millennials in pop culture today.

To some degree, the same can be said about Master of None, Trainwreck and other self-indulgent comedies. Self-indulgence doesn’t necessarily mean a lack of self-awareness: the two go hand in hand and are needed for a true-to-life portrayal of these undoubtedly personal stories. Just because they’re not necessarily speaking to me, an upper-middle class white chick who has the luxury of voicing her opinion on this platform, doesn’t mean there’s no value to them. It’s important to have diverse voices speaking about the myriad of topics Master, Trainwreck and Girls do, such as family, race, sex, dating, “finding yourself”, urban life, and what’s acceptable behaviour for women and minorities. It’s also important that these diverse voices have the opportunity to fail which, in some respects, I think they have.

Elsewhere: [USA Today] The 8 Mile Debate on Master of None Has a Surprisingly Emotional Backstory.

[THR] Will There Be a Second Season of Aziz Ansari’s Master of None?

[OUT] Trainwreck‘s Homophobia Puts John Cena in a Headlock.

[HuuPo] Lena Dunham, Girls Creator, Addresses Race Criticisms on Fresh Air.

Lead image via Your Movies in Mind.

Despite the Name, It’s All About the Women on Masters of Sex.

This article was originally published on TheVine on 17th October, 2014.

I recently spent a weekend in August listening to international guest of the Melbourne Writers Festival Emily Nussbaum, television critic for The New Yorker, wax lyrical about the “golden age of prestige TV” and its respective “antiheroes”. While we’ve been watching the Don Drapers, Tony Sopranos and Walter Whites for the past fifteen years it’s time for a new dawn of television where women are the focus, such as Orange is the New Black, Orphan Black and pretty much anything Shonda Rhimes puts her Midas touch to.

One such show that comes to mind is Masters of Sex, the second season finale of which aired on SBS last night. Masters might seem to focus on the man it’s named for, the steely, socially awkward OBGYN, Bill Masters, played by Michael Sheen, but who it’s really concerned with are the women in his life. These include the long-suffering wife, Libby (Caitlin FitzGerald), whose trajectory sees her struggle with the changing attitudes of the late ’50s and early ’60s, and the woman her husband is having an affair with: research assistant in Masters’ study of human sexual response, Virginia Johnson, played expertly by Lizzy Caplan. Both Masters and Johnson justify their extramarital activities by being adamant that “it’s for the work”. While nary a facet of Masters isn’t shown to Virginia at some stage or another he recoils from Libby, runs his mother out of town, slut-shames former sex worker cum secretary Betty and Virginia at times, and I don’t think there’s been an instance in which he interacts with his two infant sons.  In a scene that echoes Breaking Bad’s “I’m the one who knocks!”, Bill rages at Libby when she confronts him about their money troubles that “I provide the roof!”

Audiences may struggle to reconcile the way Masters treats the women in his personal life with his important medical work, not unlike Don Draper, for example, in the “masculinity masterpieces”—as Nussbaum put it in her presentation at the Writers Festival—of yore.

Masters of Sex is a show that has almost unbelievably advanced attitudes towards sex for the time it’s set and the fictional Masters and Johnson are held up as paragons of progression. At work Masters masquerades as the good, bleeding-heart doctor stuck in the conservative ’50s, as seen when he refuses to perform gender assignment surgery on an intersex baby. Masters similarly declines a teenaged patient’s parents request for her to undergo a hysterectomy to curb her sexual appetite. Careful, Bill, your God complex is showing.

Like Orange is the New Black, a show that follows a wide range of incarcerated women’s lives using a middle-class white woman as the Trojan horse to gain entry into that world, Masters’ focus on a male doctor is a cipher to take a better look at Virginia, Libby et al. in a time when women were viewed as second class citizens. (Some would argue that nothing much as changed.)

Also like OITNB, perhaps this has to do with the fact that it is a created by women, not “prickly auteurs and the antiheroes they love”, to borrow yet another line from Nussbaum. A different Emily—this time Emily Tatti, editor of online literary journal Ricochet—tweeted that “You can tell it’s written by women, you just don’t get female characters like that in other shows!”

Showrunner Michelle Ashford explains Masters of Sex’s portrayal of women thusly:

“[In season one] three of our episodes were directed by women, our staff was half women, my producing partner is a woman. A lot of the people that have interviewed us say, ‘Wow, this whole show is run by women.’ We look at each other and think, ‘We didn’t design it that way.’ And that’s actually pretty great.”

The capable, relatable women who are received by audiences as such outnumber the titular Masters. Where Breaking Bad’s Skyler White was eviscerated by armchair commentators for expressing concern over her husband’s drug dealing and the actress that played her subsequently wrote a New York Times op-ed about it, Libby’s “problem that has no name”, for example, is portrayed as empathetic. And Virginia might get around but she is never characterised as wanton to the audience. Other such “strong female characters”, to use the clichéd term, that aren’t so much likeable as they are realistic portrayals of women in the world include How to Get Away with Murder’s Annalise Keating, Hannah Horvath of Girls, and any number of the women on Scandal, Grey’s Anatomy and OITNB.

Masters of Sex is busy ushering in this new era of television that sees antiheroes shift ever so slightly out of the frame and the women who love them—or, in many instances, merely tolerate them—have their time in the spotlight.

Elsewhere: [NPR] Orange Creator Jenji Kohan: “Piper Was My Trojan Horse.”

[HuffPo] Masters of Sex Creator Michelle Ashford: “I Had Every Horrible Job Imaginable.”

[NYTimes] I Have a Character Issue.

[Amazon] The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan.

[New Statesman] I Hate Strong Female Characters.

[Buzzfeed] Not Here to Make Friends.

All Dogs Go to Seven.

This article was originally published on TheVine on 9th July, 2012.

As Australia’s Got Talent nears its grand final, I find myself wondering why the hell the scandalous Kyle Sandilands is still hosting the family show.

You’d have to be oblivious to the Aussie media scene for the past few years not to remember the lie detector-sexual assault incident, the Magda Szubanski-concentration camp comments and the on-air berating of a journalist for her appearance after she expressed concern over the integrity of Sandilands’ and Jackie O’s radio show.

Despite this, Channel Seven still seems to deem him a valuable talent and, perhaps because of this, a host that draws in the ratings. I can understand his presence on a show like Ten’s Can of Worms or The Footy Show on Nine, which aim to shock, but what does Sandilands really bring to the judging panel on a talent show that airs in the kiddie timeslot of 7:30pm? The straight-talking, older white male talent show host trope in the vein of Simon Cowell and Ian “Dicko” Dickson is a tired one. Sandilands may not be causing any trouble at the moment, but you can bet another controversy is right around the corner…  

But Sandilands’ prominence is by no means a standalone occurrence in Seven’s lineup: After it was revealed that former NRL player Matthew Johns was involved in group sex with his fellow Cronulla Sharks teammates and a teenager whose consent was questionable at best, he received his own Channel Seven footy program, the creatively titled Matty Johns Show. And, staying with sportsmen, what about the Ben Cousins doco, Such is Life, which at once tragically and glamorously profiled his life as an addict? What about former Home & Away actor, Lincoln Lewis, whose sex tape with a co-star went public the same day he was announced as a contestant on the dancing show in 2009? Convenient, hey? Did you know fellow H&A alum Dan Ewing was charged with assault against his fiancé at the end of 2011, the same year he was a contestant on Dancing with the Stars, a show that loves its bad boys? Speaking of assault, it was only after Matthew Newton beat girlfriend Rachael Taylor in a Rome hotel room in 2010 that he was axed as host of—you guessed it, another family-geared talent show—The X-Factor. I suppose his history of trashing hotel rooms and violence with previous intimate partner Brooke Satchwell was written off as a onetime thing. Remember Axle Whitehead’s public act of indecency at the 2006 ARIA’s was all but forgotten when he moved to Summer Bay and received a gig as host of the network’s World’s Strictest Parents in 2009. And who could forget Brendan Fevola’s illustrious career of AFL tradeoffs, drug- and alcohol-fuelled benders, gambling problems, infidelity, inappropriate picture-taking of Lara Bingle and, just last week, his grammatically-incorrect Twitter tirade against a country footy umpire? Apparently, Channel Seven: Fev was signed up for this years’ season of DWTS as its lovable larrikin.

Television commentator Andrew Mercado put it best two years ago in the wake of the Newton incident when he wrote:

“… [T]he station is chock a block full of bad boys on big pay packets who are being rewarded for their unsavourity [sic] indiscretions with higher profile jobs during the family hour… So let me get this straight—gang bangers, bullies and bashers are in but closeted gay men (like NSW Transport Minister David Campbell) are to be outed on the 6pm News.”

But why? It’s not like any of the abovementioned men—bar perhaps Sandilands, who the general public pretty much abhor—are huge drawcards for the station like Charlie Sheen was for CBS (and, by extension, Channel Nine). Johns is but a blip on the radar of sports programming, Newton and Cousins have descended into the cycle of mental illness, and I challenge any non-H&A fan to identify Ewing by name.

A quick look at the Seven corporate website indicates the male chauvinist pig syndrome transfers from in front of the camera to behind it, with an all-male board of directors and management team. While I’m in no way insinuating that the male bosses at Seven get up to the same kind of extra-curriculars their talent does, could it be a contributing factor to the swept-under-the-rug mentality the commercial channels seem to subscribe to?

If so, could, at the very least, a lone female on the board be the voice of reason? I doubt it. The boys club zeitgeist of most traditional forms of media (nay, most industries in general) is not going to be permeated by one woman alone, despite their best intentions: just look at Mia Freedman’s foray into television at Channel Nine. And why should it be a woman’s job to make sure over-privileged, under-accountable man-children behave in their personal lives? Wouldn’t a better solution be to not reward verbal insults, physical violence, drug use, lewd behavior and sexual assault with free-to-air-time in the first place, regardless of who’s performing it and who’s in charge?

On the other channels, while Channel Ten is debuting Australia’s version of Jersey Shore, The Shire, in a couple of weeks and Sheen’s new vehicle, Anger Management, is sure to be a ratings hit, ABC and SBS push forward with groundbreaking shows that don’t reward the dominant, bad boy bogan culture, like Go Back to Where You Came From (celebrity version coming soon!) and Joe Hildebrand’s Dumb, Drunk & Racist. Unfortunately, the latter two programs appeal to what all-too-often happens to be the minority, while many of the shows listed throughout this piece are geared towards the lowest common denominator: those who are perfectly happy with the status quo or don’t notice what’s wrong with it.

The Perception of Power in Orange is the New Black.

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*This piece contains spoilers for the third season of Orange is the New Black.

In the lead up to last Friday’s debut of Orange is the New Black’s third season, promos littered the internet about how the show would deal heavily with faith and motherhood this time around.

The motherhood motif bookends the season, with the inaugural episode opening with a Mother’s Day fete at Litchfield while the requisite flashbacks deal primarily with each prisoner’s relationship to motherhood, whether as a parent or a daughter.

But one of the less obvious but just as imperative themes of season three is power and the perception of it.

Power manifests itself in many guises this season but takes root in several main storylines.

Piper, using the money in her commissary account (a privilege her upper middle class pre-prison lifestyle affords her in itself), buys out all the noodle flavouring packets the prisoners have taken to seasoning Litchfield’s new, inedible menu with as an incentive to the other inmates to give her their used underwear to sell in her prison panty business.

Of course, she supplies the underwear that she steals from the new prison “sweatshop” which has Piper, new inmate Stella (played by Ruby Rose), et al. earning $1 an hour sewing “$90 bras” for lingerie company Whispers. And when Stella betrays her by stealing her profits two days before her release, Piper exercises her dominance over her new lover by planting contraband in Stella’s cell and it’s off to max(imum security) she goes.

Piper had originally pointed the finger at Flaca who’d been agitating for “fair pay for skanky panties” in a parallel storyline to the power plays prison manager Joe Caputo has to make as Litchfield becomes privatised. The guards turn to him as they attempt to unionise in the face of pay cuts and lost benefits, however rumblings of Caputo’s internal struggle to be a good guy versus being paid his dues that we saw last season (when Officer Bennett confessed his relationship and subsequent pregnancy with Dayanara Diaz and Caputo told him to sweep it under the rug) reveal themselves and he throws the guards under the bus.

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Religion presents as a powerful currency inside as mute Norma is held up as a deity to the meth head laundry crew, Soso and even Poussey. Being the one lorded over in an abusive, polygamous relationship in her backstory, we see Norma relish her newfound religious power.

Meanwhile, Cindy leads her friends in their quest for Kosher meals. While the others are claiming Kosher ’cause it tastes good, Cindy actually has a religious revelation of sorts, and becomes a Jew by season’s end.

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Perhaps one of the more harrowing exhibits of power and just how little female prisoners have is in Tiffany “Pennsatucky” Doggett’s trajectory. Her backstory paints a depressing picture of trading sex for soft drink and after her sensitive and sexually giving high school boyfriend leaves town, she’s raped by a former paramour who didn’t like that she cut off his supply of sex.

Food acts as a snare in Doggett’s relationship with a new guard who also works at a donut shop. During their errand runs off prison grounds, they stop to feed their uneaten donuts to ducks in an uncomfortable violation of prisoner-guard relations. While nothing funny happens for a few more episodes, and it’s unclear whether the guard had designs on assaulting Doggett from the beginning, it reinforces that even if a prisoner is willing, the imbalance of power between guards and inmates is too great for there to be a clear choice. (This is echoed in Daya’s pregnancy.)

Other, arguably less obvious manifestations of power can be seen in the ignorance and violence that further marginalises the already marginalised as rumours about Sophia’s transition circulate; Taystee’s newfound role as the “mumma” of her friendship group; Red’s return to the kitchen; Angie’s escape and, later, the entire prison population’s Litchfield Redemption.

Despite the fun, sisterly environment Orange is the New Black can sometimes portray Litchfield to be, women in prison—and, by extension, women in the outside world—have a lot less power than this article might suggest. In back to back episodes that look at perception, Flaca says of her counterfeit LSD business that “people will believe what you tell them” while Chang is told by a business associate that it’s not whether the exotic animal parts they’re smuggling “work, but whether you think they work.” Even Norma seems incredulous to her apparent religious powers, with her fellow inmates perceiving her hugs when she sees them as their “morning blessing”. Cindy might not have chosen Judaism had she continued her frivolous pre-prison lifestyle, but freedom of religion is a small exertion of power she can express in incarceration.

These seemingly small grabs at power, or the perception of it, is crucial in an environment where lives may depend on it. And in Litchfield, it’s all the women have.

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

Orange is the New Black‘s Morello’s Fractured Relationship with Romance.

Elsewhere: [Vulture] Orange is the New Black Season Three Will Be Lighter, Focused on Faith & Motherhood.

Images via Screenrants, She Knows, IMDB.

Grey’s Anatomy Season 11 Final: The Carousel Never Stops Turning*.

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Grey’s Anatomy fans upset over the sudden death of Derek Shepherd attempted to influence the show’s storyline by creating a petition to “Bring McDreamy Back!”, currently at over 100,000 signatures.

But I, for one, am excited to see where this hasty writing out of actor Patrick Dempsey will take Meredith Grey and the rest of the doctors at Grey Sloan Memorial Hospital.

I wrote a couple of weeks ago about all the affecting, tragic deaths Grey’s Anatomy viewers have been subjected to over the years and they’ve all served as moments of growth for the characters: Izzie built a clinic for patients without insurance with the money Denny left her; Teddy’s husband’s death served as the catalyst to disrupt her friendship with Owen and to eventually leave the hospital; Lexie and Mark’s deaths influenced the change in hospital name and administration; and Dr. Thomas dying whilst operating with Cristina led her to return to Seattle.

In the episodes following Derek’s death, I was hoping for more of an exploration of the grief Meredith et al. were experiencing. Instead, about nine months of Meredith and her children’s lives flew by in one ninety minute episode as she found out she was pregnant with another child for her and Derek and fled Seattle as her mother did so many years ago.

But we’ve seen the “dark and twisty” Meredith, dwelling on her distant and sick mother, her father’s abandonment, Lexie’s death, George’s death, and now Derek’s death, so maybe, with the birth of Derek’s posthumous child, Meredith will come out the other side with a lighter perspective on life. The final scene of last night’s episode, with her taking sisters Maggie and Amelia’s hands and leading them to “dance it out” at Richard and Catherine’s wedding, would seem to indicate this.

This is not to say that grief won’t resurface as a theme of season twelve, which the show has been renewed for.

There might be hope for that yet as showrunner Shonda Rhimes said that “Meredith and the entire Grey’s Anatomy family are about to enter uncharted territory as we head into this new chapter of her life. The possibilities for what may come are endless. As Ellis Grey would say: The carousel never stops turning.”

Grey’s Anatomy has long ceased to be about the love affair between Meredith and Derek, anyway; hell, Derek was barely in this season as he took a job in Washington D.C. For the last two seasons, at least, the show has focussed on Meredith, her work and her friendships. In the aftermath of season eight’s plane crash, we saw Cristina flee for Minnesota while Meredith was left to cope with the death of her sister and an impending pregnancy. Cristina may be gone now, but the bonds between Alex and Meredith have strengthened, being the only two of their intern class to last in Seattle. The introduction of long lost sister Maggie and the return of Amelia means Meredith has other women to turn to, however begrudgingly.

But, if season twelve is the show’s last, it might make sense that Meredith’s pregnancy and disappearance were rushed. Despite Grey’s Anatomy being known as a show that rips beloved characters from Grey Sloan when we least expect it, perhaps it would like to go out with a celebration of the lives of the doctors still lucky enough to be practicing there. And the lives they’ve saved.

*Spoiler alert.

Related: Top 10 Grey’s Anatomy Deaths.

Leaning In to Grey’s Anatomy.

Elsewhere: [Junkee] 60,000 Seriously Pissed Off Grey’s Anatomy Fans Are Petitioning to Bring Back a Dead Character.

[Change.org] Bring Dr. Derek “McDreamy” Shepherd BACK!!!

Image via Buzzfeed.

TV: Three Problems with Married at First Sight.

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While there are many more things that are problematic with Married at First Sight, below are just three that have gotten my goat about Nine’s new reality show.

Marriage Equality is Not Yet a Thing.

The argument could be made that with shows like this and Kim Kardashian’s 72-day marriage (she was actually married to Kris Humphries for closer to two years when the divorce proceedings were finalised), the sanctity of marriage has well and truly crumbled, so why would gay people want to marry anyway? Civil unions and de facto partnerships are basically like marriage anyway, right? Married at First Sight is not about that. If we are to truly believe that everyone is equal, then gay couples should have the right to marry the wrong person, file for divorce after 72 days and go on yet another reality show designed to embarrass its contestants. Married at First Sight doesn’t really have any bearing on the progress of marriage equality but it does throw a basic human right in the faces of those who don’t have it.

It Prevents Quality Aussie Programming From Being Made.

Sure, it’s cheaper to produce a crappy reality show void of storytelling and quality acting or even to buy the rights to an overseas scripted program than to put effort into an original Aussie show. But with the recent and continued success of shows like Nine’s own House Husbands and Love Child, surely there’s an audience for Aussie programming that doesn’t comprise of the lowest common denominator.

It Promotes Marriage as the Most Important Thing.

I’ve written about marriage and babies being the done thing for adults, and Married at First Sight does nothing to break that stereotype. That getting married to someone you’ve never met because you’re a certain age and haven’t yet found The One (what even is The One?) is more desirable than being alone and doing your thing is truly sad. Further to the above point, maybe a doco or reality show about the increasingly unmarried and childless adult population would be preferable to yet another pop cultural product that highlights the apparent inferiority of people (namely women) who choose not to go that route.

Related: Women Who Are Unsuccessful with Men Are Presumed Gay.

Celebrating the Single Life.

Image via Twitter.

TV: Top 10 Grey’s Anatomy Deaths*.

If Grey’s Anatomy knows how to do one thing (apart from stay on the air for eleven seasons despite most people being ignorant to its longevity) it’s a tragic death.

In case you didn’t catch last night’s high-stakes episode or were exposed to whisperings of spoilers on social media, Derek “McDreamy” Shepherd, the titular Meredith Grey’s One True Love and Grey Sloane Memorial Hospital’s resident neurosurgeon, departed the earthly realm with a combination of car wreck injuries and shoddy doctoring.

For those who have followed the show for the past decade or just tuned in to see what all the fuss was about, allow me to regale you with Grey’s Anatomy’s top ten death scenes.

Denny Duquette.

When people think of Grey’s Anatomy, they think of its season one-through-three heyday. Smack bang in the middle of that was dreamy heart transplant patient Denny Duquette (played by the equally-as-dreamy Jeffrey Dean Morgan) and Izzie going AWOL by cutting Denny’s LVAD wire to move him further up the transplant list. That was all for nothing, though, as Denny later suffered a fatal stroke post-transplant and died. But not before proposing to Izzie.

George O’Malley.

Season five was when Grey’s started to kill its main cast off left, right and centre. It began with the death of original intern George O’Malley, who got hit by a bus by jumping in front of it to save an unknown woman on his way to join the army. Quelle tragédie. To add to the drama, George was brought into the hospital he used to work at as a John Doe patient, his extensive injuries from the accident rendering him unrecognisable. It was Meredith who made the ID, though, when George traced his nickname, 007—license to kill, after he almost did just that to his first patient—into her hand.

Reed Adamson & Charles Percy.

Grey’s didn’t wait long to thrust their next tragedy on its audience: season six’s cliffhanger saw a gunman loose in the hospital, intent on seeking out and killing McDreamy! He managed to hit his target, but not before taking out Mercy West Hospital transfers Reed Adamson and Charles Percy. Just to tug at those heartstrings even further, as Percy lay dying in Dr. Miranda Bailey’s (and Mandy Moore’s!) arms, he asked her to tell Reed that he loved her. Excuse me, there’s something in my eye.

Henry.

Having watched Scott Foley more recently on Scandal, it’s hard to believe Dr. Teddy Altman’s husband died all the way back in season eight. His love for Teddy started when he was her patient and she was involved with another man. Thought they only married so Henry could receive Teddy’s health insurance, Teddy soon fell in love with him only for him to die on the table whilst Teddy’s protege Cristina Yang was operating on him. Henry was somewhat of a Manic Pixie Dream Husband, serving as the catalyst for Teddy to break off her friendship with Chief Owen Hunt when he elected not to tell her that Henry had died until after she finished her own surgery.

Lexie Grey.

It seems that one season (seven) without a catastrophe was enough so season eight took us out with a bang. Or, more specifically, a plane crash. Derek’s hand was mangled and Arizona wound up losing a leg, but it was clear that Lexie bore the brunt of the crash, getting pinned under some debris. As Grey’s is wont to do, at least she got to tell Mark she loved him.

Mark Sloan.

Which brings us to McSteamy. He was also involved in the crash but, along with Meredith and Cristina, seemed to escape relatively unscathed. It wasn’t until the first two episodes of the following season that we realised the extent of his injuries, which saw him succumb in hospital. Why you gotta do me like that, Grey’s?

Dr. Thomas.

In season nine Cristina took a job at the world famous Mayo Clinic to escape “Seattle Grace Mercy Death”. Without her “person” Meredith and traumatised from last season’s plane crash, “dinosaur” cardiothoracic surgeon Dr. Thomas takes Cristina under his wing only to die in the OR during surgery. While not as catastrophic as many of Grey’s other deaths, this one was positioned as yet another tragedy in Cristina’s life.

Heather Brooks.

Season nine’s cliffhanger saw a freak storm hit Seattle, flooding the hospital’s generator and leaving them without power. Intern Ross was sent to find Dr. Webber who was sussing out the damage in the basement however, not wanting to miss out on surgery, he roped intern Heather (played by Tina Majorino) into it which ultimately led to her (and Dr. Webber’s) electrocution. Only one doctor survived.

Derek Shepherd.

How many personal tragedies can one person handle?! Meredith has drowned, watched her husband get shot, almost become “pink mist” in a bomb threat, watched her mother try to commit suicide, been abandoned by her father (twice!), given birth in the middle of a massive storm that caused a power outage at the hospital and been in a plane crash in which her sister and husband’s best friend died. Phew!

But last night she faced perhaps the biggest tribulation when her husband Derek Shepherd died. Having saved four people from a car wreck on his way to the airport, we thought Derek would escape unscathed only to have a truck round the corner and ram his car. At the hospital, the doctors stated that they were not equipped to treat such trauma and rushed to treat Derek’s abdominal injuries instead of checking for brain swelling. By the time they realised he needed brain surgery and paged the on-call neurosurgeon, who was 90 minutes away, Derek was braindead. Oh, the tragic irony.

Honorable mentions: Meredith’s distant mother, dying after a long battle with Alzheimer’s; Lexie’s mum, who died after a routine exploratory surgery for reflux, spurring Meredith’s father to disown her… again; Bonnie (who you might remember as Dawson’s Creek’s Abby, a patient impaled by a pole) and Dylan, the bomb squad guy, were both very affecting losses to Meredith in early seasons; Doc, Meredith’s cancer-ridden dog who was then adopted by Derek and Addison; April and Jackson’s surprise pregnancy ended in tragedy as they had to terminate due to a fatal birth defect; Adele, Richard Webber’s wife, died of a heart attack after surgery for an aneurism.

Which Grey’s Anatomy deaths affected you the most?

*Spoiler alert for all eleven seasons of Grey’s Anatomy.

Related: Top 10 Grey’s Anatomy Moments.

Gun Shot Wound to the Head: Grey’s Anatomy Season Final.

Seattle Grace Mercy Death”: Grey’s Anatomy “Song Beneath the Song” Review.

TV: Catching Up on Women-Friendly Media.

emily nussbaum kristen wiig jenji kohan lena dunham mindy kaling sundance panel

Summer is usually a time when I catch up on TV shows I’ve neglected throughout the year.

In Australia, (when I owned a TV) all the shows would be on hiatus and in its place tennis and cricket as far as the eye can see. Likewise, American TV comes to a halt usually from about Thanksgiving which gives me ample time to keep up with the Kardashians or, in a more high brow vein, Breaking Bad, which I finally watched in its entirety this time last year.

Recently I lamented to a friend that this summer I’ve been watching more movies and, like, reading instead of catching up on shows like I should be. There’s so many on my list: The Good Wife, Orphan Black, Parks & Rec, House of Cards. I didn’t even watch American Horror Story: Freak Show when it started a few months ago and, low and behold, it just aired its season finale.

So what better time to catch up on it than this past (long) weekend? (And yes, I am well aware that AHS cannot be construed as women-friendly, but stay with me.)

I also have ample days off from my day job in the next week so, in addition to more freelance work and my side gig at OCW, I should be able to finish the 13 episode season by the next weeks’ end.

I intend to work just as hard throughout the year, but I also need to make sure I engage in self-care to keep the momentum up. So when I’ve emptied out my brain onto the page and filled it again with the words of others, what better way to unwind with some TV that functions as a hug?

I’ve been very vocal about my love for Grey’s Anatomy: when I was sick a few weeks ago, I knew I should have started one of the abovementioned shows but I just needed comforting in a way that no one but Meredith Grey and co. could do, so I rewatched the first half of this season. It, along with its Shondaland cohorts Scandal and How to Get Away with Murder, return this week and I’ve got a hot date with the Middleton Law School kids and President Grant on the weekend.

From there, I intend to either dip into The Good Wife or House of Cards as research for a piece I’ve been ruminating over for months. While the beauty of many Netflix-based shows is their short seasons allowing quick consumption, there’s a good six seasons of The Good Wife, so who knows when I’ll emerge from Alicia Florrick’s law offices?

In contrast to the abovementioned shows, it was only a few years ago that many of the books, movies and TV shows that I was drawn to were about men. My favourite authors were men, the movies I was interested in seeing at the cinema were about men, and many of the TV shows I watched were all about men. Don’t get me wrong, some of my favourite authors are still men (Dominick Dunne and Mick Foley), and I’m hanging out to see Foxcatcher at the movies. But on the whole, I’m so fucking sick of only learning about men’s lives—either real or fictional.

That’s why, this year, I’m making a conscious effort to consume media about women and minorities. What started out as something I was completely unaware of has blossomed into a newfound appreciation for the voices of women I may not have sought out before. I’ve slowly started to realise that all the shows I watch are about women—OITNB, Total Divas, Girls, Revenge, 2 Broke Girls, The Mindy Project—as are the shows I intend to. I’ve only recently started watching movies again, and I started with Nora Ephron’s cannon over Christmas and New Years. Wild is the next movie I intend to see at the cinema. And my reading list from the past month has consisted of Roxane Gay, Janet Mock, Donna Tartt, Lena Dunham, Brigid Delaney and Amy Poehler, amongst many others.

Which shows—and other media—are you looking forward to consuming this year?

Related: Hustle, Loyalty & Respect: Where I’m Taking My Career in 2015.

The Golden Age of Television.

Physical & Mental Health on Orange is the New Black.

Girls: A Season Two Retrospective.

Revenge is a Dish Best Served by a Woman.

2 Broke & Tampon-less Girls.

Elsewhere: [Bitch Flicks] The Choice to be a Total Diva.

Image via InStyle.

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.