Event: The Golden Age of Television.

I thought a panel about how great American television is was a bit of a misnomer for the Wheeler Centre’s “America” week. I mean, has anyone seen Here Comes Honey Boo Boo or any of the Real Housewives series?

But once the panel, consisting of pop culture expert Jess McGuire, television reviewer Debi Enker and producer Amanda Higgs and emceed by the director of the Wheeler Centre, Michael Williams, got started on their favourite American feats of TV, I warmed to the notion.

I mean, don’t get me wrong: American TV is the type I consume the most. I usually only watch Aussie shows in case I can get some blog or freelance fodder, and British television? Fugedaboutit! But the shows the panel named as their top idiot box must-sees are some real high-brow shit, most of which I’ve never seen an episode of in my life. Think Mad Men, The Soprano’s, The Wire, Six Feet Under. I like my TV a bit fluffier.

Having said that, though, the panellists got me thinking about my favourite shows. While they struggled to whittle down their favourite to just five, I realised I can only count two faultless series: Grey’s Anatomy and Law & Order: SVU. Most of the other shows I watch (Glee, for example) infuriate me to no end with their racist, sexist, classist, ableist and homophobic undertones. Grey’s and SVU don’t always have happy endings, at least, and aren’t afraid to push the boundaries, get rid of popular characters if it strengthens the story (or they cause trouble on set, like Isaiah Washington, or can’t settle their pay disputes, as with Chris Meloni’s departure), and portray really real characters.

I love the way Grey’s has unlikeable characters who still get as much screen time and storylines as the title character, and their personality quirks are those that people in real life actually have. For example, April’s uptight, shrill virgin character bordered on stereotype, but at the same time everyone else’s obsession with her sexless existence is what you would expect from unenlightened real people. Alternatively, you have Cristina, who always looks out for number one and refuses to discuss the possibility of having children with her husband. Ordinarily that would make for a hateful character, but Sandra Oh portrays the nuances of Cristina perfectly. The medical storylines always have a synergy with the doctors’ personal ones, and while it sometimes gets a bit after-school special-y when Miranda has to give a “long speech” or a patient makes a doctor realise something, I don’t think it never not works. Except for that whole Gizzie/Izzie sees dead people thing…

In terms of Special Victims Unit, though, you’d think watching a weekly police procedural about sexual assault for fourteen seasons would be morbid but, for me, I find it one of the most enjoyable shows to sit through. I love how the beginning of an episode is set up so that the audience thinks it’s going to be about one crime but, oftentimes, there can be two or three criminal storylines by the time the forty minutes is up. While it’s almost always about the crime first, character storylines second, you never lose sight of Munch’s conspiracy theorist paranoia, Elliot’s (when he was still in it. Sob!) fiery temper and Olivia’s feminist heroics. And they have some top notch guest stars portraying the lowest of the low and the creepiest of the creepy. Some memorable performances include Cynthia Nixon as a fake sufferer of multiple personality disorder, John Ritter as a distraught husband who attacks his pregnant wife when he finds out the baby might not be his, and Chloe Sevigny as a bored housewife who cries rape.

Both shows deal with things like disability, sexual politics and mental illness in a sensitive and true way which they have to be commended for.

In terms of what television does wrong, though, the discussion turned to Aussie networks. We seem to have a penchant for “flogging” successful shows to death, as both McGuire and Higgs noted. The success of Underbelly meant copious amount of spin-offs with links so tenuous to the original premise that they might as well be standalone shows. And using the success of an overseas import, like Modern Family, The Big Bang Theory, Two & a Half Men and, earlier, Friends, to flog the show to death in double-episode reruns is another hallmark of Aussie networks.

There was also talk of our modern viewing habits. While Vanity Fair may have declared movies usurped by television in a recent issue, which served as the jumping off point for the panel, not a lot of people sit down at the same time each week to watch their shows ritualistically. McGuire admitted to watching “box sets” illegal downloads and streams of her favourite shows, because Australia still has a ways to go when it comes to airing shows consistently and on par with American air dates. I liked it last year when Ten aired Glee the same week it premiered in the U.S., however with events like Thanksgiving, Christmas and the Superbowl interrupting the schedule north of the equator, this means that repeats and “returning in two weeks” promos take the place of consistency Down Under. And don’t even get me started on the treatment of SVU: new episode followed by repeat followed by months of nothing followed by new episode without promotion so most loyal viewers miss it. No wonder there’s an epidemic of illegal interwebs watching: the networks are just so unreliable.

So while it may be the “golden age” of television, it seems to be edging closer to a golden age of twenty-to-forty (or fifty for HBO productions) minute feats of film to be watched on the laptop or iPad, not so much the silver screen.

Related: Glee: The Right & Wrong of It.

What’s Eating April Kempner?

The Underlying Message in Grey’s Anatomy‘s “Superfreak” Episode. 

Cristina Yang as Feminist.

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

TV: What’s Eating April Kempner?

 

One of the couples I’ve been wanting to get together forever on Grey’s Anatomy finally did a couple of weeks ago: April and Jackson. But, as a virgin who has apparently now broken her promise to Jesus, their love wasn’t meant to be (well, except for that second go around in the men’s bathroom during their boards!).

I just don’t get how you can be a doctor—an occupation where science, fact and the tangible reign supreme—and be religious at the same time. A job which involves you, and other skilled scientists like you, saving someone’s life cannot be clouded by “God’s way” and “oh well, they’ve moved on to a better place.”

I really hate the direction April’s character seems to be going in after her outburst during her examination, in which she tells the facilitators that first and foremost she would pray for her patients and that she’s sick of “holding back my relationship with God” from a bunch of scientists. Did the writers really have to make April’s virginity a direct correlation to her faith? I know a few older virgins who haven’t had the opportunity or are waiting to be in a serious relationship to have sex, not because they think premarital sex is “inappropriate” or that Jesus will hate them if they engage in it. April even goes as far as to say that the reason she’s even more highly strung than usual isn’t because “I broke my promise… The problem is… that it felt good.” Ahh, and so sin rears its ugly Jesse Williams-esque head.

Further to this, when it turns out all of April’s potential attending jobs have been pulled after tanking her boards and Jackson tries to comfort her, she says he just feels guilty because now “no one wants me”. She may have just been referring to hospitals, but I have a sneaking suspicion April also meant potential suitors.

Grey’s Anatomy is usually so progressive when it comes to matters of sex and stereotypes, so I really hope this God-fearing version of April Kempner remedies itself by next season.

Related: The Underlying Message in Grey’s Anatomy’s “Superfreak” Episode.

Image via Putlocker.

12 Posts of Christmas: Cristina Yang as Feminist.

In the spirit Christmas, I’ve decided to revisit some of my favourite posts of the year in the twelve days leading up to December 25th.

It’s no secret I love underdogs and Grey’s Anatomy, so what better way than to combine the doctor drama with one of its most dramatic doctors, Cristina Yang, in a post about—what else?—feminism? The original post is here.

When it comes to “likeable” female characters on TV, you might think of Buffy Summers. Or Rachel Green. Or the Gilmore girls. But Grey’s Anatomy’s Cristina Yang probably isn’t one of them.

She’s abrasive, unfeeling, career-driven, ruthless and selfish. Everything a woman shouldn’t be, according to patriarchal norms.

Perhaps she could be more like the ousted Izzie Stevens, who was bubbly and sexy and baked cookies. Or the virginal and highly-strung April Kempner, whom Cristina praises for having “virgin super powers”, enabling her to be super-organised.

But I like Cristina just the way she is. She’s got her eye on the prize, won’t compromise her personal beliefs or goals to be liked or for a man, and she’s got “tiny little genius” hands that enable her to roll with the big guns.

This is why Cristina Yang is one of the only “feminist”—or “strong female”—characters on television. Nay, in all of fiction.

For one thing, she refuses to rely on her looks or her feminine wiles to get ahead. In “This is How We Do It” in season seven, she rejects Owen’s compliment about her beauty, saying, “If you want to appease me, compliment my brain.”

And in last week’s final, we saw Cristina exercise her right to choose, and schedule her second abortion on the show, after much (mostly solo) deliberation. While excluding the opinion of her significant other and father of the future child wasn’t the most respectful thing to do, ultimately it came down to her choice, and she chose to terminate the pregnancy.

In season two, Cristina divulges that she’s pregnant to Dr. Burke and, again, makes the decision to get an abortion on her own. Whereas a character like Izzie seems to serve the pro-life agenda (she gave up her own baby for adoption when she was a teenager growing up in a trailer park, and convinced a HIV-positive woman to carry her pregnancy to term), Cristina resists the societal pressures to tap into her maternal instincts and give birth to a child she does not want.

Regardless of whose agenda could be seen as being served by Cristina’s character, she acts without fear of what other people will think of her.

As a person, no matter what gender, it is seemingly second nature to want others to like us, and to portray our best selves to them. Just look at the ritual of the date or the job interview. That Cristina defies this action (though we have seen her star struck when meeting surgeons like Tom Evans, and Preston Burke for the first time) makes her not just a feminist character, but a truly humanist one.

There are people in this world who challenge us, grate on us, and whom we genuinely don’t like or approve of. But that’s what makes the world go around. Cristina Yang being one of these kinds of people, and being portrayed to us as a whole person on television, with hopes and dreams and trials and tribulations and relationships and a career and no desire for children, and not just as the bitchy mother-in-law who lives off her husband’s money and needs a good fuck, is truly a sight to behold.

Related: Cristina Yang as Feminist.

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

The Underlying Meaning in Grey’s Anatomy’s “Superfreak” Episode.

Sookie as Feminist? Hear Her Roar.

Are Our Favourite Fictional Females Actually Strong, or Stereotypes?

Elsewhere: [The Feel of Free] Cristina Yang + You Can’t Compromise on a Baby.

[Marinagraphy] Motherhood, Cristina Yang & Grey’s Anatomy.

TV: Cristina Yang as Feminist.

 

When it comes to “likeable” female characters on TV, you might think of Buffy Summers. Or Rachel Green. Or the Gilmore girls. But Grey’s Anatomy’s Cristina Yang probably isn’t one of them.

She’s abrasive, unfeeling, career-driven, ruthless and selfish. Everything a woman shouldn’t be, according to patriarchal norms.

Perhaps she could be more like the ousted Izzie Stevens, who was bubbly and sexy and baked cookies. Or the virginal and highly-strung April Kempner, whom Cristina praises for having “virgin super powers”, enabling her to be super-organised.

But I like Cristina just the way she is. She’s got her eye on the prize, won’t compromise her personal beliefs or goals to be liked or for a man, and she’s got “tiny little genius” hands that enable her to roll with the big guns.

This is why Cristina Yang is one of the only “feminist”—or “strong female”—characters on television. Nay, in all of fiction.

For one thing, she refuses to rely on her looks or her feminine wiles to get ahead. In “This is How We Do It” in season seven, she rejects Owen’s compliment about her beauty, saying, “If you want to appease me, compliment my brain.” (Stay tuned for more on beauty versus brains this week.)

And in last week’s final, we saw Cristina exercise her right to choose, and schedule her second abortion on the show, after much (mostly solo) deliberation. While excluding the opinion of her significant other and father of the future child wasn’t the most respectful thing to do, ultimately it came down to her choice, and she chose to terminate the pregnancy.

In season two, Cristina divulges that she’s pregnant to Dr. Burke and, again, makes the decision to get an abortion on her own. Whereas a character like Izzie seems to serve the pro-life agenda (she gave up her own baby for adoption when she was a teenager growing up in a trailer park, and convinced a HIV-positive woman to carry her pregnancy to term), Cristina resists the societal pressures to tap into her maternal instincts and give birth to a child she does not want.

Regardless of whose agenda could be seen as being served by Cristina’s character, she acts without fear of what other people will think of her.

As a person, no matter what gender, it is seemingly second nature to want others to like us, and to portray our best selves to them. Just look at the ritual of the date or the job interview. That Cristina defies this action (though we have seen her star struck when meeting surgeons like Tom Evans, and Preston Burke for the first time) makes her not just a feminist character, but a truly humanist one.

There are people in this world who challenge us, grate on us, and whom we genuinely don’t like or approve of. But that’s what makes the world go around. Cristina Yang being one of these kinds of people, and being portrayed to us as a whole person on television, with hopes and dreams and trials and tribulations and relationships and a career and no desire for children, and not just as the bitchy mother-in-law who lives off her husband’s money and needs a good fuck, is truly a sight to behold.

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

The Underlying Meaning in Grey’s Anatomy’s “Superfreak” Episode.

Sookie as Feminist? Hear Her Roar.

Are Our Favourite Fictional Females Actually Strong, or Stereotypes?

Elsewhere: [The Feel of Free] Cristina Yang + You Can’t Compromise on a Baby.

[Marinagraphy] Motherhood, Cristina Yang & Grey’s Anatomy.

Image via Home of the Nutty.