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.

On the (Rest of the) Net.

Women-hosted podcasts are the next big thing. Glad I’m on the bandwagon then, as I just hosted my first podcast for Outback Championship Wrestling, interviewing TNA star and Amazing Race contestant, Robbie E. I’ll post it here when it’s available. [Bitch Magazine]

And I also recapped last weekend’s Outback Championship Wrestling show featuring Robbie E.

I wrote about Cristina Yang’s radical unlikeability and feminism. [Bitch Flicks]

Also, the unlikeability of Hannah Horvath and Girls. [Kill Your Darlings]

An interview with Caitlin Stasey about her website, Herself. [Jezebel]

My third roundup of links for feminaust is now live.

In defence of Blair Waldorf. [Bitch Flicks]

And Kim Kardashian. [The Hairpin]

Ross Gellar is a men’s rights activist. [The Frisky]

Katy Perry’s religiosity. [Buzzfeed]

What it means for men’s masculinity to not “hit below the belt”. [Sociological Images]

“She’s just so… Black!” The politics of Blackness. [Salon]

ICYMI: 50 Shades of Grey is 50 shades of boring, and am I a Bad Feminist?

If these links weren’t enough weekend reading for you, check out the 82nd Down Under Feminists Carnival. [A Life Unexamined]

On the (Rest of the) Net.

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The Little Mermaid‘s Ursula is the feminist fairy octomother you never knew you wanted. [Bitch Flicks]

I dissect why we insist on calling women “girls”. [TheVine]

Newlyweds, and later The Hills and Keeping Up with the Kardashians, was a pioneer of the “celebrity best friend” trope. [Grantland]

In the wake of my “Wrestling with Obsession” piece for Writers Bloc, they interviewed me for their newsletter. Sign up here.

How the capitalism of Fifty Shades of Grey reinforces the ties that bind women to abusive relationships. [Buzzfeed]

Clementine Ford thinks the word “slut” is too far gone to be worth reclaiming. [Daily Life]

“The Radical Queerness of Kate McKinnon’s Justin Bieber.” [The Atlantic]

So a character on Girls had an abortion and was super relaxed about it. [Jezebel]

Cripface Oscar bait reigned supreme at this years’ Academy Awards. [Disability Intersections]

And here‘s everything else that was wrong with the Oscars. [Bitch Flicks]

Lesbian representation in women’s magazines. [The Conversation]

Meet the Feminist Fucker: a guy who sees feminists as the ultimate conquest. [Spook Magazine]

ICYMI: When you realise all your passions are no longer cutting it.

Image via Disney.com.

TV: Catching Up on Women-Friendly Media.

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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 other 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 seeked 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.

On the (Rest of the) Net.

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I went to see Into the Woods this week and I enjoyed it a lot more than I thought I would having read some things on the interwebs about its race and gender problems.

While it certainly still had those (*spoiler alert* both The Witch and The Baker’s Wife die because they don’t subscribe to typical notions of femininity; The Wolf wears a zoot suit in a dodgy part of the woods) it’s probably the least problematic of all the Oscars bait in cinemas at the moment.

I found the politics of gender very interesting. I was surprised by how on the nose the rapeyness of The Prince was, and I thought Chris Pine played him to perfection. I was taken aback by the pedophilic undertones rife throughout the musical, exhibited by The Wolf and The Baker, amongst others. And for those unfamiliar with the stage version, in it the actor that plays The Prince also plays The Wolf! It gives a whole new meaning to the niceness/charm VS. goodness that reverberates throughout Into the Woods. If you like musicals and/or picking apart the underlying meaning of pop culture, go see it. [The Windowsill]

Why are some of our favourite TV shows given a “free pass” on their problematic content while others are expected to be all things to all people? I love that Sinead Stubbins threw in the gender card: Sex & the City, Girls and even Grey’s Anatomy are often held to a much higher standard than prestige TV’s other (read: male protagonist-based) vehicles. [Junkee]

Not knowing you’re beautiful is exactly what makes you beautiful. [Daily Life]

The history of the Lifetime movie. [WaPo]

Disney’s Agent Carter isn’t feminist: it’s about “Disney owning feminist entertainment, and thereby being able to set the terms for it.” [In These Times]

Just as relevant to the #Tay4Hottest100 controversy as it was when it was published last year, Brodie Lancaster writes about gender-based music elitism. [Rookie]

“Looking ‘Black’ is a Crime”:

“Authorities want to ban hoodies but not guns, sagging pants but not police murdering unarmed Black people, natural hair but not unnatural racist discrimination.” [Dame]

Nicki Minaj sacrificed love for career success on her latest album, The Pinkprint. [One Week One Band]

Looking at Pretty Woman‘s positive portrayal of sex work. [Bitch Flicks]

Why do all on-screen female journalists sleep with their subjects for a story? [NY Magazine]

The inevitability of being called fat for deigning to be a woman in public. [Musings of an Inappropriate Woman]

“The Girls effect” on the Iowa Writers Workshop. [Vulture]

The effect menstruation has on professional sportswomen. [Birdee]

Glee flies in the face of character development, storyline continuity and sensitivity by making Coach Beiste a trans man. Would you expect anything more? [Autostraddle]

On being a fat bride-to-be. [The Guardian]

Image via Tumblr.

On the (Rest of the) Net.

from parts unknown fight like a girl

I interviewed From Parts Unknown: Fight Like a Girl‘s director/producer Daniel Armstrong ahead of the movie’s seven-years-in-the-making premiere last weekend. [Outback Championship Wrestling]

I also did a little write up on OCW’s newest tag team, the Loose Bastards!

And just to top off my week of wrestling writing, I’m talking about choice on Total Divas. [Bitch Flicks]

Do home invasion movies help women work through our fears of real-life in-home violence? [Bitch]

Further to that, what about Law & Order: Special Victims Unit and sexual assault survivors? [The Hairpin]

When is the right time to carry a pregnancy to term? And when is the right time to abort? [Talking Points Memo]

Bill Cosby’s infuriating arrogance allows him to get away with everything. [Role Reboot]

Is it time for Girls to separate Hannah Horvath from Lena Dunham? [Junkee]

Rappers rule Instagram (and they also post the most drug- and alcohol-related content). [Addiction-Treatment]

Feminism won the Golden Globes. [Cosmopolitan]

But diversity lost in the Oscars nominations. [Daily Life]

Further to that, Tina Fey and Amy Poehler’s Cosby–rape joke got it right because it skewered the (alleged) rapist and rape culture, not the victim. [Feministe]

The class politics of Gilmore Girls. [The Baffler]

Sex workers don’t need to be rescued. [Vice]

Taylor Swift’s Girlfriend Collection. [Buzzfeed]

An interview with Caitlin Stasey about her new body-positive website, Herself. com. [Daily Life]

Filmme Fatales interviewed Beyond Clueless director Charlie Lyne before they present the doco at the Rooftop Cinema on 27th January.

Janet Mock on self-care. [The Hairpin]

Nicki Minaj, Taylor Swift and Sia’s latest chart-topping albums are trading in sadness. [The Village Voice]

The story of V: abbreviating “very”. [The Atlantic]

Image via Strongman Pictures.

On the (Rest of the) Net.

Why do you hate porn stars? [The Stranger]

In defence of Kim Kardashian. [Batty Mamzelle]

Meet Terry Richardson’s right-hand-woman and partner in crime. [Vocativ]

At the intersection of being a fat, gay woman. [The King’s Tribune]

Natalie Barr wants you to know she doesn’t hate men, okay? [Daily Telegraph]

I wrote about Gossip GIRLS: Hannah Horvath VS. Dan Humphrey. I also wrote about Dan Humphrey as GG a few weeks ago here. [Junkee]

Birdee published a named first-hand account of a medical abortion. We need more of this in our teen magazines. 

How one Melbourne freelancer changed the course of hip hop history. [Junkee]

Women hiding away to heal from cosmetic surgery (NSFW). [Jezebel]