And now, for something completely different…



The television season has begun again, and I am blissin’ out to the return of “Parks & Recreation” and “Community.”  I also checked out some of the new stuff, and have – of course – opinions to share.


FOX’s “New Girl” has gotten a lot of buzz.  Zooey Deschanel!  Written by Liz Meriweather, who is somehow a big deal right now even though “No Strings Attached” was actually a really shitty movie that didn’t do that well at the box office!  Billboards using the word “adorkable”!


Internet (read: Jezebel) response to the show has been pretty predictable (almost as predictable as “No Strings Attached”!) – someone points out that the whole Manic Pixie Dream Girl thing is played-out and anti-feminist, other ladies (including Mses Deschanel and Meriweather) respond stridently that THEY are MPDGs by choice, not to fulfill some absurd white-male fantasy stereotype, and isn’t feminism about respecting women’s right to be THEMSELVES, whosoever that may be?!?!


…All of which is a lovely argument to have, but is also completely irrelevant to “New Girl.”  Because however much Jess, the adorkable protagonist of “New Girl,” might be authentically quirky, the narrative mechanics of the show are all about her adorkable effects on a bunch of dudes (who I believe are named Sensitive Guy, Frat Guy, and Black Guy).


The show doesn’t have anything to say about Jess, really, except that she exists and performs a very specific stereotype for the male gaze.  The entire show is predicated on her girlish difference and plots revolve around the gap between male and female.  There is absolutely nothing new or interesting about the show.


Now, fortunately for us all, there IS a show out there that doesn’t suck – “Up All Night,” I’m looking at you.


“Up All Night” is, on its face, a more traditional sitcom than “New Girl” – whereas “New Girl” centers around a girl moving in with three guys from Craigslist (how edgy!), “Up All Night” takes as its central characters the ol’ sitcom standby of a married couple.  Christina Applegate and Will Arnett are affluent professionals, she a producer for an “Oprah”-like talk show, he a lawyer; they have a baby, and Arnett becomes a stay-at-home dad when Applegate goes back to work.


With a description like that, you’d think the show would trade entirely in gendered stereotypes, but “Up All Night” is blessedly, beautifully free of such trite garbage.  Nor is the humor mined from the cliched sitcom well of husband versus wife: this is a married couple that actually LIKES each other, whose relationship seems firmly rooted in friendship and mutual respect.  Arnett’s character doesn’t trip about being emasculated by stay-at-home daddyhood – one gets the impression that he wasn’t all that enamored of his job anyway, and that he’s just the kind of laid-back guy who’d rather hang out with his kid than strive to make partner.  Similarly, Applegate’s character doesn’t freak out too hard about returning to work – she loves her job and she loves her child, but her struggle for balance doesn’t lead her to conclude that she can’t do both.  All this, plus Maya Rudolph and Nick Cannon round out the main cast as successful characters of color!


“New Girl” has been written up as the prime example of a television season in which women have central roles, but so long as a woman’s central role is to have a transformative effect upon men with her enchanting quirkiness, little actual progress is being made.  "Up All Night" succeeds where “New Girl” fails because it addresses its characters not as Men and Women (or, rather, Men and Girls) – not as opposite poles in tired comedic conflict – but as people, inclusive of both men and women, but not limited to the stereotypes those words so often bring.

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