Tuesday, October 11, 2011

TV TOPIC: The Rise in Male-Bashing / Female-Boosting TV Shows

As I was watching this fall's upfronts, I noticed a common thread: the desire to reassert one's masculinity and the examination of the female psyche and female power.
Tim Allen, the 90s TV star who oozed masculinity on "Home Improvement," an almost all-male series where he co-raised three boys and co-hosted a handyman show, is back with a new ABC series called "Last Man Standing," where he gripes about how soft the male species has gotten over the years. They can't change tires. They get mani-pedis. And they pay for tans they could get naturally in the outdoors. Another upcoming ABC series, "Man Up," echoes that concern, pointing out in the pilot that guys spend so much time fake-fighting on game consoles that their chances of winning a real fight have diminished tremendously. And CBS's recently canceled "How to be a Gentleman" mocked the idea of reviving the old school male persona as a meathead helped a dandy grow a pair.
Meanwhile, some new shows are embracing the deevolution of man. NBC's recently canceled "Free Agents" exploited the vulnerability of its recently divorced main character (Hank Azaria) and his pathetic inability to move on; its "Up All Night" attributes its oblivious first-time dad's (Will Arnett) lack of parenting skills to his late-start; and its upcoming "Bent" will bask in the failure of its gambling-addicted, flaky contractor (David Walton), suggesting you cut him some slack because he's "trying." ABC's "Suburgatory" shows a single father (Jeremey Sisto) basically winging it with his teenage daughter, attempting to give her female role models by moving to suburbia. And its upcoming "Work It" will sink lower than the low, claiming that women have taken over the workforce and the only solution is to dress up like one.

The female characters in these shows are actually the ones who have the power. In the pilot, Allen's wife gets a promotion, his youngest daughter beats her crush in a soccer game, and his middle child teaches herself how to change a tire so she can get permission to go to the nail salon with her boyfriend. Azaria's love interest was the one who was in control of their co-workers-with-benefits relationship. Arnett's wife goes back to work and often cleans up the aftermath of not only his meltdowns, but her boss's too. Walton's leading lady is a strong-willed, somewhat-single mom who raises her daughter without her white-collar criminal husband. Sisto's daughter struggles to avoid the archaic, societal trappings of primping and polishing for approval. And the wife on "Work It" is the one with the steady job and often has to regulate her husband's general irresponsibility. Most interestingly, "Suburgatory" and "Work It" examine the modern woman and what makes them tick, like an unofficial National Geographic special. This is how they talk. This is how they walk. And this is what concerns them.
The shows I've mentioned just have women as costars, but there are a slew of shows that are either headlined by a woman or multiple women—all eager to fight their way to the top and be their own heroes. Emily VanCamp is systematically destroying the rich and sinful on ABC's "Revenge." Kerry Washington will head up a team of "fixers" who make problems go away on ABC's "Scandal." Drew Barrymore revived "Charlie's Angels" and added three badass heroines to ABC's lineup. Laura Benanti had David Krumholtz by the balls, stealing his male-driven business right from under him, while Amber Heard took down a mobster and roped a budding politician into covering for her all on NBC's "The Playboy Club." Sarah Michelle Gellar plays both the hero and the villain in her CW series "Ringer." Flight attendants pull off spy missions and subtly reassert women's rights in ABC's 60s-set "Pan Am." Maria Bello outsmarts all of the chauvinistic detectives on her team every week on NBC's "Prime Suspect." The witches on The CW's "Secret Circle" are mostly female and the leaders for both adult and teen covens are female. And Jennifer Morrison will be her own knight-in-shining-armor once she saves a magical kingdom from a Wicked Witch in ABC's "Once Upon a Time."

It's like we're entering an age where the concept of Prince Charming is being discontinued. And in the absence of that magical totem, we're adopting feminist icons like Beyonce and Lady Gaga, who both dare to proclaim that girls run the world, and break the creative mold while doing it. Michael Mosley's character on "Pan Am" said it best: "They don't know that they're a new breed of woman. They just had an impulse to take flight," and Mike Vogel aptly responded: "So don't try and ground them." Therefore, without that constant dependence and expectation, men have stopped trying to live up to that ideal. They fight imaginary battles. They give into their vices. They put their vulnerabilities on display. Because there's no longer anyone to impress.
But how long before this trend subsides and these new shows start to show signs of chauvinism and female self-hatred? Kat Dennings' character on CBS's "2 Broke Girls" may have a sassy, no-bullshit attitude, but she's already rocking a skin-tight uniform that makes her rack look like it's been vacuum-sealed. The CW's "Hart of Dixie" has Rachel Bilson and Jaime King clawing each other's eyes out over a guy, and ABC's "Good Christian Belles" will have grown-up Mean Girls. NBC has professional comedian Whitney Cummings acting like an insecure, neurotic, commitment-phobe on her self-titled relationship series "Whitney," while her boyfriend suffers through her series of self-sabotaging attempts at being normal. And FOX will soon debut a series where mothers secretly fear and hate their daughters—and it is literally called "I Hate My Teenage Daughter." It seems like it won't be long before the projected feminist movement turns into a moment.

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