(First read this article in the New Yorker about Sex And The City)
Since most TV has been on hiatus till fall, I've been rewatching my first love: Sex And The City. It's nice rewatching a show that you've already seen, you can pick and choose between episodes. So I chose to drop the entirely annoying third and fourth season, where Carrie and Aiden stop and start and stop and start. I've never found anyone to get on my nerves as much as Carrie does in those two seasons, her prevaricating when Big and Aiden both beg her to make decisions, even the way her voice goes up, endlessly on and on about the state of her love affairs. Two other very important things happen in these two seasons: Miranda gets pregnant and Charlotte gets divorced. However, these are just side shows to Carrie's ultimate cheating and not cheating, I-love-him I-love-him-not. If Carrie Bradshaw had been my friend during this period in my life, I would have started to screen her calls.
Instead, my very favourite SATC season, is the one agreed upon as the finest. Season 6, when everything for everyone else is wrapping up. The gorgeous aloof older Russian who whisks Carrie away, the accidental fall of a party girl from a window, Steve and Miranda buying a house in Brooklyn, Charlotte and Harry stumbling through infertility, Samantha toning it down and settling in to her model boyfriend, when breast cancer struck, it was all dramatic satisfying story telling.
In comparision, consider another show that I love that went on for seven seasons, Gilmore Girls is an underrated show by perhaps every single man I have met. Fast talking repartee, a small town beloved by its citizens, and mostly, watching Lorelai grow up side by side with her daughter, also called Lorelai (Rory to everyone), who she had at 16. I have not rewatched Gilmore Girls since I hit my thirties, but I am curious if, upon my rewatch, if my sympathies will be more with 32-year-old Lorelai than with 16-year-old Rory, who commanded my entire devotion the first time I saw the show. I remember of all Rory's boyfriends, disliking the one she ended up with the most--the rich, snotty Logan--so much better for her to have stayed with Jesse, the "difficult" one, even if he was screwed up. Gilmore Girls was dismissed as a "girl" show and very rarely comes up when people are discussing good television, but the seven year saga encompassed so much more than just two kooky girls running around town, it dealt with difficult parents, shone a light on characters made much more nuanced by living in a small town and finally, superbly showed how you could grow up and grow away from the things you once loved.
There is much less on television now geared towards ladies than there was ten years ago. I mean, there's loads that tries, but the long-form saga story series is essentially gone, unless it's crime or a drama. It has to have a schtick. One I tolerate and that attempts to go the same way is Switched At Birth. This is probably a fantastic show of the same calibre to people who haven't watched the older ones. Switched deals with Bay and Daphne, who were, duh, switched at birth. Only Daphne is deaf, and in this, the show is excellent, as it might be the only TV series out there which deals with disabled people as well as making them the lead characters. I've even picked up a little AMSlan from watching.
this one imply, the show is groundbreaking because it is about deaf people in real life, and not because it's an outstanding show.
So which are the shows currently airing that deal with the full spectrum of character development and thoughtfully examined relationships? There are three that are trying: The Mindy Project, New Girl and Girls. Out of all three of these, I can fully say that New Girl is leaps and bounds above the other two. What seems to be a Manic Pixie Dream Girl existence of one girl with a ukelele turns out to be a whole thing on living in an economic recession, developing feelings for your friend and roommate, who also happens to be Not The Perfect Guy (in fact, a bit of a loser) and even, the idea of arranged marriage when your personal goals are not being met. While the show is oestensibly about Jess, I watch it for its focus on her best friend, Cece, an Indian origin American model, who manages to epitomise the pull between her cultures very well.
The Mindy Project on the other hand, let me down badly. While Mindy Kaling--so funny! so smart!--is a personal role model, the show is bland, lukewarm and only funny in bits. There is so much she could do with this space, and it's sad that she has chosen to go the rom-com way, no inner explorations, no character development. On the other hand, it could be that she's deliberating choosing to normalise her life, not just another minority-in-a-majority world, but even in the normalising, there could be scope for growth, which just doesn't come through. Girls, even though it is annoying, at least shines a light on certain aspects of 20-somethings, even dealing with body image issues in an OTT but still, at least done, way.
Is it just that there is no money to be made anymore in a trope that was old even when those shows came out? I can't help thinking that's not true--with the right dialogue and execution, even a story as simple as boy meets girl and it doesn't work out despite the fact that they tried, could be good television. Meanwhile, I'll stick to watching reruns of shows I used to love and shows for "boys"--The West Wing, Newsroom, Game Of Thrones, Breaking Bad--and wonder when they will make a show as easy for Saturday night and a glass of wine again.
ADDENDUM: Obviously, the last paragraph deserves more than a throwaway line, considering all the comments centred around it. Dear female readers, I'm not trying to discount that you too--like I, like maybe the men in your life--enjoy shows about politics and drugs, drama and fantasy. This does not discount it from the fact that those shows are meant for men. When I say "meant for" I don't mean that you cannot enjoy it, you do. I hope you do, they're excellent shows. I mean, however, that the people behind the shows, the executive producers and channels and so on, are targetting them towards the men, because of their aforementioned content.
Is this fair? No. But can I say that these shows are aimed at everyone, while the girls shows are aimed just at girls? No. The divide in television programming is quite great, with people knowing which side their bread is buttered on. Please see this list of shows in Esquire, The 100 Best Shows For Men. It displays several "neutral" shows, like Modern Family, South Park, and even 30 Rock, which, by inclusion of the fabulous Tina Fey, should be, if not one of ours, then at least not on a list for men only. By contrast to the insane amount of Google hits the first query brought, let's look at 'best shows for women'. There is this first hit on All Women's Talk, including Parenthood and New Girl, both shows about dating and relationships.
I am really happy to see you all so indignant at the thought that GoT isn't for girls, because guess what, ladies? We're watching it. We're ALL watching it, and yet, and yet, because it's fantasy and swords it's still considered to be For The Boys. Which is why I used my scare quotes in that sentence.
Here is some more reading if you're interested in the subject:
Over at Screencrush: Reel Women On Game Of Thrones & The Stupid Idea Of Gender-Exclusive Media
Here Be Sexism.
Brown Feminist Fan Rant tackles both racism AND sexism in the show.
I'd be interested to know what you think. Do you completely disagree with me? Is the show, in fact, being geared to a gender neutral audience and am I just getting on my feminist high horse? Does it have undercurrents of sexism that we can't ignore?