Male doctor: ” ‘Scuse me, dear.”
Dr. Hunt: “Actually, it’s Doctor Dear.”
Note: The recent two-month hiatus in blogging is due to my stupid decision to take five courses in my first semester at SCA. As I hope to take another five next semester, for a whopping total of 14 credits (I believe most first year students take 10?), three of which are writing courses, I can only assume an extended mid-season break is approaching. Thanks for sticking with TeleRevision in the meantime. I assure you this is only a part of my larger efforts to see women dominate the media.
That exchange above, between medical examiner Megan Hunt and a good ol’ boy doctor/Anatomy professor, happened to my mother. Baltimore, 1994. My mother was starting her first (and only, to date) position as the head of a research laboratory. A worker made the innocent mistake of calling her “Hon,” a very Bawlmer term of endearment. Naturally my mother responded, “Excuse me, but it’s Doctor Hon.”
The point I am trying to make is this: it is positively exhilarating to see strong, well-rounded female characters share our experiences. I know that’s why I turn to art, music, film, television, etc–to know that someone else has felt something of what I am feeling, even if they’ve expressed it through the daily struggles of a fictional character.
In every show I watch long-term, and even some I only peruse occasionally, there is one episode that stands out as a turning point in my relationship to the show. I tend to watch television in a state of intellectual distraction, often thinking about other ideas or work as I watch. But if I keep with a show long enough, there is always an episode, or perhaps even a moment, that engages my attention completely and causes me to realize how invested I am in these characters.
So today when I watched the most recent episode of a steadily-improving medical mystery show, I was transfixed. Female characters who experience the same kind of casual sexism most women do, and who shrug it off with a few choice words, or a biting aside to a colleague? Women of varying ethnicities, and with varying levels of career success, but who all behave assertively, even when they show vulnerability? A show with four great female characters with interesting jobs in its first season (Dr. Megan Hunt, Dr. Kate Murphy, police detective Samantha Baker, and Hunt’s mother, Judge Joan Hunt) that adds a new, equally engaging female character (Dani Alverez, a driver and body-picker-upper for the medical examiner’s office with forensic aspirations) in its second season? I’m absolutely sold.
Derivative storylines and clunky emotional arcs held back Body of Proof during its first season, but now that the writers have a firm handle on the individual stories and identities of their female characters, the show is completely engrossing. My friend and I used to watch Body of Proof as a sort of long-running joke. We love Dana Delaney, the actress who plays Dr. Hunt, and we were enjoying the sheer absurdity of its premise: after a car accident, a gifted surgeon experiences hand tremors and is forced to take a job as a medical examiner–ya know, because you can’t kill people who are already dead. I mean how incredibly stupid does that sound?
But we stuck with it through an uneven first season, and now I am almost shocked to watch this network show and see four women speaking to each other in a non-accusatory manner about something other than a man. To be fair, in the episodes leading up to this one, Dr. Hunt and Dr. Murphy do discuss a man, namely Hunt’s ex-husband who is now dating Murphy, but the work always comes first. They bond over inert bodies, regardless of their personal lives. This is not a meaningless instance of characterization or plot development. I never thought I would say this about a show that began life as a tossed-off mid-season replacement, a sort of Grey’s Anatomy for the CSI set, but Body of Proof is progressive television.
Body of Proof depicts women who are capable of doing impressive analytical and deductive work despite their feelings about love, motherhood, and relationships. These women feel things strongly, but they are still capable of doing their jobs. In a culture where we have been taught that women’s emotions always cloud their judgment, it is progressive as hell to see women who think, feel, and act like we do getting shit done, regardless of whether they’re having bad days or good. Body of Proof reminds me to keep an open-mind toward television and other media because you never know where you’ll find the strong characters you’ve been looking for. After all, as Dr. Hunt is fond of saying, “The body is the proof.” Stay tuned!
(Also, especially stay tuned for a future post where I get all Cultural Studies about this and discuss the idea of women examining the body as a site of trauma. This is kind of a big deal.)