A Final Act of Contrition: A Follow-Up to New Girl

16 September 2011

An unfortunate instance of synchronicity.

I have a screenwriting class that meets twice a week, and in one recent session, we had to go around the room and discuss voice. Specifically, each writer’s voice when writing, and each writer’s voice when speaking. I use “voice” in the vague sense of one’s personality as it comes across in her writing, and one’s personality as it comes across in her conversation. A writer’s term, naturally, to describe some innate quality that is difficult to assess in concrete language.

I’ll take subversive, feisty, even direct and opinionated. But what I can’t tolerate is being told that I have a tendency to apologize for my work as printed copies are passed around the room. Do I do this? I don’t think I do this. All my life I’ve made a conscious effort to avoid the stereotype of the insecure woman who can’t stand behind the quality of her own work. Sure, I can’t take a compliment to save my life, but apologize for my writing? I never thought I was guilty.

But in writing script, one learns to consider every possible outcome of the story until the right one is clear. So I’ll entertain the possibility that my voice is uncertain and apologetic. And I will work harder to ensure it doesn’t always seem so. But before I go, I need to apologize for one more thing:

I’m sorry I wrote nice, bland pleasantries about New Girl. I’m sorry because when I think about the show, and I think about the conversations I’ve had about it with other women, I need to acknowledge that it’s really just another piece of post-feminist, fairer sex bullshit. So what I’m really sorry for is trying to convince myself and my readers that it was alright.

Here are the reasons why I didn’t eviscerate this undeniably mediocre show:

  1. I went to the screening with friends from the film school, and they all enjoyed it. It’s very hard to be mean when you want people to like you. So you take the easy route and laugh along every time a pretty girls plays at being a loser. Because you know what it feels like to be a loser, and it’s not quite what she’s feeling, but it’s easier to laugh and say Oh, yes, that’s exactly it.
  2. I had just moved to Los Angeles three weeks earlier and I didn’t want a reputation as the mean girl. And I know I’ve earned it, this second sandpaper skin that abrades against everything with a rotten core, but it was too soon. Too early to be the girl who doesn’t like anything.
  3. I wanted to believe in the golden lie that permeates every writers’ room in this town, every coffee shop critique, every mid-morning pitch: if a woman made it and we show it, that’s progress. And I know this is so incredibly wrong, but there it is. The lie that will take me places, the lie that will get my television shows on the air, my romantic comedies on the screen.

Do these sound like women’s reasons? Do these sound like apologetic musings? They should.

I’m sorry I pretended to like a show that was mediocre. I’m sorry I wanted to make friends before art. I’m sorry I bought into that incandescent lie.

I assure you it won’t happen again.

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Depicting Sincerity pt. 2: Hellcats S01 E15

16 February 2011

Jake peers into his new home for the next few months...

...a jail cell with mini fridge, television, and microwave. That bed doesn't look too bad either.

An unsettling trend emerges in another favorite TV show; this week’s Hellcats is unusually sincere, with frequent remarks about moral behavior and religious belief.

Marti’s pet project, the release of wrongfully incarcerated street musician Travis, reaches its inevitable conclusion in this episode. Travis is freed from prison, but Jake, Lancer football captain and true perpetrator of the pharmacy theft, is locked up instead. But, as seen above, Jake’s cell is a tricked-out dorm room with all the essentials of college–excuse me, prison–life. Looks like Jakey’s gonna be doing his hard time in style.

This ending to a particularly genuine episode leaves viewers with a somewhat conflicted message about crime and the importance of doing the right thing. In a rather convoluted plot, Jake announces his involvement in the crime so that only his future will be compromised, rather than the lives of his football teammates and the Hellcats cheerleaders. Jake struggles with the consequences of revealing the real story. He has a conversation with his cheerleader girlfriend, an uncharacteristically scrupulous Alice, in which they discuss the injustice of his expected prison sentence. Jake maintains that it’s unfair he should be the only person to serve time since many other football players and higher-ups were indirectly involved in the robbery.

Eventually a press conference is assembled (yes, football is that big in Tennessee!), and Jake confesses his part in the crime. As he’s hauled off to jail, we learn that now Lancer football fans respect and admire Jake for his honesty, and that he has quite a few fans at the penitentiary. Jake is led to his cell, and the warden explains all the special amenities and privileges he’ll receive as a former football star.

Apparently in Hellcats, it pays to do the right thing. Sure, you’ll have to spend some time in the big house, but the experience will be almost as comfortable as your dishevelled dorm room. And your cell is a single! You might lose some privacy, but things always work out okay for the contrite white boy. In a few months, you’ll be back at Lancer with a grudge against everyone who pressured you into telling the truth, and Hellcats will have a whole season’s worth of plotlines. Will my prediction for next season hold true? Should I be writing for this awesome-terrible show? (YES.) Stay tuned!


Hilarity and Sincerity in Community S02 E15

11 February 2011

 

"I'm a stylish American, professor, I've been forcing myself to be into soccer since 2004."

 

Another totally hilarious episode of Community, the only show on television that legitimately reminds me of Arrested Development. NBC has a killer line-up on Thursday nights, and let’s be honest, the network deserves all those mid-week millions for three of those shows alone–I’m thinking of Community, Parks and Recreation, and 30 Rock. Every time I watch Community, there are always a couple jokes that reaffirm my disbelief that this shows airs on network television.

The great thing about Community, especially in contrast to a show like Modern Family, is that there is an eclectic cast of primary characters, an enormous cast of supporting roles, and constant interaction within and between each group. Protagonists are clearly identified as members of the study group, but that doesn’t mean bit players are reduced to new stock characters every week. Leonard, Star Burns, Fat Neil, and others are constantly in the background, even if their stories aren’t a priority (Although sometimes these supporting characters do get their own episodes and to great comic effect–in last week’s Dungeons and Dragons-themed show, Neil and the study group roleplay a riveting game of D&D in Jeff’s attempt to prevent clinically-depressed Neil’s impending suicide).

Community also has a secret weapon that is often lacking in similar comedy shows: character development. The first season of Community established the identities of the study group members, but then, particularly in the second season, as the protagonists experienced misadventures as a group and as individuals, they began to grow as characters. Shirley’s relationship with her ex-husband was addressed recently, as was Annie’s studio apartment above local sex shop Dildopolis, an accommodation resulting from her non-existent relationship with her parents, and on this episode, concerns were again raised about Pierce’s prescription drug habits.

In fact, Community has tried so hard to present its main characters as fully-realized people, that the end of this episode was a mild surprise. Jeff sends a text message to the study buddies, and as we see how each character spent his or her Valentine’s Day, we hear Jeff’s message as a voice-over:

It might not shock you guys to hear the real reason we had a fight today. It wasn’t about the Barenaked Ladies, although I do have some unresolved issues there. Caring about a person can be scary, caring about six people can be a horrifying embarrassing nightmare, at least for me. But if I can’t say it today, when can I say it? I love you guys. Oh, and Pierce, take it from an expert: these knuckleheads are right outside your heart. Let them in before it’s too late. Happy Valentine’s Day.

When I first watched this episode, I couldn’t quite grasp this particular reversal. Cool tough guy Jeff has suddenly become capable of expressing emotion for others? But when you think about the revelations we’ve already encountered with other characters, Jeff’s momentary sincerity makes sense. Jeff is not immune to his experiences with the study group, but unlike Shirley and Annie, he needed a season-and-a-half to realize and articulate his feelings. Does this change his hepcat exterior? No, it just proves that even the comedy characters who seem most shallow and self-absorbed can have moments of introspection. Will the new Jeff Winger last? Stay tuned!