Saturday, September 17, 2011

Let's Hear It For the Girls

I'm a child of the nineties. Born in 1984, I hit my adolescence just as Xena and Buffy the Vampire Slayer were riding high on the girl-power renaissance of the late nineties. The early 2000s (post-Buffy, basically, though she was the last of the holdouts and the crowd was thinning well before her) were a wasteland for me. Given just how much my sense of being a powerful female and powerful because I am a female was born of that informal education, I honestly wonder what kind of women and feminist* I would have become if I had come of age during the vacuum that Buffy Summers and Xena left behind them. I have Big Thoughts on Stephanie Meyer's (not just Twilight, as I think that what was implicit in Twilight doesn't become explicit and truly disturbing until we reach The Host) attitudes towards women that are definitely less than positive, but I digress at this point. I think that we're experiencing a second girl power renaissance in televised media right now, following on the heels of the first one spawned in the late nineties**. Cable has been quietly realizing that women-forwarded dramas sell for several years now, and it seems to have finally hit major broadcast zenith. Let's see a portion of what we have this season.

Ringer: Deserves a mention merely on the basis that Sarah Michelle Gellar of BtVS fame is both the star and one of the executive producers. The ratings are so-so after the pilot, and only achieve that mark because the CW has been hemorrhaging viewers over the past two years and is entering desperation stage, but I enjoyed it and love that both hero and villain are played by women. (And that the person making a majority of behind-the-scenes decisions is also a woman!)

Charlie's Angels: The original CA came about during the big push of second-wave feminism. The reboot comes about roughly twenty years after third-wave starting stomping its mark, and there are certain interesting differences. The first Angels were all undeniably Lawful Good figures. Now, I love Lawful Good, and the first Angels were amazing in how much ground they strode towards dismantling the Madonna-Whore dichotomy, but I kind of love that the rebooted Angels are reformed or reforming criminals. Women get to screw up now and still be heroes. (And one member of the "two brunettes, one blonde" formula has become a woman of color***!) I am very interested in how this one turns out as a Big Dumb Fun Show.

Unforgettable: Poppy Montgomery has been bouncing from procedural to procedural for more than a decade now. (And as many of the women taking center stage this season are doing so in shows aimed at older audiences, I wonder how many of the kids like me all grown up are being targeted demographically. That definitely doesn't mean that I mind.) Police procedurals, for all that the hardbitten, cynical, seen-it-all cop is generally pictured as a man, have been friendlier towards women for a goodish while, and especially older women who don't fit an easy T&A market. I'm glad to see the trend continuing.

The Secret Circle: Made possible by the success of the CW's major money-maker, The Vampire Diaries, TSC follows a group of witches the same way that TVD follows a group of vampires, werewolves, witches, and human hangers-on. Both series are based on books by author L.J. Smith, who was herself a part of the girl power renaissance of the nineties****. I was doing other things and couldn't give the pilot my full attention, but it's being produced and helmed by the same person that made TVD a success, and it's one of the few vehicles aimed specifically at a younger audience.

The Playboy Club and PanAm: I'm giving these a mention because they haven't aired yet and both feature women-heavy casts, but the promotional strategy thus far makes me believe that they're going to be turned out by folks who liked Mad Men and didn't realize that it's supposed to be a deconstruction rather than an endorsement. I will happily throw confetti and blow a vuvuzela if I'm proven wrong.

Returning Favorites:

Nikita: The titular role is played by fabulous stunt woman and gifted actress Maggie Q in a blending of television and movie canons. It won a second season by the skin of its teeth, but it's my very favorite thing on TV right now, so expect me to talk about it a lot.

The Vampire Diaries: Pretty much the CW's major moneymaker now that Smallville has retired and Supernatural has started to enter its natural decline. It has major issues with race that were, in retrospect, seeded during the first season in order to grow tall in the second, and has been steadily eroding the fantastic ground it once held on gender. However, it's still a drama 1) aimed towards young women and girls, and 2) a drama in which most of the movers and players are powerful women. That the villain of the second and (thus far) season is male is a new and remarkable thing. The CW has always been targeted towards a young female office. I hope that it (The CW) gets to stick around and continue to make television.

The Good Wife: Coming into its third season, it began as the drama following the wife of a disgraced politico and is now a pretty solid legal procedural in its own right. Remarkable for featuring older women and bisexual women, both of which don't get seen all that often on network television in meaty roles. It also has a rep for some skeevy race issues, which I can't disagree with even after having seen maybe a quarter of the total episodes.

Harry's Law: Entering its second season on NBC. Remarkable because it's about an older, overweight, not conventionally attractive woman. Who happens to be played by Kathy Friggin' Bates, probably a big part of why it got a second season in the first place. But don't you want to be defended by an attorney who could cut someone's foot off for looking at her wrongly?

This is a good thing, y'all. Let's support it as it continues.

*Not a bad word, no matter how much Limbaugh tries to make it so. It means that I think women are equals of men, and I will fight to make that statement a reflected reality in society. I don't hate men, and I think that patriarchy hurts men, too. (Not as much as it hurts women, but it does.) The end.

**I'm not counting the efforts to include women in powerful roles in media of the late seventies, not because I discount them, but because they're not a rebirth as the term "renaissance" implies: nothing like them had ever occurred before.

***Accompanying the ladies in charge general push of the late nineties was also a specific push towards ladies of color in charge, spearheaded by the WB and UPN (a philosophy that the blended CW has not reflected). I have not seen a renaissance towards more characters and actors of color on major broadcast television the way that I saw in the nineties. There has been some growth, but it's been a slow-going thing.

****And then lost her damn fool mind in the 2000s, but, oh, shine on, you crazy diamond.

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