Tag Archives: Mad Men

Shows I Would Watch If They Only Had Female Characters

1 Jun

PeggyJoan

We’re two weeks into the post-Mad Men era, and though it’s constitutionally forbidden to say anything bad about it, I have a confession to make: I liked Mad Men very much, but during the later seasons, there were times where I thought, “I wish this show were about the women.”

I get it. Mad Men is the story of Don Draper and his slow spiral into misery and drunkenness and death as the fifties become the seventies. That’s the show, and it was a great show. But you know who’s really interesting? Peggy Olsen, who started out as the secretary and is just about to rule the world. Joan Holloway-Harris, who was the mistress of one world and is maybe still adjusting to another, is interesting. Sally Draper, who didn’t even have any lines for four seasons because she was a child, and who will spend all of the seventies in therapy because of the events of the sixties? Sally Draper is interesting. Give me a show about those ladies—I guess the men can make occasional cameos, and by “the men” I mean “70s Stan and his beard of majesty”—and I’d watch.

For a period of time, The Good Wife approached this benchmark; things came gloriously close to becoming The Alicia, Diane, and Kalinda Show (With Cameos by Nancy Crozier and Elsbeth Tascioni), which I like to think was foiled only by mysterious production-side issues. To be clear: I don’t mind the men of The Good Wife. I hope Matthew Goode comes back next season! I love Eli Gould! Peter Florrick is the character who kind of makes me get the appeal of Chris Noth! I think Louis Canning is a terrific, complex role for Michael J. Fox! But come on: I don’t need them. Not the way I need The Alicia, Diane, and Kalinda Show.

And then there are shows I don’t already watch, but might if they suddenly turned into shows about women doing interesting things. Take Elementary: It’s convenient that the creators of Elementary already went to the trouble of taking Sherlock Holmes’s name out of the title of their show, so when it’s just Joan Watson hanging around a big house in amazing outfits, being a professional sober companion or maybe solving crimes (slowly and with old-fashioned police work, due to lack of a prodigy partner), they won’t even have to change anything. Since they’ve already begun, I would also accept a full genderswap, where Jonny Lee Miller morphs into Sherlockia Holmes (Tilda Swinton), a lady genius/addict who solves crimes under the reluctant but respectful eye of Captain Thomasina Gregson (Edie Falco). They can keep the turtle, Clytemnestra.

I’d say the same about Game of Thrones, but it poses a few more problems. On one hand, Game of Thrones appears to be full of flawed, three-dimensional female characters with interesting storylines, making it ripe for the Misandrist Plague. Let’s watch a well-funded, well-written, well-produced show about ladies and dragons! On the other hand, I get the feeling that this show is very pointed about women and power—that any woman experiencing any kind of success is some kind of thrilling exception, and any woman who isn’t a thrilling exception is definitely not experiencing any kind of success. So what happens to a casually feminist Game of Thrones, where the women are just characters and not unicorns? Maybe the backstabbings (literal and figurative) continue; I’d be into that. Maybe they don’t, and they talk everything out and decide it doesn’t matter who gets to sit in the sword chair, and form a commune ruled by a High Governess who rotates every year. I’m sure there’s conflict there, too! Either way, I wasn’t kidding about that ladies-and-dragons show, and I’m far more likely to watch either of these options than I am the actual Game of Thrones.

I’m not saying I don’t watch and enjoy TV about men. As I said, I thought Mad Men was terrific as it was, and I tune in weekly, with great affection, to the men of The Good Wife. I like Jonny Lee Miller, and I hear good things about his performance on Elementary. (Game of Thrones is probably not going to happen for me, but everybody else seems excited about it, so we’ll go with that.) But sometimes it feels like people think shows won’t float if they don’t have a man front and center; I’d like to argue otherwise. I like watching shows about women—female humans with thoughts and feelings!—making their way in extraordinary circumstances. I’m pretty sure I’m not alone in this.

So. While we’re at it, where did we land on Tilda Swinton and Edie Falco?

Parks and Rec and the American Way of Cancellation

14 May

knope2

NBC announced over the weekend that my favorite show, Parks and Recreation, will have one final thirteen-episode season, and then go to the big public forum in the sky. Done! Gone! Cancelled! But I have to tell you: I think this is okay news.

Parks and Rec has lived a good life. It’s had a surprising number of seasons for a show that spent its entire run on the brink of cancellation (just today, a 2012 episode of Pop Culture Happy Hour referred to the then-imminent fifth season as “almost certainly its last”). It’s still pretty strong creatively—the season finale was a wonderful, tears-inducing hug of an episode—but it’s getting short on runway, a fact that was addressed in the final moments of that finale by a three-year fast-forward. Best of all, the decision to end the show appears (according to creator Mike Schur, on Twitter) to have been a mutual decision between the show’s producers and NBC. They’ll have plenty of time to wrap things up in style, and everybody involved can move on to new adventures with a fully formed series behind them. In the TV business, this is about as good as it gets.

Don’t get me wrong: I’ll spend a few disappointed Thursday nights without new Parks and Rec to show me the good in the world. I still look forward to new episodes, and I still tune in as soon as the DVR has enough of a lead to skip the commercials. But unlike other shows that are more about plot and less about beloved characters in a well-rounded universe, more episodes are just icing on the cake of six whole seasons of delight. As long as I have the show we’ve already loved, I think we’re good.

Cancellation is a weird thing: it sounds like tragedy, and it can be. Nobody likes seeing a good show, or a promising show that’s still finding its voice, cut down for commercial reasons. And our natural human response is, if three seasons is good, six or eight or (heaven help us) twelve must be better! But let me tell you, there’s a whole lot of long-running television out there, from Grey’s Anatomy to the extreme case of The Simpsons, contradicting that impulse. Even for good shows, cancellation can be a blessed relief: I’ve been watching Mad Men for nearly a decade, and I’m watching Don’s spiral into the 70s with as much interest as anybody, but that doesn’t mean I’m not counting down to the final half-season, which won’t air until 2015. Even the cancellation of Community, a show equally beloved to Parks and Rec but far more hotly contested due to production-side drama, doesn’t bother me. Community‘s fun and interesting and innovative, and I’m so pleased that we got to have it in the world, but I think maybe it’s said what it had to say. It makes NBC like seventy-five dollars a year, because only nine people—nine very vocal people—watch it. Five seasons may not be #sixseasonsandamovie, but it’s still a long time. I see why the network might want to give that space to something else, and I don’t think that, after giving it five seasons, it’s an unfair decision. 

Parks and Rec isn’t the only show to get a season’s notice, but I think it embodies the recent trend of  cancelling shows well, giving producers and audiences time to prepare. I also think it embodies a show that’s ready to go: it could keep going, but it doesn’t have to; its cast is almost uniformly on the brink of bigger things; its producers have been doing this for seven years. (I, personally, have never had the same job for seven years.) I think it’s a show that’s prepared to let go, and I’m prepared to let it go.