Top Of The Lake

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Okay so sadly I got the flu and did not make it along to any more films at MIFF.

I did however spend my week in bed watching the entire season of Top of The Lake

At 7 episodes Top of the Lake is a punchy and atmospheric mini-series (or ‘tv event’ as the publicity material calls it) It is a study of small town life where the small town isn’t twee or peaceful but instead has a disconnected, drug-addled and desperate population. Campion and her co-creators/directors (Gerard Lee and Garth Davis) have set their bitter crime story against a picture postcard alpine lake which somehow manages to be both idyllic and foreboding,in fact, practically the first lines spoken in the show are ‘the water will kill you’. The camera dwells for long moments on towering hills and misty still waters that hint at mysterious depths, and any ideas of peaceful countryside are constantly shattered by the roar of motorcycles, rifle shots, dogs barking, and raised voices.

Jane Campion has a lot of great movies where nature becomes one of the characters – perhaps the most obvious being Sweetie, which actually features a woman with a phobia of trees, but you can certainly find it in the rest of her films as well, such as those lonely beaches and muddy bush in The Piano,  Bright Star with those massive heavenly fields of flowers in Bright Star. It often feels like the world around the characters ends up reflecting exactly what’s going in the narrative, and in the case of Top of The Lake, that brooding, deep, still water reflects the deep unhappiness, disfunction and corruption hidden beneath the surface of this small service town.

I once had a lecturer tell me that Jane Campion wasn’t really a feminist film-maker because she operated within the classical Hollywood style. And, while I agree that Campion isn’t as hard hitting or avant garde as say, Catherine Breillat or Maya Deren, what she does often accomplish is something that could maybe be called ‘a subtle side-long glance at’ feminist film making. That is, media that looks fairly mainstream and feels fairly mainstream, but when you go a little deeper often challenges the way we depict women and the narrative choices we give them. Or, if you want slightly more ‘critical-theory-ish’ terminology, Campion uses popular ‘Hollywood’ techniques and tropes but skews them so that they draw attention to the feminist issues sitting behind them. In particular, questions of female autonomy and victim-hood are always central to the stories Campion chooses to tell.

Top of the Lake is a premium example of this sideways approach to feminist issues, casting the two main female characters (Tui and Robyn) as victims initially, but ultimately giving them the initiative and opportunity to independently take control of their own fate.

Basically the story is this: Tui Mitcham is pregnant at 12 years old, she tries to kill herself, then disappears. The rest of the season is a series of questions around who the father could be, and where Tui has gone – has someone disappeared her deliberately, is she alive or dead, can a pregnant 12 year old survive hiding out in the bush, and can she avoid the biggest predators of all in this sleepy NZ town; the various adult males who decide to go looking for her or appear to have a vested interest in keeping her silent. Elizabeth Moss plays visiting detective Robin Griffin, home to care for her dying mother, who gets embroiled in Tui’s case when she is brought in as an expert for troubled children. As the show goes on it becomes clear that Robin has her own demons to deal with and Moss plays the character with a powerful combination of strength and fragility.

There’s also a lovely side story where a group of women have set up a container commune following a guru (Holly Hunter) called GJ. While I found the humour here a little uneven at times, and I think it occasionally came across as mocking, this story did also provide a platform for Campion to dissect issues of female identity and she does it with aplomb; the women in this space do not fit neatly into Hollywood ideals of body shape, beauty, sexual allure, or even intelligence, they are all a little weird, and a little awkward. Even the land they live on is a disputed territory, with two different parties claiming ownership of it – one of them being the local drug dealer who has, in turn, a romantic altercation with one of the women. The ‘womens’ space at the commune stands in direct contrast to the almost exclusively male spaces of the police station and Matt Mitcham’s house; in the women’s space sexual politics and identity are discussed and dissected, in the male spaces politics and identity are undercurrents, downplayed, ignored, or outright repressed in an effort to keep the status quo.

At first my reaction to the themes of rape and sexual violence in this show was one of frustration and distrust.  Mostly because I feel like there seems to be a trend in mainstream media towards this ‘rape as character development’ trope, as if, to make a woman seem legitimately strong and complicated she must have a back story of sexual violence. And there also often seems to be a certain inevitability to the narratives around rape, as if, once a story is set on that particular path, such as a girl being the solitary female in the company of violent men then the only end result can be her rape. I do understand that it is more narratively compelling if the story shows victims of rape as opposed to people fighting off rapists, or other people coming to their rescue. But there is a part of me that wishes that a) women in shows about violence (especially cop shows) could be shown as strong characters without having encountered sexual violence in their past and b)more of the many rape narratives there are out there in TV-land were told as encounters where the victims fight back and win, without any sense of inevitability about it.

However, as the story in Top of The Lake develops you can see here how Campion is using her ‘sidelong glance’ technique at women’s issues to draw you into the story and make you think about it. Firstly, she shows you alternative male character’s points of view where they were uncomfortable with the acts of rape or condemned the acts of rape in the show. Campion gives us a diverse range of viewpoints and also explores the incredibly complicated cultural norms that surround situations of rape and gang rape in particular such as bullying, fear, machismo and entitlement.

She also (spoiler alert here) portrays victims of rape that are male. This might seem like a pretty simple concept but unfortunately the idea the men don’t get raped is so pervasive that even the UN Health Organisation only defines rape as that ‘of a man raping a woman’ rather than ‘women raping men’, which is a problematic scenario for everyone involved, from the male rape victims whose ordeal is ignored, to the transgender and transexual rape victims or are not even included in the equation, and the reinforcement of the concept of women as victims and men as perpetrators which surely contributes to the already high levels of females who are raped or sexually assaulted around the world today.

The show is also, despite it’s fairly dark subject matter, not as violent as it could have been, yes there are storylines that involve rape, however there’s no protracted torture or imprisonment scenes and not much blood and gore. This is not attention grabbing torture porn like the average episode of SVU or standard mystery-of-the-week cop shows, which means there is no reducing bodies of victims (usually women’s bodies by the way) into depersonalised fragments. Victims in this show remain whole and we get to see the consequences of the acts done to them played out in the public space.

Top of the Lake is a really good series, it is a rollicking good mystery story that keeps you guessing, it has sweet romance and tragedy, it’s well written, has excellent performances, complex and multi-dimensional characters and captures that smothering small town desperation and all the complicated factors that surround it, like economics, landscape and culture. However, I have one really major criticism of this show, which is that it felt like a serious missed opportunity not to have any well developed Maori characters in the cast. There are a few supporting guest characters of Maori descent, and Robin’s mother’s partner Turangi is Maori, however he is almost silent for most of the show and is implied to be violent although we never see it. This portrayal of Maori as silent and violent is simply unacceptable in modern NZ narratives, and I do not for one second accept the argument that this is a show made for international audiences who wouldn’t understand issues of local indigenous identity. Firstly, I think that attitude is kind of a cop out considering this show expects its audience to be pretty smart on most other levels of storytelling – there’s no ‘last week on Top of the Lake’ segment, and we don’t get talked down to at any point in the narrative. Secondly, the Maori population in small town NZ is pretty visible, and I find it really strange that Maori people and culture are not featured in a show that is so much about the NZ landscape, particularly when one of the central story lines is over a land dispute. Thirdly, I think this omission speaks more to attitude of the writers (Campion and Lee) and their own uncomfortableness talking about indigenous issues – Campion’s Maori characters and stories in The Piano were also fairly simplistic, although they at least got to say a few more lines than Turangi does. Bottom line, Maori culture and its place in NZ public life is rich, interesting, visually compelling and powerful, the creators here could have done their research, consulted with experts and incorporated some of this richness into this story, but they didn’t, and I think that’s incredibly sad. It would have taken an already excellent show up to the next level.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Funny Women: Both Familiar and Phenomenal

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So there’s this report that’s just been released.

A group of researchers studied 600 films over 6 years,  analysing the top 100 grossing films for each year between 2007 – 2013. Author of the Study, USC Professor Stacy L. Smith said that “Our findings this year are both familiar and phenomenal”

Because to nobody’s surprise the numbers are pretty heavy in favour of the male end of the population.

Women said less than 30% of lines in all movies, and only 2% of the sample of movies had more female characters than males. Behind the camera 15.9% of key creative roles (Director, Writer or Producer) were held by women. (It’s a pretty safe bet that number would also be much much lower for the other key creative areas like cinematography, production design, costume design and make up design)

The report also highlights there is a massive discrepancy in employment of female directors when you compare independent films to mainstream films. 28% of the films at Sundance in 2013 were directed by women, but  only 1.9% of the top 100 films in 2013 were directed by a woman, that’s an all time low across the 6 year study.

However, there is one small glimmer of light in this otherwise fairly grey portrait of women’s status in the film industry. It looks like funny women are getting more screen time, or at least, slightly more screen time than in other genres (hooray!) Professor Smith says that trailblazers like Tina Fey, Amy PoehlerKristen Wiig and Melissa McCarthy have helped women make strides in comedic films and demonstrated that films with female leads like Bridesmaids and The Heat, can bring in box office dollars just as much as comedies with male leads.

Now, while I would hesitate to call 36% percent representation a ‘stride’.  It does feel like there has been a very small move towards agreeing that women can be funny and can hold their own as leads in funny movies (and not just as one half of a couple but actual leads in movies that are actually about them).

The report has a lot of other incredibly interesting findings around things like sexualised portrayals of teens,  and the percentage of characters by age (men were more likely to be middle aged, women were more likely to be under 39) but does not really go deeper into more questions of diversity like race, sexuality, non-binary gender depictions and so on. (My guess would be that non-binary gender depictions in the top 100 grossing films of 2013 would be close to nil, and that depictions of men and women of colour would also be grossly under-represented in these films. I might dig out some reports with statistics on those soon as well) .

Anyway, in the spirit of positivity, I thought I’d profile some of the women that I’m finding funny right now. It’s not a comprehensive list because there are LOTS of incredibly funny women doing hilarious things right now. And it’s mostly TV/web series based because sadly, even though women get to star in funny movies, they still aren’t really directing them yet so I haven’t seen many female directed, female lead comedies this year.

But for the record, here’s some ladies doing things (mostly TV shows) that are making me laugh. Feel free to add your suggestions in the comments too.

Mindy Kaling

I love the gentle humour in this show, and the fact that it doesn’t take itself too seriously. It’s basically designed to poke fun at the rom-com genre and everything that comes with it. Mindy’s character is obsessed with rom coms and is constantly waiting for her life to turn out like one, unfortunately the real world gets in the way all too often. For example, she goes to the lobby of the Empire State Building and hangs out there on the regular just waiting to meet Mr Right. Unfortunately, she goes there so often she gets noticed by security and pulled in for questioning as a potential terrorist. Misunderstandings and hilarity ensue.

The one thing I did notice that wasn’t great, is that the parade of potential suitors that Mindy dates is exclusively white. But then again, maybe that’s deliberate too, they all do look almost exactly alike in that typical square-jawed rom-com leading man trope kind of way. Overall though, a very funny and endearing show and absolutely worth curling up on the couch and laughing at on these cold winter nights.

Miranda Hart

I’m not entirely sure how to describe Miranda. Prat-falls, visual comedy and word play? It’s very very british, (and has an uproarious laugh track which takes a bit of getting used to in this day and age) but gosh that woman can fall over and make it look very very funny. The show is delightfully absurd and while the story-lines are fairly generic (will she get it on with hot chef Gary? Will her over-bearing mother get her way?) the quirky humour and the off beat dialogue make this show super enjoyable.

I know it’s been around for quite a while now (in fact I think they might have stopped making it!) but I’m one of those people who re-watches shows I really like so I’m currently exploring season one again. Sadly in terms of diversity the show has a few people of colour in the guest cast, but none in the core cast at all, which is a little disappointing for the BBC to be honest, but I guess you can’t have it all.

Ally Ju, JJ Fong and Perlina Lau 

Flat 3, the web-series created by the lovely Roseanne Liang is funny, smart and incredibly addictive. Ally, JJ and Perlina handle the comedy with low key pinache, and it perfectly captures the comedic anxiety that comes with being in your early twenties, living away from home and realising the rent must be paid no matter what your dream job is or whether your dream guy just walked through the door. Because it’s a webseries each episode is around ten minutes long or sometimes less so it’s excellent bite sized comedy and while it has a lot of very nice funny moments, it’s also a great exploration of friendship and coming of age. All in all totally worth a watch.

Anna Akana

There was an article that came out when Bridesmaids was released about how that film missed a lot of opportunities to make jokes about women in a uniquely female way (eg: menses jokes instead of diarrhoea jokes!).

Anna Akana had nothing to do with Bridesmaids. But I do think her comedy stylings have a uniquely female edge to them and are pretty funny to boot (Pregnapocalypse is weird sci-fi comedy gold). They’re also charming, genre-driven and weird. This isn’t actually a web-series or a TV series, it’s more of a Youtube channel and a collection of short films. The humour is uneven at times (and she has an obsession with guns that I’m slightly uncomfortable with but maybe that’s an american thing? Or a genre thing?), and it’s mostly V-logging (is that a real word?) which I guess is kind of stand up without the audience? But guys, she plays all the characters herself! Which means clever use of split-screen and rotoscoping and some nice editing skills. I really like her style of observational humour. Definitely one to keep an eye on for the future coz she’s a wee young thing. A young up and coming, one could even say.

Wanda Sykes

Okay so from a young up and coming to a comedy stalwart, Wanda Sykes is also funny and weird and just immensely enjoyable to watch. If you’re ever feeling a bit blue or a bit bored I recommend dialling up some clips of hers on Youtube and giggling along (she had a short-lived talk show for a bit but her stand up is much funnier so I’d search for those clips) Her humour is kind of edgy at times (and there’s a lot of sex jokes, which feels a little…unoriginal? But sex is pretty funny so I guess there’s a lot of material there) but for the most part she’s really endearing and just incredibly funny and smart.

So, that’s a few of my fave comedic women at the moment. It’s exciting to see a lot of really funny women just getting out there, making funny shows and telling funny stories.

What do you guys think? I realise that the 3 actual TV series I featured here are all about straight women ‘looking for love’. Do you know any female driven comedies out there that aren’t about romance, and mostly straight romance too really if we’re being honest here? 2 Broke Girls maybe? I haven’t watched that one so I’m not too sure.

Do you think it’s sad that those are the female stories that get told in mainstream media?Or are most TV comedy shows just about romance/relationships by default? (Off the top of my head I can think of a few that aren’t: Seinfeld, Community, Alpha House, The IT Crowd, and a few that are: How I Met Your Mother, Friends, Mike and Molly, Happy Endings, that other one that’s exactly like Happy Endings so much that I can’t tell them apart)

Anyway, feel free to share your thoughts or your favourite lady comediennes in the comments.

Stay Awesome Gotham (as Anna Akana would say)

Peace out,
Kat

5 Shows To Feast On

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It’s winter! What better time is there than to curl up under a blanket on the couch and binge watch some excellent TV shows which just happen to star women and be made by women?

You can celebrate diversity and relax at the same time!

Here are my top 5 favourite female-led shows to watch many episodes of while sipping hot cups of tea, or, if particularly daring, a glass of tasty red wine.

In alphabetical order because I couldn’t pick a number 1.

CALL THE MIDWIFE

 

Oh call the midwife, you are so very british but so very endearing. This show for me, is a fabulous antidote to all those period dramas that seem to centre around immature men and their fractured masculinities (I’m looking at you Madmen and Boardwalk Empire).  It is ‘procedural’ drama with a birth of the week instead of a crime of the week, but it’s charmingly written and despite this being a show about childbirth, it rarely dwells on the whole ‘who’s sleeping with who’ question, and instead focuses on issues around poverty, healthcare, and social welfare.

The show is not perfect, tending towards melodrama occasionally, and it is strictly heteronormative and has an overwhelmingly white cast which is a little disappointing – it speaks, I think, of a timidness on the part of the writers – there is one episode in the whole of the 3 series which deals with racial differences but they could have featured it more if they had wanted to.

And I should also add dear readers, that it is set in a convent and while not overly religious in tone, God is occasionally discussed so if that kind of thing really bothers you it might not be your cup of tea. Oh but please, don’t let that put you off – there’s a strident stroppy nun who won’t allow men in the birthing room, an innocent nun who falls in love with someone she shouldn’t and a nun suffering from dementia who only talks in riddles , PLUS the actual midwives themselves (those who are not nuns) are a pretty decent bag of innocence, sexiness, ambition and bad decisions.

But honestly it is just incredibly refreshing to see plot-lines driven by women and by the decisions they make. And sometimes, often even, have those decisions not be about men, or husbands, or who to be in love with but to be about work, and family, and religion, and other people! Who knew women could be so compelling eh?

ENLIGHTENED

 

The delightful Laura Dern co-created this show with Mike White (even though, weirdly she is not credited with this in many of the reviews or press coverage of the show – gah).

Amy Jellicoe ( played by Laura Dern) is a high-powered exec who has a breakdown, then an epiphany, and then spends the rest of the series oscillating between trying to bring down the system, and trying to satisfy her raging ambition to get to the top, an ambition that sort of gave her the nervous breakdown in the first place.

Although, actually what kind of gives her the nervous breakdown is the fact that her secret lover breaks up with her. Which leads me to my main critique of this show, this is a really hard show to get a handle on, and I’m not quite sure whether this is really an empowering or disempowering portrait of a strong female character.

Amy is super smart, but also, so incredibly innocent and just plain stupid at times, and her character is really clumsy which at first I thought was just that standard lazy rom-com shorthand for ‘difficult woman’, but now I wonder if it was a metaphor for how she is just physically trapped in this corporate system that she can’t control.

She is also very much at the mercy of the broken relationships in her life, with an alcoholic ex-husband, an emotionally cold mother, her nerdy friend at work (who she looks down on for being ‘less cool’) and the ‘mean girls’ in the upstairs office, this is a real exploration of friendships and forgiveness and expectation, and Amy’s character often seems quite oblivious to the way her actions have hurt people in the past.

Despite its occasional uneven-ness in tone, the characters are three-dimensional and compelling so that you end up rooting for them regardless of their faults and personality defects. And the best part about this series are the cheesy voice-overs – a deliberate send up of the worst kind of positive affirmation slogans that are eerily close to the things we all tell ourselves when we’re trying to be better people. It’s so well written, and it sneaks a social message in there under all that drama, you’ll finish watching and wonder why you want to fist pump the air and shout ‘fight the power’.

ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK

So when I originally watched the pilot for this show I thought it was just another show about a skinny privileged white woman looking pretty in circumstances where she should be sweaty and disheveled (I’m looking at you Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and every CSI episode ever). BUT I decided to give it another try because so many people recommended it to me and I gotta say this show is really good.

It’s complex and layered, it has a massively diverse cast (one of the few shows I’ve seen so far this year with more than one regular character of colour) and they’re not just token characters either, they’re interesting and change-able and are written so that we care about them for who they are.

It still bothers me a little that Piper is so perfectly middle class, but in all fairness it is based on a real person who is actually like that so I can’t really be too hard on them. (Question though: I bet there are at least a few other ‘true story’ type books they could have adapted out there about someone going to jail and being completely unprepared for it where the main character is NOT so traditional looking… just saying). And the show has come under fire for Piper’s binary insistence that she WAS a lesbian but is now an EX-LESBIAN, with no discussion of bisexuality or sexuality in all of its complicated glory. However, since there are so many diverse sexualities on the show, I think it’s fair to say that even though Piper’s character insists on a gay/straight dichotomy, the show does not.

And regardless of that, it’s just really good writing guys, really good writing. It draws you in, and makes you think, and makes you question your original assumptions about all of the characters, you can never quite predict where the story is going and that, my friends, is good TV right there.

PRIME SUSPECT

 

 

 

So the original series of this is over 20 years old but it’s still good, I promise. It’s actually a collection of mini-series, where several episodes are devoted to solving one particularly brutal murder or murders. It stars the indomitable Helen Mirren and is unashamedly feminist in its discussions of the police force and women’s role in it. Mirren’s character of Jane Tennyson is strong, ambitious and calculating, she’s flawed and complicated and never misses a beat, and you can see the influence of her hard-ass female cop in many modern shows like The Closer, and Law and Order. This is a very british world and questions of class and social graces are something that constantly restrict and inform the characters and their motivations.

Now, there is also a recent American remake, which is not quite as considered, or as subtle. But, for the modern viewer this could be a good thing, especially if you’re used to the more bang bang shoot ’em up action thriller series that we’ve all come to know and love. The major reason this remake is so entertaining is the excellent casting, Maria Bello takes the character of Jane Tennyson (here converted into Jane Timoney) with a stalwart supporting cast who play their buffoonish male cops to perfection.

Lynda La Plante created and wrote both the british and American series and has done an admirable job of making them feel like two very different worlds; the uptight class-driven world of Jane Tennyson and the low-down neighbourhood driven dirty world of Irish-American cops and pub owners that Jane Timoney inhabits. Despite their differences (and I feel the British series is still stronger even though a little dated) La Plante’s central preoccupation shines through: what is it like to be a woman when you work in a ‘man’s world’?

SCANDAL

 

Okay so if you watch this show expecting it to be another Grey’s Anatomy (which I never really got into so I’m not too fussed about that), or if you expect it to be ‘The West Wing for Girls’ then you are going to be sadly disappointed. This is a creation of hyper-melo-drama so unique that I just made up a word to describe it.

It’s trashy and intelligent at the same time. The main character is a stroppy, emotionally isolated woman who acts like a moony teenager around her on again off again lover who is the President of the Freaking United States (don’t worry I didn’t spoil anything for you, you know this fairly early on in episode 1).

It’s silly, and oh so scandalous and it does not shy away from extreme storylines so ludicrous that if you tried to explain to someone else they would walk away shaking their head.

Kerry Washington never wears the same outfit twice and always has perfect hair, in fact, everyone in this show has perfect outfits and perfect hair, always.

But, but, but, you’ll watch it and then feel dirty and then immediately download the next episode so you can watch more.

It manages to tick a few boxes in the diversity department – with two strong African American characters (although not many other regular characters of colour) and two strong gay characters – all with 3 dimensional storylines that do not centre around their sexuality or race and instead reflect their actual personalities.

And this is, again, a show about a complex, fascinating, flawed woman who’s carved a niche for herself in the ‘man’s world’ of politics. At first, I was annoyed by the fact that you never saw the president doing anything actually political, but then I realized that was part of the point. This show is about Olivia’s prowess, she drives the storylines, he is just supporting cast who gets trotted in and out in honour of romantic love interest, and he’s supposed to be boorish and uninteresting, because what’s really going on, the real interesting story here, is the power play between Olivia and Melly. Two political geniuses vying for power over a domain that each of them considers their own.

This is trashy TV at it’s best, it’s fast paced, hyperbolic and dramatic, it’s like a gossip magazine on speed. But you don’t have to feel guilty for reading it because it’s about made up people instead of poor real life celebrities. And it’s perfect for winter when all you want to do is snuggle up and turn your brain off.

SO those are my top five winter TV binge-fests.

What are yours?

(featured image By Paul Townsend from Bristol, UK [CC-BY-SA-2.0 http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0 via Wikimedia Commons)

Dear Orphan Black

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Your show looks So Awesome.
It’s fit to bursting with female heroines generally kicking butt solving mysteries and fighting various conspiracy organisations. It’s been praised for being at the forefront of interesting, complex, female led TV and for reveling in complicated female characters and storylines. And I would love to watch it but…

Unfortunately I will have to wait until 2015 to watch it because it looks as if all your directors are male.

For a show that’s made famous for depicting interesting edge female characters, I find it a little bit sad that you felt that there aren’t any interesting edgy female directors in Canada that you could have hired.

And while I’m sure you are all fabulous storytellers and absolutely capable of telling these stories, it does make me question your intention to make great TV that explores and applauds strong women when your hiring decisions behind the camera seem to tell a different story.

I would absolutely love to know the reasoning behind your decisions to hire all male directors. Why make an effort to have a female-led plot and cast and then shy away from following through with a femal-led crew?

I am not saying that men can’t direct women’s stories. I’m just saying that having a diverse directorial staff adds texture and difference and surely could only bring benefits to your already interesting and diverse female-led storylines, as well as promoting the employment of women in an industry that has historically overlooked women and/or pigeon-holed them into narrow stereotypes? A historical position that you, the show’s creators seem very keen to challenge.

Maybe one of your directors is transgender and/or queer and you are making an effort to promote diversity that way? Maybe you haven’t put your full season two crew list up on IMDB yet and you had a female director for some of your 2014 episodes? If so, then I applaud you and I’ll set to watching it straight away.

So please Orphan Black, tell me I’m wrong so I can go out and watch your kick-ass programme.

 

 

 

Broad City

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Okay I have to admit I’m a little in love with Broad City.

I came late to the game, and didn’t catch it until it had already been picked up by Comedy Central. So there are two seasons of webisodes that I am slowly working my way through as well, and so far I am totally impressed with what I have seen of the TV series.

ImageThe show was written and developed by the feisty and funny Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer.

They met in acting class and performed in the Upright Citizens Brigade together and their real life friendship informs a lot of the stories in the show. They write about being awkward and hopeless and young in the way that only awkward hopeless young people can write about it.

What I like about it:

  • It’s not perfectly polished and neither are they. They wear beanies, and dirty tshirts, and thick winter jackets that aren’t perfectly tailored. They have normal bodily functions like sweating, they go to the toilet, they have messy hair. They don’t wear Manolos in fact, they mostly wear flats, and when they do dress up they worry about the cost of the dress, or wear outfits that don’t quite match. They’re ‘real’ people, not fantasy New Yorkers with endless wardrobes and perfect hair and make up.  In an interview about the show, Ilana talks about how she wants to show that ‘some women don’t give a fuck if they’re not considered the absolutely hottest girl in the room and actually prefer to have their strengths lie within their intellect’. That’s an awesome sentiment.
  • It’s not always about finding a boyfriend or getting a guy to like them. Sometimes it’s about having no money, or your gross flatmate, or working at a shitty job, or just the utter weirdness that is New York City.
  • We get to see these ladies horny, stoned and dirty. Just like women are in real life. Sometimes they make mistakes. Sometimes they smoke too much weed and eat too much candy. Sometimes they don’t shower and accidentally end up homeless and get maced in the face by their neighbours. That’s just real life. It’s also really funny.
  • It’s about an endearing friendship. These two women have a friendship that’s obviously stood the test of time. They talk every day, they care for each other, and they don’t compete for any man’s, or anyone’s attention.
  • They have real jobs. Unglamourous early 20s real jobs. Neither of them works in advertising, or journalism or in a cute bakery where for some reason they don’t have to start at 4am like regular bakers. Neither of them is particularly rich, and a lot of the show is about them trying to find or make extra money. Neither of them lives in a perfect loft apartment. They live in dingy student flats that they share with other people to cover costs.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tRa7mGpTAg8

  • The men are real men too. There’s a real trend in American sitcoms in particular, for the men to be stupid unintelligent slobs (often misogynistic as well in the guise of ‘humour’). Now, Abbi does have a slobby male roommate (well technically he’s her roommates boyfriend but we never see the roommate) and hopefully they develop his character well enough that he’s not JUST a slob. But, I’m willing to forgive them their lazy comic relief character in the roommate’s boyfriend because Lincoln, Ilana’s sometime boyfriend/booty call (played by the delightful Hannibel Buress) is incredibly smart, funny and quirky. His straight man is the perfect foil to Ilana and Abbi’s crazy energy and when the three of them have scenes together he brings an element of gentle humour that adds something kind of grown up to all the hilarity.
  • They do a lot with a little. Even though the production values are not high, and sometimes the sound quality could be better, the show is still incredibly watch-able,  and while the shots are basic the camera work is flawless and the locations are full of character. It’s really well cut, which is great because it can actually be really hard to edit for comedy because often the humour is in the cut; i.e. do you cut out of the gag fast and THAT makes the humour, or do you leave the characters hanging and THAT makes the humour?  If you look at early episodes of shows like the Mighty Boosh (which has a similar DIY low-fi ethic)often they don’t quite know where to cut and the gag goes on for too long, and you can feel yourself getting restless. That rarely happens in this show.Image

 

 

 

 

What I kind of don’t like about it:

  • Casual homophobia. So this is the sich. Ilana has a not-so-secret crush on Abbi, and she’s constantly trying to get Abbi to respond to her sexually, Abbi’s always turning her down in a very aggressive way. What I can’t figure out is: is this homophobic? Ilana’s not ashamed of her sexuality, Abbi seems annoyed by Ilana’s attentions but is that homophobia or just a response to harassment. And then, is it okay for Ilana to constantly harass Abbi like that? Like if it was a guy going “come on, show me your tit, just a little bit” wouldn’t that be uncomfortable? Maybe Ilana’s character is just trying to challenge Abbi’s uptight sexuality a little bit? Maybe the show doesn’t know it’s being homophobic and they’re just doing it for humour. But why is a joke about one girl wanting to get with the other girl all the time, why is that funny? Is that funny?
  • Sort of casual racism? I don’t know… sometimes I think the way they talk about race can be a bit… privileged. But they do at least TRY to talk about race. And then again, they still have a fair amount of diversity in their guest stars and supporting cast members, and these characters of colour are often nuanced and not just stereotypes,  which is more than you could say about Girls or Sex and the City (both shows that Broad City gets constantly compared to for obvious reasons)
  • They are still both skinny, young and pretty. Look, they’re very funny women and incredibly smart and their show is very well written and they absolutely deserved to get pick up by the network. BUT they still fit the ‘look’ – that is skinny and pretty with perfect skin. If they weighed 40 pounds more, or had bad teeth, or were 45, maybe their web series wouldn’t have been picked up by the network?
  • Still few female directors? Even though this show was created by women, and exec-produced by Amy Poehler, most of the directors are still male. Perhaps this is a chicken and egg problem, you can’t hire female directors if you can’t find them right? Having said that, two out of the seven directors were female so at least they’re trying.