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Female-Driven Comedies

September 14, 2011

Fall television begins soon.  I couldn’t be more excited about the returns of Glee and Storm Chasers.  And, as usual, there are a couple of new shows I have my eye on.  (Or, is it “on which I have my eye?” See my last post. Whomp whomp.)

The New Girl and Whitney are two new female-driven comedies.  The New Girl stars everyone’s favorite doe-eyed beauty, Zooey Deschanel and Whitney stars stand-up comedian Whitney Cummings.  These are two of my favorite funny ladies, and I plan to add both shows to my DVR, but I’m a bit nervous. I want to like these programs.


The New Girl features a broken-hearted, eccentric young woman who needs a new place.  She moves in with three dudes who essentially teach her how to be datable.  Because, clearly, all her idiosyncrasies make her unfeminine and thus impossible to snag a guy. (Heaven forbid.) This show is like a reverse Queer Eye sitcom. Instead of gay men teaching heterosexual men how to be a good partner for their women, these straight men are teaching a heterosexual woman how to be a good girlfriend.  Because women are dolls that can be shaped into men’s fantasies. Duh.  Zooey’s character has so much potential to embrace quirky authenticity, but I get the feeling they’ll follow the Pretty Woman story line.
I almost hope she ends up a lesbian in the series finale.

Whitney borrows its material from Whitney Cummings’ (admittedly hilarious) stand up comedy routines.  But, though hilarious, her comedy revolves around relationships between men and women.  She has the tendency to essentialize how men and women communicate, often defaulting on gender stereotypes.  Occasionally she offers biting commentary (like how porn stars are popularizing completely bare nether regions which contributes to a creepy fetishization of prepubescent girls, video here), but I worry network primetime won’t allow for these sharp analyses.

Jonathan Gray* notes these two shows are clearly geared towards two different audiences.  He writes:

Deschanel is very much being marketed as cute, adorable, and vulnerable. The relationship between her and her three male minders suggests that, yes, she is the new girl, as the promos make an obvious pitch for male protection … while still trying to hold onto her as identificatory character for women and throwing in several, “oh, men!”-style jokes in the trailer. Turning to Whitney, though the promos certainly sexualize Cummings, they also sell her as loud, abrasive, and in charge. She is the new woman therefore, and she’s being sold to women more than men, with almost all of the humor in the trailer being of the “girlfriend, am I right or am I right?” variety. FOX is hedging its bets, in other words, going for men and women. NBC is going mostly for women, all-in on the one star and all-in on one gender as audience.

When was the last time a female-driven comedy received the respect (and ratings) it deserved? (And don’t say Sex and the City. Let’s talk network TV.) Why is it so hard to market to women? It’s not as though we don’t watch television. And we don’t just watch soaps.  Where does the responsibility lie, with the networks or with the viewers?  Do women use television programs as a relationship-building activity? (i.e. Do women skip female-centered programming because their male partners are not interested?)  Or are networks pushing tropes that simply don’t resonate with female viewers?

Share your thoughts. Are there new shows you’re looking forward to? Do you plan to watch either of these? What’s on your DVR? Don’t you just love Storm Chasers?

*This post was inspired by a discussion of these two shows, as well as two other new shows, on Jonathan Gray’s blog The Extratextuals.

7 Comments leave one →
  1. September 14, 2011 11:41 am

    I have the same reservations about The New Girl (I haven’t seen many previews for Whitney so I can’t speak to that..) I watched the pilot of it already, thanks to OnDemand, and I think it has the potential to be a ood sitcom, though perhaps not quite the power-woman one that television lacks. Sure, she’s broken hearted and going through the stereotypical motions of heartbreak, but the guys she’s living with are also idiots. That gives me hope that as the show progresses and she heals from the break up, she’ll be in the perfect spot to teach these dudes how to treat women. Also, there’s a great scene at the end that I won’t ruin because I don’t know if people have seen it yet or not… Anyway, I agree with you about the lack of female-driven programming but I’m not sure these will cut it… Honestly, the only show I can think of with a really strong female lead is The Closer, and that’s not a sitcom. Hmm…

  2. September 14, 2011 5:03 pm

    I really love both Whitney Cummings and Zooey Deschanel, so I kinda hope these shows are awesome. In all actuality, I probably won’t end up watching them because I don’t have DVR and never have time to watch shows when they are scheduled. Maybe Netflix will get them eventually and I can catch up.

  3. September 15, 2011 9:17 am

    I am, like you, really hoping to like both of these shows. I REALLY, REALLY want to. I love Zooey, and I love Whitney. I really hope Jenn is right, and that maybe this show will start off with the men trying to teach her to be “dateable” but eventually realize that she’s GREAT as she is, teach them how to date women, and hijinks ensue. But I know I’m being optimistic.

    Also coming this year is 2 Broke Girls, premiering next Monday on CBS, and Are You There Vodka, It’s Me, Chelsea on NBC…but this one is having problems, and may never get off the ground. Additionally Chelsea Handler grates my nerves SOMETHING FIERCE.

    I would be interested to hear your thoughts on the premieres of Pan Am, Playboy Club and the three man-centric shows premiering (Man Up [ABC], Free Agents [NBC], and Last Man Standing [ABC])

    Final thing – NY Mag did an article on this too:

    I could talk about TV shows for hours…but I’ll spare you.

    • September 15, 2011 9:21 am

      I haven’t heard of 2 Broke Girls. I LOVED Chelsea Handler’s books, so I’d be interested to see how it translates to a show, if it ever happens.

      As for Pan Am and Playboy Club… ew. They both look postfeminist, trying to hop on the Mad Men vintage bandwagon with its fashion and “ironic” sexism. No thank you.

      As for the other male-centric shows you mentioned, I haven’t heard of the two on ABC, but when I looked into Whitney on I noticed Free Agents. I hadn’t heard of it before yesterday, but I love me some Hank Azaria so I’ll probably catch the pilot to see how it is.

  4. September 15, 2011 12:27 pm

    I have to say that I am very excited that there are shows marketed to women (that appear to focus on strong, quasi-independent women) coming around the bend. Both of these shows have the probability of falling into well-known, anti-feminist traps, however, it is exciting to see small changes in the tv line-up. Reminds me of Mary Tyler Moore.

  5. September 21, 2011 9:57 am

    Loved this post. I also recommend 2 Broke Girls – Kat Dennings is one of my favorites, and she was stellar in the pilot (it had some great wit to the writing). I believe it’s also written by Whitney Cummings! (I think you will particularly like the ending to the pilot…two girls bonding together to plan a business…no dudes in sight. I liked it a lot.)

    Also…though they are more ensembles, I think Tina Fey’s 30 Rock and Amy Poehler’s Parks & Recreation are pretty great and maybe not AS “female-centric” due to the large casts, but they are the center of each show. And are getting recognition!

  6. September 25, 2011 10:07 pm

    So, this post reminds me of a post I wrote RIGHT after I came home from watching Bridesmaids. I was pretty grouchy so it sat in my ‘drafts’ folder, where it still is- collecting dust.

    I think ultimately the responsibility lies with the viewer. If people refuse to watch shows that don’t live up to the standards of what society should be, then they would be cancelled, right? (I wish, WISH people would get this message and turn off the tv when ‘two and a half men’ is on… how is that show still on tv? Ugh, that’s a whole other rant). I think the problem is (as with most things in society) is that the majority of the population is indifferent, or unaware of how to make a difference. I need to think more on this because I’m not saying exactly what I want but I know exactly how i feel. You know? You know.

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