If you check out Terrific Women, a new online-only comedy series from CBC, brace yourselves. There's a pregnant woman with a drink in her hand and smoking a cigarette. But, chill, girlfriends. The daft and trippy comedy is set in what CBC calls, "the saucy seventies."
Terrific Women (launches Tuesday on the CBC website) shares some obvious ground with Baroness von Sketch Show (Tuesday, CBC, 9 p.m.) Both are written and performed by women and both are emphatically about women. Further, both are mostly about having fun with women in a high state of anxiety and mining the nerve-endings for laughs. Both are acts of mockery that simultaneously celebrate women. Also, both are wildly uneven, undisciplined comedy series. Utterly daft, the pair of them.
The conceit of Terrific Women is that hot-to-trot divorcée Linda Davis (Sara Hennessey) and her neighbour, the credulous and pregnant Joy Johansen (Stephanie Kaliner) host a local community-cable show from Linda's house. They banter, make drinks, talk about stuff, and a guy named Alejandro (Phil Luzi) pops up often to wiggle his bum, leer and make cocktails. It has to be seen to be believed.
Hennessey and Kaliner have been honing this daftness for some time onstage, and you can tell – it's a fully formed, well-cooked stew about female friendship and has silly send-ups of suburban seventies-era culture. The first episode (they are all short) is strong and benefits from Kathleen Phillips (from Sunnyside and Mr. D) doing one of her deft manifestations of straight-faced weirdness. The second episode available for review is less successful but the series looks like a rounded, charming dose of goof. There's a subtext, of course. The vast gulf between the "saucy seventies" and now is obvious and at the same time, not that much has changed for women except the devotion to liquor and smokes.
On this week's episode of Baroness von Sketch Show, there's a skit in which a woman goes for a lady-parts examination. "We're just going to take a look at your ovaries," the doctor-lady says. And the lady patient replies, "Remember, if you break 'em you buy 'em!" The patient then continues in a state of nervous-hysteria humour. It's one of the longer, wordier sketches on the show, which returned recently after getting considerable acclaim last year. It will also air on the IFC channel in the United States starting in August.
You can see the appeal to IFC – it's an all-female satiric take on middle-class, narcissistic contemporary mores. As such it's sort of a companion to a show like Portlandia. The cast and creators are Carolyn Taylor, Meredith MacNeill, Aurora Browne and Jennifer Whalen and the material is very much focused on spoofing bourgeois urban culture.
It is made entirely in Toronto, and it has an uncanny verisimilitude, for me anyway. I'm always struck by the total familiarity of the locations in the opening credits, since I inhabit them daily. And I feel I know these women in the fast-paced sketches. What's being spoofed is pretentiousness and pomposity but it's done with a kind of love for the insecurities and vulnerabilities of the women being mocked. It's irreverent without being outrageously cruel.
As in the first season, a major highlight is MacNeill's fabulously engaging, utterly fearless physical humour. Her gift for the physical gag is awe-inspiring. At times, that rescues the show from the very, very slight comic devices that are being used. So far this season, very few sketches have been as strong as last season and you can watch this show and then not remember very much of it all. It's breezy and sometimes you long for a sketch that has more substantive bite.
On both Terrific Women and Baroness von Sketch Show there is a sense that the women characters are about to go off the rails and sometimes they literally just go in that direction of complete collapse. They are manic, almost all the time. There's a point to that – the material is funny but it is also fraught. This makes for erratic comedy. But it's all fresh, female-driven and both shows often upend expectations. It's a brave new world, if you think about how recently there was almost no female-driven TV comedy.