Lara Pingue is assistant national editor at The Globe and Mail.
I watch a lot of television. That used to be an embarrassing admission, like saying McDonald’s is your favourite restaurant or having a wardrobe that is 99 per cent Joe Fresh (guilty). But with streaming services pumping out a steady variety of binge-worthy programming during the pandemic, television has never been better. It’s morphed into a cultural touchstone for me, a way to interpret the world from the confines of my couch. It’s also become a sort of social shorthand. I don’t make small talk about the weather anymore – I ask people what they’re watching. What you tell me about your most beloved TV show tells me what you value, what you think is funny and outrageous and unjust.
Last weekend, as I rehashed the best scenes from The White Lotus with friends for the 30th time, it occurred to me that my favourite programs all have female characters who carry the show. They go beyond the harried-mom tropes or the ditzy trophy wives lurking in the background. I would never categorize these shows as “TV for women”; rather, this is TV for all of us.
Take Ted Lasso, the hit show from Apple TV. I didn’t expect to be won over by the goofy titular character played by Jason Sudeikis and his quest to revive a flailing football team in the U.K. In fact, that plotline feels secondary to me. I watch this show because I can’t get enough of Rebecca Welton (played by Hannah Waddingham), the powerhouse team owner whose sole purpose is to run AFC Richmond into the ground in an act of revenge against her philandering ex-husband. Very quickly, Rebecca shakes off the one-dimensional scorned-woman persona and forges ahead in helping to turn the team around, assisted by her friendship with Keeley Jones (Juno Temple), the team’s branding guru.
In a world where catfights and pettiness between women is an irresistible storyline, I love that showrunner Bill Lawrence has given us something else entirely: a nuanced, intergenerational relationship where neither women is a villain. “Rebecca and Keeley aren’t a prime example of the restorative power of female friendships because they share physical space – though the show does take place in a COVID-free world – it’s because they share emotional space. They allow each other to see past the performative nature of their public personas, the characters they’ve crafted to protect themselves, and tap into something more earnest. Keeley and Rebecca became a window into not what I’d lost, but what I’d forgotten to access, " writes Leah Johnson in bitchmedia.
Earlier this year, I couldn’t go a week without telling anyone who would listen to watch Mare of Easttown, starring Kate Winslet as the beleaguered detective trying to solve a murder and missing-persons case that has haunted her Rust Belt town. In Winslet’s hands, her character, detective Mare Sheehan, is both heartbreaking and frustrating as a woman trying to crack a case at the expense of virtually every relationship in her life. Her marriage is over, her daughter is alienated, her son is dead and she spends much of her time snapping at her detective sidekick, the lovable-but-literally-clueless Colin Zabel (Evan Peters), whose puppy dog crush on her is painfully ignored.
They say if you want something done, ask a busy person to do it. That’s Mare. In between taking care of her young grandson and clucking disapprovingly at her mother (Jean Smart), we watch as Mare spirals. The closer she comes to solving the case, the more everything around her falls apart (including a budding relationship with the new guy in town). If Mare was your best friend, you’d take her by the shoulders and shake some sense into her. I both wanted to be Mare (fearless, sharp, funny) and live in her orbit, forever entertained and assured by her wise-ass remarks and skeptical worldview. This is a woman at her most capable, human, self-sabotaging.
And speaking of wise-ass, I would be remiss if I didn’t tell you how much I loved Hacks. Here’s a show that takes two, frankly, grating characters – Jean Smart stars as Joan Rivers-esque Vegas comedian Deborah Vance with Hannah Einbinder playing the role of her struggling comedy writer sidekick, Ava Daniels – and throws them together to let disaster unfold. As viewers, we know we’re in for a “Look what we can learn from each other!” kind of show, but it somehow works without dipping into oversentimentality. Here are two women trying to make it (or keep it) in a comedy world dominated by men. Come for the jokes, stay for the acid-tongued banter and a glimpse of Deborah’s stunning kitchen (it has a built-in soda fountain for all-you-can-drink Diet Coke – swoon).
Up next on my TV agenda: My eyes are peeled for the return of Sex and the City (high hopes, low expectations), and I can’t wait to see what the scoundrels on Succession will do, particularly the power-hungry daughter Siobhan Roy. Stay tuned.
What else we’re thinking about:
Like most working-from-home parents, I can’t imagine taking on more than I’m currently juggling (ahem, unless it’s a new HBO show). That’s why I was equal parts fascinated and horrified by this Wall Street Journal story about employees secretly working two jobs during the pandemic. To be clear, we’re not talking about a side gig to help make ends meet. These are full-salaried professionals, often white-collar tech workers, who took the calculated risk of juggling two jobs, two bosses, two sets of co-workers and what must be an unimaginable number of Zoom calls, all in the name of doubling their income. Writer Rachel Feintzeig talked about the story in this podcast, where she tapped into what I saw as the great unfairness in the workplace: “It’s kind of an inequity. How much time you have to yourself, the lack of transparency around what you do, these are things that certain workers just have a lot of and at certain companies and in certain kinds of roles, and then some people take advantage of it. And then of course the rest of us are just swamped under endless Zoom calls.”
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