thinking big: feminism, media, and pop culture

Update: Patti Stanger is “Toxic” on Drop Dead Diva 

In gender, Lifetime on August 29, 2011 at 2:18 pm

Phoebe Bronstein

Last night I turned on the television (okay so actually it was the DVR, as I watched Leverage pre Drop Dead Diva) and lo and behold there was Patti Stanger on one of my favorite shows, Drop Dead Diva. Given that last week I wrote about Patti and her matchmaking for millionaires and that I have also recently written on Drop Dead Diva (DDD), I thought an update was in order after I watched my TV worlds collide.

Patti Stanger as Marcie on Drop Dead Diva

On DDD there have been a parade of famous female guests, from Rosie O’Donnell and Paula Abdul in Season 1, to Wanda Sykes in Season 2, and last week Kathy Griffin (which was hilarious). Thus, I suppose Patti’s appearance should not come as such a shock to the system, but for some reason (to be fleshed out shortly) it did. On DDD last night’s “Toxic” episode, Patti played Marcie LaRose, a rather snarky mean girl and Terri’s (Margaret Cho) high school and present day nemesis. Marcie is very much a Patti Stanger type character and we meet her as she asserts to a crowd of single ladies that women should not just give it away. Otherwise, you’ll never get married or so she says.

The major action comes in the midst of Marcie’s lunchtime talk (which Terri’s mother has insisted she and Jane (Brooke Elliot) attend), when Terri and Jane get in a bit of a verbal brawl. Marcie shouts at Terri, Jane defends Terri, Marcie sues Terri for “defamation, per se.” That is, Marcie sues her for slandering her chastity, a suit Marcie ultimately loses at the hands of Kim, Jane’s rival and another firm attorney.

For me the most interesting thing about this episode is that for a show like Drop Dead Diva that most certainly passes the Bechdel Test, and is also, on its best days, about smart, capable, and driven women, Patti Stanger seems an odd fit. So in a show where episodes rarely seem off, this one did and I think it was because of Patti Stanger’s ethic does not quite fit on DDD. For example, Patti is all about women losing weight to get the guy (as indicated by her recent break-up and subsequent weight loss), where DDD seems definitively anti-this line of thought. Instead DDD insists on many different kinds of beauty and that there is no one size fits all way of looking or model for dating. So as the script tried to make fun of Marcie (Patti Stanger) and did paint her as unsympathetic (for example, she ultimately loses her lawsuit against Terri), it also seemed to tread lightly around her.

Patti Stanger on DDD seemed to me like putting a square peg into a round hole: awkward, forceful, and mostly strange. If the show made too much fun of Marcie/Patti and their requisite but similar businesses, then DDD might risk offending the real Millionaire Matchmaker. But if DDD didn’t present some problem with her character on the show, then DDD would have also have felt even odd. So the show toed the middle line and it was weird.

However, the name of the episode is “Toxic,” which at once refers to a case involving toxic dirt and a school (the other storyline from last night), so could be read as having nothing to do with Patti Stanger. But here is where I think the show is quite smart: I choose to read the episode’s title as reflecting the show’s take on Patti (perhaps I’m projecting a little bit). By pairing a toxic dirt story-line and the danger it poses to a group of people, with a story-line about Patti Stanger as a mean girl signals to me a parallel between the two. Thus, the saving grace of last night’s episode and my take away from “Toxic,” is that the show subtly signals that Patti and her dating philosophies are indeed toxic and harmful, just like the bad toxic dirt.

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  1. I thought Patti was great on the show and loved the stunt casting. I disagree that “Patti is all about women losing weight to get the guy”, just because she herself lost weight after her recent breakup.She’s never counseled a client to lose weight on her Millionaire Matchmaker show – and she’s had a few that were on the chubby side.

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