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Posts Tagged ‘NBC’

Rebound: 30 Rock’s Live Show & Why Misogyny is not Funny

In feminism, misogyny, race on April 27, 2012 at 12:10 pm

Phoebe B.

Last night, 30 Rock did a live episode as a shout-out to the pleasures and pitfalls of live TV. As a bit of a TV nerd, I was pretty pumped about this phenomenon—particularly with Amy Poehler’s guest appearance (I love you, Leslie Knope!), Troy from Community as a young Tracy Jordan (Yes!), and Kim Kardashian as, well, Kim Kardashian. But in the first segment of the show and the first flashback to NBC’s early days, 30 Rock did an entire schtick making fun of domestic violence. It seems to me that violence against women, and domestic violence more generally, is simply not funny.

The skit, supposedly a Kraft comedy hour, featured Jack and Liz as a 1950s married couple. Jack comes home from work and starts comically threatening his wife with quick one-liners. Their back-and-forth banter is made up of his threats and her rebuttals. He says that he is going to shoot her in the face and to take her outside and feed her to the dogs—the list goes on. Liz’s character naturally has a comic response to each threat: “That’ll be first time you’ve ever taken me out to dinner,” she responds. While this bit might be a riff on the Honeymooners, it highlights the misogyny of TV past and present but doesn’t really appear to critique it.

A few minutes later, Jenna invokes Roe v. Wade in order to assert her right to choose to have her marriage proposal from Paul on live TV. The joke, at least for me, fell flat in a moment where a woman’s right to choose, and her control over her body, are actually under threat. Other jokes, as Sarah pointed out last week, create humor at Liz’s expense. In the sketch about Jamie Garnett as a reporter, Brian Williams as himself and Jack as a news anchor cannot comprehend that Jamie is indeed a woman reporter. A female reporter, it appears to them, is absurd. They even suggest sending a search party for the missing male Jamie Garnett. Granted, the news was male-dominated for some time and this brand of sexism is likely not too far from the truth. However, once again it seems like Liz is the butt of the joke.

The sexism and racism in much of TV history, and in the present, are the underlying jokes in most of these sketches. But the sketches are not really overtly critical of past, or current, sexism and racism. The jokes, perhaps, aren’t over the top enough. They hit far too close to home. Indeed, they feel plausibly offensive rather than like meta-parodies about how offensive TV history actually is. Perhaps the jokes that tried to point out past misogyny and racism (Jon Hamm’s blackface, for example) needed more of a twist in order to function well as critiques. And Kenneth’s comment that present NBC is a whitewashed landscape was not funny because it’s true (at least for this viewer). I see you pointing at the misogyny and racism of television, 30 Rock, but I feel like you only reiterated it rather than questioning or challenging it.

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Angelica Huston Rises Above Smash

In Angelica Huston, gender, musicals, Smash on February 27, 2012 at 9:06 am

Phoebe B.

Grand moments in NBC’s new show Smash have been few and far between. After seeing many previews for it, I felt assured that the show would be full of big dance numbers, great songs (including some Marilyn favorites), and flashy costumes. The premiere had its moments like anytime Angelica Huston was onscreen, but not including Katherine McPhee’s (Karen) version of “Beautiful,” which was anti-climactic and quite frankly seemed an odd choice. But since then, there has been very little grand about Smash. Indeed, NY Mag’s TV recapper takes the show to task in the most hilarious way possible, while this reviewer wishes for something more like A Chorus Line—which was definitely what I was expecting and hoping for. However, there is one thing that is seriously grand and awesome about Smash, and that is Angelica Huston on network television. In fact, I think they really should have put her on top of the pyramid in the publicity shot (and not Katherine McPhee).

Aside from Angelica Huston, there is another relatedly redeeming thing about Smash: the show, as NY Mag’s recapper Rachel Shukert remarked, truly takes women’s ambition seriously. We see this in Ivy and Karen’s desire to be on Broadway; in Julia’s (Debra Messing) career taking precedence over her husband’s; and in Eileen’s (Huston) desire to go out on her own in the theater production world. In fact, in Julia’s marriage, she is the career-oriented one in the relationship and seemingly the major breadwinner. What makes these women lovable and remarkable is that they have ambition and work hard, rather than just the usual things like body, sex appeal, etc. Although, we also see how other men and women see them: an early shot of Ivy stays on and revels in her tush as do the series of people at the casting table. But, as Shukert says in her NY Mag recap,

“One of the things I genuinely like about this show is that so far, it has generally treated the career ambitions of its female characters seriously, as opposed to something of which they have to be disabused in order to be “lovable.” Smash, for all its flaws, shows us women who are lovable because of their talent, not in spite of it, and that’s why it’s so disappointing to see Karen be such a pushover about this.”

But the show’s push towards valuing smart and amazing women appears oddly conflicted. For example, when Karen travels back to Iowa for her best friend’s baby shower, another friend casually remarks, “Feminism is dead.” It appears that in Iowa everyone over 21 is married and/or with child, per Karen’s friend’s remarks. Because of this, Karen’s friend argues, Karen should let her boyfriend, Dev, take up the slack while she does this Marilyn, the Musical workshop. Granted this logic is fairly terrible, but it is seemingly the logic of the show in this particularly moment. And Dev’s proposal, which comes earlier in the episode, mind you, is something he suggests after he interrupts Karen’s drink with the director via an obnoxious performance of his manhood. At that moment too, he seemingly marks her as his territory through a uncomfortable performance of PDA. No wonder Karen is not too thrilled about accepting his offer. At once, the show celebrates Karen’s drive but undermines it by strange and anti-feminist moments like these. Smash does something similar with Ivy in showcasing her drive, but also figuring her as desperate for attention and thus falling prey to the dangers of the casting couch (she sleeps with the director).

And, this conflicted sense of women in Smash is mirrored in the ways in which Marilyn is imagined and produced for the musical. She is the powerhouse that inspires the show, but the musical they write within the show figures Marilyn somewhat meekly, and always in terms of the men she married. Smash’s Marilyn is far less complicated than–and has got nothing on–Michelle Williams’ version of the icon in My Week With Marilyn. That said, I do like Ivy, and am pleased she got the part.

Marilyn (Ivy) vs. Marilyn (Karen)

It is amidst this landscape of conflicted and waffling representations of women that Angelica Huston emerges as the magnificent Eileen. And she is divine. We encounter Eileen mid-divorce with her seriously slimy and cheating ex-husband, Jerry, with whom she is trying to negotiate a reasonable settlement. Rather than settle on an unfair compromise, she puts all their holdings in escrow, including but not limited to their co-production of My Fair Lady. But as My Fair Lady goes into escrow, so too does Marilyn, the character, emerge somewhat oddly as Eileen’s new American Eliza Doolittle. Just as both Marilyn and Eliza Doolittle make themselves over, so too it seems is that Eileen’s plan. But unlike, these characters, Eileen intends to do it on her own instead of relying on a man.

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