Bad Penny. The evolution of women in sitcom culture.


THE BIG BANG THEORY

Penny and Leonard from the Big Bang Theory

I was raised on sitcom culture. One thing I have noticed in the past decade or so is a shift in how women are portrayed. Unfortunately, it’s not for the better.

Women used to be shown as the subservient wife and mother who surreptitiously leads her husband from behind in order to get her way, like June Cleaver, Donna Stone, Samantha Stevens and Lucy Ricardo. There was always an unspoken (or even sometimes actually spoken “One of these days, right in the kisser.”) threat that she was risking violence if she were caught going behind the back of her husband in order to get what she wanted.

Lucy_desi_1957

The Ricardos

Then, in the 1970’s women were portrayed as feminists for the first time. Maude, Mary Richards, Margaret Houlihan and Emily Hartley to name but a few. These were women who are unconventional and ground breaking. Maude fought for women’s rights and raised an independent daughter. Mary was the ultimate working woman who, not only didn’t need a man, but refused to settle. Major Houlihan worked alongside her male counterparts in the most dangerous of settings. Emily Hartley was seen as a woman who chose to work and a true partner in her marriage with her husband. These women were much healthier role models then the women who came before and after them. These sitcoms are proof that female characters can be well written, fully actualized, real women who are also funny.

Mary_Tyler_Moore_throwing_hat_in_air[1]

An iconic symbol of feminism.

Now we’re seeing women who are perennially annoyed with their husbands, or single women who continually make bad choices in men. Take, for example the show Everybody Loves Raymond, featuring Debra Barone, a woman who gave up her career in order to raise her children (which is a luxury in today’s world and an admirable choice). She is shown as constantly finding fault with her husband, who is somewhat childish, but all in all, not a bad guy. One of Debra’s most frequent insults is to call him an idiot. Another example of the continually annoyed wife character is on the show Rules of Engagement. The character of Audrey Bingham who is a childless, married, working woman. Audrey is married to Jeff, a former frat boy, jock type who is an excellent provider, a bit childish and a tad oblivious at times, but again, all in all a good guy. Audrey’s default setting is mildly annoyed with her husband and it just gets worse from there. She seems generally disappointed with life for the most part. This type of character reminds me of a great quote from Bill Maher, “Women cannot complain about men anymore, until they start getting better taste in them” These women go around unfairly blaming their husbands for behavior that they were fully aware of when they said I do. I have zero sympathy for this type of woman. They have no one to blame but themselves.

rules-engagement-85

The bickering Binghams from Rules of Engagement.

Then there is the other prevalent female sitcom archetype, the single woman who makes bad choices. One of the most frustrating examples of this is Penny from the Big Bang Theory. Her father gives some examples of her previous boyfriends in the following clip.

She has dated white rappers, cow tippers, a guy who blogged about their sex life and a guy who cheated on her and had violent tendencies (Kurt). When faced with a relationship with Leonard, a genius physicist who is, admittedly, a little clingy, she pulls away thinking that she can do better. I will never understand why young women would rather be abused by the bad boys than have something real with an intelligent guy who will treat her well. Okay, maybe I do understand it… young women are inherently insecure and feel undeserving the majority of the time. What bothers me most about Penny is that she thinks that she is the catch in her relationship, when clearly the real catch is Leonard. Looks fade, but intelligence is forever.

castofgirls

The cast of the HBO series, Girls

My final example of the single girl who makes bad choices is from the HBO hit, Girls. All four of the lead characters in this show are hot messes. Yes, they are young, insecure and still ‘finding their way’ but they all have absolutely no respect for themselves. These young women were raised by mothers who would have come of age during or after the feminist movement and yet every character is clueless and self sabotaging. I would have hoped that their mothers would have instilled in them, some sort of sense of self by the time they were out on their own. For me, the most disappointing thing about this show is the fact that it was created and written by a woman.

It seems that women can’t write good parts for women in Hollywood, so how can we have the audacity to expect men to write them for us?

Hollywood Part Three: The Sequel


BirthnationPoster for Birth of a Nation 1915

When author Thomas Dixon decided he wanted to cash in on the immense success of director, D.W Griffith’s filming of his novel the Clansmen which became the movie Birth of a Nation by writing and filming a follow-up called Fall of a Nation in 1916, he gave us perhaps the most prolific of film genres, the sequel. Even then, the sequel was far less successful than the original and was panned by critics and audiences alike. In fact, no prints of Fall of a Nation have survived and it is considered to be a lost film.

To me, the motive for filming a sequel has always been an obvious one… greed. After all we are talking about show BUSINESS and all too often the business part has far too big a say in what gets produced. There have been some very good movie franchises, like Star Wars (the first three), Harry Potter, The Lord of the Rings and The Godfather. With the exception of the Star Wars trilogy (which were written by George Lucas expressly for film), the others were all based on a series of bestselling novels and each of the films were painstakingly made over a long period of time by filmmakers who genuinely loved the original texts.

The-Lord-Of-The-Rings-Trilogy

Then there have been the sequels that have been but a disappointing follow-up to a successful movie, which, sadly is the case with the vast majority of sequels. But love them or hate them, sequels are here to stay as long as movie makers still need investors to create their films. So, in the spirit of if you can’t beat them, join them, I am going to suggest a couple of movies that could use a sequel, if for no other reason than I would like to know what happens next.

AmericanGraffiti

Written and directed by George Lucas, American Graffiti is a classic film from my childhood. Set in 1962, in Modesto California, it takes place over the course of one night in the lives of a group of teenagers who have just graduated high school and are about to embark on the next phase in their lives. It remains one of my all time favourite movies. George Lucas did make a sequel to American Graffiti six years later in 1979 called More American Graffiti, which I have yet to see and therefore cannot comment on. The sequel I would like to see is one where all of the original characters now have children who are the same age as they were in the first film (perhaps even played by some of the original stars’ actual kids… Bryce Dallas Howard for example) on their last night of freedom. It would be a nice  way to come full circle on the story and perhaps give Ron Howard a vehicle in which he could direct his daughter.

bryce-dallas-and-ron-howardRon and Bryce Dallas Howard

The next movie I would like to suggest a sequel to is the Breakfast Club. John Hughes 1980’s teen classic about a group of highschoolers from different cliques who spend a Saturday in detention together and find out that they are all so much more than the sterotypes they represent.

breakfast-clubThe stars of the Breakfast Club (minus Emilio Estevez) then and now

I don’t know about you, but I would definitely go see a sequel to this movie (as long as it starred the original cast). Perhaps a highschool reunion brings them together for the first time since graduation and one by one they all end up in the library. It’s just too bad that John Hughes is no longer around to direct a sequel.

Those are my suggestions. I’m sure they’re not great, but they are a damned sight better than some of the sequels Hollywood has forced down our collective throat.

stayingalive_lPoster for Stayin’ Alive, the crappy sequel to Saturday Night Fever

What movie would you like to see a sequel to?

 

 

Hollywood Part Two: The Remake


The movie remake is a time-honoured Hollywood tradition, making Hollywood the only place on earth where people get paid to plagiarise. Like the biopic, the remake is a hit and miss genre of film. Movies get made from plays, books, comic books, video games and even other movies (remember Gus Van Sant’s shot for shot remake of Psycho?) . It seems the screen writer can steal ideas from anywhere as long as the studio pays enough for the rights to the story and characters. It’s not enough to remake an idea once, either. Just look at Shakespeare, who, along with Dickens, is one of the most stolen from writers on the planet. The story of Romeo and Juliet has been told 13 times since 1900 is various movies, and that’s not including movies that don’t use the title Romeo and Juliet, but still “borrow” the storyline.

One of the latest incarnations of the Romeo and Juliet story

I mentioned Dickens as well because A Christmas Carol has been filmed 14 times (again, not including the times that it has been told under a different name) starring a wide variety of Scrooges from Jim Carrey and Bill Murray to George C. Scott and even Susan Lucci.

Susan Lucci as a female Scrooge

It’s not just classics that are remade either. Lately Hollywood has been dipping into the 1980’s to remake movies that can still be seen on cable, like Fame, Footloose and Red Dawn in an attempt to lure the nostalgic movie-goer back into the theaters. Nevermind that most people of my generation (okay… younger than me by 5 to 10 years) are too busy with work and kids to bother going to a theater to see a movie and would prefer to send their kids off to one so they can have some quiet time at home.

The “new” Footloose

I am not a fan of the movie remake in general, but as it is a practice that has been going on forever and shows no signs of stopping anytime soon, I would like to offer up a movie that is ripe for a remake. Building on the success of movies that star people from my parents generation (and older) like Diane Keaton, Meryl Streep, Jack Nicholson, Dame Judi Dench and Robert DeNiro because Baby Boomers are going to the movies in droves, I say why not do a remake of Arsenic and Old Lace?

Carey Grant in Arsenic and Old Lace

Originally a hit Broadway play, this movie has only been remade once in 1969 as an ABC movie of the week, so it has not been done to death. I have even taken the liberty of putting together a fantasy cast for the project. Below is the original cast of the main characters for the Frank Capra 1944 version.

Now here is my fantasy cast.

  • Hugh Grant as Mortimer Brewster
  • Gwynneth Paltrow as Elaine Harper Brewster
  • Maggie Smith or Betty White as Aunt Abby Brewster
  • Judi Dench  or Cloris Leachman as Aunt Martha Brewster
  • Robert Englund as Jonathan Brewster ( the he looks like Boris Karloff joke could be updated to say he looks like Freddy Krueger)
  • Danny DeVito as Dr. Herman Einstein
  • The obvious choice here would be Robin Williams as he has already played Teddy Roosevelt in the Night at the Museum movies, but I would like to offer up Anthony Hopkins as an alternative casting choice (he doesn’t do much comedy, but I think this is an untapped talent that he possesses) as “Teddy Roosevelt” Brewster

If Hollywood MUST churn out remake after remake, I say maybe movie-goers should help them along with some creative suggestions of our own.

What would be a movie you would like to see remade and who would star?

Another round of Celebrity Butterfly Effect


I love to watch old movies, especially on TCM. One of my favourite parts about watching movies on TCM is the introduction given by Robert Osborne, complete with trivia about the actors, director and film technology. The other night I saw the 1940 movie Too Many Girls, starring Lucille Ball, Ann Miller, Richard Carlson, Eddie Bracken and, making his film debut, Desi Arnaz.

A publicity still for the movie Too Many Girls- 1940

In his introduction for the film, Robert Osborne mentioned that Too Many Girls was originally a Broadway musical, Desi was one of the cast members reprising his role from the play and Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz met on the set of this movie and married later that same year.

Too Many Girls was produced by RKO Pictures, the studio that Lucy was under contract to, and directed by George Abbott. Abbott had an extensive theatre background and was known for hiring Broadway actors to recreate their roles on screen.

Lucy and Desi went on to create and star in one of TV’s most enduring sitcoms, I Love Lucy and start their own production company, Desilu Productions, which, ironically, filmed on a 40 acre lot that they purchased from RKO Pictures.

Lucy and Desi’s union also produced two children, Lucy Arnaz and Desi Arnaz Jr.

Famous TV Guide cover with first photo of Desi Arnaz Jr.

A budding musician and actor,Desi Jr. was quite the teen heart-throb and landed quite a few acting roles, notably his guest appearance as Marcia Brady’s celebrity crush on The Brady Bunch in 1970.

Desi Arnaz Jr. kisses Marcia Brady

Arnaz Jr. loved the girls as much as they loved him. When he was 15, he got an unknown 15-year-old  girl pregnant. She gave birth to a baby named Julia Arnaz. The child was kept secret for decades and was later confirmed by a court ordered DNA test that she was Arnaz Jr.’s child. Two years later, when Desi Jr. was just 17, he began dating Patty Duke, who was then 23. A few months after they broke up, Patty gave birth to Sean Patrick Duke (now known as Sean Astin), who has gone on to become a star in his own right.

Sean Astin as Samwise Gamgee in the Lord of the Rings

For the first 13 years of Sean’s life, both  Arnaz Jr. and Patty Duke believed that Desi Arnaz Jr. was the child’s father. This apparently, didn’t sit too well with Desi’s mother.

It was not until a DNA test was performed when Sean was 13, that it was revealed that Arnaz Jr. was not the father. (why do I have visions of Maury Povich announcing that?)

So, if director George Abbott hadn’t given Desi Arnaz Sr. his first role in a movie, Lucy and Desi would likely never have met, the landscape of 1950’s sitcoms would have looked very different, Desi Jr. would not have been born, Marcia Brady would have had a crush on an entirely different teen idol and Sean Astin might have been born knowing who his real father was.

Are you the next or the first?


For the past two days the lead story on Yahoo Canada’s home page has been ‘Angelina Jolie lookalike stuns’. It’s about, as one would assume an aspiring actress who bears a resemblance to Angelina Jolie. I pity this girl. She will never do anything without being compared to a much more famous and established actress. And how insulting to Angelina Jolie, who isn’t finished being the first Angelina Jolie.

I don’t understand this fascination the media has with saying she’s the next, or he’s the next. It’s not just the entertainment industry either, politics does this as well. Someone is always the next Reagan or JFK. Does the big spin machine really think that the general public is so daft that we need to see a similarity to an iconic figure of the past in a rising star in order to accept them?

Keira Knightley and Audrey Tautou were being billed as the next Audrey Hepburn. Nicole Kidman, Lindsay Lohan, Pam Anderson, Madonna and Kim Kardashian (really?) were all said to be the next Marilyn Monroe. Tom Hanks was being touted as the next Jimmy Stewart and already they’re asking who will be the next Tom Hanks.

I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised. I mean this is coming from an industry that remakes a movie that is only two years old (the Girl with the Dragon Tatoo) because apparently American audiences are too lazy to read subtitles. Director Gus Van Sant’s creative tank was so empty that he actually made a shot for shot remake of Hitchcock’s classic movie Psycho. Even though the experiment failed miserably, as most remakes do, Hollywood just won’t give up on the idea… and then they wonder why nobody goes to the movies anymore. Audiences are clamouring for something original, which is why a black and white, silent film is one of the most talked about movies of 2011. You’d think Hollywood would get the message, but instead they have this in the works. I pity the actor charged with recreating a career defining role like Patrick Bateman. I can’t imagine any of the new crop of Twilight or Disney stars doing the role anywhere near the same justice as Christian Bale did it only a scant 12 years ago.

For those of you looking to make your mark on the world, please ask yourself one question. Why would you want to be the next someone else, when you can be the first you?