Spinsterella

Saturday, December 30, 2006

More bollocks in the papers.

This Life is back for a one-off special, causing lots of tv critics to wet themselves in excitement. In the Guardian yesterday it prompted a piece by a Vicky Frost about female characters on the telly.

(This Life, if you don’t know, was a drama back in the ‘90s about a bunch of twenty-something lawyers living in a shared house in London. It was a huge success and garnered tonnes of critical acclaim, particularly for Daniela Nardini who played Anna.

I wasn’t a regular viewer (it clashed with my Thursday and Saturday night pub job) but I saw enough episodes to get a flavour and to enjoy it.)

Vicky Frost’s premise is that Anna was a fantastic character, and we haven’t seen anything like her since the programme finished ten years ago. Well, no, Vicky. Wrong on both counts.

OK, wrong up-to-a-point on the first one. This Life was good fun, but with the benefit of hindsight, was Anna really that great? Her characteristics: Scottish, strong, promiscuous, drink problem, hard-nosed, not terribly happy and not conventionally pretty.

Isn’t that just a little bit cliched? Why is it that promiscuous woman have to be miserable? Or that ‘strong’ women are always nasty? Why is it never a softly spoken Home Counties pretty girl who puts it about a bit? (And how much of the ‘great character’ of Anna is actually down to the undeniable talents if Ms Nardini?)

But let’s cut Vicky some slack. She saw the show as an impressionable late-teen so her undimmed fervour is understandable.

But then she loses the plot entirely.

Bemoaning the lack of decent women characters on our screen since This Life finished, she criticises Sex and the City. Carrie Bradshaw, Vicky reckons, is "a woman defined by her love of shoes." While good female characters disappeared from our screens (apparently), "Carrie et al were gearing up to do some really important shopping."

The gloves are off.

Has this woman ever actually watched a single episode?

It probably won’t surprise you to learn that I love Sex and the City. When I first saw it I was bowled over – I had never seen women on the screen that I could identify with before. These women were strong, independent, funny and single. And unlike the god-awful Ally McBeal they weren’t all desperately looking for a husband.

It’s not perfect. It wavered in the final series, succumbing to the pair-everyone-off traditional happy ending. Chaste Charlotte and Slutty Samantha have a hint of the cartoon about them (an inevitable consequence of compressing all the original stories into just four characters). It’s not kitchen-sink realism – watching a re-run the other night I became irritated. Would anyone really go to the country with nothing to wear but stilettoes, and be terrified of a squirrel, as Carrie was?

Quibbles aside, it’s ground-breaking stuff. If these characters are defined by anything it’s their independence. They are all graduates with extremely good jobs - Carrie is a journalist, and a minor-celeb at that, with her picture on buses all over New York and in later episodes, a book published internationally. Samantha runs her own high-end PR agency, and Miranda is a successful barrister. Even the least independent character, Charlotte, works in a top art gallery.

If Carrie has a fondness for buying shoes it’s only because she’s earned them herself.

The characters fall in and out of love, they get dumped and they heartlessly dump in return. They date complete wankers and really nice guys. They have one-night-stands and long-term relationships. They eat in restaurants and go to parties. They have their fallings-out, but most of the time they are there for each other. I see them in myself and in my friends. Replace Manolos with trainers and Cosmopolitans with pints of lager, and their lifestyle isn’t that dissimilar to mine.

Many scenes drew a gasp of recognition from me. The early episode with Big where he pushed Carrie out of bed in his sleep – that's happened to me. The time Carrie stands Miranda up because Big has showed up unexpectedly – to my shame, I’ve done that sort of thing, but I've also been on the receiving end. Like Miranda, I’ve dated men who were much better-looking than me and squirmed self-consciously as they absorbed the stares of every woman in the room.

(I don’t have a whole lot in common with Samantha or Charlotte, but I have friends who do.)

True, the shoes and clothes have a part to play. But it’s a drama set in New York City about four successful single women – they're not going to be wearing tracksuits.

I could go on for weeks about Sex & the City but I think I should move on. Vicky’s got a point – there isn’t an abundance of strong female characters out there. There certainly aren’t a lot of spinster role models. Look at poor old Jane Tennyson, shuffling off in alcoholism, loneliness and general misery.

But if Vicky thinks that there haven’t been any decent women characters since the demise of This Life a decade ago I can only assume that she hasn’t been watching any telly. Here are just a few to be getting on with..

Elaine Benez from Seinfeld. Sexually liberated (that appears to be grauniad-speak for ‘fucking around’) and completely angst-free. Manages to get plenty despite her unflattering uniform of long flowing skirts and buttoned-to-the-neck blouses.

Rose Tyler. A Doctor Who assistant with balls. Tim’s suggestion (I didn’t realise the article was on CiF till now, I just saw it in the normal paper). If, as someone said, Rose is only defined by her relationship with the doctor, then surely the opposite is true? Where would the Doctor be without his assistant?

CJ from the West Wing. Ferociously intelligent, ‘strong’ without being a hard-nosed bitch, and so well-played that I almost think she’s real (I’ve usually had a few glasses of wine when I manage to catch it). Had I seen the show as a teenager I would have wanted to be her so badly that I may well have actually done my homework.

Nicky from As If. Young, promiscuous, confident, gorgeous, and not skinny. She’s a bit of a bitch, but it's good to see a girl in a teen drama having sex without it all ending in self-loathing and pregnancy – breaking the must-be-punished rule.

It’s not just the middle/high(if that's possible)-brow end of things either. Does young Vicky never catch the odd episode of Corrie? Wall-to-wall strong women characters from Rita to Rosie. Fizz’d have Anna from This Life in a fight any day, and Anna’s famously acerbic Scottish tongue could never rival that of Blanche.

Case rested.

(While I’m at it, take a look at this sentence:

"Women loved her because she was the kind of person they fantasised about being, and men because she was the kind of woman they fantasised about being with."

Oh please. Doesn’t the Guardian have cliché-alarms built into its computers? Or subs? For fuck’s sake.)

20 Comments:

  • Give the gal a break. Every journo has to spout bollocks once a while in return for their cheque.

    Nardini's family are Scottish ice cream supremos. Not a lot of people know that.

    I think you should move to New York. The competition would be fierce though.

    By Blogger garfer, at 12:02 AM  

  • CJ is a much better example than Rose. Nice one.

    I think the problem with This Life, in retrospect, was that it seemed (under all the wonky camera stuff) to be pitched very cynically at a demographic and a Zeitgeist. "Which one are you?" it hissed at everyone between 18 and 40. And I really resent being played in such a demeaning way, although, yeah, OK, I'll hold up my hand and proclaim my own Egg-ness.

    Also, I've never fancied Daniela Nardini. Am I strange?

    By Blogger Tim Footman, at 6:08 AM  

  • "Why is it never a softly spoken Home Counties pretty girl who puts it about a bit?"

    I know, it's dreadful. If you hear of any can I send you my address?

    By Anonymous looby, at 9:29 AM  

  • I don't watch much UK TV but I do remember No Angels, which features a woman who's promiscuous and happy to be so (she happens to be Asian too – which bucks the trend some what)

    By Blogger Bowleserised, at 11:50 AM  

  • Hm, I have to say I disagree... I think Anna is amazing, and I DO want to be her. To me, she's probably the sexiest character I've ever seen on telly.

    SATC, on the other hand, was fun for a bit, but I really cannot stand the patronising voiceovers with their magazine psychology insights, and the pretentious crap that Carrie writes in her diary. It makes me cringe.

    Oh, I can't wait for the this Life special and the Green Wing special! It'll be an exciting week.

    By Blogger Loganoc, at 1:26 PM  

  • Spinny,
    I'm not a telly watcher. I'm a reader, anything....books, blogs, mags,rags,and some news papers.

    "But if Vicky thinks that there haven’t been any decent women characters"

    She hasn't met you. To me, you are one of the best "woman characters" i've read!
    Happy New Year Spins, hope you find the love you think you want. ;-)
    rel

    By Blogger Remiman, at 3:00 PM  

  • Very well said - i am a softly spoken girl from the home counties who pus it about a bit and yes, i agree we are not represented fairly on tv. Someone out there should get writing!

    By Blogger mimi buzzard, at 3:10 PM  

  • Susie Green fom Curb Your Enthusiasm has a wonderfully foul mouth. I think I'd rather fantasize over her than some humourless lawyer.

    By Blogger Geoff, at 4:29 PM  

  • I never saw any of those programmes and now you've made me really glad about it.
    Ta much.

    By Blogger dive, at 9:52 AM  

  • Sorry, you were talking about stong single women.

    I'll stick with Corrie, then as apart from Seinfeld I haven't seen any of the others.

    And get me coat.

    By Blogger Geoff, at 12:33 PM  

  • I also think both CJ and Rose are great characters and although I liked Anna at the time, in retrospect she seems a bit of an arse.

    By Blogger realdoc, at 6:32 PM  

  • i wanted to be CJ

    sorry, want

    i love CJ

    i love allison janney

    (i also loved donna from WW)

    By Blogger Urban Chick, at 10:11 PM  

  • Hello Garfer - I thought you'd died or something.

    Unfortunately I've only seen CYE about twice due to the non-stop lowest-common-denominator shite on the telly here at Spinster Towers.

    And Daniella Nardini is certainly Not a looker. I should have had her in my list of odd women that blokes fancy. Although I have to say I don't know a single bloke in real life who actually liked her...God, do you think it was all made up by the papers?

    By Blogger Spinsterella, at 8:49 AM  

  • "SATC, on the other hand, was fun for a bit, but I really cannot stand the patronising voiceovers with their magazine psychology insights, and the pretentious crap that Carrie writes in her diary. It makes me cringe."

    I was going to post a comment to this effect, but then I noticed that someone else had already posted the exact sentiment. Of course, being a straight male, I may not be the target SATC demographic.

    Favourite female tv characters of the last few years (irrespective of their singleness or not) are Jennifer Melfi from the Sopranos, Claire Fisher and Brenda from Six Feet Under and Veronica Mars (but that's just because it's the most fun new tv show in ages)

    By Anonymous riddledwiththepox, at 8:49 AM  

  • I didn't really like Anna in the original series. I was contemplating watching the ten years on thing just out of curiosity but after I somehow managed to watch and quite enjoy the Eastenders tribute to Pauline Fowler yesterday I'm going to spend the evening beating myself with birch twigs and covering myself in ashes for being such a saddo.

    By Blogger rockmother, at 9:01 AM  

  • Hi Spinny

    Long-time reader, first time commenter. I feel a negative response coming, I'm afraid. Ahem...

    This Life? Christ. I remember it from first time round and remember being strangely hooked on watching it (at least for a while) even though I vehemently despised every one of them.

    Is Anna a role model for women everywhere? Who cares? She's a pain in the arse. As was Egg. And Ferdie. And the others, whose names elude me at the moment but especially that bloke that plays the English officer in Pirates of the Caribbean - there's a special circle of Hell reserved for him.

    Now, at this point I could start to 'dis' Sex And the City as I strongly feel that it's ill-conceived nonsense about vacuous, preening, morons that I don't believe should be any sort of role models. I also fail to see how their characters could have risen to such high-powered roles considering their lack of any discernible talents or aptitude. Obviously, I won't say all of this however, as I'm sure that the Cosmopolitan Secret Police would be kicking down my door with their Manolo-clad, expensively-pedicured feet.

    Elaine Benez. Annoying. Wasn't it funny when her shtick was punching people? Nope.

    Rose Tyler. Strong character yet still only an assistant.

    CJ and Nicky. Can't comment - don't know them.

    Coronation Street. Not so much strong women as hard-faced slappers.

    I do however, agree on the necessity for a Guardian cliché-alarm.

    By Anonymous Rebuttal, at 9:15 AM  

  • I think it's fair to say that single women liked S&TC much more than attached women. Or men.

    By Blogger Spinsterella, at 10:24 AM  

  • I've not watched This Life. Mind you, I knew a few twentysomething lawyers around that time and their jobs were so stressful and they worked such long hours that all of that partying, drinking and shagging about would've been nowhere near the mark. Most of the spare time they had would have been spent sleeping!

    Still, most TV characters are overblown caricatures and certainly not the kind of people you'd want to have as friends in real life, even if they are entertaining enough on the box.

    By Blogger Betty, at 10:55 AM  

  • Sorry I'm Late.

    Just to say it was never the same after Michael Aspel took over from Eamon Andrews.

    By Blogger Murph, at 3:03 PM  

  • I can't believe that anybody could refer to the SITC characters as independent. So, they have make believe jobs that pay way too much money, but, rather than doing anything useful with their lives, they sit around moaning their pursuit of a meal-ticket-for-life man is going badly, and all that matters is clothes and food.

    I think if you want examples of independent women it's better to look at Real Life. You'll find a surprising number who are doing useful jobs and interesting hobbies, and are embracing life-enhancing relationships with gusto.

    Basically, TV fiction is made up to get us hooked into watching the ad breaks and then guilt-tripping us into thinking that happiness is found in a pair of shoes that will make us crippled dependents, rather than a cheap pair of comfortable shoes that will get us out doing things where materialistic bragging matters a lot less.

    By Anonymous Gert, at 8:19 PM  

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