Monday, December 17, 2007


As may be apparent, Strong Female Lead is on hiatus while I'm on the road.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Grey's Anatomy at the mid-point

How much am I loving Erica Hahn? She's great at her job, and has no tolerance for all the gossipy flirty silliness that makes up so much of the interactions between the supposed professionals on the show. She's actually focused on her surgeries instead of batting her eyelashes across the operating table.

Here's just a taste from the latest ep:

"I'm sure whatever you're talking about is endlessly interesting, but I had my heart set on saving a life today."

Telling Sloan off: "I came to you because you're supposed to be the best in plastics. But If bad jokes and sleazy come-ons are all I'm in for all afternoon, I'll go to whoever's second best."

Again to Sloan, who tries to bond: "I'm not looking for a window into your soul."

I'm sure eventually she'll fall in bed with someone (a woman?), but I'll enjoy her while it lasts!

Even better, Hahn's appearance has brought a full-force return of Yang's ambition, without any romantic overtones to water it down.

And Bailey is trying to lay down the law as well, in her much deserved ascent to Chief Resident. I had mentioned earlier this season that part of her strength is her mystery, as we never see her home life. But it looks like that may change, as we saw her at home with the baby and husband this episode.

Her quote of the episode: "My hands are smaller than a man's but my brain is much bigger, trust me."

As for the rest of them, ugh. So over Lizzie demanding that George make her happy, Grey demanding that Dreamy fix her, and Grey Jr. demanding the world pay attention to her. Callie has been amusingly snarky, but mostly sidelined, and worryingly optimistic that George and Lizzie won't work out (so she can have him back?? Please, you can do better!!).

Basically, if it weren't for Hahn, Yang, and Bailey, I might have given up on the show, as so many others have done. Thank goodness for fast-forward, so I can skip colliding ambulances and blood geisers!

Monday, December 3, 2007

Four for the Price of One?

EW made the bizarro choice of acknowledging the rock-star women who lead four amazing shows in their Top 25 Entertainers of 2007, but grouped them all as one entry?

But how exciting is it that a WRITER won the year?! First time ever, and well-deserved!

Dang, this reminds me I still haven't seen Damages yet - guess now I'll have to grab it to watch over the holidays...

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Women writing Violence

I'm just finishing a great book called Zen and the Art of Screenwriting: insights and interviews by former UCLA prof Willaim Froug. As the title implies, there are several interviews inside, including one with Callie Khouri, who wrote Thelma & Louise.

Froug asks her about the possibilities for women writers, and her response is very telling:
As long as violence and sex are the hottest-selling ticket, I doubt that women are gonna be making great strides, because we’re not schooled in violence in the same way men are…

There’s a lot of violence specifically directed to a male audience, things that have a certain amount of appeal to their base instincts. But it’s not there for women. There’s not violence that’s specifically directed to a female audience. I think that Thelma and Louise had a kind of violence, even though I don’t think of it as violence. Even blowing up the truck wasn’t really violent. They way they took the driver out of the truck – they didn’t kill him, they didn’t shoot him in the knee. You see those kinds of things in other movies all the time. I was shocked to hear Thelma & Louise referred to as violent.
I decided to do a little research and came up with only a few examples of violent films written by women:

Debra Hill was the Queen of the genre. She co-wrote the original Halloween, Halloween 2, 5, 6, H20 and Resurrection. She also co-wrote The Fog (1980). She was also an impressive producer not only of the Halloween franchise, but in a variety of genres (from Big Top Pee Wee to World Trade Centre.) [Hill died in 2005]

Fran Walsh co-wrote The Frighteners, a horror film, and also Heavenly Creatures, which involves murder by teenage girls. But this is a single act in a film much more interested in the relationship between the girls. (she also co-wrote the Lord of the Rings series, and King Kong 2006).

Patty Jenkins wrote Monster, the true story of a rare female serial killer.

Another writer who has looked at an unusual (fictional) serial killer is Melissa Rosenberg, executive producer of Dexter. She has written a few episodes, as has newcomer Lauren Gussis. In Canadian television, Laurie Finstad-Knizhnik created the violent Durham County after writing on Cold Squad.

Pamela Wallace received the Academy Award for Witness, which contains violence and suspense, but again, the focus of the film is on relationships.

Anyone else got a name to add to the list? Khouri herself has followed up T&L with Something to Talk About, and an adaptation of YaYa Sisterhood.

So I think Khouri is still right, that women are not writing violent films, but these films are not necessarily still the "hottest ticket." If you look at the top 50 grossing films of 2007 so far, only 10 of them are violence/horror -focused:
  • Bourne Ultimatum
  • 300
  • Live Free or Die Hard
  • American Gangster
  • Ghost Rider
  • Disturbia
  • Saw IV
  • Halloween
  • Resident Evil: Extinction
  • Premonition
Of these, the only woman writer involved is Debra Hill, who gets a credit on Halloween, as she co-wrote the original.

What about the other 80%? If comedies and relationships make up the balance, how many women are involved in these? In the next couple of weeks, I'll look at all the top movies of 2007 and let you know how many were penned by women.

[edited Dec 9]

Monday, November 26, 2007

Brothers & Sisters and babies

A few eps ago, Kitty found out she's pregnant, but then lost the baby. Her fiancee Robert, who is running for President, is relieved, as the timing would have made things tough for him. However, Kitty, seemingly having lost every modicum of common sense and the savvy that makes her his PR manager, decided she wants them to try again to have a baby -- as soon as possible. Really? You couldn't wait say til at least after the primaries to see what your work load it going to be? Robert pretends he thinks this is a Really Good Idea too.

And though Kitty is on paper still Communications Director for a presidential campaign, she spends the entirety of this episode getting dance lessons and picking out a wedding dress -- for like the third time this season. I'd like to see her on the blackberry at least while she's doing all this, taking some interest in the campaign...

Meanwhile, sister Sarah, CEO of the family company, lost a custody fight for her children, apparently because she was the primary bread earner and her partner was the stay-at-home dad.

Brother Tommy does have a baby, but his wife Julia, depressed at losing the baby's twin, went off to convalesce with her parents. Tommy, feeling abandoned and frustrated, decided having an affair with office manager Lena would be a Really Good Idea. His business partner, who had a long-running affair with Tommy's father, told him in no uncertain terms that she wouldn't tolerate it, and he finally breaks it off.

In this ep, Lena decides that dating Tommy's brother Justin, who is in recovery for drug addiction, would be another Really Good Idea. Is it revenge or is she actually attracted to him? Does she have a "top" in mind that she's sleeping her way toward?

Julia returns home this episode, happy again and clueless about the affair. Her role up to this point has been completely tied to emotions around making the baby (through IVF with one of Tommy's brother's sperm!) and the death of her second baby. She is a teacher by training, but so far it looks like she'll be a stay-at-home mom. Which is fine, but I'm hoping that once the affair is inevitably revealed, her reaction to that -- hopefully something more interesting than running back to her parents -- will finally give her character some definition.

And now that Mama Nora has passed the crisis of adult baby Justin's relapse, she can focus her energies on dating Chevy Chase! More happy casting by this show! (and bonus Lyle Lovet moment this ep!)

(We can only hope the AMPTP can pony up to the bargaining table with a reasonable offer so these stories can keep coming.)

Friday, November 23, 2007

Reinventing the Women of Sci-Fi TV

I've got an article up at Den of Geek on the failure of US Network television to follow Battlestar Galactica's lead in creating Sci Fi women characters of enough depth.

Clearly I'm psyched for this weekend's premiere of the 2 hour BSG special Razor on Space and SciFi (simulcast Sat 9 pm EST). I was reassured to read that although the episode will revolve around the actions of ice-cold Helena Cain, Admiral of the Battlestar Pegasus, the story will be told in flashback, so we'll get to see all our fave characters... <> Starbuck < /sigh > (That's my Geek move of the day!)

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Lust, Caution

[Pseudo Pspoilers follow]

Ang Lee's gorgeous new film Lust, Caution (Sie, je) winds its way through themes of subterfuge, choice, identity and betrayal.

When the film opens, the lead, Wang Jiazhi (in a knock-down performance by Wei Tang), is a school girl in Japanese-occupied China. She is invited to join a political drama group and proves to be an adept actress. Her skills as an actress come in handy as the group moves on to infiltrate the lives of the Yees, a wealthy couple who are collaborators, with the intention of assassinating Mr. Yee.

Jiazhi's transformation from school girl to sophisticated seductress is amazing. She fully adopts her new persona, and we only see her once more in her everyday personality. The only way I can grasp her character and the choices she makes is to believe that in the years in her role, however, she comes to believe it is her true self.

Because we know of Yee's bloody ruthlessness, we know that Jiazhi is in constant danger, and must be a consummate actor under a variety of stressful circumstances, including hiding the affair from Mrs. Yee and her circle of friends.

We are all actors of one kind or another, and certainly there is a long tradition of women "faking it" in bed to make a man feel powerful. (or just to get it over with...) But so much is left ambiguous in the film. Does Jiazhi have any true physical attraction to Yee? Or is she full of disgust, as she claims to be to her fellow conspirator Kuang, with whom it is clear there is a mutual physical attraction? Most intriguingly perhaps: if she is attracted to Yee, does this lessen her bravery?

Jiazhi's final choice at the end of the film puts into question all of her actions up to that point. And most frustratingly, for me, upends and even erases everything that has passed before. This is me, moaning quietly in the theatre as the credits roll: "Noooooooo!"

Monday, November 19, 2007

Bionic Woman - a man in the picture

After the pilot, this show felt very slow-paced, especially compared to an adrenaline-fueled show like Alias. Some episodes even had flashback - ugh.

The action scenes were always rocking (though I'm a little specious of her ability to leap from the ground to the top of a building), but I found myself fast-forwarding through talking scenes. (which is the opposite of several other shows, where I'm much more interested in the human drama and banter than the blood-spillage.)

I think the writers have caught on though, and are taking themselves less seriously, allowing some fun in to over-ride the ultra-serious lab crowd. In the last couple of episodes, I've become almost as interested in Jaime's conversations as I am in her kick-boxing moves.

It helps that they've pulled back from the politics at the lab and brought in a relaxed cute CIA Agent, Tom. This was definitely a mid-season decision as he's not listed in the original materials. The introduction of CIA Agent Tom as a partner/love interest could have gone very wrong. But I think it's succeeding - it gives her someone to verbally spar with, however heavy-handed that may come across at times.

He's a far better foil than her sister or any of the guys back at the lab. And I'm enjoying the comedic effect of his self-titled "chivalrous" attempts to protect her. As Antonio says to him "You're in so far over your head and don't even know it."

In their first operation together, he's all "I'll go down - you stay here and cover me." Jaime warns him "Don't underestimate me..."

Next ep, she chastises him, saying she's not a "trophy spy." When he's unable to kick down a door, she "helps" him. His response is a classic "I loosened it."

The conflict heats up when he says "I'm going in alone... It's too dangerous."

Jaime snaps back "You may think you're being a gentleman but it's condescending. Get over yourself."

Actions speak louder than words and he finally gets it, even though she tries to take it back, saying she didn't mean it:
Him: "Clearly you can kick some ass"
Her: "I can"
Him: "You can."

Compelling, eh? But then he has to make sure we know what's really important: "God you're beautiful." Gag.

At the beginning of this episode (107 - Trust Issues), Jaime's partner Antonio warns her, "Relationships and counterespionage don't mix."

And he has a point - she's so busy chatting up Tom on her cell phone that she forgets to watch the briefcase she's supposed to be following. Thank god her bionic eye helped her find it again.

The humour continues when she kicks the butts of the CIA agents sent to "check up" on her.

Tom's overprotectiveness rears its head again in the form of chasing down Jaime to an assignment and yelling at Antonio for sending her out without a gun. But even Jaime has her biases - when Antonio says the assasin is a woman, she repeats, surprised, "Her?"

By the end of the episode, Jaime is in Tom's arms crying, "I can't do this. I'm not cut out for this." She's gonna have to toughen up, and everyone at the lab knows it.

Her tears are because they've now killed off the second moderately important character (at the hand of a female assassin, no less!). I admire that, because it means that no one (with the exception of Jaime herself of course) is safe. That's a good thing to keep us on our toes instead of presuming all the good guys will make it out OK.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Journeyman Ep 7

You might think a show with the word "man" in the title would be no place to find a SFL. And unfortunately you'd be right.

The show revolves around reporter Dan Vassar, who suddenly develops the ability to travel through time, apparently to help other people at important junctures in their lives. And when I say "revolves around" I mean it. It's all about him.

Dan is part of a love quadrangle made possible by his time travel. In the past, his wife Katie, dated his brother Jack, and Dan was engaged to a woman named Livia, who died in a plane crash. When he travels back in time, he often visits scenes from the past of the foursome. It can get a little awkward -- in the best possible way, which makes it the most interesting part of the show, as the actual changing people's lives plots aren't that stunning.

In the pilot episode, the moment I became most intrigued with the show was the moment Livia shows up. I was captivated by her sudden appearance as a fellow time-traveler, and was hoping we'd get to follow her story too, see what she's been up to, time-hopping for the last 6 years, see the bigger picture of what the time travel is all about.

Instead, Livia seems to just hang out waiting for Dan, but she doesn't really help much. Finally in the most recent episode (107 - "Double Down"), she does take the bold action of driving a car to help him get away.

I presume she knows more than she tells Dan, but she remains cryptic about what their role is and how it all works. In the third episode, she reveals that she had been time traveling before she met him, and then when they were together, she stopped for a while, until she traveled before her plane went down. Which leaves lots of questions: Is her only job to help him? What does she do when she's not hanging around waiting for him?

One problem is there's no sexual tension at all between Dan and Livia. And we've never really seen him as someone worth mooning/fighting over. The potential to cheat is purely theoretical. Instead of seeing an emotional struggle, this episode features a ridiculous literal fight between current-Dan and past-Dan. And there's the moment when she finds out that he married Katie. Although she now seems to be glued to Dan as he zips around in the past, apparently she never travelled to a moment in his life when she would observe Dan's current married with child state?

In this episode, we finally get to follow Livia somewhere, but yet again, it's All About Dan. She pops into Dan's current-day house to spy on Katie and get Dan's money. Sigh. But at least she's doing something useful.

Which is more than Katie gets to do. A reporter in her own right, the last 2 eps have focused around her basically asking Dan's PERMISSION to go back to work as an anchorwoman. Talk about time travel!

In this ep, fulfilling the role of these two women to help and save Dan, time-travel Livia helps current-Dan help past-Katie save past-Dan from his self-destructive gambling problem.

The other figure in the love quad, brother Jack badgers Katie to find out what's going on with Dan, as he can see it's taking a toll on her. Though he presumably has a continued emotional tie to her, it comes across as bullying, which is too bad, because he could do it in a gentle way, that would make him more appealing as a character instead of making sure we don't root for him. But you know what, I'm annoyed enough by Dan that I now appreciate Jack turning on him.

Tellingly, the photos of Katie (Gretchen Egolf) and Livia (Moon Bloodgood) on the official website are of them posing and vamping. Note to writers: you've got two great women available - use them.

Friday, November 2, 2007

Blood Ties

I watched the fun two-part pilot of this show back in August, and caught a couple eps after that. For Halloween, I watched a few episodes on my PVR and remembered how much I enjoy this show.

The set-up is detective show. Vicki Nelson (Christina Cox ) works cases with and in conflict with her ex-partner on the police force, Mike (Dylan Neal), who is also an ex-lover.

Vicki's assistant Coreen, was her first supernatural-case client - her boyfriend was killed by a vampire/demon. At first Vicki is tough to convince, but by the end of the pilot, she has encountered dark supernatural forces first-hand, including being branded by the demon herself. And she has made a new partner in Henry, a 350-year old vampire investigating the murder himself to keep dark forces at bay.

The production values are decent for scifi, and very importantly both Cox and Schmid are hot hot hot. (sorry Dylan -- on a supernatural show, you're vanilla. Which is how Vicki feels too I think - once you've tasted the kink, it's tough to go back...). The chemistry between them is hot. The first time we see Henry, he's in bed, using his vampire ways for mutual sexual satisfaction. Later, Vicki lets him suck her blood to save his life, and they are bound together. Henry is very much the ladies' man, but always puts his woman of the week aside to help Vicki when she calls. Meanwhile Mike is super-jealous and over the course of the first season, learns the truth about who Henry is, which increases their mutual distrust.

The competitive sparks between Mike and Henry over Vicki, which might on another show feel silly, are fun to watch, because Vicki truly is shifting her alliance, and she's not an airhead. She is a tough fighter and can kick butt without Mike or Henry's help. Together, Vicki and Henry are a formidable team. One personal reason I like Vicki is she's practically blind without her glasses (though the writers forget this occasionally). I'm not positive, but I think her eye condition is why Henry can't mesmerize her with his vampire eyes. Or maybe it's her strong mental powers.

Season two is showing on Lifetime, where you can supposedly watch recent eps. But I can't get it to load - probably because I'm in Canada, and you've got to watch out for those tricky Canadians. Ditto iTunes. Space is also showing season one on Friday nights. Canucks can catch the show on CityTV Sunday nights in East/Central, Wed for Pacific and Thursdays Mountain. Some people wonder why it's hard to find a Canadian audience. Others wonder how the Canadian audience even finds the shows.

You can learn more about the show and keep an eye on where to find it at writer Dennis McGrath's blog.

Based on books by Tanya Huff.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Can Kristen Bell save Heroes?

The eagerly-anticipated arrival of Kristen Bell (of Veronica Mars fame) to Heroes this episode seems to herald a brighter day for the show, which has squandered an amazing first year.

Kristen's character Elle is called "the little blonde" and "a little girl" but then she up and electrocutes someone. She's not allowed to continue in this bad-ass vein though. Oddly, she calls her dad and he yells at her for killing the guy, so she has to come home before she can finish her assignment. Who's her daddy? I'm guessing the new head of The Company, Bob.

Another new potential SFL is Monica, Micah's cousin. She's just finding her powers, which are apparently the ability to do anything herself once she's seen someone else do it.

She works in a fast food restaurant, but wants more from life. She says, "I've been praying to God to give me a sign, to show me what to do with my life." She's wary of her powers, but her confidence is growing. I was dissapointed that after kicking the ass of a bad guy in the last ep, this ep she declines to try out her skills on the basketball court and chooses instead to... jump rope.

I'm curious why Monica has only developed her powers in the last few days. Was it Mika who turns on her powers? Given the family powers, I'm guessing the grandmother has some mad skillz that she's keeping secret for now.

The biggest bad-ass of them all, Nikki/Jessica, showed up finally after being MIA the first few episodes. She's always been an interesting character. The trying-to-be-Good Girl, Nikki (who was working for an erotic internet site, so maybe not soooo good!) has an alternate personality, Jessica (the name of her dead sister), who comes out to do the things Nikki can't, like beat people to a pulp, sleep with people to get what she wants, and even kill.

Last episode, Nikki only dropped off her son Micah with her grandmother, and then went in to ask the Company to "cure" her. Jessica gets out this episode and lashes out, but she is quickly put down.

Bob tells her "You have a terrible affliction. But we're going to get you well."

Hearing this, Suresh tries to rescue her: "Nikki you're a prisoner."

"No," she replies. "I'm sick... what I've done, what I'm capable of. These are the only people who can help me."

Now Multiple Personality Disorder in real life is serious business, but within the context of the show, I find it a great metaphor for a Strong Female Lead. Jessica is physically stronger, and more successful at getting what she wants, but Nikki's strength is her morals and her attachment to her son, which Jessica doesn't share. But the idea that she has to be "cured" of the side of her that actually gets things done, and has saved her life and Micah's several times, is troubling. (though of course the murderous tendencies of Jessica are also troubling...) So once again we're back to a false choice between physical strength/life competency and emotional competency.

Maybe I'll just watch every other week - cuz Claire's big story line is sneaking around with a boy behind her dad's back, and the new Honduran hero, Maya, just confuses me. She kills people by crying blood tears, then she feels sorry and cries real tears and they come back to life. More of a curse than a power. And if they'd they'd move the fast-forward-triggering Hiro story line to the other week, that would suit me just fine.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

EDubb's Butt-Kicking Babes

Entertainment Weekly has corrected its list of Butt-Kicking Babes to add the unfathomable oversights of Buffy and Sydney.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Ugly Betty

There are many ways in which Ugly Betty's title character is not strong, but she is resilient. Even when people make fun of her, and things don't go her way, she keeps her positive spirit, and keeps plugging along, saving the butt of her boss Daniel, the editor of Mode magazine. The people on the show who grow to respect her instead of mock her are generally "the good guys."

Betty's true strength is her values. Unlike the majority of people on the show, who do whatever it takes to succeed, Betty rarely abandons her values of honesty and loyalty. (although in this week's episode she takes credit for a story that isn't hers, because she doesn't think hers is interesting enough).

Betty: "Damn it, why do I have to be so sweet?"

Someone who doesn't have to ask this question is Betty's complete opposite, Wilhelmina Slater, the creative VP of the magazine. She has risen in the ranks at Mode, with the sole ambition of being editor of the magazine. She was passed over by the owner, Bradford, who appointed Daniel, his son.

Since then, she has done anything in her power to try to reverse that decision. She has used blackmail, tried to have people killed, and as a last resort, faked an interest in Bradford. So far she has succeeded in becoming engaged to Bradford, but her role as editor remains out of reach.

"I was a simple girl with an evil plan," she says in this episode, thwarted again. She is associated with fire, a she-devil, aka bitch. So is a bitch a Strong Female Lead?

I submit, yes. She is morally weak, but in all other ways strong. In a show about ambitious people, Whilhelmina surpasses them all. As she says in an understatement this episode, comparing herself to Bradford's first wife, who took more interest in alcohol than the business: "In case you haven't noticed, I'm a career gal."

She knows what she wants and she's going after it. When Bradford man-handles her, she pushes him away. "Uh uh, business first."

It's revealed in this ep that she transformed herself with the help of the former female editor, from mousy assistant Wanda into super-model Wilhimina: "I put my blood, sweat and old nose into this place."

The price of course has been emotional iciness. The only time she has shown emotion has been for her daughter, who she ships off to boarding school so she will not be a distraction. She does however make small gestures to two faithful underlings (saving Marc from being fired, or in this episode, offering Amanda information about her father). But she refuses to ever acknowledge that she has done something nice, and usually acts only under duress of blackmail from them).

The show is further exploring what it means to be a woman through a character who has undergone M2F sex reassignment surgery. This is Daniel's sister Alexis (formerly Alex). Unfortunately, these attempts are rather clumsy and stay on the surface of gender issues. Two episodes ago, Alexis spent a lot of time playing with her boobs. In this episode, she struggles with makeup, blouse buttons, heels and feeling inadequate.

Daniel: Are you crying?
Alexis: I'm a girl. I'm allowed to now.

Meanwhile, this is Wilhimena:
"Even if I wanted to express sympathy, I physically can't."

The first made me wince. The second made me laugh. And that's the beauty of Ugly Betty.

Friday, October 19, 2007

“Girls Gone Genre” panel

As a kind of follow-up to my post about women in film, here's another take from TV writer Lisa Klink regarding a panel she participated in at La Femme Film Fest, called “Girls Gone Genre”:
The panelists (myself, Marti Noxon, Laeta Kalogrides and Rita Hsaio) agreed that there is rampant sexism in Hollywood, more pronounced in features than television - but that the real decision makers (as opposed to the wannabe posers) care a lot more about competence than gender. If you’re good, the people who matter will recognize it. The Genre Girls also concurred that despite the fact that women do face longer odds, bitching about it won’t get you anywhere. Putting that energy into becoming a better writer will.
Fair enough.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Women's Murder Club

Checking out this show was clearly in my purview! The title made me think these would be amateur detectives, but the show is actually about a group of three friends who happen to be a police detective, medical examiner and deputy DA. Joining them is an ambitious reporter.

Detective Lindsay Boxer is an appealing enough character, played by Law & Order's Angie Harmon. The journalist, Cindy Thomas, is self-proclaimed remarkably smart. The women's friendship is clearly the oil to keep the train of the show running, but what is the deputy DA Jill Bernhardt doing showing up at crime scenes? To me it would be more interesting if we saw each woman handling her area of expertise.

The pilot dwells on the love lives of Lindsay and Jill The latter is choosing between the safe guy and the bad boy, but Lindsay hasn't slept with anyone for the two years since her divorce, which was purportedly caused by her obsession with work.

This is the dark undercurrent of the pilot: that women who work too hard end up alone and eventually -- like the pilot's victim of the week -- dead. The medical examiner, Claire Washburn, who has a stable home life with husband and kids, warns: "You put your head down, you get lost in your career, and you wake up 10 years later and realize your job doesn't hug back."

More disturbingly, there's a freakish moment when Lindsay decides that a stalker is an appropriate boyfriend-substitute. And the murderer turns out to be a jealous wife.

But the women definitely get to do all the heavy lifting of investigating and solving the crimes, and tracking down suspects. At one point, Lindsay points a gun at guy she's chasing but doesn't shoot. But she takes him down later: "You're under arrest for pissing me off."

Their bosses are men, though, including Lindsay's ex-husband Tom, who is appointed Lieutenant in the pilot.
The show contains some graphic violence, which I imagine is supposed to add edge. The pilot ends with a set-up for larger arc: "This time we'll stop him."

The books the show is based on are by James Patterson, but the only writers listed on IMDB are women: Elizabeth Craft and Sarah Fain, both of Angel and The Shield), who are also exec-producing.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Women in Hollywood: Out?

Elle's Women in Hollywood issue is out. The online component includes audio excerpts from a fascinating panel with the likes of Nora Ephron, Laura Zisken and Universal's President of Production Donna Langley. They also interview Nikki Finke, who writes her Deadline Hollywood column for LA Weekly and expands on it at Deadline Hollywood Daily.
Salon's Rebecca Traister gives a fuller transcript from the panel (which she attended) and the state of women in film. Her take? "More women than ever write, direct and produce movies. But we're in a period in which their on-screen stock is falling."

Traister opens her article with Finke's report that Warner Brothers' production pres Jeff Robinov has declared "We are no longer doing movies with women in the lead."

SO much to chew on here. Which is the whole point of this blog...

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Pushing Daisies

I'll admit my impressions of this show are colored by the fact that I had such different expectations for it when I heard it described. If you haven't heard, it's about a guy (Ned) who can bring people (and animals) back from the dead by touching them. But if he touches them again, they "re-die". He brings his childhood sweetheart, Charlotte, aka "Chuck", back from the dead, and now can never touch her again.

So I thought it would be dark and painful (with the theme of Wanting the Thing you can Never Have). But right from the start, I felt trapped in a 1970s Disney movie. Definitely going for the Tim Burton effect. If that's not Elfman on the synth, he should sue. (and I think the theme is Quirky People Can Solve Crimes Too)

Charlotte is scatter-brained, super-cutesy, and for me, super-annoying. In episode two, she complains at one point, "I'm useless." Ned, who loves her, disagrees, but I don't have his ulterior motive or scruples. Oh wait, she had one moment of helpfulness this episode where she pickpockets a security pass.

What would have been cool is if she’d lived up to the name “Chuck” and since Ned knew her as a kid, she'd become a bisexual plumber. Then they could have threesomes with chicks and resolve their sexual frustration that way. As it stands, the poor detective they solve murders with, Emerson, had to be the hug-between in the first episode. The second episode introduced plastic and rubber as ways for them to touch, so perhaps it can get a little kinky after all...

Except she says things like, "That's so neat". "That's so cute." I want to hit her a lot.

And I WILL smack the omnipresent narrator if he ever tries to dictate my life. The narration is such a cheap device, however many clever turns of phrase are used within. We see the golden monkeys. Narrator: "The monkeys were golden". Oi. I was so praying that the first episode was the last one they'd use him in, but no, he's back in ep 2, along with flashback to his childhood, which I also was hoping we'd see the last of. But sigh, not to be.

Nails on chalk board. Don't think I can watch another ep.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Friday Night Lights

This show is not about football. This show is about people.

Tami Taylor, the wife of high school football coach Eric Taylor is one of the strongest wives I've seen in a long time. She never hesitates to let Eric know when she's unhappy with him, or when she thinks he's making a bad decision. And she does it without it turning passive-aggressive or weepy.

Tami takes her job as a guidance counselor seriously, and can see the impact she has on the kids. At the end of Season One, she makes the decision to stay in town even though Eric is moving on to a university job several hours away. She stands strong against Eric's objections, even when she discovers she's pregnant. She feels her work is as important as his, and while she knows that he must take the job, she feels its time for her and daughter Julie to stop following him from job to job.

This season, she faces the cost of that decision, raising the baby on her own while dealing with a restless teenage daughter. And in episode one of the new season, we see her break down from the pressure of this. My guess is she'll bounce back, but will soon have to juggle the demands of motherhood on her own, adding back in her job, as I'm guessing her mat leave policy is only a few weeks. And the tension between a married couple divided geographically is sure to build.

Meanwhile daughter Julie is pushing her own boundaries, wanting not to be the Good Girl all the time. She's tired of her Good Boy boyfriend, and wants to know "Isn't there more than this?"

Other women to watch for:

Just realized there are a lot of single moms on this show! Corrina Williams, the widowed mother of one of the star players, Smash, didn't look the other way when she found him using steroids. She is tough on him, but has kept her family together against tough odds and little money.

Tyra Collette and her mother Mindy are the women from the wrong side of the tracks. Last season, when Mindy was dumped by her married boss (Buddy Garrity) with whom she's been having an affair, she walks up to him after church and slaps him. His wife Pam leaves him too, adding another single mom to the show. These Dillon women don't mess around.

That's why I'm disappointed that in the season opener, Tyra is unable to protect herself from a man who attacked her last season and stalks her in this episode. Last season, when her mom's boyfriend hit her mom, Tyra went after him with a poker. In this episode, even after noticing that this guy is following her, and feeling spooked by sounds outside her house, she has not given herself any means of protection in case he confronts her again. This is Texas, and we've seen girls with guns in a previous episode. Or mace at least. But it's her male friend Jesse who fights on her behalf, with disastrous results.

Lyla Garrity, daughter of Buddy and Pam, has been born again over the summer before season two starts. This is a very realistic character in southern America, who I don't think we've seen as anything but a caricature before, so I'll be interested to see where they take her.

Ratings have always been an issue for this show, but for me, it's one of the absolute best shows on the air. So I urge you to watch and help keep it alive!

Friday, October 5, 2007


I'm so sold on this show. The dialogue is better than snappy - it's downright surprising. I'm all for an existential detective. In fact, I don't care about the weekly cases at all. I just want to hear the lead (Charlie Crews, played by Damian Lewis) chat with his partner, Dani (Sarah Shahi), and try to figure out who framed him 10 years ago, sending him to jail.

Dani is a SFL, as is their boss, Lieutenant Karen Davis, and Charlie's lawyer/potential love interest, Constance Griffiths, who fought for five years to free him from prison.

While in jail, Charlie developed a philosophical outlook on life, and now wanders around throwing out random zen koans and trying to find a balance between his attraction to material goods and need for detachment. Dani tolerates this, but her own life philosophy is less clear. She is battling internal demons of drug and alcohol addiction, and emotional damage from we're not sure yet what at her core.

I enjoyed Shahi as Carmine in her L Word days, and she's even tougher in this show. In the pilot, Lieutenant Davis and Dani butt heads over Davis's "request" for Dani to report any suspicious behavior of Charlie's, so they can kick him off the force.

In last night's episode, when Charlie falls in a pool struggling with a suspect, Dani not only commands all the guy cops not to shoot, but then makes the choice to use a stun gun to electrocute Charlie and the other guy in the water, to separate them so they don't drown. As all the cops stare, stunned, she says, "Well, get him out of there."

So I had already decided to promote the show as chock full of SFLs (contrasted with Charlie's current desire to sleep with a random collection of women), when I found the show wanted to do the same. Charlie's suspicious ex-partner comes up to him and says: "I don't envy you. Woman boss, woman partner... Makes my head spin thinking about what a hen house this department's become."

While I prefer my misogyny a bit more subtle, clearly the show is committed to exploring the tensions between male and female cops. Reviews and ratings are mixed, so we'll see if it can survive to do so.

Best line from last night:
Charlie: You were a little girl once.
Dani: There's no proof of that.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Brothers & Sisters premiere

This is a show that I didn't start watching last year until several episodes in, but it steadily grew on me. Although there is a soap opera aspect to some of the situations, there is a contrasting set of conversations between the characters that often feels very real.

The season premiere kicks off with two situations where women feel they are being pushed into a role they don't want to fill:
Kitty, who is engaged to a U.S. Senator running for President, has been relegated from his press secretary to his fiancee, and finds all the questions for her now concern her search for a wedding dress, or her brother Justin, who is serving in Iraq.
Sarah, a successful businesswoman who has recently separated from her husband, finds herself the object of suspicion and pity on the playground, not because of her marital status, but because she has spent so little time there, as her husband had been the primary caretaker. She suffers several digs about her ability to be a good mother "considering she works."

While I often enjoy watching Sally Field on the show, I find her character Nora to be the most melodramatic and over-the-top. Nora spends most of this episode obsessing over her soldier son, Justin, and marking the first anniversary of her husband's death. While I thought the show gave a good view into the weight of the ongoing uncertainty felt by soldiers' families, I didn't buy that Norah and the mistress, Holly, would share a good laugh at the errant husband's grave site.

By the end of the episode, Kitty has asserted herself with her fiancee, but not yet with the press. And Sarah has given in to her errant husband's advances, only to be rebuffed by him later. As the portrayal of their marriage ups and downs has been one I find very honest, I hope that we will continue to see their relationship play out on this new level. I imagine that Sarah will find her mothering obligations playing more heavily against her career now, so we'll see where the writers take that. Hopefully not in a Baby Boom direction...

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Grey's vs. Private Practice

I found the premiere of Private Practice excruciating. The main flaw I think is that the spin-off of Grey's Anatomy attempts to simulate the life-or-death tension that lends weight to the parent show, but these situations are at odds with the show's setting: a cushy private clinic in Southern California. So far, the creators have failed to inspire in me any sympathetic feelings for any of the doctors in the clinic, much less their patients. I'll provide a more thorough analysis next week -- if I can stomach another full episode.

As for Grey's Anatomy itself, I have mixed feelings that the characters would approve of and wallow in with me. I have often been a willing victim of the writers machinations, allowing them to yank my emotional chain week after week, working up tears for dying patients and their conflicted doctors.

However, the only character I would unabashedly characterize as a SFL is Dr. Miranda Bailey. Known from the first episode as The Nazi, she is brash, frank, and can be bitter. She does have a softer, kinder side, but she is one of the few characters whose home life is rarely seen. In a four-episode arc, she went home for bed-rest, came back to give birth, and we saw her holding the baby. Since then, we've never seen her husband or child, and we certainly have never seen her making out with any of her fellow residents or an intern.

Because we rarely see Dr. Bailey show sympathy or emotion, it means so much more when she does, compared to Grey moaning for the 400th time about how messed up/depressed she is or that she can't decide whether to break up with Shepherd for the 24th time. Her indecisiveness and whinyness make her for me a completely unsympathetic character.

Yang's stubborn focus and ambition make her my second-favorite character. As with Bailey, her expressions of weakness are much more palatable because they are not, like Meredith's, unrelenting.

And Izzie Stevens? While I never thought her original mettle (overcoming her trailer park upbringing, proving she wasn't an airhead, giving up a daughter for adoption) was softened by her doomed relationship with Denny (a patient who died despite her unorthodox attempts to save him), I think it's now been compromised by her mooning over George (who is married to another hospital colleague). We'll see where they take the pair this year.

The premiere brought to the foreground a new character: Lexie Grey, Meredith's half-sister. It's too early to tell what will happen with her character (who has been brought on as a full regular cast member, beyond her originally-planned story arc). But I hope that she will be not just a shadow of Grey, but rather developed in a completely unique direction. And please don't let her be "dark and twisty"! Despite the fact that they share the same alcoholic dad and both have lost their mothers in the last year - let's see another personality deal with these factors in a very different way.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Bionic Woman Series Premiere

By far my most anticipated new show...

And I'm far from disappointed!


Great shocking beginning, to start with a bang, then several minutes of relationship goo until the Crash that Changes Everything.

The Stakes are set early. They can "terminate her later, if need be." Lots of mysteries to unwrap, which is a good thing. Her relationship with her younger sister is a great area to explore, especially as we're not sure what kind of delinquent her sister is. I don't think Jaime will be able to keep her in the dark for long.

The science is of course ridiculous, though I like the possibilities inherent in the quick-healing capabilities. Will tries to explain it to Jaime: "Technology is at the point where science fiction isn't fiction anymore." Me: "Are you kidding, they had all this technology back in 1976!"

I like that she's got an equally strong female to combat (Sarah, the updated fembot!). I was going to call her a villain, but she's just a messed-up version of Jamie. I think their relationship could be interesting, but I'm guessing they'll kill off Sarah.

Some questions:
1. The original Jaime Sommers was a tennis pro. Why does this one have to be a bartender? I know smart people (they establish that she has a high IQ) are found in all professions, but this seems to demean her, putting her in a position where she has to ask Will, who is a professor/scientist, why he's with her. In the original, she would go undercover a lot - maybe we'll get to see her stretch her wings a bit...

2. Why did she need to be pregnant? They didn't think losing two legs, an arm, an ear and an eye were enough for us to feel sympathy for her? In fact, doesn't mentioning her pregnancy actually decrease our view of her as someone smart... enough to use reliable birth control?

3. Why doesn't Sarah shoot Jae when she has the chance? This is the man who has already shot her to kill her. They apparently were lovers, so maybe that's supposed to explain it all...

Things I thought could have been done in a more unique way:
- The mandatory cry in the shower/tub scene
- The mandatory stop-the-mugger/rapist in the alley scene
- Some cliched dialogue, but it could have been worse, given that it's an action show.

Best Line:
Sarah - "I'm cutting away all the parts of me that are weak."
THIS is a great metaphor for our plastic surgery culture, as well as cutting off our emotions, connections with others, or other perceived weaknesses. And this is of course the subjective part of this blog: what I view as weak and strong.

How do we know Jaime's all SFL?
Her parting shot to Jonas, the man running the secret lab: "I know what I'm capable of now. So you send whoever you send. And I'll bury one guy after the next."

I for one will be here next week to see who they send, how Jaime adjusts to her new strength, and what Sarah gets up to.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Bones Season Premiere

Caught the Bones season premiere last night. (Tuesday nights, Fox; Wednesday nights, Global)

As mentioned, I hadn't actually watched this show before, but had heard quite good things.

I'm an instant fan. Dr. Temperance "Bones" Brennan is freaking awesome. The smartest woman I've ever seen on TV. And hyper and driven and committed. Although of course she has been made emotionally stunted to balance it all out. In fact, I would place her and one of the other characters, Zack, on the Asperger scale. Despite this, she does share chemistry with a male FBI agent Booth, who refuses to use the technical jargon that gushes non-stop from the mouths of every other character. I learned some new vocabulary!

What makes the show even more appealing to me, is that every other woman on the show is also distinctively strong. Angela, another forensic expert, is the emotional counter-balance to Bones. Dr. Saroyan, the coronoer, appears to be a voice of reason. And Caroline Julian, a prosecutor, is tough-as-nails and no-nonsense.

Yes the premise is creepy (she's an anthropologist who specializes in forensics), and the season has been set up to follow a cannibal killer, but I didn't get that squicky feeling I get in my stomach at CSI or Cold Squad. The creators make a choice not to "flash back" to bloody crime scenes, and they suckered me in with hints of the Illuminati.

Clearly I'll need to go back and watch Seasons One and Two.

Fave line:
Julia to Brennan: "Sweetie, this is not one of those things where you try to keep a secret and I ferret out the truth. This is where I tell you something that's true, so you can catch up to your own reality."

Monday, September 24, 2007

The New Season

What am I excited about?

Bionic Woman - of course! Very interested to see how they adapt it. Hopefully they will really make it new, as Battlestar Galactica did so successfully. [Premieres Wed. Sep 26]

Ugly Betty - It took me a while to understand what this show was trying to do, but I really admire it. [Premieres Thurs. Sep 27]

Brothers & Sisters, Grey's Anatomy - a few SFLs and definitely some space for critique [Premieres Sun. Sep 30]

Battlestar Galactica - The final season. What will happen to Starbuck, Laura and the rest of the crew? Won't find out until November.

Bones - Haven't actually seen this show but have heard good things about the SFL at the center of it! [Premieres Tues. Sep 25]

I will have more to say on each of these shows after their season premieres, but this is my Must Watch list.

Then there's the shows that have already started up!

L Word - All Female, all the time! All kinds of Strong.

Weeds - I'm still catching up on Season 2!

Saving Grace - have a few eps ready to go in my PVR, but haven't dug in yet.

Blood Ties - Canadian made detective show meets vampires - airs on Lifetime.

The Closer - became a fan last season and Brenda Johnson is my ultimate SFL right now.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Every story has to begin somewhere

Why I made this blog:
I'd always thought about screenwriting, but the push to actually do it came at the end of a heist movie where, after 2 hours of getting lied to, the woman got left waiting for her man while he was off in a gun battle with a cop, who kept the dough. I thought to myself, "I would've had her drive off with the bag of money." I decided it was time to write my own endings for my own heroines. I'm hoping that analyzing shows and films will help me to define what I want to do (and not do) with my own characters and story lines.

And then there's television. When I was young, I could only watch one show a day (outside of public television). It always came down to Wonder Woman or Bionic Woman (though Wonder Woman usually won - couldn't resist that lasso!). In the 80s we had Cagney and Lacey. In the 90s, Scully and Buffy. In the Oughts, so far we've seen Sydney Bristow, Veronica Mars, Starbuck, Brenda Johnson, Vicki Nelson, and I would argue, Laura Roslin, Nancy Botwin and Betty Suarez.

What I want to do here:
My plan is to provide commentary on female characters in television and film, penned by both male and female writers. The choices made by writers, actors, networks. Where characters are allowed to go and grow over the course of their story.

I'll be analyzing current shows and films as well as referencing and studying older work. And I'll also occasionally be showcasing women who work in the industry, as this is a source of interest to me!

What I'm not interested in looking at (at least right now)
Comedy. Don't get me wrong, I like to laugh. And there's no doubt Roseanne for example was a SFL (Strong Female Lead). But I barely have enough time to watch all the drama shows I'm interested in, let alone develop a new interest in comedy.
Grisly Crime Drama. I admit it, I get squicked out by intensive forensics, and don't really feel the need to fill my mind with all the details of horrific crimes. This means no CSI, no Cold Case, and probably no Bones (though I'm going to try an ep).

Who the heck am I?
I am a writer and filmmaker. After three years of making short films and receiving grants to write, in 2006-07, I attended the Canadian Film Centre's Television program. I got to work with Barbara Samuels (now there's a SFL!) and a room of talented up-and-comers to create a mini-series. I'm now working on specs, original series ideas, and features, and pitching them to Canadian broadcasters and production companies.

I hope you'll join me in my investigations. I welcome your opinions, theories, counter-evidence, and of course suggestions for shows or films to watch!