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...