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Netflix’s “Insatiable” Has Us Screaming in Anger but Still Tops August’s TV Watch List

May sucked, June was rough, and July was a hot ’n’ stinky — mainly because the heat just bakes us all up like a bunch of angry little ragamuffins. Well, I’m sorry to report there will be no relief in August! It’s shaping up to be a scorcher down here in hell, so the only thing to do is spend your weekends sweating your chesticles off while you stump for progressive candidates in swing districts (DO IT!) and then reward yourself with some spiked lemonade and all the sweet, sweet TV you can consume through your eyeholes. You deserve it! Maybe! Probably not! Whatever, it’s too hot to argue.

Random Acts of Flyness (HBO), August 3

From artist-filmmaker Terence Nance comes a new entry into the late-night scene — the show will feature interconnected vignettes about American life that play out through scripted and documentary segments, musical performances, and animation. It sounds wild and wholly original, and I can’t wait to watch it and understand, like, 30 percent of it because it’s too fucking cool for us muggles. I’m into it. This is culture, and culture is (sometimes) very good.

Lodge 49 (AMC), August 6

From executive producer Paul Giamatti comes a dramedy about a young white male loser bro who’s saved from himself when he stumbles into a local fraternal lodge. The cast is charming, and I’m sure Paulie G wouldn’t put his name on garbage, but I just can’t watch another show starring a stunted white dude who comes of age when he’s, like, forty. Like, who cares? Maybe you! Maybe you’ll watch this and tell me it’s great and then I’ll watch it and say to myself, “Damn, Laura! Sometimes you are such a judgmental little b! Do better, baby!” Thank you!!!

Insatiable (Netflix), August 10

A show about a former fat girl who loses weight and then gets vengeance on the people who were mean to her. Ugh.

Wait, you know what? I’m gonna pop off, so feel free to skip to the next section, but actually this is important so you’d better read it — and trust me, I’ll know if you didn’t.

OK: Why couldn’t it be a show about a fat girl who gets vengeance on the people who were mean to her WHILE SHE IS STILL FAT? Because that’s my life, bbs! I’m constantly dunking on idiots who called me names in middle school — and because I’m fat like an elephant, I never forget. Seriously, my nightly walks are just me planning out how to terrorize various different Ashleys. Sleep with one eye open, ladies!

ANYWAY, this show is not that, because fat women aren’t allowed to be on TV unless they hate themselves and are actively trying to get skinny. Yes, there are a few exceptions — Nicole Byer on (the sadly canceled) Loosely Exactly Nicole and Louie Anderson as Christine Baskets on Baskets. Yes, one of the two examples is a man playing a woman. Yes, things are bad. And that’s because, by and large (come for me!), television is a reflection of society. And so it’s very hateful toward fat body-ody-odies, and fat women in particular.

How badass and revolutionary would this show be if it were a fat girl just being all, “Guess what? Fuck you, fuck you, fuck you! Who’s next? Let’s eat!” The correct answer is: VERY VERY BADASS. Hollywood, I have scripts for several pilots starring BBWs* so sashay this way if you want to correct this problem pronto. If not, continue to make garbage like this and know that it probably won’t tank but a lot of the reason why is because society hates women. Good for you!

Oh, and the show features a thin actress in a fat suit and I’ve written extensively about why this is so so so bad! What a mess.

Netflix’s “Disenchantment”

Disenchantment (Netflix), August 17

When The Simpsons/Futurama’s Matt Groening isn’t busy being hella dumb and wrong about Apu, he’s creating a new TV show starring Abbi Jacobson as a princess who gives the middle finger to her predestined life as a wife and hits the road with a demon and an elf. It features a lot of the Futurama voice cast — Billy West, John DiMaggio, Maurice LaMarche, and Tress MacNeille — so that’s fun. I don’t know! I’m not particularly jazzed on it, but maybe that’s because I wish it was coming to us from the people behind Broad City as opposed to the dude who is hella belligerent about changing one of his racist characters. I just can’t get it up for these old white dudes rn! Take it up with my nethers!

John Krasinski in “Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan”

Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan (Amazon Prime Video), August 31

Well, well, well, Jack Ryan is back, and this time he’s on the small screen and being played by Jim from The Office (I don’t care what else you ever do, Big Tuna, you will always be Jim from The Office to me and a million other people who find you to be SHA-WING!).

Jim plays a modern-day Ryan** — a CIA analyst who has his first field assignment thwarting a terrorist attack and yada yada yada. The show has an eight-episode run and has already been renewed for a second season, so I bet it’ll be hella exciting. I hope it features a president being taken hostage on a plane, because that would really set my loins on fire. There’s just something about movies with presidents on planes that really gets me going — the power! The danger! The FAA! OK, listen I gotta go. Goodbye from me and my vagina (we co-write this every month).

 

* That’s “Big Beautiful Women,” not “Build a Bear Workshop,” which is publicly traded as BBW. Don’t get confused! That’s what they want!!

** I originally wrote “Jack Reacher” here because apparently there are two different heroic white men paperback adventure characters named Jack R, and I got confused. PLEASE LORD SOMEONE DIVERSIFY THE SHIT THAT GETS MADE. My poor brain.

 

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BOOKS ARCHIVES CULTURE ARCHIVES TV ARCHIVES

The Women Behind TV’s Real Golden Age

In the spring of 2015, Joy Press had an epiphany. As she writes in her extremely engaging new book, Stealing the Show: How Women Are Revolutionizing Television, that year saw the premieres of more than a dozen new series, from Marvel’s Jessica Jones to rom-com musical Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, centered on and created by women — “as many as had emerged in the three previous years combined.”

Television, particularly network prime time, has traditionally attracted more female viewers than male. Yet, as Press — a former Village Voice TV critic — recounts, it took decades of female writers, performers, and creators to persuade the mostly male executives who literally ran the show that stories about women were not vegetables; that they could be just as meaty as programs centered on men, if not more so — even as they mixed in some “mind-nourishing feminism,” like shredding carrots into cupcake batter.

Stealing the Show is a wildly entertaining and informative jaunt through the creative upheaval that’s been taking place on TV screens over the past thirty years. Crucially, the book doesn’t treat women’s contributions to this awakening as a sideshow. Rather, Press’s book is something of an alternate history of the modern TV era, a persuasive rebuke to the now-familiar story of the brilliant male showrunners and their brooding male characters who breathed new life into the medium and ushered it to the top of the cultural food chain. (For more on this, see Alan Sepinwall’s 2013 book, The Revolution Was Televised; Brett Martin’s 2014 book, Difficult Men; and Tad Friend’s recent, fascinating profile of Donald Glover.) A savory blend of reporting and criticism, Stealing the Show reorients this conversation, placing women front and center, starting with Murphy Brown’s 1988 premiere and ending with the arrival, in 2014, of Transparent.

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Stealing the Show is a corrective to young viewers who might think the debate about “likable” female characters began with Hannah Horvath. Diane English, who created the CBS sitcom Murphy Brown, remarks that the network was concerned no one would like the title character, a middle-aged, single, career-driven woman played by Candice Bergen: “The word unlikable came up all the time. All…the…time.” While the title character of English’s show was “a human tempest, a ruthless dervish whirling through prime time,” Press writes, English herself “worked smoothly and quietly to get what she needed.” Elsewhere, she points to the similarity between Murphy Brown’s fussy perfectionism and that of Gilmore Girls matriarch Emily Gilmore (Kelly Bishop) — the former cycles through a different secretary every week, while the latter does the same with her housemaids. Both gags, Press suggests, gesture toward the perfectionist impulses of the series’ creators.

There’s a slight irony in writing a book about women’s contributions to television that argues against siloing female creators. But, like so many of the women she profiles — including Shonda Rhimes (Scandal, Grey’s Anatomy), Jenji Kohan (Weeds, Orange Is the New Black), Mindy Kaling (The Mindy Project), and Amy Sherman-Palladino (Gilmore Girls) — Press seems to understand that women often have to sneak their ideas into the mainstream in whatever packaging the entertainment industry sees fit, even if those ideas have nothing to do with women’s issues per se. (Or, sometimes, when they do: I’d completely missed the fact that the word vajayjay entered the popular lexicon after a Grey’s Anatomy writer used it in place of vagina — which ABC’s Standards and Practices department initially objected to, even in a medical context. It did not have a problem with the word penis.)

The book is full of vivid illustrations of women who helped push television to the culturally dominant position it’s now in. Tina Fey, Press writes, helped steer Saturday Night Live “back into the zeitgeist” when she was promoted to head writer in 1999 — the first woman to hold the job in the show’s history. Jenji Kohan’s Weeds reframed Showtime “as a creative daredevil…a brash upstart nipping at HBO’s heels.” Press calls Sex and the City “HBO’s first zeitgeist-defining hit” — even though, as former HBO president Sue Naegle tells her, “every time there was a female-lead show that worked, no one wanted to repeat it.”

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Stealing the Show is, essentially, a study in how the television industry suppresses and belittles women’s stories. (“This is the business model: If you get men to watch it, you make money,” New Girl creator Liz Meriwether quips.) Press points out that genres that skew female, like soap operas and melodramas, often come with “a kind of lowbrow stench”; elsewhere, she writes that producer Lisa Vinnecour, who’s worked on United States of Tara, Weeds, and Orange Is the New Black, takes issue with using the word diva to describe fussy female performers: “These are artists,” Vinnecour says. Press describes how Transparent creator Jill Soloway learned to structure an ensemble series from her time writing for Six Feet Under — that show’s creator, Alan Ball, was a fan of General Hospital, and he “elevated the soap structure into a finely woven tapestry of ideas.”

At just under 300 pages, Stealing the Show is such a fun read, it’s almost deceptively informative. Press’s research yields unexpected delights — particularly for readers under thirty, who may not remember some of these details — like the rumor, swirling around the internet after Gilmore Girls premiered, that creator Amy Sherman-Palladino was actually a pseudonym for Aaron Sorkin and two other male writers who’d worked on his shows. (“What’s funny is that the rumor wasn’t even that I was fronting for him,” Sherman-Palladino told a reporter in 2001. “It was, I didn’t even exist.”)

The book shrewdly contextualizes the contemporary reactions to the series it describes — including the backlash from female viewers who took issue with, say, 30 Rock’s casting a privileged, wealthy, white woman as a feminist hero, or the fact that the Brooklyn of Girls is so blindingly white. Usually, the writers “embedded” such critiques in the shows themselves; the entitlement of the women on Girls, Press writes, “was an intentional feature of the show rather than a mistake.” As cultural critic Lili Loofbourow writes in a recent essay in the Virginia Quarterly Review, “We still have not quite learned to see female storytellers as either masterful or intentional.” As admiring as she is, Press does not wax poetic about these storytellers’ inherent brilliance; her emphasis is on the specific ways in which they got their respective visions to air; not on their inscrutable genius, but on their steady work ethic. As Broad City‘s Ilana Glazer says, “We work so hard to create the space within we can just play” — and, as Press adds, “They are also making room for all of us to experiment.”