Do today’s TV women lack morals?
They’re building a statue of Mary Tyler Moore. It’s scheduled to be unveiled May 8 in downtown Minneapolis. Perhaps all television executives should be forced to take a field trip there and view it for themselves. While standing in the shadow of one of TV’s original career gals and pondering the state of today’s working women of the boob tube (no pun intended), they can come up with some sort of theory as to where it all went wrong.
Well, not all wrong. There are certainly some strong female characters on TV today. But almost all of them reside on dramas. Marg Helgenberger’s Catherine Willows is a rock on ”CSI.” Camryn Manheim’s Ellenor Frutt on ”The Practice” may be a bit high-strung, (okay, that’s putting it mildly) but she’s cunning and ruthless in the courtroom, while Stockard Channing’s Abbey Bartlet of ”The West Wing” proves that being the First Lady is a full-time job in itself, and one she performs full of vim and vigor. (”Judging Amy,” ”Family Law,” and ”Crossing Jordan” also feature competent career women. Too bad all these shows are such yawners.)
The more curious trend can be found in comedies. Ever since ”Ally McBeal” started fretting more about lads than law we’ve been besieged by an army of insecure leading ladies whose competence and confidence fall by the wayside whenever they stand within striking distance of a cute guy. Carrie (Sarah Jessica Parker) on ”Sex and the City” is an established New York City columnist whose chief concern is figuring out stuff like how many times she should go back to Big, and how she managed to get broke? by shopping! And then there’s that embarrassing ”Sex” rip off, ”Leap of Faith,” in which the title character (Sarah Paulson) gets completely tongue tied in a business interview. Why? Because the actor she’s interviewing is hot, of course. Doesn’t EVERY woman make a fool of herself in the workplace when a stud muffin walks by? Faith then raises (or lowers, actually) the bar by sleeping with the guy, even though she’s engaged to someone else. Naturally.
Emma Brody (Arija Bareikis) of ”The American Embassy” (a ”dramedy”) doesn’t wait till getting to work to hook up with someone. She ignores protocol and risks her new international gig by jumping into an airplane bathroom with a fellow worker — ON THE FLIGHT OVER! (Why act professional when there’s a hot guy aboard?) ”Will & Grace” is a funny show, and Debra Messing’s character seems to be a smart and successful designer… until she spots a looker and immediately morphs into a babbling loon, that is.
Is it humorous? Sometimes. But someone should tell the writers that it’s possible to create characters that inspire chuckles while also keeping their cool. Contrast these new school ladies with some of their counterparts from the 1970s. Mary Richards turned the world on with her smile, but also made it after all without sleeping with the entire staff. Linda Lavin on ”Alice” managed to serve up both lamb chops and laughs as a no-nonsense waitress without acting like a ditz. And then there’s Bonnie Franklin on ”One Day at a Time,” who raised two children by herself, worked a day job, and never once made a pathetic play for Schneider.
The main difference then and now is that on these older shows, the lead characters acted as a sort of moral center, while now, the leads simply have no morals. Mary had wacky sidekicks like Ted Baxter to play court jester, Alice had Vera, Flo, and the one and only Mel Sharples to kiss her grits, while ”One Day at a Time”’s Ann Romano left the lameness to the aforementioned Schneider. The three main actresses also scored laughs, but stayed funny while managing to remain examples of strong and independent women both in and out of the workplace. Now, neurosis seems to be a necessary ingredient for any female comedic character.
So, when exactly does construction begin on that Calista Flockhart statue again?