For once in my life it looks like my bet is paying off. OK, it was not a huge bet, and I was not in danger of losing my pants (just bits of my reputation as a critic at large), but still. A mere two weeks after extolling on these pages the virtues (and vices; you can’t have one without the other) of the TV comedian Amy Schumer, the girl who “talks about her pussy” on her show “Inside Amy Schumer,” and advising you to sample it online, as Israeli TV providers do not offer it, HOT announced it has acquired the show’s first three seasons and will air them beginning July 21 on HOT Comedy Central (it is on CC in the U.S.).
Not only that: The New York Times ran a story on Schumer last Friday, as her first feature, “Trainwreck” (directed by Judd Apatow), is due to open this week in the U.S. (and next week in Israel), hailing her “sneaky power.” She was also accused by some as being racist in her humor, and responded by saying that basically, she thinks there are no subjects that are not fit for comedy, and that includes race. And sex: she admits she can hardly remember any of her own sexual experiences that were not, in some way, hilarious.
But enough about her – although she is pretty tempting to go on and on about – as what I really want to write about is the new and very refreshing kind of “girl power” on our TV screens. Namely, two more series with women as their focus of attention, but not only as heroines; they are trend-setters in the way one should look at life in general, if one wants to survive it with one’s soul relatively intact.
The two series I have in mind, both on HOT in Israel, are “Mom” (on CBS in the U.S., just renewed for a third season), and “The Mindy Project” (which was dropped by Fox after three seasons, just to be picked up for a fourth, double the usual length, on the Hulu streaming service).
A funny lining in every cloud
The first, “Mom,” was created, written and run by a man, Chuk Lorre (“Cybill,” “Two and a Half Men,” “The Big Bang Theory”), but is very much about a woman’s world. Two women, actually, both of them misfits who come and go and run around (a lot). The main “Mom” of the series is Christy Plunkett (played by the petite, blond, all-American Anna Ferris), a former alcoholic and drug addict who moved her life to California, works as a waitress, attends AA meetings and tries to be the best mother she can be to her teenage daughter (who is to become a mother herself) and her much younger son.
It’s as dysfunctional as they come, exactly the kind of life one can have if one forgoes “family values” (much to any self-respecting Republican’s chagrin). But that is just the (lesser) half of it. Christy the Mom is herself a daughter of a mom, who now bounces into her daughter’s life, trying to mend frayed relations. Bonnie Plunkett is a reformed alcoholic and drug abuser herself, and she was absent (in body and mind) through her daughter’s formative years. The two moms fight and love, irreverently and funnily through all the foibles life puts in one’s way: grief, pain, deceit, sex, truth, money and more. They flare up, rush around, scream a lot, and yet find a way to see the funny underpinning of it all.
Now, there is nothing funny in the aftermath of teenage pregnancy – something that tends to run in the Plunkett family – but somehow the series refuses to be dead serious about it. It does not belittle the weight of the issue; it just insists that you have a better chance of living through the ensuing tribulations if you don’t bemoan and admonish yourself and your significant others. You just forge ahead and make the best of it, and try to see the funny lining in any cloud.
For me, and I dare to assume for many other viewers, a chief asset of the series is the actress who plays Bonnie. For many seasons she was the Iron Lady with the Golden Heart and Mind in Control in “The West Wing”: Press Secretary C.J. Cregg (with four Emmys, out of six nominations). And on “Mom,” the tall and lanky Allison Janney bounces around having the time of her (admittedly tough, but hey, anything for a laugh) life.
The other series in the same vein is “The Mindy Project,” which is created, run and starring – somewhat like the Amy Schumer enterprise – the comedian Mindy Kaling. It is a sitcom in which she plays an gynecologist-obstetrician (like her real life mother), Dr. Mindy Lahiri (the name gives you a hint about the heroine’s origin and hue). But she rarely delivers babies or medical advice: it’s more about her maintaining relationships with her body, soul, mates and colleagues.
What those three TV offerings have in common is what I think the second of God’s experiment on human beings – which resulted in the creation of a much improved species, namely woman – has to teach us all about survival. Life, they seem to tell us, is a serious business. But the only way to survive it and stay sane is by refusing to be too serious about it. The most they seem to agree on is to be serial (i.e., create a TV series).
They do it not by denying the hardships and pains; they are far from being oblivious to those. But they get away with it (and with the laughs) by being ever ready – and actually eager – to serve as (pardon the innuendo) a butt of their own jokes. And with every new episode it becomes butter, batter and better.
It is very simple, actually: the moms, Amy and Mindy, each in her own way, challenge the validity of the expression “dead serious.” In the long run we will all be dead – so John Meynard Keynes told us, and although he was male, he was also right about many things. So as long as we are not in that condition yet, let’s not take ourselves too seriously. They are very much alive, the life and soul of the party, which our lives can also be, if we remember to have some fun as long as we still are at it. You go, girls.