Friday, January 13, 2012

My Five Cents: We Need Virgins On TV But Not Chelsea Handler's Version...

In 2012, seeing a strong, confident, funny female character on a television show who just happens to be a twenty-six year old virgin should be a revelation-- a unique and intriguing gem. But when said character is on a sitcom, and a a stereotypical one at that, she becomes something of a punchline. It's unfortunate that Lauren Lapkus, the emerging actress behind Are You There, Chelsea?'s "odd one out," DeeDee, is stuck in the latter situation, first being introduced to audiences for such a caricature of what should be a complex woman. But it's really more unfortunate for the audience, who is being denied a clever, creative, and/or poignant story arc for a couple of stale, flat jokes.

"She has really strong morals, religious moral," Lapkus shared during NBC's TCA session late last week. But in her next breath, she steered away from that (admittedly could be considered gimmicky aspect to her character) and started pointing to ways she isn't that different from the others after all. Really, she should have been trying to differentiate as much as possible in order to be seen as more likeable than them. Because not many of them are likeable at all.

"She's also able to, like, go with the flow and have fun with all these other characters that are so different from her, and I think they kind of help her open herself up in different ways. And throughout the whole season, she has some experiences that she wouldn't normally have with guys and different things like that, so it's really fun."

The character of DeeDee should be the most grounded one in a story about heavy drinkers, unfeeling mothers, and immature slackers, but considering the series is based on executive producer and special guest star Chelsea Handler's actual life and subsequent memoirs, DeeDee is an afterthought-- a "quirky for quirky's sake" bookend to off-set the central character of Chelsea's dry humor in the pilot. And it sounds like, going forward, she's going to give into peer, or societal, pressure in other ways that strip her of that interesting individuality, ultimately the one thing that made her non-stereotypical and worth watching in the first place.

As someone who has had my own issues with sex and relationships (see my book), and even, at one point in my youth, hid behind religion as a reason for my own virginity, I was truly fascinated to see this type of character play out on my screen. But she is someone that needs a voice, not just jokes. Play off the reality of your challenges (you know, past the "just too weird or nerdy to even get anyone interested") in the dating world when you're saving sex-- for marriage, for the right guy, or just for later-- and you end up doing a great disservice to anyone in the real world who are like-minded. There is no adequate representation in the media, and instead what you are left with is a farsical, and at times perhaps offensive, mockery.

Perhaps serendipitously, we will have another version of a virgin (Zosia Mamet) on a slightly smarter (or at least more grounded in reality) comedy series, Girls, coming to HBO this spring. Like on Chelsea, she is "just" a supporting character and played up to be a bit more cartoonish than the other New York City twenty-somethings around her, but because the world around her does not make fun of her, neither does the show as a whole. Sure, one of her on-screen friends doesn't know how to respond when she learns the (not so) dirty truth, but after that, it doesn't appear to be a defining factor for the character, nor something used to shame her as "other."

Show writer, producer, and star Lena Dunham told me that "Because she's been taught by the society we live in that if you're not having sex, you're not a person...she thinks she's basically not going to be an adult and not going to be a human until she does it...Of course it doesn't define her, but of course she can't know that until she has sex, and it's totally anticlimactic."

Girls may be a baby-step in the right direction, but I fear it can't sustain considering with only two of these "types" of characters on TV, they are, at this point, canceling each other out.

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