Oct. 2, 2011 -- It's a good time to be a woman holding the remote: We are supposedly in a renaissance of women producing, writing and starring in their own TV shows. There's " Whitney," produced by and starring comic Whitney Cummings; there's "Two Broke Girls," written and produced by Cummings and starring the amazing Kat Dennings; " Pan Am," starring Christina Ricci; "Ringer," starring Sarah Michelle Beller; "Hart Of Dixie," starring Rachel Bilson; and " New Girl," starring everyone's favorite manic pixie dream girl, Zooey Deschanel. We're told (by people who financially benefit from us watching " The Playboy Club") that "The Playboy Club" is another win for feminism.
I've watched nearly all of the shows that debuted last week and enjoyed a couple of them. I suppose it was naive for me to think I'd love them all just because I'm a chick and, oh hey, Zooey Deschanel is a chick, too! I don't mean to be a hater; it's just that none of these comedies approach the cable TV raunchiness I've come to love from my beloved "Chelsea Lately." Plus, I am skeptical that a bunch of TV shows starring gorgeous, skinny white women will be really that transgressive. Alas, there is one new show that seems more realistic than, say, Zooey Deschanel being single for longer than 36 seconds. It's "Up All Night," the new comedy on NBC starring Christina Applegate, Maya Rudolph and Will Arnett (aka Mr. Amy Poehler). It's funny, it's original, and I think it might just be the most feminist new show on television right now.
"Up All Night" stars Christina Applegate and Will Arnett as Reagan and Chris, new parents who are the kind of people we all want to be befriend. They curse in front of their newborn baby and miss their boozy nights out doing karaoke. They have an unconventional-for-TV twist in their marriage: Reagan eventually goes back to work as the producer of a daytime talk show while Chris stays at home with the baby. (He might work from home part-time; I am not clear on that yet.) There are a lot of places where this could go wrong in the hands of some TV writers: Chris could be a bumbling father-fool who has no idea what he's doing and Reagan's exasperation at working in an office and coming home to a messy house is played for laughs. But instead of portraying Reagan as the harder-working parent or the better parent just because she is a woman, the writers treat them both like competent adults who are frazzled by newfound parenthood. Neither role is condescended to at all.
I also love Maya Rudolph's over-the-top talk show host, Ava. She seems to be channeling the impersonations she's done of divas like Oprah and Donatella Versace on "SNL." I love how Ava is Reagan's boss, but the two of them have a friendly, not adversarial, relationship. So much pop culture depicts women in the workplace constantly fighting for power over each other and oftentimes acting awful to each other ("Ugly Betty," "The Devil Wears Prada," "Mad Men," etc.). It's cool to see a female boss with a female staffer and they actually like each other and work well together.
The jury is still out whether "Up All Night" — or any of these shows — will be any good. Most are only one or two episodes in. But while "The Playboy Club" and "Pan Am" hog the spotlight for their supposed depictions of the '60s sexual revolution in action, I'm convinced the truly progressive shows are elsewhere.