What do you like?

Quite a few of my relatives were disappointed that I didn’t like The Big Bang Theory (not the theory, the TV show 🙂 ). I’m not sure exactly why they thought I’d like it, but I get the impression that it is because I was friends with, and am married to mathy/sciency types, and it has funny jokes about men being inept- feminists like that right?*

Well no. Not really. No.

While some of the mathy/sciency stuff was funny, the first few episodes I watched just reinforced every single stereotype that drives me batty about the intersection of femininity and geek culture. In other words it was the “Boys brains can’t work when there’s a pretty girl around!” gag over and over again, combined with the pretty girl being shallow and ditzy and entirely one dimensional. Perhaps my relatives forgot that I’m friends with and married to mathy/sciency types because I’m one too. I’m willing to overlook some of those types of gags if the ditzy female character actually has some promise of dimension (see: The IT Crowd). Maybe the show has changed since the first shows to be significantly different, but I wasn’t willing to give it a chance.

So what do I like?

I like Doctor Who. For those who haven’t seen the show, it follows the last of the Timelords, an alien race that has the techonology to travel time. The show has the ability to change drastically over time because, instead of dying, the Timelord Doctor (that’s his name, The Doctor) regenerates; which is to say he morphs into a completely different person, retaining his memories but having a different body, and temperament. While the show ostensibly centers on a male character (The Doctor), he is someone who has a wide range of relationships with the women and men around him. Quite often movies and TV shows just can’t manage to have a male and female character having anything but a romantic relationship. In the five most recent seasons, the Doctor has had 4 female companions (not counting those that appear in only one episode), and of those 4 only 2 were interested in him romantically, with only one of those 2 being reciprocated. It is my understanding that in the older seasons the relationships the Doctor had with his companions was even more varied. And all of those companions have rich lives, friends, and family that actually get screen time. In some ways the shows are more about the companions than the Doctor himself.

I like Avatar the last Airbender. The movie may have been a flop but the cartoon was highly enjoyable. Maybe my tastes haven’t matured much since 5th grade, but I don’t mind cartoons and shows that don’t take themselves too seriously. What I liked about Avatar was that as the cast grew the number and types of female characters grew with it. There were women and girls with fleshed-out personalities. They were like-able, yet still flawed and dynamic, almost like real people. They were also widely varied being both villains, and saints, and somewhere in between. One other thing to like about the TV show format of it (as opposed to a feature film format) was that they had three seasons to tell the male protagonist’s story (instead of 90 minutes), and were able to take time to have episodes focused entirely on other characters, including the female members of the cast.

I like Keeping up Appearances. The central character, Hyacinth, is vain, grasping, bossy, nosy and generally insufferable. However she has friends and family who like her, even as they struggle to get along with her. Viewers take it in turn relating to her family and friends, or relating to her and her overwhelming desire to be liked, needed, and important. That and I enjoy the humor.

None of these shows are perfect by any means. There are plenty of feminist, classist, progressive critiques to be made for all of them. I think one would be hard pressed to make a TV show that would be above any sort of reproach, because no one is perfect even when they try their best.

Anyways. What do you think? Are there shows you might otherwise like but for the sexism or other problems? What do you like?

*And as long as we’re talking about things driving us batty, I hate how everyone seems to blame feminism for the Homer Simpsonesque male characters on TV. Yes, it’s the all-female (and feminist!) writers, producers and developers that put together such shows. It has *nothing* to do with ‘likable, funny, and inept’ being one of the most fun sorts of roles to play, all being played by well established (male) comedians. It has nothing to do with the idea that slovenly bumbling idiots all deserve (by virtue of existing) to have sexy intelligent wives. And it has nothing to do with cultural narratives that men should be excused from housework, childcare, and taking responsibility for their actions because they’re just so simple minded, they’re like children really! Yes. Feminists love all of those things. [/sarcasm]


Starfoxy is a fulltime caretaker for her two children.

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23 Responses

  1. Jessawhy says:

    Great post.

    I am not an avid TV watcher. We do movies and computer time at our house.

    I’ve been discovering shows that are now off the air, but I’m not sure that’s helpful.
    I like Firefly, Arrested Development, and I’m just getting in to Buffy.

    We watched a terrible movie recently, Made of Honor. Really bad, don’t see it.
    On the other hand we liked The Other Guys and Get Him To The Greek. Both funny (and a little crude).

    • Starfoxy says:

      I’ve been reluctant to watch Buffy. It was on TV when my tolerance for camp was at an all time low so I have a completely irrational dislike of it. I’m sure I’d like it if I watched it now, but I’ve just never gotten around to it.
      And I completely second Firefly. That was a great show.

    • nat kelly says:

      Buffy changed my life. I left work early yesterday because I was sick and just sat on my couch with my tissues and watched Buffy for a few hours. And today I feel all better. Coincidence? I think not. 🙂

  2. Naismith says:

    The great thing about the web and Netflix is that we are not limited to what is currently showing on network TV. This is something that I could not have imagined when I was a child, racing home to catch the newest Star Trek episode:)

    We rarely have our television on, but when folding laundry or sewing, I have been re-watching Babylon 5 and am again impressed with it. The women there are strong and amazing.

    Also a huge fan of West Wing, and can’t help noticing how much fictional Santos and real Obama have in common. But also the women are competent. And of course the characters actually say the snappy things that only occur to me 15 minutes after I have walked out the door.

    On Firefly, I particularly love the healthy collegial relationship between Mal and Zoe–great friends, very trusting of one another, but NOT the least bit romantically involved.

    • Starfoxy says:

      That is actually something I forgot to mention in the post. I don’t have cable TV so I’ve been watching all of these shows on the internet. It is really fantastic to not be at the whim of the network schedulers anymore.
      I’ve also meant to check out Babylon 5, because I bet I’d like it now. It was another of those shows that I decided to dislike as a teenager even thought I’d never seen it. I got the impression it was a cheap knock-off of Star Trek. Is there anything to that?

  3. stacer says:

    @Naismith: I especially love the episode in Firefly where Wash gets jealous of that collegial relationship and accuses them of sleeping together, and Zoey and Mal look at each other with disgust, and one of them says, “I guess we have to, if he says so,” and Zoey says, “Take me, sir. Take me now,” in that flat voice. It’s hilarious.

    @Starfoxy I agree with you on all of these (LOVE the Doctor), but for some reason I was able to switch off the feminist objections on Big Bang Theory and just enjoy it—it’s one of the most hilarious sitcoms I’ve seen in years, mostly because I love the smart humor. But I try not to think too deeply about it, too, because I’d then hit the objections you’ve raised. I’m not saying you’re thinking too hard about it by any means—your objections are valid—I’m just saying for some reason for this one show I’m fine, personally.

    • Starfoxy says:

      I guess that’s kind of what this post is about. Certainly someone could level some very scathing criticisms of the shows I do like, but something about them lets me turn my filter off and just enjoy it.
      For example MacGyver. It could set off all sorts of alarms with a different damsel in distress in every episode and them playing fast and loose with the laws of physics, but I love it anyways.
      I’m not sure if there is some sort of internal consistency between the shows I can enjoy and the ones that I can’t. Maybe it’s all completely subjective.

  4. Gilgamesh says:

    While I won’t try to convince you of The big Bang Theory’s virtues, I would argue that I see the show quite differently than you do. I actually see it as showing that nobody quite fits the stereotype. The ditzy blonde isn’t sciency, but she has depth, feelings and social intelligence that the male characters lack. There are also other women in the show that parallell the male characters. One is somewhat of an automaton like the Sheldon character, while the other is chipper, works as a waitress (with the ditzy blonde) and has an advanced degree in macrobiology.

    The men, while obviously geeky, show the same enthusiasm, disappointments, competiveness around comic books and sci-fi movies as their jock counterparts. The message – being a geek does not make you any less human.

  5. Ana says:

    Well, I am obsessed with Dr. Who and loved the Avatar cartoon series (skipped the movie) so you hooked me, there. Sometime, give Buffy another chance. It’s feminist-y and fun with great one-liners.

    I also like dumb/smart comedies – The Office, Community, Arrested Development, The I.T. Crowd. Guilty pleasure: Glee.

    I’ve been watching old episodes of The Cosby Show on DVD with my kids. Loving that.

  6. jks says:

    I’m enjoying “Better With You.” The gender stereotypes aren’t too bad at all. The characters are likable and not perfect. No one is a bumbling idiot all the time they spread it around and it works.

  7. Two of Three says:

    Huge Firefly fan. I own the whole first (and only) season! We do some tv through Netflicks: Pushing up Daisies, because it’s so quirky and yes, Big Bang because we are all nerds here and love the “nerds are people too” feeling we get from it! Our favorite family hour: America’s Funniest Home Videos or as our kids used to call it, “the Fall Down Show”. And documentaries on PBS or History channel, which in our house it legitimate Sunday viewing.

  8. Heather P. says:

    I think Big Bang Theory has gotten better. I enjoy it. (But even the first few episodes didn’t offend me so much that I quit watching.)

    Here are a couple of interesting posts from NPR contributors about the female characters (including a few spoilers for later seasons):

    How A Thorough De-Gazing Saved CBS’s ‘The Big Bang Theory’ (1/6/10)

    ‘Big Bang Theory’: No Shame In Shamy (10/14/10)

    I’m not trying to convince you to watch the show… even with stronger female characters you still might not like it, but I do think those posts might be worth looking at.

    • Starfoxy says:

      All I watched of Big Bang Theory was the pilot and the ‘next’ episode. And I agree with everything that NPR article said about the pilot, it was horrible. If the changes that article describes have taken place then I might check it out again.
      My big question though, are there female geeks on it? Women that are just as bright as Sheldon and the other one?

      • Heather P. says:

        There are now – Amy Farrah Fowler is a neurobiologist who is just as smart and weird as Sheldon (she’s smarter than Leonard). And Bernadette, Penny’s co-worker, is studying microbiology. But I think they were guest/recurring characters last season and only became main characters this season. Oh, and before them there was a physicist named Leslie.

  9. jks says:

    I am very critical of tv shows and movies and how they portray women. I can’t seem to turn it off.

  10. shley says:

    I don’t know that I have ever disliked a show because of sexism, but then again I am really not that into TV. Well I guess I take that back: reality tv. I hate reality TV shows. No matter what show it is the girls are always falling all over the guy, the over weight guy can get a CD contract, but the overweight girl cannot. Those shows make out like it’s ok for a guy to sleep with twenty different women, but it’s not ok for a woman to do the same. The only woman I ever saw on a reality TV show that was truly regarded for who she was and her talent was Susan Boyle and even then they still made fun of her.

    We don’t watch TV anymore. We don’t have cable and what we do watch we get over the internet. We do like the Big Bang Theory, the characters have developed in the series and do have depth. We’re also fans of Mythbusters and Top Gear, the British one. Don’t laugh, I know it’s a car show, but we love it. We also watch random documentaries. I am sure if we could get a cable package that just had discovery, history, TLC, and a few others we could go for cable, but otherwise, no way.

    I am just disappointed with TV and film these days, no one has any originality anymore. For example, Spiderman 4, smurfs 3d, Scream 4, are they joking?

  11. Vada says:

    I probably watch a little more TV than I ought to, and I think I manage to turn off my filter a little easier for TV and movies than other places, so keep that in mind.

    I love Firefly and Avatar, and I agree that you should check out Buffy. Keep in mind that the first season is not the best one, so if you don’t like that enough to keep watching try season 3 and see if you still want to give up on it.

    I’d definitely recommend Babylon 5 as well. It’s not a cheap knock-off of Star Trek. For one thing, unlike Star Trek it has an over-arching plot (and a good one, too). When my husband and I first got Netflix (years ago, and before they had much of anything streaming) he wanted to rewatch some ST:TNG and I wanted to rewatch Babylon 5 (which he hadn’t seen). We agreed to take turns and have every other disk be what we wanted. That only lasted for a few disks before my husband also preferred Babylon 5. (Now we have the entirety of both series on DVD.)

    Another series that I love and would definitely recommend is Veronica Mars. So good.

    One that’s currently on TV that I think does pretty well avoiding male/female stereotypes is Eureka. There’s a pretty balanced male/female cast, and their professions are also balanced (male and female law enforcement, super-intelligent scientists, store owners, and administrators). And besides that, I think it’s a lot of fun.

  12. Corktree says:

    I love that there are so many sci fi fans here! I was a bit obsessed with ST:TNG in high school (I have a life size cut out of Cpt. Picard to prove it), which gave way to X Files and the like, but I never got into Buffy. I’ve only seen episodes from the first season though, so maybe I’ll have to give it more of a chance one day.

    As far as the viewing habits in my marriage, we’ve bounced around from things like Arrested Development to Battlestar Galactica, but don’t always keep up with what we start or finish a series (except on shows that are discontinued like Firefly and Pushing Daisies – what is with the good stuff being cut short?!) We watched Doctor Who for a while but I just couldn’t get past the cheese. And I really liked the first Doctor, so it was hard to continue once he was replaced.

    I have to keep my viewing pretty platonic these days. I was mentally unstable watching Lost and would analyze the episodes until my brain hurt and I couldn’t think of anything useful, so I had to cut myself off. I don’t even know how it all ended. So now, in our limited “TV” (computer) time together, we stick to Parks and Rec, Community, and Psych. Big Bang Theory sounds good but I haven’t seen it, and I’ll have to look into the IT Crowd. Also, I don’t mind admitting that the choir nerd in me loves Glee for the good it contains, while simultaneously cringing at the bad. I’m just a sucker for a fun musical number I guess.

    And The Cosby show! Love it too Ana. I’ve been hoping they’ll make the DVD’s available on instant play. So classic. In fact, I wouldn’t mind a little Murder She Wrote too. Those are both somewhat feminist, no? 😉

  13. Hydrangea says:

    Put another vote in for the IT Crowd (available on Netflix instantview,) Lost, and Modern Family. Guilty pleasures have their place.

  14. alex w. says:

    I like Big Bang Theory (I’ll just go ahead and second what others have said about its good points), Bones, and…What Not To Wear. That last one is my guilty pleasure.

  1. January 9, 2012

    […] nat kelly, commenting on Starfoxy’s post “What do you like?” at the Exponent: Buffy changed my life. I left work early yesterday because I was sick and just sat on my couch with my tissues and watched Buffy for a few hours. And today I feel all better. Coincidence? I think not. […]

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