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  • Heather McVea

Parting is Such Sweet Sorrow… with a Measure of Meanness.

I don’t watch tons of television. My wife and I have a few shows we enjoy, but are far too busy with work, family, friends, and the whatnot of life to fully entrench ourselves in hours of viewing.

We are frequently the guests at dinner parties that think the Red Wedding is a new nuptial trend. We wonder why our cousin both rants and raves on The Facebook about how emotionally manipulated she feels by something called This Is Us (I got this confused with a post-apocalyptic PS4 game I play called The Last of Us… it made for an odd comment thread). We also think the strangest thing in Stranger Things is that someone named their daughter Eleven.

That’s not to say we don’t have a few shows we occasional binge on via Hulu, YouTube Red, and Amazon. Not to mention once the baseball season starts we are best friends with our MLB Premium subscription, and the almost nightly ritual of watching the Baltimore Orioles (#IBacktheBirds).

For the wife, she’s a Parks and Recreation fan, with a healthy dose of Brooklyn Nine-Nine. We both enjoy the House Hunters series. Incidentally, the show has very little to do with the houses and more to do with watching either the early or late stage deterioration of a relationship as the couple debates the merits of an 1860 farm house with an open floorplan. Let me say that again… 1860 farm house with an open floorplan. Then there’s the husband refusing to part with a sectional sofa that’s fifteen feet long while the couple shops for east coast row houses. I only mention this last one because the average row house is eleven to thirteen feet wide.

On my own, I tend to watch older shows. For those of you who follow me on The Facebook, you have no doubt noticed my affinity for that timeless classic The Golden Girls. Or, if you’ve read Becoming Forever, the third book in my Waking Forever series, you may have guessed at my fondness for Rizzoli and Isles.*

It was on a recent bender with Blanche, Rose, Dorothy, and Sophia (those ladies can party), that I noticed something disturbing about the series. However, before I get too far into that, I want to say how, put into the context of its day – the show aired between 1985 and 1992 – it was remarkably ahead of its time. It managed subject matters ranging from AIDS, drug addiction, infidelity, suicide, elder abuse, homosexuality, and healthcare. And it did most of it with a relatively forward thinking attitude and humor.

Alas, something odd happened as the series aged. The ladies began to be really mean toward one another. Now, to be fair, the banter between the leads could sometimes stray into the realm of harsh, but the latter part of the sixth season through to the show’s finale in season seven, saw the women fully entrenched in catty, pseudo-misogynistic exchanges.

The source of Dorothy’s usual sarcasm became rooted in another roommate’s weight or appearance. Sophia became downright mean with Blanche on several occasions, and Rose – poor, simple Rose – bore the brunt of more than one joke about her hair, make-up, and breasts.

I’m partial to examples when making my points, so here you are:

Season Seven (Ep. 1)

01:15 – Blanche casually sits on the sofa, thumbing through a magazine while Rose tries to decide if she should keep an exercise cycle or put it in storage. With a play on words, Rose mentions her cycle, and Blanche, thinking she’s referencing the onset of menopause, says, “You’re about as puffy as the Pillsbury Dough Boy.” Along with what she said, her tone is sullen and dismissive. To make matters worse, Sophia doubles down on the joke at the 01:38 mark, and Dorothy joins the ribbing at 03:15.

Season Seven (Ep. 4)

13:20 – The girls are in a pickle when Blanche must decide if she is able and willing to pay the local municipality for the necessary permits that allow her to have renters. It doesn’t take long before the scene devolves, and both Blanche and Rose casually, but insistently, tell Dorothy that Sophia has to go because she was the last one to move in. As a viewer, you’re waiting for the punch line. I mean, you figure they are going to back down any second, and we can all have a laugh. But, no… once again, they double down on it when Dorothy says, “If anyone is going to kick my mother to the curb, it will be me.” There’s nothing like loyalty.

Season Seven (Ep. 6)

05:33 – In an effort to woo and trap a man, Blanche emerges from her room dressed in a form fitting LBD. She feigns innocence at the man’s presence, and says if she had known they had company she wouldn’t have worn “this old thing”. Not missing a beat, Sophia says, “Don’t worry, Blanche. The dress covers most of it.” It’s a momentary laugh riot until you think about the fact Sophia, in front of a practical stranger, has insulted Blanche’s body. I might add, if fifty-something Blanche has something to worry about in that LBD, then I’m screwed.

And the hits keep coming. Again, it’s not to say that earlier seasons with the girls didn’t have a few mean-spirited moments, but the last season was particularly harsh. In addition, it seemed the comments were focused more on the women’s appearance, and reminded me of some of the stereotypical exchanges older shows used to make a point about how “catty” women could be toward one another. It got a little depressing.

Wait… I said older shows. Strike that. Sadly, I am reminded of the utter cluster that was the last season of Rizzoli and Isles (2010 – 2016). Now, to be fair, this show was a goddamn miracle, and a national treasure for nearly the entirety of its run. What’s not to like about two intelligent, funny, intuitive, honest, gracious women who love and respect each other solving murders in the beautiful city of Boston? Nothing. Nothing at all.

Sadly, in addition to a general decline in the overall quality of writing for the show throughout seasons six and seven, the usually sarcastic, quick witted Jane Rizzoli became a bit of a pill. Have you watched the last season? The character becomes this hostile, mean, dismissive, and utterly joyless person. Her snarkiness morphs into callousness and, in some cases, outright rudeness. Unfortunately, her venom is mostly directed at her best friend, Doctor Maura Isles. Since I think you’ve probably had enough of my timestamping tendencies, go have a look for yourself. It’s tragic.

So, this whole thing got me to wondering if this is the fate of long running woman centric television series. It can’t be, right? Thinking over the shows you’ve watched, or are watching, where women are the central characters, are you noticing the meanness and irritability among the female leads grows? Is this something that inevitably happens when one of the leads is inherently sarcastic? Say it ain’t so…

No, seriously, say it ain’t so. I need your help. I need you to talk me off this metaphoric ledge, and give me some hope (it’s the last thing to die). Give me some examples of women centric shows where the leads don’t go feral with each other as the series wraps. Please… I will happily binge away on your recommendations!

*I have intentionally left the plot details of the aforementioned television shows out of this publication. If the reader doesn’t have proper context, then: A. I’m sorry, we can’t be friends, B. the reader should get on that immediately… if not sooner.

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