Triumphant Women

Sorry for the drought of postings, I’ve been tied up watching the NCAA finals for basketball. Per usual I’m in a pool for both the men’s and women’s brackets, and though I had no shot at winning the men, I could’ve won the women (and the combined score pool) if my alma mater, Notre Dame, had triumphed over Texas A&M. Spoiler alert: they did not.

It was a great game, including a come-from-behind run at the bottom of the first half where the Irish clawed their way back from double digit deficit to ending with the lead. Back-and-forths through the second half saw the Aggies end up on top when it counted.

I bring this up because both the Notre Dame men’s and women’s teams were two-seeds in their respective tournaments, yet while the women made it to the championship game, the men were embarrassingly upset in the second round. I’m not a fan of Mike Brey (men’s coach) but a big fan of Muffet McGraw (women’s coach), so this wasn’t surprising.

While those outcomes made me appreciate our women more, I was doubly surprised by the entertainment difference in the championship games. Butler/UConn was like watching a middle school pick up game on a slow day: shooting percentages were abysmal and defense was not exactly stifling. Both teams seemed off their game, and it was one of the more boring games of the tournament, lacking passion. Considering the buildup of this Cinderella taking on one of the hottest teams in basketball of the past decade (especially after the miracle run of VCU), the game was anticlimatic. As I mentioned, the women’s game was much more watchable with all the elements of sports drama including larger-than-life leaders on both sides and a spirited audience that had every reason to get into the game (unlike the men’s fans who were quite calm as UConn built an ever-wider lead the whole night). The talent was greater, the enthusiasm more evident.

While I’m sure the men’s game drew a larger audience, they missed the real action. I’m not saying WNBA season ticket sales will skyrocket, I used to regularly attend our lady Irish games and can attest they lack some of the emotional adrenaline of a well-matched men’s game, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the gradual gain of women’s basketball starts to pick up and let the sport stand on its own soon. While most major women’s programs are add-ons to successful men’s programs, we should start to see some schools build an independent program soon. Small schools with successful programs could place them at the center of their athletics’ portfolio much as lacrosse dominates John Hopkins or hockey at Minnesota-Duluth. Students will flock to successful programs when the main sports aren’t present or compete on a lower level, so now’s the time for the sport to expand outside into the mid-majors.

Media type: Sporting event
From: ESPN2/NCAA
Title: Women’s NCAA Basketball Championship

A changing demographic?

I’ve spent a couple posts now bemoaning the role of modern women on television: the naggers, the background eye candy, the emotional wrecks, etc.  It turns out I’ve been missing one show that has so far refused to put women in those roles: White Collar.

A career forger (Neil Caffrey, beautifully played by Matt Bomer) escapes prison only to be re-caught and put to the work for the FBI.  I know, you’ve already seen Catch Me If You Can.  In USA Network’s television series the characters are dashingly attractive, charming, intelligent, and obsessively well-tailored, think more Ocean’s 11.

There are a total of SIX women with reoccurring roles and not a single one has

Special Agent Diana Barrigan (Marsha Thomason)

failed to rise to the occasion on their own at some point in the two short seasons.  If you lost the sexual tension, any of these characters could be played by either sex and you’d seldom notice an issue (ok, Neil’s season one pursuit of his ex-girlfriend might be a bit progressive in this scenario).  An insurance adjuster tracks and out-wiles thieves, two FBI agents not only act with initiative but taunt Neil his captivity, a cat burglar/former fling plays to her own agenda and rarely offers selfless favors, a kindly older women reveals a past of dubious legality, and the loyal FBI agent’s wife pushes cases and spurs the leads to action.

If you’re familiar with USA, you’ll know the show follows an almost rigid pattern: the first and last few minutes focus on the season-arc while the middle 45 deal with some crisis-of-the-week.  Characters keep secrets and run hidden agendas, betrayal and trust drive stories.   You’ll also know the usual show has maybe 10 regular characters, so when I say that six (SIX!) are women in this cops-and-robbers genre, you can appreciate the heft.  And unlike, say, Burn Notice the strong female characters aren’t constantly over-compensated by being femme fatales with near-homicidal urges.

I’m not the first to theorize that cable feels more comfortable ignoring the ratings-driven stereotypes seen on the majors.  Personally, I think making every character independently strong has let the show move in directions most cop shows can’t: any two characters can have an issue without needing a lead to step in and keep the audience’s attention.  This helps keep a fresh edge despite the usual failings of successful shows (ever more complicated plots, ridiculous histories being drudged up, multiple lifetimes’ of experience and expertise despite youth).  Instead of a will-they/won’t-they Ross & Rachel dynamic, we’ve seen Neil struggle with conflicted attraction to multiple women as each relationship seems viable and realistic; and we’ve seen women walk away in pursuit of their own interests.  As shows that feel realistic tend to be more enjoyable and watched, I look forward to watching White Collar for quite a few more heists and capers.

Media type: Television
From: White Collar
Title: “Under the Radar”
Watch it at:http://www.hulu.com/embed/FOJPo1-FEvCvNYzk-Ke_Ig

The fairer sex

I usually shy away from narcissistic media.  Kismet (a play about a play), Tropic Thunder (a movie about a movie), Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy(a book about a book, ok, it’s a stretch).  Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip is a great example of narcissistic media, feeding off a belief in the brilliance of one’s field often comes across as neither entertaining nor illuminating.

Episodes struck me as such a show and so I ignored it until a friend recommended it.  I found it cheeky and self-deprecating, this show about a British writing couple trying to recreate success in LA has its moments of both humor and introspection.

It is the character of Beverly, the British wife/writer (Tamsin Greig) that has most intrigued me.  Beverly is a chronically pessimistic, unhappy, nit-picking shrill compared to her just-go-along husband who is willing to take on all setbacks as an exciting challenge.  Her one-liners are what we wish we were witty enough to think much less say, and her frank portrayal of reality in the face of so much Hollywood fakery helps us sympathize with her alienation.  But I can never really get behind her in the face of her husband, who seeks only to  please all parties enough to do what he loves.  Their dynamic is the real heart of the show (and, one suspects, the show-within-the-show) and anyone who’s ever had to drag a loved one into something interesting can relate.

In an earlier post, I pointed out that many of the female leads today are the fun-blocking, nagging wife roles.  These women hold back those lovable, goofy, well-meaning men from occasionally enjoying themselves.  This isn’t new to the small screen, Judd Apatow’s Knocked Up was criticized for casting all the women as balls-and-chain to the likable guys and their pursuit of identity.  Women are being portrayed as the grounded, realistic sex forcing the dreamers to accept their plight.  I struggle to think of a single fun-but-not-flighty female lead currently on (though I’m hardly an expert on everything currently playing).  Liz Lemon from 30 Rock, Claire Dumphy on Modern Family, Fionna Glenanne on Burn Notice, even Marge from the Simpsons are all downers (the ensemble cast of Community stands out).

Comedians have been playing up the stereotypes of the sexes for ages.  But shows like Veronica Mars and Buffy the Vampire Slayer managed to succeed with female characters that aimed high and kept it light, though its hard to mention either show without reflexively saying “strong female role model,” that’s how unique of a situation it is.  Come on TV-land, let’s see a different type of woman.

Media type: Television
From: Episodes
Title: episode four
Watch it at: http://www.sho.com/site/order/preview.do#/Episodes_s01_e01 (sadly just episode one)