Can You Say Vagina on TV? Yes, Many Times.

Slate's Culture Blog
Sept. 19 2011 1:10 PM

Can You Say Vagina on TV? Yes, Many Times.

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Photo of 2 Broke Girls stars Kat Dennings (left) and Beth Behrs (right)by Richard Cartwright/CBS.

At this time of year, anyone with even a half-serious interest in television starts to take on a glazed look. It’s pilot season, which means blowing off social obligations and spending some serious time with the schedule grid and a slide rule, figuring out how to see as many of the new offerings as possible. This is your chance to establish yourself as a TV tastemaker. You got away with watching The Wire years after it first aired, but you don’t want to get a reputation as a bandwagon-jumper, one of those dreadful DVD people.

June Thomas June Thomas

June Thomas is a Slate culture critic and editor of Outward, Slate’s LGBTQ section. Follow her on Twitter.

And if you do binge on pilots, you’ll no doubt notice a few trends. As Jessica Grose noted last week in Slate, and as Hanna Rosin detailed in the Atlantic, the big theme du jour (if that jour is lundi, mardi, mercredi, or jeudi—Friday is relatively free of the phenomenon) is man’s utter uselessness and woman’s not-much-betterness, but after watching 19 pilots in the last 48 hours, I also spotted a few more:

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1. A sudden affection for using anatomical terms for lady parts and manly bits. I guess the network standards and practices departments decided that if it sounds like something you’d hear in a doctor's office, it’s fair game for prime time. Vagina seems to be particularly popular, making appearances in at least four pilots: Suburgatory, Man Up!, 2 Broke Girls, and Free Agents. (In the last, the joke manages to be both tasteless and coarse, an admirable achievement: A co-worker asks a woman whose fiance died a year earlier, “Your vagina didn’t die of a heart condition, too, did it?”) Penis makes an appearance in a line sold surprisingly well by Kevin “Drama” Dillon in the predictably dreadful How To Be a Gentleman. Dillon’s gym owner character tells a potential member that his father has “cancer of the penis.” Pause. “I’m messing with you, dude. His penis is fine.” I also heard one anus, and, undermining my claim about the popularity of clinical terms, three balls. (I suppose it would’ve been even less funny if the hard-drinking, alimony-paying female character in Whitney had requested that her friends “Get off my testicles.”)

2. The Madoff legacy. Three new fall shows (at least) feature a swindling investor/businessman brought low. One of the titular young women in 2 Broke Girls finds herself with nothing but the Chanel on her back when her Ponzi-scheming father has his billions seized. Revenge centers around Emily Thorne’s efforts to bring down everyone associated with the business magnate who framed her father, and Apartment 23 begins when wholesome Midwesterner June arrives in New York to start a new job … only to learn that the boss has just been busted for embezzling from investors.

3. Evil queens aren’t just for Logo anymore. Mean girls and their moms have been a TV staple for decades, but this fall we’re calling a bitch a bitch. Apartment 23 was originally known as The Bitch From Apartment 23. The show’s title may have been changed, but the characterization wasn’t. In Once Upon a Time, the evil queen from “Snow White” is transformed into the mayor of Storybrooke, Maine, but she’s just as wicked as her fairy-tale counterpart; and in Revenge, Madeleine Stowe makes Gossip Girl’s Blair Waldorf look like Snow White.

4. There’s no silencing the voice-overs. Sex and the City and Scrubs are TV history, and Desperate Housewives is in its last season, but voice-over is apparently here to stay. The pilots for Revenge, Surburgatory, The Playboy Club, and Apartment 23 all tell, don’t show.

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Crowd-source me. In journalism, you need three pieces of evidence to confirm a trend. I spotted only two examples of the following phenomena, but with your help, we’ll confirm the Zeitgeist. Please post in the comments if you find another example of:

1. Feminine hygiene products: Tampax is name-checked in The Playboy Club and Work It. If that’s a product placement, Procter & Gamble wasted their money.

2. Ownership of condoms used to make snap judgments about female characters: Free Agents and Suburgatory.

3. Video chats: Apartment 23, How To Be a Gentleman. (On The Big Bang Theory, Raj and Sheldon frequently Skype their friends and family, so perhaps that’s already a trend.)

4. Rape “jokes" (I’m kind of hoping this one doesn't have a third): 2 Broke Girls and Work It. (In the latter, the wife of a soon-to-be-cross-dressing-so-he-can-get-a-job-in-pharmaceutical-sales dude asks him to stop comparing a prostate exam “to the pinball scene in The Accused.”)