Are Actresses Better Off on TV?

What Women Really Think
July 28 2009 3:16 PM

Are Actresses Better Off on TV?

Did Katherine Heigl shoot herself in the foot, artistically speaking, by leaving the small screen for the big one? LA Times movie critic Mary McNamara has an intriguing essay about how female characters on television have it way better than their sisters in the movies -better plot lines, more ass-kicking, less humiliation.

One prevailing rom-com formula dictates that uptight, careerist shrews get their hearts (and their dignities) handed to them by men who are boorish and/or immature but nonetheless understand Love better than our heroines. It's a set-up as old as Shakespeare's Taming of the Shrew , as McNamara notes, even if the pummeling is less blatant these days.

Advertisement

Things are different on television, though:

While Heigl and other stars are stuck in narrow, nasty movie roles, women get to do just about anything on TV.

They can chase down aliens ("Fringe"), converse with angels ("Saving Grace"), race through jungles and time continuums ("Lost"), catch serial killers while wearing hats and high heels ("The Closer") and play both sides of the legal field with the likes of William Hurt and Marcia Gay Harden ("Damages).

And when it comes to romance, they don't all get bullied into submission:

Look at Tina Fey's Liz Lemon, as neurotic and controlling as it gets, but she's not about to change for any darn man, not even one played by Jon Hamm.

On television, the battle of the sexes may rage on, but the playing field is decidedly post-Title IX.

Part of what makes TV more hospitable to strong, layered, female characters is the nature of the narrative-long, episodic stories allow for more character development, more twists and turns. It makes for better characters period, both male and female. And because resolution isn't always the point of a television show-resolution can kill them, in fact; witness the cautionary fable of Moonlighting -they're not forced to wrap up romances neatly and inauthentically, the way a 90-minute, self-contained film often is.

Most of McNamara's evidence is drawn from dramas. What I want to know is, does this rosy picture extend to sitcoms besides 30 Rock ?

TODAY IN SLATE

Doublex

Crying Rape

False rape accusations exist, and they are a serious problem.

Scotland Is Just the Beginning. Expect More Political Earthquakes in Europe.

I Bought the Huge iPhone. I’m Already Thinking of Returning It.

The Music Industry Is Ignoring Some of the Best Black Women Singing R&B

How Will You Carry Around Your Huge New iPhone? Apple Pants!

Medical Examiner

The Most Terrifying Thing About Ebola 

The disease threatens humanity by preying on humanity.

Television

The Other Huxtable Effect

Thirty years ago, The Cosby Show gave us one of TV’s great feminists.

Lifetime Didn’t Find the Steubenville Rape Case Dramatic Enough. So They Added a Little Self-Immolation.

No, New York Times, Shonda Rhimes Is Not an “Angry Black Woman” 

Brow Beat
Sept. 19 2014 1:39 PM Shonda Rhimes Is Not an “Angry Black Woman,” New York Times. Neither Are Her Characters.
Behold
Sept. 19 2014 1:11 PM An Up-Close Look at the U.S.–Mexico Border
  News & Politics
Weigel
Sept. 19 2014 9:15 PM Chris Christie, Better Than Ever
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 19 2014 6:35 PM Pabst Blue Ribbon is Being Sold to the Russians, Was So Over Anyway
  Life
Inside Higher Ed
Sept. 19 2014 1:34 PM Empty Seats, Fewer Donors? College football isn’t attracting the audience it used to.
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 19 2014 4:58 PM Steubenville Gets the Lifetime Treatment (And a Cheerleader Erupts Into Flames)
  Slate Plus
Slate Picks
Sept. 19 2014 12:00 PM What Happened at Slate This Week? The Slatest editor tells us to read well-informed skepticism, media criticism, and more.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 19 2014 4:48 PM You Should Be Listening to Sbtrkt
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 19 2014 6:31 PM The One Big Problem With the Enormous New iPhone
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Sept. 19 2014 5:09 PM Did America Get Fat by Drinking Diet Soda?   A high-profile study points the finger at artificial sweeteners.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.