Would You Rather Watch Drop Dead Diva or The Ugly Truth?

What Women Really Think
July 29 2009 12:42 PM

Would You Rather Watch Drop Dead Diva or The Ugly Truth?

June, Drop Dead Diva ties together two things we’ve been kicking around the blog the last few days: Is T.V. a better place for women than film ? And why on Earth do we keep paying to watch terrible romantic comedies like The Ugly Truth , when we could be sitting around in our PJs watching something slightly better for free? (or, at least it feels like it’s free once you pay the cable bill.)

Regarding the first question, Drop Dead Diva is pretty convincing evidence that T.V. is a better place for women, or at least for ones that don’t look like movies stars. This show, with this cast, is not about to end up at the cineplex any time soon. It is also, Nina, a comedy , suggesting that genre can be as good for fully developed female characters as dramas. There are some moments of seriousness and no laugh track, but that’s just because the latter is out of style. The cast mugs, often. My favorite recurring joke, and one pulled off only because Brooke Elliott’s really good at her job, comes when some of Jane’s intelligence bounds to the forefront of Deb’s previously dim brain. It hurts. Deb always reacts with a yelp of prideful, painful surprise, like you would if you smashed your big toe on the top of a door frame: ouch, but, oh my god, you are so awesomely flexible.

Willa Paskin Willa Paskin

Willa Paskin is Slate’s television critic.

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Of course, if this show somehow did end up in theaters, but were reduced to two hours, it would seem, as Nina suggests, pretty damn silly. Also, how would it end? With Jane/Deb landing Deb’s old fiancé? I know we’re supposed to root for this, but I have a hard time swooning for the guy who fell for an idiot. When the show flashes back to Deb’s first meeting with him, I couldn’t understand what he liked about her, except that she was hot. Jane, and also a newly intelligent Deb, deserves better.

But before I go anointing television a better place to see rom-coms than the movie theater (though, another really good T.V. rom-com, that Sam praised earlier this year , and, much like Drop Dead Diva is a whole lot more charming than its plot synopsis might suggest, is Soapnet’s Being Erica -seriously, good stuff), I think it’s important to talk about expectations. We expect more from movies than we do from television, especially television that airs right before Army Wives . If The Ugly Truth were playing on basic cable, or rather, when The Ugly Truth is playing on cable, I will be excited to watch it. Perhaps it will be airing right after 27 Dresses but before How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days . If so, I will happily waste six hours of my life. (It is possible watching romantic comedies on cable is like drinking diet soda? Most of the taste, none of the guilt?)

But, you know what? I kind of want to see The Ugly Truth in theaters, too. Jess wondered if there was a reason we keep paying to see mediocre films like The Ugly Truth , other than for a good old "hate watch." But, honestly, I never go see a movie for a "hate watch," or seeking an ironic, "it’s so bad it’s funny" viewing experience. I go for all the same reasons that I sometimes eat Twinkies and Dominoes and read Twilight and watch The Bachelorette : Sometimes bad taste tastes good!

I don’t go see lame, girl-hating romantic comedies in theaters just so I can knock them-I go see them because I don’t really care that they are bad. (Of course, if they suck as much as Ghosts of Girlfriends Past , which clocked in at about 95 percent suckage, I get very bitter. But the 60 percent suckage of The Proposal did not bother me at all. As bad as romantic comedies have been of late, to get to 90 percent suckage is still pretty rare). All I want from a stupid rom-com is, boy meets girl, boy and girl get complicated, boy and girl end up together, and, maybe, three real laughs, one well-realized scene, nothing hugely, overtly misogynistic or racist, and for both the boy and girl to be really attractive. Of course, I would prefer, hugely, for romantic comedies not to be stupid, but, well, I would also prefer for all bagels to taste like they were made in New York City. Sometimes, you just crave the carbs anyway.

And this (the bagel analogy!) is the real problem about the state of romantic comedies in film: Once upon a time, Hollywood mostly made New York City bagels, while television was churning out, like, microwaved bread in the shape of a donut. Recently, T.V. has learned a trick or two about making entertainment (and about making art), while movies have forgotten a trick or two about making entertainment that is art. If T.V. keeps getting better and better at romantic comedies, and films keep getting worse and worse, there will be some day, not so long from now, when even I get fed up with the stupidity and realize movies will never ever remember how to make bagels like they used to, and I will just have to watch The Philadelphia Story on my computer, before turning on the 60th episode of Drop Dead Diva. But that probably won't happen until after Love Happens , because I kind of want to see that.

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