In our house, West Wing is revered. I should clarify. In our house, I tolerate (and occasionally enjoy) the West Wing while the manpanion devours it whole. Daily. Repeatedly (seriously. As I type this on a Tuesday afternoon, I can hear the opening strains of the show coming through the wall).
We have the entire show tucked away securely on some external hard drive somewhere. In fact, there was a moment about a month ago when the wire to that particular external didn’t seem to work, and mild panic set in. “BUT WHAT IF WE LOST WEST WING FOREVER?!” No amount of reassuring my 30-something year old husband that President Bartlet, Mrs. Landingham, Toby, and the rest of the White House crew were going to be just fine helped. Thankfully, a new wire was all it took, and the gang was back together again.
Suffice it to say, my husband really digs well written shows about political dramz. So, perhaps I shouldn’t have been so surprised when I made my way into the office the other night and found him watching the new USA mini-series, Political Animals.
He was watching it on the computer via our On Demand account, and it had just started so I hung around for a bit, deciding to check it out. And you know what? It was pretty darn good. Here was a show that has a woman as the central character and still somehow manages to avoid many of the pitfalls of portraying female characters. While the two main characters are not-so-subtly based around Bill and Hillary, they still manage to be pretty well rounded and entertaining, without stooping to tired and over-played stereotypes.
There are still a few female tropes that found their way into the episode that I watched. There’s the inevitable competition between the seasoned, serious journalist and the up-and-coming, young web-based gal (that they might as well have scored with some kitty cat “meows.” And, SPOILER ALERT: The newbie ends up sleeping with the vet’s man. *yawn*).
However, despite a few forays into clichéd territory, the premiere episode of Political Animals does a pretty great job of introducing us to some female characters that are strong, smart, well-rounded and realistically flawed. They also managed to do so while producing an hour of engaging, intelligent and well-written television. Go figure.
To top it off, the West Wing lover in the house also seems into it, so I’m fairly certain that this show will make it onto our weekly must see TV list (currently very short and includes True Blood, Suits, Wilfred, and the upcoming Top Chef Masters). There’s a lot more I could say about this show (and probably will at some point) – like, how happy it makes me that there’s a show with some promise that portrays women as complex characters with actual, believable motivations. And I’m not alone in my enthusiasm. Alyssa Rosenberg at The Atlantic expresses her joy right from the title: “Political Animals: Finally, a Show That Loves Powerful Women.”
Political Animals is the rare show that genuinely seems to love powerful women, letting them look good and sound smart, and giving their lives complexity and texture without any need to humiliate them to make them more relatable.
And yet, despite my happiness at having found a show with strong female characters – and one that both my husband and I were into – I found myself fixated on something else while watching: the commercials. Since we watched the show via USA’s website, we were only subjected to a handful of commercials. What was notable about the commercials is that they were targeted to a female audience. Did the folks at USA feel that only women would want to watch a show about strong women?
Beyond that frustrating question, the caliber of the commercials was also of concern to me. The one commercial to stick with me was for…yogurt. Yogurt – a woman’s secret pleasure.
No, seriously. How many commercials for yogurt have you seen where the women discuss it like it’s the second coming of 50 Shades of Grey? And even worse? They try and push yogurt flavors that honestly, have no place being in yogurt. (Key Lime pie? Cherry Pie? If I wanted pie I’d eat pie, not yogurt!).
Now listen, I love a good yogurt. In fact, if dairy didn’t hate me so much I’d probably eat yogurt on a daily basis. But yogurt doesn’t excite me or make me squeal like the ladies in the commercials (am I eating the wrong brands?). Beyond that – the fact that advertisers were pushing yogurt so hardcore during Political Animals annoyed me greatly. It made it seem like all the ad execs were able to think was: A show about strong women will clearly bring in a mostly female audience so let’s target our ads to them! And what do women love? YOGURT!
Yes. We love yogurt just as much as we love salad. Perhaps the advertisers were just trying to let us know that – Yes! You can have it all! You can have network television shows with strong women and your yogurt fix.