Girl v. Girl In This Fall’s Lady-Centric Comedies

I’ll have much more detailed write-ups of each of these shows as they air, but as I wrote in The Atlantic today, looking at the Bridesmaids-inspired female-centric comedies, the big trends for fall seem to be women competing against each other, particularly along Betty-and-Vernonica-like blonde and brunette lines and the Bernie Madoff’s influence on New York:

There’s something odd and unfortunate about the tendency of sitcoms to pitch women against each other—even when there aren’t the affections of a boy like Archie Andrews at stake. In CBS’s 2 Broke Girls, which premieres tonight at 9:30, brunette Max (a tart and wonderful Kat Dennings) is immediately suspicious of Caroline (Beth Behrs), a former socialite who lost her fortune when her father’s Ponzi scheme collapsed and takes a job at the same Brooklyn diner where Max works. A gentler version of that dynamic is at work in NBC’s family comedy Up All Night, where new mother Reagan (Christina Applegate) tries to defend her right to family time against the demands of her boss and friend, talk show host Ava (Maya Rudolph, the only woman of color in a leading role in any of these shows). And in Apartment 23, which will debut on ABC later this fall, June (Dreama Walker), who moves to New York only to have her job vanish in yet another Madoff-like collapse, ends up rooming with the cartoonishly manipulative Chloe (the always wonderful Krysten Ritter).

In each case, some of the tension between each pair dissipates by the end of the first episode. But it remains frustrating that the most common way to generate dynamic friction between women in pop culture is to start with a win-lose scenario, where only one woman can end up in control of her time, a choice New York apartment, or a deeply scuzzy diner in an up-and-coming neighborhood. If the stakes were higher, the competitions might seem justified, but there’s something depressingly recession-sized about these conflicts, and the faster these shows move on to interesting and fraught collaborations rather than battles over scraps, the better.

I’m really curious to see how these shows evolve beyond their early episodes — there’s a lot of potential in the set-ups for all of these shows to say something interesting about the desirability of marriage, about friendships between men and women, and about a reduced, recession-era New York. Whether they capitalize remains an open question.