Recently, a lot has been made of the so-called Golden Age of Television and the question of is it or isn’t it one. I tend to nod off during those kinds of articles because they so often turn into salutes to Important Stories Told By/About Angry Men. But I do think women on TV are having their own moment (though statistically they’re still vastly underrepresented and cast in stereotypical gender roles — a subject for another, rantier day).
Two of the strongest examples are, interestingly, on the formerly bro-dominated Comedy Central: Broad City (done for the season, but viewable on demand) and Inside Amy Schumer, now in its second season. Together, they constitute a before-and-after picture of female empowerment: Schumer as a wry thirtysomething chronicler of the last gasps of mainstream sexism, and the Broad City broads as twentysomething characters who never really considered it a thing. I don’t know if we’re quite at Golden Age-level, but we’re getting there.
First of all, who woulda thought? Until last year, Comedy Central was a pretty serious sausage fest: The Daily Show, The Colbert Report, South Park… Tosh.0, maybe, if that’s what you’re into (I am an unapologetic early-Jackass fan, so no judgment here). All of a sudden, the channel is home to two of the most exciting female voices on TV. No one is currently better than Schumer at sending up the ways in which women are taken apart by gender stereotypes (not infrequently, as she’s fond of pointing out, at the hands of other women). Ilana Glazer and Abbi Jacobson, the creators and stars of the joyful, goofy Broad City, represent something very different and entirely delightful: a world in which those concerns are a faint hum in the background of New York City life, maybe a thing that’s happening in a midtown office somewhere, but not particularly relevant.
I noticed this contrast with each show’s portrayal of clothes shopping this season. On “Boner Doctor,” Amy heads to a boutique called New Body to buy a dress for the physique she plans to have after dropping a ton of weight; that’s the whole point of this store. The saleswoman (played by executive producer Jessi Klein, who should be in more things) advises her to dial up her estimation of how much she can lose so she can fit into an even smaller dress, and after trying the dress on — it fits on one thigh — Amy heads to the designated shame-eating corner of the store to morosely shove a muffin into her face.
Meanwhile, on “No More Mr. Nice Abbi,” Jacobson and Glazer hit up a similar type of store to buy a dress for Abbi, who’s feeling the need to spice up her vanilla image. She heads into the dressing room with an armful of outfits, seeming to set us up for a typical try-on montage. She emerges in a tight-fitting blue dress. “Your ass looks incredible!” exclaims Ilana. Abbi charges the dress she can’t afford to her credit card, vowing to return it after wearing it, and away they go. (The dress will make a second appearance in the season finale when the girls go out for a fancy dinner, a bit of realistic sartorial repetition that I really appreciated.) No self-doubt, no shame-eating. Just Abbi feeling good about her ass in that dress.
I was also struck by the emergence of video games as subject matter for both camps, and the wildly different ways that played out. One of Schumer’s best sketches so far this season was the one in which she plays a Call of Duty-esque war game with her boyfriend, in which her character, a female soldier, is sexually assaulted, denied at trial and sidelined with paperwork (“I think you did it wrong,” her boyfriend says distractedly). In another, she’s hired to voice a video-game character alongside Jessica Alba and Megan Fox — only to find she’ll be playing the hideous female ogre, whose most prominent feature is a visible vagina and who eats handfuls of worms while pooping. (The punchline: once she finds out she’ll be receiving 40% of the royalties on her insulting action figure, Amy’s more than ready to hit record).
Glazer, on the other hand, has a newish web series, “Chronic Gamer Girl,” which sees the comic stoned, surrounded by munchies, and narrating for us a video game while she tries it out (and we see it onscreen). It’s not Broad City, but it’s pretty decent for tiding you over until the show returns, along with episodes of the original web series. It’s also just laudable for its complete lack of pointing out that Glazer is a girl and video games are for boys (as, the numbers will show, they are not).
Like many of you, I’m sure, I loved reading Schumer’s speech from the Ms. Gala, a sad and funny and inspiring account of her own journey to self-confidence. The strident feminist in me wishes there was a bit more of that Amy inside Inside Amy Schumer, though I get that stridency can be tough to mesh with funny. Schumer’s good at taking a punch from herself, whether it’s over her weight or her purported promiscuity or her selfishness, but I wouldn’t mind seeing her take more aim at the jerks around her instead. Cut to Broad City, in which Abbi and Ilana regularly laugh off their disappointing liasons. (My favorite: the bit in which Ilana has to stop a guy who’s going down on her because she keeps flashing back to his godawful improv comedy).
Ultimately, the difference between these shows lies in their underlying messages, both of which have their place in today’s TV — and life — landscape. Schumer, as a stand-in for the media-bombarded everywoman, asks, “How much am I supposed to hate myself?” Abbi and Ilana declare, simply, “Dude, I’m awesome!”