I’m going to use the word bad a lot in this post, and I already feel bad about it. As must actress Kate Walsh, who took on a seemingly interesting lead role in Bad Judge, the new NBC comedy about a woman who, honestly, doesn’t really seem that bad.
On the job, this tough-minded LA criminal-court judge sentences a bigamist to a “class in feminism” (not sure this is a real punishment, but I hope it is!) and a litterbug to six months of riding the back of a garbage truck to work. She also mentors a little kid whose parents she put in jail, teaching him to defend himself against bullies.
The strikes against her, which seem to be watered down from the show’s initial summer-screened pilot, are that she has sex with her co-workers, drinks to excess, drives a truly ridiculous airbrushed van, and wears clothing from Forever 21.
I leave it to you to judge (so to speak) the opening shot of this clip, which features an underwear-clad Walsh sleeping in a pretty implausible (but sexy!) position.
The bigger reason for the supposedly tongue-in-cheek title is that she’s outspoken, irreverent and intolerant of BS. But really, bad? Did we need to use “bad,” executive producers Anne Heche, Will Ferrell and Adam McKay?
Because here are the titles of shows that would exist if we applied this naming principle across the genders: Bad Ad Sales Guy(s). Bad High School Science Teacher. Bad LAPD Strike Team Leader. Bad Baltimore Homicide Detectives. Instead, those are just considered some of the best shows ever in the history of television. (You can read about them in the recent book Difficult Men: Behind the Scenes of a Creative Revolution, which I’ve heard is a worthwhile read but found the title off-putting enough that I gave it a miss).
Antiheroes are the rule these days when it comes to male characters on culturally significant dramas — not the exception. Our female antiheroes, however, are dubbed “bad” — or “bitch” — and relegated to comedies that would have had laugh tracks a decade ago.
Earlier this year, CBS tried this formula with Bad Teacher, a reboot of the 2011 Cameron Diaz movie, starring Ari Graynor as a gold-digging divorcee (with an underlying heart of gold) who becomes a high-school teacher to snag a rich husband. Cancelled after only three episodes, despite mixed reviews (seriously, even with its drawbacks, this show failed while Two and a Half Men goes on?), it trod the same familiar ground: sexually active, tart-tongued adult female holds position requiring some semblance of moral authority. And that, apparently, is hilarious, not dramatic.
Because here’s the thing: While the “bad” in Breaking Bad means, like, really really bad, this iteration of it is, at its essence, ridiculously sexist. The common denominator between Graynor and Walsh’s characters (other than the presence of co-star Ryan Hansen, whose caddish face is always a welcome sight) is their flaunted sexuality: Graynor’s leopard print and leather skirts, Walsh’s Daisy Dukes under the judicial robe and her sparkly panties (in which she apparently sleeps in child’s pose). These ladies are bad in the porniest vernacular; they’re bad girls.
And apparently, the pilot of Bad Judge had Rebecca Wright being a little too bad; it’s since been excised of some of her most extreme traits, like popping painkillers and playing drums in a rock band (called Ladycock, which is pretty great, actually).
So what we’re left with is the most generic, misogynist version of the word “bad,” and you’ll see its effect repeated often in reviews of the show:
Notice a running theme here? I wasn’t kidding when I said “bad girl”; the show has gone out of its way to portray Walsh as a certified non-adult, despite the fact that she’s 40(ish?), appears to be quite good at her job (she’s a judge and it takes work to become one) despite the attire under the robe, and has a pretty good knack for calling out assholish behavior.
Frankly, I doubt this sitcom will survive long enough to really develop into anything too offensive, but it’s depressing to see a talented and likable actor like Walsh — who, at 46, is definitely a full-grown woman — having to stuff herself into a pandering part like this. Not having seen the original pilot, I have no idea if its initial version had enough snap to redeem itself. But slugged with that title, I seriously doubt it could have been anything other than… bad.