They’re not talking about it much, but it seems the network of “The Daily Show,” “South Park” and (eyeroll) “Tosh.0” has finally decided to start seriously including women in its target demographic.
The latest evidence: “Another Period,” the Gilded Age-set mockumentary on Comedy Central, which is one of the channel’s — and this summer’s — best offerings. Creators Natasha Leggero and Riki Lindhome (the latter was half of the comic musical duo Garfunkel and Oates) mash up the Kardashians and “Downton Abbey” for their show about Newport’s Bellacourt sisters: a vapid, cruel and endlessly wealthy duo who dine on “bald eagle and toast points” and treat the help like subhumans.
You know you’ve got a quality show when Christina Hendricks (“Mad Men”) agrees to play a chambermaid who has to carry around an overflowing bucket of sewage. But she’s just one of many first-rate cast members here. “Another Period” is stuffed with comic talent: Michael Ian Black as head butler Peepers, Paget Brewster as Bellacourt matriarch Dodo, and David Wain, Brian Huskey (“Veep”) and Jason Ritter as hilariously awful relatives of the central Bellacourt sisters, Lillian and Beatrice.
Leggero recently spoke to Jimmy Kimmel about basing the show’s subject matter on actual events:
Indeed, one of the brilliant things about it is that every episode touches on some truly dark issue women had to deal with in the early 1900s. In the “Divorce” episode, Lillian tries to get her husband falsely arrested for beating her when she learns it’s one of the only ways a woman can legally split from her husband.
And in the “Pageant” episode — the show’s weirdest and funniest, in my opinion — women are allowed for the first time to compete for the title of Newport’s Most Beautiful — against cabbages and babies. “In my day,” Dodo grumbles, “a woman was judged only on her fertility, her silence and her tolerance for pain.” In the Q&A section, Beatrice is asked by the host (Jack Black as a Ringling brother), “What is your favorite time of day?” After struggling with the query, she responds, “I think I should ask a man” and receives all 10’s from the male judges.
Another episode deals with rape — “ravishing,” as it’s called here, another historically accurate point — after a male servant is assaulted by a female guest. Hendricks, as the chambermaid Celine (or “Chair,” as the family call her), tells him she believes his story even if no one else does. “We live in a ravishing culture,” she observes.
And yet another sees the third Bellacourt sister, Hortense (Lauren Ash), looking for ways to abort a pregnancy in an era when abortion was something people knew about, but didn’t know how to do — a scary nod toward the ongoing debate about reproductive freedom. One scene closes with her eyeing the help’s newfangled vacuum cleaner.
So there are these real, horrifying things about being a woman in 1902, some of which obviously resonate with what’s happening in our culture now, and then there are the equally horrifying parts about the way servants were treated by the ultra-rich that share a lot of truth with the divide between the one-percenters and the rest of us, as my colleague Inkoo Kang pointed out in her review of the show.
Mostly, though, it’s reliably goofy and hilarious as it plays on these themes, as in this scene between twins and lovers Beatrice and Frederick, who don’t see the servants as human beings:
Between “Another Period” and the other highlights of Comedy Central right now — “Inside Amy Schumer,” “Broad City,” and “Key & Peele,” which has delightfully upped its feminist game this season — you have to wonder: Is the network finally starting to expand its vision of who, exactly, it’s targeting? Their main demographic has long been men ages 18-34.
But it also has a female president, Michele Ganeless, who took the position in 2007, and a female development executive, Brooke Posch, whose first project for the network after her hiring in 2012 was “Broad City.” Have they been slowly, quietly pushing the idea that women are an equally valuable comedy demo? And if so, why aren’t we hearing more about that switch? A Times profile of the network from just last month mentions the word “women” exactly once and devotes a single paragraph to the channel’s recent inclusion of “sly feminist voices” on the channel, talking mostly about the challenge of appealing to a new generation that gets much of its entertainment from non-cable network sources.
Given the prominence of those sly feminist voices, though (are there any other new shows really hitting it out of the park on CC right now?), it strikes me that the move away from so-called “dude-centric” programming is a big and important step for the network. It could be the move that helps the channel maintain its relevance in a world where the idea that women aren’t funny is almost as archaic as dosing little kids to sleep with morphine.
The network is, at any rate, apparently continuing to move in that direction; they’ve greenlighted another new series, produced by Jack Black, about a women’s basketball league.
It’s enough to bring smiles to the faces of “Another Period”‘s NAGS: the Newport Association of Gal Spinsters.