As a self-identifying feminist, I would be a rich woman if I had a quarter for every time I’ve heard, “It’s just a joke! Have a sense of humour!” in regards to innumerable movies and TV shows with which I found issue. Understandably, this pisses me off. But, I can’t help but think that there is a point where a sense of humour in these media plays an important role; where it can shed some light on the role of women therein, and provide a sense of self-reflexivity. As unbelievable as it is, what originally prompted this thought was Charlie’s Angels.
Last week, the 2000 movie version was on TV; this week, I watched the pilot for the new television version which will be premiering in the fall. The film version was tongue-in-cheek. It was always a little too big ““ explosion-wise, narrative-wise, personality-wise ““ too be taken seriously; and it certainly never seemed to take itself so. The three “angels” (Lucy Liu, Drew Barrymore, and Cameron Diaz) were ass-kicking, yes, but also silly. The film was not incredible, or even very good. But the script ““ with its synchronized refrain of “Hello Charlie!“ ““ jumped off the page with a wink and a nod.
In comparison, the television series is the complete opposite. It is, frankly, awful ““ as are many of the upcoming pilots ““ if only for its overwhelming earnestness. I can deal with glitz and gloss (and the series, set in Miami, has it in spades). When everyone from surgeons to assistant district attorneys on network TV are wearing Chanel suits and Louboutins, it seems par for the course. But the series takes itself so utterly seriously that it becomes unwatchable.
The very premise of Charlie’s Angels ““ three gorgeous women who fight crime are employed by a conspicuously absent older gentlemen ““ is ridiculous. Already, it is unbelievable and overwhelmingly paternalistic. But when such achingly earnest lines such as, “Remember ladies, you’re angels of justice“ and, “We don’t play by the rules. We’re angels, not saints,“ are delivered with straight faces, even more so. It plays like some Frankenstein-esque hybrid of Law and Order: SVU and Wonder Woman.
The series could obviously benefit from a sense of humour, if only as a tool of self-reflexivity in the face of a premise that renders the women as objects of a sexual gaze and property of some creepy old man they never even see. Too often, such issues are dismissed by attempting to present shows like this as texts of female empowerment ““ because they’re tough and kick ass, you see. In the face of such hollow justifications, we certainly need a sense of humour with which to watch these shows. This is evidenced by the brilliant Kate Beaton (of Hark! A Vagrant), whose recent cartoon pretty much sums up my issues with the new Charlie’s Angels: