Pop Culture

Why I Love TV’s Lady Losers

Taking a long hard look at my life, I have to admit, I feel like a loser.

It’s OK. You don’t have to tell me that it can’t be as bad as all that. Stats are stats.

I’m 32, live with my mom, have never had a full-time job, and dropped out of college. Twice. Plus I can’t drive, have no savings, all my friends are in my computer, and I’m technically obese.

It’s not all my fault, though. I’ve had a debilitating illness for over a decade which has seriously put a cramp in my style. I also know in many ways, I’m lucky. I have somewhere to live, my parents love and support me (including financially, sometimes) and I’ve managed to write for some fantastic publications, from books to national newspapers to blogs aimed at intelligent women (hello, you).

But sometimes being ill has kind of… worked for me. In the past, I’ve been able to use it as an excuse to avoid a lot of stuff I’m scared of. It’s not just a case of “I was ill and couldn’t do anything.” I could do a few things, and I picked badly.

It’s only now that I feel a sense of my mortality (dunh dunh dunh!) and am wondering what  I might miss out on in future as a result of being incapacitated for so long (marriage? Kids? Please God, not travel?!)  that I’m starting to rake over some of my decisions, things like waiting to go back to college, when if I were less of a perfectionist I could have studied locally, or by distance learning, when my health was better than it is now.

As I’m going through this introspective, reliving-the-past phase (I guess I could call it “grieving,” if that didn’t strike me as overly self-indulgent), I’m finding solace in pop culture. This isn’t unusual: like a lot of people, I’ve always escaped into TV shows when I feel low. What has changed is the kind of show I’m watching.

Since at least the ’60s, there have been female-centric TV dramas about women’s struggles: at work, with love, or in starting a family. But for the most part, they’ve stuck to the superficial. Programs like Ally McBeal and Sex and the City showed women who had maybe one problem (usually the man they were dating) while the rest of their life was solid. They were aspirational-slash-completely unrealistic and when I was in my late teens and early twenties, I appreciated that.

But now escapism isn’t as interesting. I want TV that reflects my experiences; something more real. And that’s what writers and producers are delivering.

Fair enough, “real” might not be the first word that springs to mind when you think about Being Erica, the Canadian show in which a woman is regularly ripped out of her present day by a magical therapist in order ro relive past regrets. But Erica Strange is a woman with real problems. At the start of season one, she’s been fired from yet another crappy telesales job despite having a Master’s in English. Far from everything falling into place, she is criticised by her family, humiliated by college peers, and forced to take a low-level position that would normally go to someone ten years her junior.

While it would be lovely if her past-events therapy allowed her to rewrite history in a positive way, she often makes things worse, ending up concluding that sometimes things will never work out the way we want. She can’t bring her dead brother back however hard she tries, getting together with the guy she’s loved since college doesn’t turn into the romance of the century, and one of her oldest friends will always let her down. Sometimes the show is so close to life that it’s hard to watch, but at its most heartrending it can also be almost like therapy. It certainly makes me feel less alone.

Brown-haired plus-sized woman wearing yellow dress and pink coat stands smiling, with hands on hips. Text: Drop Dead Diva. (The O appearing as the woman's halo.) Above that it says: Life is different second time around.As does Drop Dead Diva, somewhat ridiculously. It too has a magical (un)realism aspect, but boy do I relate to the story of Deb, a twenty-something model (no, not that bit) who dies and, following a little snafu in heaven, ends up in the body of thirty-something Jane: fat, unstylish, little going for her besides her work (ah, there we go). But as we watch her become comfortable in her plus-size skin, having fun with new friends, dating, and dealing with the life she left behind and all the grief (or whatever) she has about that”¦ well, I find it reassuring and more than a little inspiring, even if Paula Abdul does pop up for a cringe-worthy song and dance number every now and then. (“˜Cos she’s a judge! And Jane’s a lawyer… Never mind.)

Maybe the fact that these shows are being made and connecting with an audience (for at least three seasons each, so far) means that I’m not as alone in my feelings of loser-dom as I sometimes suspect.

There’s a reason people buy into these narratives. Could it be that to some extent, on some level, we all feel like losers? And if we all feel like losers… maybe none of us are?

I may not have a magical therapist like Erica or a guardian angel like Jane, but I can take comfort from them – and from the most iconic thirtysomething female character to ever start over. It’s possible her theme song is right, and I’m going to make it after all.

Who are your favorite pop culture lady losers?


By DianeS

Freelance journalist. Obsessed with US TV, memoirs, and pizza. Tweets a lot. Abhors onions.

11 replies on “Why I Love TV’s Lady Losers”

This is great! Thanks for sharing. I’ve heard about Being Erica and it sounds really intriguing! I used to love a show (from NZ) called Being Eve, which is more about a teenage girl trying to figure out you know life an stuff. She wasn’t really a loser, but I could relate to her awkwardness.

My friend tried to get me to watch DDD at her house once and I’m pretty sure I shut her down. My friend’s really smart, so I wanted to trust her taste, but I watch TV pretty rarely these days so I like to have airs of keeping it ~high brow~. (Well, high brow except for Storage Wars and Top Gear).

I think female losers are a sadly unexplored character type, especially when you consider how many schlub-y male “heroes” are out there. I just want female losers and whatever the female version of a “bromance” is, even if I have to write it myself.

I loooove Being Erica. It helped me get over moving back in with my parents and changing careers to something more suited to my interests, even if it will be less pay and less ‘glamorous.’ Watching her instead of those women who have everything right except having the right man got annoying when I often feel like I have done nothing right.

I also love Fran on “Black Books” who drinks a lot, is unlucky in love, and unlucky in work.

“Watching her instead of those women who have everything right except having the right man got annoying when I often feel like I have done nothing right.” – Yes, that’s how I feel, exactly. My love life really feels like the least of my worries!

Here’s hoping you feel better about your past in the future (IYSWIM).

Thanks! Things are getting better and I’m learning to make e-friends. That helps because they’re interests are often closer to my own (for example, Being Erica) and if I get in a “why are all the cool people commenting on each other’s Tumblrs and no one likes me!” state, I can just turn off the computer. And, like you, I’m lucky to have a family able and willing to support me while I sort myself out. :)

Thanks for writing this, btw. Articles about how other people feel like I do ALWAYS help.

I am not sure I ever really choose to relate to lady losers, and by George, I should be able to! I just choose not to. I choose to identify with powerful, sometimes sadistic, women. And with evil characters, assassins, and chaotic neutrals. I tend to like feminized male big bads because I can see myself as them easier than say a super macho Viking king vampire. My favorite character, maybe of all time (if I knew her outcome) is Arya from the Song of Ice and Fire series. She is hurt, abused in some ways, and hardened by it. Like me!

I do watch DDD (guilty pleasure? its certainly only borderline feminist) but while I enjoy the show, I do not see myself in any of the characters, or even a small bit in any of them. I have always been introspective and felt that I never could BE the baddest bitch on the block because I ultimately just want people to like me and tend to be nice but not on the phone.

And the nice, quiet girls always end up being secret geniuses and really pretty etc, etc. I am more of a jack of all trades loner with a fantasy image of myself that is probably super unhealthy as she is always killing people who irritate her with that Evil Queen modus operandi (not that pretty, in fact, really intimidating as I tend to be labeled in real life). In other words, I feel like a fat, ugly loser all the time but I deal with it up by pretending I am a successful, powerful bitch. This is why I have been in therapy for years! :)

Interesting perspective, thank you! I can understand why you and other women love female fantasy and sci fi heroines: they’re often damaged but turn that into something productive by being the biggest, baddest, bitchiest or just bad-assiest. I’ve never related to those stories, but I can understand why people do. I think whatever pop culture helps us make sense of our lives and feel better about ourselves is a good thing.

I agree DDD is only borderline feminist (and whoa, is Margaret Cho underused) but I refuse to feel guilty about any of my pleasures :)

Early-seasons Willow Rosenberg – she is brilliant and shunned and invisible to her best friend, but she still has hope and wonder!

does Liz Lemon count? because she walks that weird line between “actual loser” and “why do these guys keep calling her undesirable, it makes no sense”… but I identify with her and how much food she gets on her shirt and in her hair…

Oh, Liz Lemon, absolutely! I mean, yes, she’s actually successful and attractive and financially solvent, but she also clearly feels like a loser a lot of the time. Her flaws make me feel a lot better about myself, I have to say. That episode where she gets mad at a plastic bag in a tree outside her window and realises it’s really about her own mortality – that I related to. Also staying up late eating food that’s probably not a good idea…

(I never got into Buffy. Don’t hate me. It was too scary.)

Liz Lemon is my hero too! A workaholic who whines constantly about how everyone depends on her, but secretly loves it. I usually manage to put on a veneer of being more put-together, but there are definitely times when I let my inner Liz roam free (generally when I’m in PhD hell, wearing leggings torn across the crotch and a hoodie with greasy hair and fingers stained red by cheetos). Plus, I love eating night cheese in my slanket.

I’m really not kidding about that last bit.

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