This Show Makes Us Feel Good About Our Functionally Dysfunctional Families
Hulu has done it again.
They fired up a show of mostly well-off white people, that I had to watch in its entirety. Truth be told, I didn't watch it with scorn or irony, I genuinely enjoyed it. They pushed the gender boundary, so realistically and subtly, it was hard for me not to love. Why did I not want to love watching this show? Because any issues pertaining to race were ignored for the most part. The show has one character who is Black and English and one Asian American, but they stay in an almost all-white world where their race is seemingly unnoticed. Buuuuut...I watched it all and it still remains in my most enjoyed shows categories for a few reasons. It does "queer" well, it does "over 40 woman" well, and it normalizes "non-traditional" family pretty swimmingly.
What does "doing queer" well, mean? It means that this show presented us with a main character who winds up dating a woman...but she isn't reduced to her "gayness". Often times when people on TV are gay they "come out" as….something (gay, bi, trans, etc…) but it's clear that we (who are we...I'm not sure, because it's certainly not all of us) are moving towards a post-sexuality label movement.
Of course because homophobia/transphobia is still so perverse...we need labels and language to effect change...but so many people don't want to have a political name attached to their individual identity. It drove me CRAZY when people asked me "so are you bi?" "are you a lesbian" "is this a faze"? There's no name for a sexuality for people who only date large people, blondes, rich people, etc…one does not ask someone, "So...are you a baldsexual?" if their last partner was a bald man. I'm ranting...because we need the labels and I hate the labels, both things can be true for now. That being said, Laura played by Tara Lynne Barr, does not offer us the opportunity to be labeled. She just starts dating a woman and we have no idea if she "is now a lesbian" or bi, or what, it's not discussed, belabored, or announced. It is just accepted, like a spoonful of honey. It's freakin' refreshing!
Thank goodness for Val's character, played by Michaela Watkins, she gives those of us women who are approaching "mid-life" (when the hell does that actually begin?) some hope. Hope that we can remain a mess, have sex, drop the ball, wonder about life, begin new careers, new relationships…ya know, basically that we are not dead and invisible to the world. Sounds sarcastic but most women over 30 on television seem to exist only to serve others in a care-taking role, a doting wife, responsible mother, reliable secretary, or cold bitchy shrewd who is sad and lonely.
Val's character complicates the "over 40," without clinging to her youth, or putting one foot in the grave. She is very much alive, very agile, confused, and begrudgingly open. You get the sense that she surprises herself with her choices of sexual partners (has a "later life" lesbian experience), career shifts, etc…She remains youthful in her ability to admit how lost one can be at 40, but in no way wants or pretends to be 25.
Ooook. Let's talk about families. I don't know about you but at my current family holiday gatherings, often present are my divorced parents and my dad's partner who is exactly 18 months younger than I am. I love her. Also, there is usually a family friend who is single, perhaps an elderly person whose partner passed away many moons ago (insert archaic term 'widow', maybe a queer couple, and a sprinkling of a single parent and child.
As a child growing up, holidays were often either a bunch of heavily intoxicated hippies, or a slightly more subdued group of single mothers and children. Either way, there was never a bunch of happily married couples and their well-planned children. Even divorced families on TV are usually super hetero-normative, and the divorced flaky father/mother messing up the family function is now way too played out.
For centuries, families have been made up of all kinds of people and now, we have a generation who has seen way too much divorce, and are marrying at some of the lowest rates in history. That being said...we still don't know exactly what that looks like. If we are not marrying, but having children...do we live together? Do we date other people? Do we live together and date other people? WE DON'T KNOW. That's OK…we are figuring it out and in 20 years there will be all kinds of statistics on us. For now, we can know that families with three parents, one parent and 20 friends, 2 parents and 3 nannies, one Petri dish and a surrogate, etc…are all happening. This show deals less with what is "good" and "bad" and more with what...is.
I have to get slightly sentimental and acknowledge that this show does a great job of showing us that love means showing up for someone, over and over again. Love does not necessarily mean marriage, heart-shaped muffins, and a minivan with exactly two cis-gender parents. This show does a horrible job of portraying economic realities...horrible. We barely know what Alex, played by Tommy Dewey does for a living, we just know he pays the mortgage on a really expensive house. Shove that economic fact deep into the dark tunnels of your brain (where you store the leftover memories of '90s infomercials perhaps) and focus on the fact that this show makes some of us feel good about our functionally dysfunctional families.
By Rachel Hall, Rachel has a Masters in Cultural Gender Studies, is a writer, a personal coach, and even though she is very very fun (just ask her three-year-old daughter) due to her academic inclinations, always the pooper at the party. She works with all kinds of people to improve their ability to work with all kinds of people. She can often be found hiding from her two children in her laundry room. More about her on her website.
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