Monday, September 20, 2010

Women & the fall TV season (by Suzie)

The alleged trend this season is women in action shows. WSJ explains that networks do market research to determine what may sell each year, and research by the CW network found young women wanted heroines taking action.

But that doesn’t mean that TV hasn’t had women in action shows before. On the Today Show, Jennifer Pozner said the research was interpreted badly:
If they had asked the real questions of these women they were talking to -- 18-34-year-old women -- they would've found that, yes, they want strong, they want the adrenaline rush, they want women like Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Xena Warrior Princess who protect themselves and save the world, but they want witty women, they want interesting women, they want intelligent women. It's not about the blood. It's about the fully-fleshed-out idea that women can be anything they want to be.
I’ll be watching NBC’s “Chase” TONIGHT at 10 Eastern time. I prefer shows that center on a woman, and “Chase” stars Kelli Giddish as U.S. Marshal Annie Frost. It’s shot in Dallas, where I was born, and I hope it can lighten up on the clich├ęs about Texas.

Jerry Bruckheimer gets credit for the show everywhere, including NBC’s front page for “Chase,” where he’s called its creator. But the “About” section credits Jennifer Johnson, one of the executive producers, as its creator and writer. Melissa Silverstein notes that Johnson is one of only four female creators whose new shows were picked up this season.

The advance material emphasizes Annie’s toughness, reminiscent of Olivia on “Law & Order: SVU.” Giddish, an athlete who studied theater, says she does as much of the action as she can. The same goes for Maggie Q, who stars in the new “Nikita,” airing at 9 p.m. Thursdays on CW. Trained by Jackie Chan, Q has done plenty of action films. She was born in Hawaii to a Vietnamese mother and a Polish/Irish father. Her casting is significant because no other Asian or Asian-American leads a network drama.

Both Giddish and Q are beautiful, but unlike Giddish, CW is selling Q’s sexiness as much as it can. It even has a “sexy fun” preview. In interviews, Q already sounds a bit annoyed.
I'm so used to being sort of sweaty and wearing pants and sitting like a guy in boots and the whole thing that when I'm dressed up, I'm less comfortable. I like to wear less makeup and be tougher.
CW bosses wanted a pool scene with Maggie Q in a bikini. Producers explained that the show was being shot in freezing Toronto, but they relented and got one pool scene in Malibu. Q says she asked for a one-piece. “I don’t want to be that girl,” the one in a bikini in some cheesy scene. But she was given what amounted to a red bikini with a strip of fabric connecting the top and bottom. A photo of her in the bikini is everywhere, as well as one with her in fetishwear. She says dudes also will be happy with the scene in which she handles a machine gun that's bigger and heavier than she is. She does a lot of fighting in heels, and she says with dry humor that men think women wear high heels all the time.

A male critic for the St. Petersburg Times writes:
This is the smart, female-centered spies-and-slick shootouts series that Fox fumbled so spectacularly years ago in Joss Whedon's Dollhouse. Action star Maggie Q (Live Free or Die Hard) is sizzling as Nikita, a damaged street kid trained as a government assassin looking to take down her former handlers. ER alum Shane West is convincing as the dreamy, conflicted middle management guy who can't decide whether to kiss Nikita or kill her. And if you can put up with stick-thin models tossing around beefy stuntmen like they tried blocking the door to a Louboutins sale, then this slick re-re-re-invention of the La Femme Nikita film (after Bridget Fonda's disastrous Point of No Return and USA Network's Nikita series) will go down well. TiVo, if only to see Maggie Q in a swimsuit a few more times.
Herein lies the problem. CW puts Q in skimpy clothes, or has her walking around her penthouse like a Victoria’s Secret model. Men may drool over her, but that’s not enough to turn them into loyal viewers. Meanwhile, the network is compromising its own market research on what women want. In focus groups, they said they wanted to see athletic women, rather than women in bikinis lying on the beach or “models in evening gowns.”

“But for all its pandering, ‘Nikita’ is actually a well-made thriller for grown-ups: a heroine in a decidedly unheroic line of work,” concludes Alessandra Stanley in the NYT.

The St. Pete critic makes fun of female models, relying on the old stereotype that beautiful women are incapable of higher thinking. He suggests that a tiny woman like Q could not defeat big stuntmen. The Denver Post develops the idea further, asking in a headline: "Beauty meets brute force: Are tough screen heroines empowering, or do they send a dangerous message?"

First of all, a woman can be both strong and beautiful. Q is a former model who does her own stunts. Second, a small woman with martial-arts training can defeat a man. It’s a lot more dangerous to send a message to girls and women that there’s nothing they can do to defend themselves against men. Why do I need to explain this?

Critics have compared this “Nikita” version to “Alias” and “Dollhouse,” and I’m particularly interested in the latter. “Dollhouse” didn’t run years ago, as the St. Pete critic wrote. The last episode aired in January, and the season 2 DVD will be released Oct. 12 in the U.S. Like “Nikita,” DH got sexied up by Fox, with ads that looked like soft-core porn. But I loved its subversive message: People are being brainwashed, and it’s getting worse.