Thursday, October 24, 2013

I'm Enjoying Super Fun Night

[Image text: Rebel Wilson in a
promo photo for Super Fun Night]
[Content note: body talk, mild spoilers for the show]

I like Rebel Wilson. I think she's hilarious and strange and hilariously strange in all the right ways. I loved her (even if she creeped me out) in Bridesmaids. I loved her in Bachlorette (even if the movie over all disappointed me,) I love her in interviews, and I loved her character in the Pitch Perfect trailer (even though I never actually saw the damn movie yet, whoops.)

So when I heard she had a show coming out this fall, I was pretty excited. I'm four episodes in and so far I haven't been disappointed.

Let me start with some things that I love about the show...

1) Women are central to the show:

[Image text: Rebel Wilson, as her character Kimmie with her best friends and roommates, Helen-Alice and Marika]
Wilson's character lives with her best friends, Helen-Alice (Liza Lapria) and Marika (Lauren Ash). They are all very different but are close and support each other through various things like dating and self-esteem slumps. These three characters, in addition to Kimmie's workplace (more on that later) are the central focus of the show. And they're not the traditional female leads. Both Wilson and Ash have bodies that are bigger than the average actress and Lapira is of Filipino, Spanish, and Chinese descent. Ash's character, Marika isn't traditionally feminine in the slightest, and none of these women are reduced to the usual eye candy status.

I mean, to be perfectly honest about it, this show is not catering to the 18-34 male demographic in the slightest and I couldn't be happier about that.

2) Kimmie Boubier has an awesome job...and seems good at it: Kimmie (just like real life Rebel Wilson, fun fact) is a lawyer. At the start of the show, Kimmie receives a big promotion which sends her up to the 28th floor of her firm and into a huge, beautiful office. Kimmie's workplace is full of her random antics and we don't see her doing much actual lawyering, but that's standard sitcom reality. (I'm not sure how entertaining it would be to watch her in court...this isn't Law and Order, after all.) Anyway, the point remains that Kimmie has a career passion which she is actively pursuing. If you contrast that to the female characters of some of the most popular sitcoms today (Penny on the Big Bang Theory, Claire and Gloria on Modern Family) it's kind of rare.

3) The characters aren't into girl-hate: Before I dig in on that, let's back up a bit. You see, the name of the show is based on this:
For the last 13 years, Kimmie Boubier and her two best friends and roommates, Helen-Alice and Marika, have lived a sheltered life. Instead of going out on the weekends, they've had a standing date every Friday night. So while everyone around them is getting married and moving on, all they have is each other and their "Super Fun Night" tradition. That is, until junior attorney Kimmie gets a big promotion at her NYC law firm. Kimmie's moving on up at work (literally, to the 28th floor). She also meets handsome British attorney Richard Royce, the son of the firm's senior partner, who she thinks might be attracted to her, especially after he mentions that he likes girls with a "bit of chunk." It seems that suddenly Kimmie's whole life is opening up, but Helen-Alice and Marika are worried she'll leave them behind. Can Kimmie convince them that life isn't just for the pretty and the popular, and that it's time these three friends put themselves out there?
I'm not thrilled about the premise being so focused on the three roommates "getting married and moving on" but I AM thrilled that it's saying, "life isn't just for the pretty and the popular." That's going to speak to any girl who has felt left out of pretty/popular before.

But the trouble is that this mentality could easily tread into special snowflake syndrome and/or girl hate where women are pitted against one another. Every time where I think that this might happen, the writers have the characters respond in a more nuanced way. For example, as mentioned above, Kimmie is into Richard but right now Richard has entered a relationship with one of Kimmie's hyper competitive, cut throat, conventionally attractive coworkers, Kendall. This news understandably crushes Kimmie's hopes and she clearly dislikes Kendall, but the writers have thus far avoided any kind of girl fight between the two. It's not that Kimmie blames's more that Kimmie dislikes her but respects Richard's relationship with her, and is embarrassed and sad about it.

In another plot line Kimmie's beautiful younger sister Jasmine (Ashley Tisdale) got engaged and Marika and Helen-Alice are seated at the engagement party with two of Jasmine's friends who are supposed to be of the pretty/popular crowd that Marika and Helen-Alice don't really understand. Based on a previous experience with Jasmine's friends that went really horribly before, Marika and Helen-Alice are worried about the engagement party. Instead of having the two sets of women just hate each other and be mean, the writers have Marika and Helen-Alice decide to study up on pop culture, adopt that sort of valley-girl kind of talk, and learn the latest celebrity gossip so they have something to talk about with Jasmine's friends. Their plan goes over really well and the four women have a good time together. This situation had a little girl hate to it, because Helen-Alice says that all that is "vapid" but then there's a joke where she and Marika continue talking that way, after Jasmine's friends are gone. The lesson, to me at least, was that they weren't that different after all, and they actually did enjoy each other's company when half of them made a real effort to reach out to the other half.

4) Kimmie isn't fat fact her looks are kind of celebrated: This is by far the thing I like most about the show, as woman who is in the same ballpark dress size as Wilson.

The fact of the matter is that Kimmie is fat and beautiful...both things at once. When so many women of her size are invisible in the media and/or dressed in large, body concealing clothes, Kimmie wears whatever she feels sexy in.

[Image text: Helen-Alice, Kimmie, and Marika out on the town, Kimmie in a short, tight white and black dress caught
in middle of a confident stride.]
I suspect that this comes from Wilson herself, who is the show's creator, star, co-executive producer, and writer. It's pretty clear that she is comfortable with her self and her body. While she had a temporary contract with Jenny Craig in Australia (a fact that made my soul die a little) it has since been dropped and she seems to be coming out much stronger against the pressure to lose weight or change for Hollywood. Pfew.

Wilson's writing and her general comedy (like in interviews) somehow delicately treads the line of being self-deprecating without fat shaming, beautifully--at least in my opinion. I'm not offended because while Kimmie might make a joke about ordering two pizzas that can't get there fast enough in one scene, in another scene she's telling a guy she's on group based internet date with that she's a Russian supermodel and no one laughs or doubts her.

As someone who could probably share clothes with Wilson, I can relate to treading this line. I don't want to pretend that I don't like eating, so I make food jokes too. I have no interest in being a "good fatty" who is constantly dieting or who eats decadent foods in private while a thin woman orders desert and no one bats an eye. But I don't believe in any of the stereotypes surrounding fat women and laziness, lack of hygiene, whatever, and I would never perpetuate them. So I totally understand and kind of love how Wilson seems very proactively and positively cognizant and unapologetic about her size and isn't afraid to reference it without shame. As covered by the Huffington Post, Wilson defends her right to make fat jokes even though they make some people uncomfortable. The piece ends with this:
As we see more and more body diversity on-screen, maybe Rebel's size -- whether she makes jokes about it or not -- will stop mattering quite so much.
Of course I want to see more body's something I write about all the time, but as a fat woman, I know all too well that size still DOES matter very much and I am judged for it regularly. So unless and until that changes, I'm all for women like Wilson claiming the ability to set the tone of the conversations for themselves. Besides, there's a different between size "mattering" and being size negative. Wilson is a fat woman, with no plans to ignore that fact of her reality. And that's ok. (This kind of reminds me of people who claim we should all be "colorblind" about race.)

Overall, as an amateur student of body politics, it seems to me that Wilson is aware of these issues as she writes the show and in how she crafts Kimmie. When there are moments that could depict or perhaps even implicitly endorse body shaming (Kimmie's mom helping her get a new swim suit) the conversation just isn't framed from a strictly thin privileging place. We see and feel with Kimmie how annoying it can be to find a good swimsuit for a plus sized lady and how humiliating it can be for a mom to poke at our bodies as we do that. Basically, instead of feeling like Kimmie's body is the problem, we feel that the suits and the criticism (which was mild, really) are the problem. That's kind of unique.


WHEW! Ok, I think that I have probably demonstrated what I like about Super Fun Night, but before I finish this beast of a post, I should mention there are other issues of representation that I am concerned about. Aside from body diversity, I have been feeling like the show needs more racial, ability, and sexuality diversity. But we are only four episodes in, so perhaps there are new characters who will emerge. There better be!

I know shows can really shift from their first few episodes to when they find their niche and are established in their groove, so it's hard to tell if this will improve (and for that matter if they will keep the things I love.)

But for now, they have a viewer in me. I can only hope that lots of other people agree so I get to see how it all evolves!

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