Like pretty much everyone else I know, I have quickly fallen deeply in love with “Orange is the New Black” on Netflix. The women’s prison dramedy features a female ensemble with at least a dozen characters I can invest in, relate to, and care about.
This doesn’t sound all that impressive, I realize. Things have gotten pretty dire for me and some of my friends, who also happen to be girls rounding the bend into their 30s. To be honest, I just don’t see myself on TV much anymore. I see a lot of truly obnoxious hapless 23-year-old girls that I am supposed to find endearing because they literally cannot solve a single one of their own problems. I have the occasional beacon of hope, like Mindy Lahiri on the hit and miss “The Mindy Project” or some of the excellent ensemble of women on “Parenthood”, but I had been desperate for a consistently compelling show in which my favorite characters weren’t competing for airtime or bogged down by mediocre material.
Then I found the answer in a fictional prison. I should pause for concern that the women of Orange is the New Black, who play convicted criminals, is where I finally raised my hands in relief and proclaimed, “Thank God, women I can relate to!”, but I am just so enamored with this damned show, I can’t be bothered to care. Be it Claudette, the reserved old woman who won’t tolerate cellmates who don’t tow the line, Poussey, the class clown, Crazy Eyes, the best adopted character of the year, I love and understand all of them.
Others are not as keen on the leading lady, Piper Chapman (Taylor Schilling). They find her to be a little less interesting than the array of women around her, but for someone who is on the verge of 30 and oscillates between feeling like I have it together and feeling like I am completely lost. Piper is new to prison and she makes mistakes and gets into trouble. She gets in over her head and, hey, sometimes, she has to rely on others to get her out. But, she also figures some shit out herself and, for that, I adore her.
Problem is, OITNB is but 13 episodes long, so I am already finding myself hankering for more female ensembles. Thankfully, I found some solutions this weekend and figured I would pass them along:
1. The Women If you think OITNB has an overwhelmingly female cast, this 1939 flick has it beat. The film features over 130 women and nary a single dude. Sure, the women talk about dudes a lot. Let’s be honest, that is what a lot of us do. However, the crux of this movie is how these women relate to each other, not how they relate to guys.
The heart of the story is a bit dated and disheartening. A married, loving mother learns through the gossip grapevine that her husband is having an affair with a perfume salesgirl played by Joan Crawford. Her mother tells her to bite her tongue and keep her man, but the woman (Norma Shearer) doesn’t listen and handles things her own way.
I know most of you are frightened at the idea of a 2 hour+ dramedy featuring only chicks who datedly want to stand by their man, but this thing is pretty fascinating both historically and on its own merits. A few tips though: First, fast forward through the weird ten minute fashion show in the middle. Second, don’t bother trying to learn all the characters. This is like classic movie Game of Thrones, just learn the faces and what they do. Finally, stick with it to the end for a delightfully epic catfight that I wish I saw more of in pop culture these days.
Check Joan Crawford as the other woman, being awesome:
2. Pitch Perfect If you are frightened of 75 year old movies and have been living under a rock, as I have, I have a more current option for you. I truly have not a clue on Earth how it took me so long to see this movie. It is basically hand-crafted to entertain me. You have the awesome Broadway import Anna Kendrick singing (if you haven’t seen her in Camp, it is a must-watch for any theater nerd). It has yet another Spring Awakening star moving on to bigger and better things, Skylar Astin. Oh, and it has a group of hilarious and talented women singing a cappela. And yes, we do have the requisite love story, but aside from Kendrick’s love interest, this movie is completely about the women, how they work together, how they bond, and they grow. I mean, come on:
3. French and Saunders I have a hard time picking an IMDB to link to, as these two women, best known for their work on AbFab, have been putting together sketches for years. My friend Scott demanded I watch the women’s movie spoofs, which date back to the early 90s, and I have to give him a big hug when I go into work Monday morning. These are two chicks unconcerned about coming across unfeminine or even at playing dudes, complete with chst hair, if it means they’ll get a laugh. Plus, the intense detail of these movie spoofs is commendable whether you’re a girl or a guy.
This Star Wars one isn’t my favorite, but here is an example of what you are in for:
These female ensemble pieces are out there, which is a relief. The sad part is, you just have to do a lot of digging for them sometimes, as they are the exception, not the rule. While I wish there were more Pitch Perfects and OITNBs out there in the current landscape of culture, this is why I am the old codger who goes back in time to find my entertainment. Why settle for a limited range when there is a 75 year old movie that fits the bill of exactly what you’re looking for?