Brit Fix: Pulling
As one lady to another, I would like to humbly assert that we, can be total assholes.
It’s true! 90% of all contemporary T.V. wants you to forget this. They want to pin you into a corner and portray you and your buddies as nags, or klutzy, good-hearted girls, or beautiful girls with bad luck, or smart cops with no personal lives, or ditzes looking for love, or career-driven shrews, or snarky sexless best friends, or ponderous newspaper columnists with marriage on the brain – but at the end of the day, entertainment loves nothing more than to present us as being well and truly the mistresses of our shit. Sure, they’ll let us bungle along for a while, making the odd gaffe but eventually – or so they’d have us believe – we give in to our biological makeup, get our act together, reveal our softer side, and stop making poor choices – we grow up.
Which is a fine story – after all, who doesn’t love a fairy tale. The problem with this one however, is it’s been told so often we’ve taken it on as truth. We’re the gentler sex, we soft and pliable, and while we might occasionally make misguided steps, we always wind up sorting our lives out – not just on TV, this has come to be our expectation….in life. It’s such a common way of thinking that I know I’ve adopted it as my own. The amount of times I’ve found myself bellowing, “I don’t want some two-bit one night stand, I want love!” should probably not be tallied. It’s only recently that I’ve been able to be like, “Ha ha, I am twenty-eight and have NO IDEA what’s going on with my life and spend most of my time trying to write enough to make a living doing it and dude, if I met someone who loved me it would be the worst, but if you want to clock some smooch time, I’m down.” Because, you know, I am a human being, not a featured extra on Sex and the City.
All of this said, when a T.V. show stumbles along and quietly demolishes the way in which women are portrayed on T.V. it is a blessing. When that show is British – even better. Pulling, written by and starring the inestimable Sharon Horgan, is as cringe-worthy as it hilarious, and as honest as it over-the-top. The story centers around three friends, Donna, Karen, and Louise. Donna is neurotic, vain, and self-obsessed. The series starts on the eve of her wedding to her long-term boyfriend Karl. Ambivalent about the marriage – (to say the LEAST) Donna ditches Karl (in one of the best, most unlook-away-able scenes in comedy history) and moves in with her friends Karen, a rage-prone, addict, and serial hook-up artist, who also teaches kindergarten, and Louise, a waitress who is merrily detached from reality and perpetually horny. The series follows Donna trying to navigate her newly single self and her relationship with her now ex-Karl, Karen’s on again off again relationship with her totally destructive boyfriend Billy, and Louise’s attempts to get laid and/or become a million. It’s rife with visual gags, the odd Hitler joke, and the occasional mercy-bludgeoning of a cat.
In its way, the show could be described as Seinfeld meets It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia meets Absolutely Fabulous. The trio of friends stumble through life, being selfish, irresponsible, protective of each other as they can be, and being damned funny in the process. We may not all know a Samantha, but we all know a Karen, and there is pathos there – delicious, delicious pathos.
What makes the show really, really sing is its refusal to sell you the same old bullshit. There are no happy endings, not the sort we’ve been told to expect. What we’re served is so much better – it’s a group of friends completely fucking up, time and time again, and the result is comic gold.
I think women continuing to be portrayed in the limited dimensionality we typically see is almost entirely responsible for the fallacy that women aren’t funny. How can we be funny when we’re supposed to always have the answers? How can we be funny if we just want love and to have babies and to ever, ever talk about poop or jizz? If you remove theses strictures, what you have is a human being capable of the same sort of pettiness and selfishness and grossness as any man.
The real treasure in the story telling is how you actually wind up caring about these characters, because they aren’t deliberately awful, they are just train wrecks, like most of us – but to the roof! At the end of the day, they mean no real harm, which makes gleefully snorting along at their casual acts of cruelty that much more enjoyable and guilt free.