Sunday, December 29, 2013
In Memory of Doris Lessing; Some TV Excellent Women
A Few Excellent TV Women; Variations on a Theme: For the last 4 years or so, I’ve been enjoying the return of retro TV Shows on stations like Antenna TV, MeTV and Retro TV or RTV. These are not like cable’s Nickelodeon; you can watch them for free with the new digital TV. It’s great for me; I can watch early shows I had not seen or heard of before, including The Rebel and The Adventures of Rin Tin Tin, and also see episodes of shows I loved, but couldn’t watch at the time because of Math Homework or early bedtimes. Many of these shows featured Excellent Women characters, and a few “Excellent Men” like Mr. French of Family Affair or Mr. Belvidere , and Uncle Bentley and Peter of Bachelor Father. I will list a few: Lucy Ricardo and Ethel Mertz, Rebecca Boone, June Cleaver and Carol Brady with Alice, [but they belong in the TV Mom category more than this one], Roseanne, Kitty Forman, Mary Tyler Moore as Mary Richards and Laura Petrie, Marie B. of Everybody Loves Raymond, Georgette Baxter and Sue Ann Nivens, Mrs. Bales of As Time Goes By, Hazel, Hyacinth Bucket, all the ladies of Last of the Summer Wine, The women of The Vicar of Dibley, Dr. Who’s Companions, Mrs. Slocum from Are you Being Served, Fran Fine The Nanny, Samantha Stevens, Jeanie, Lily Munster, Morticia Addams, Penny and Bernadette from Big Bang Theory, and as honorable mention Red Green’s long suffering nephew Harold, who serves as the voice of reason and helps get Uncle Red out of trouble. These Excellent Women make tea or come through and give comfort in time of crisis. Many of these women are not single, but married, with an independent, even iconoclastic bent, like Roseanne. While Excellent Women may not be for marrying, though many do in Pym’s world, Miss Fine in Jane Eyre fashion snags and marries Mr. Sheffield, lord of the manor and her boss. Cici, is the “bachelor girl” who ends up with Nile the butler, another honorary excellent woman for caring for and putting up with the Sheffields and Miss Fine and her family. I’ll discuss a few of them with more particularity. You may want to pause reading and make some tea at this point. Roseanne and her family might be lost culturally in a Pym novel, but she often steps up and stands behind her children no matter what. She learns to accept their choices and to love unconditionally, but she does the right thing, makes Kool Aid when needed, and manages to earn some independence with The Lunch Box and her own business savvy. Yet, as a talented would be writer, she has sacrificed her own ambitions to raise her family, and her siblings and parents, so she can encourage them and ensure their safety. Dr. Who’s companions also put their lives and ambitions on hold to accompany The Doctor and to go on the adventure of a lifetime. They fall madly in love with him, knowing it would be The most Unsuitable of all Attachments, and learn it is better to have loved nad lost than not loved The Doctor at all. Mary Richards is a TV executive and single girl perfect in every way. She picks up where Doris Day left off as Doris Martin of The Doris Day Show. She has no ties, though, isn’t widowed like Hope Lange in The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, has no children to raise like Doris and Hope, or Kate Jackson in Baby Boom. She has herself. She would have fit well in The Designing Women Cast. Mary went off on her own to find herself after a bad break up and broken engagement, but she would not rely on her well to do family. She showed vulnerability and “spunk” and put up with difficult characters and situations. She never stopped aspiring to more, to motherhood, wifedom, you name it, but she also made coffee ant all hours of the night and gave parties in crises. She was always the shoulder everyone leaned upon. Mrs. Slocum could be Mary years into the future, devoted to her cat, matriarch at work, usually taken for granted, expected to “serve tea” and emotional support for the others, stepping out of the way of others’ ambitions. Mrs. Bale could be the housekeeper right out of Rebecca, but she has a kind heart, is youthful in her attitude, driving a motorcycle with side car, loves the shipping news, and serves lunch and cocktails of her own concoction at 17 and ½ minutes and other odd times. She is proud of her role, but we learn she can be vulnerable as the story of the ne’er do well Mr. Bale who abandoned her comes out, and as we learn of her fling with a tall blonde balloonist with “piercing blue eyes.” Mrs. Bale brews a lot of tea for the other characters. The ladies of Summer Wine have much to say about the men in their lives; one actually owns a teashop straight out of Pym. Another suffers her husband’s flirtations with the exotic elderly vixen, Marina, all unconsummated but still annoying. All of them meet for coffee and tea on a regular basis, where they fix the wrongs of their Yorkshire World. Perhaps The Brontë Sisters would have presided, all except Emily, if it were a 170 years ago, or just about! All the women I’ve listed come in and fix things for others. Even if they are married, they have to put their own wants on hold, at least for a while. They do the right thing, and turn out to be more naughty than nice. They have their poignant moments and vulnerabilities, and a few have eccentricities that get them by. Yet, all are excellent in a Pymian approved way. Finally, RIP Doris Lessing, whom I had the pleasure of meeting in Palo Alto many years ago. She was an inspiration to me, and someone I read and used in my own dissertation and books.