Open TV Broadens the Screen

By Medved, Maureen | Herizons, Summer 2017 | Go to article overview

Open TV Broadens the Screen


Medved, Maureen, Herizons


Open TV Broadens the Screen

The female anti-hero is delicious yet rare. Women who make poor choices are often portrayed as victims, as passive or as mentally ill, thus stopping female viewers from achieving a greater understanding of their human condition.

When we do step off the curb, we are amazed by our dark potential and our capacity for destructiveness. So rarely do we get to sink our teeth with glee into a character who is a self-serving, unrepentant narcissist. Such characters remind us of the hunger, ambition and unexpressed power that's so often ironed out of girls and women.

Anti-hero stories are critical for female cultural consumers to complete themselves. Think Vivien Leigh in Gone with the Wind, Ann Blyth in Mildred Pierce or Susan Berman in Smithereens.

Fleabag, the creation of Phoebe Waller-Bridge, an English actor and playwright, is a short BBC 3 series of six 25-minute segments in which the protagonist makes wrong choices for wrong reasons. Flea is beautiful, self-absorbed, witty, disloyal and entitled. Even her tightly wound sister and her father (Bill Patterson, a welltorn but resilient pair of slippers) think that she is not a good person.

The back story bleeds out slowly in haunting flashbacks. Her best friend, Boo (the incandescent Jenny Rainsford), is the moral core of this work and nails it as the funny and bighearted friend. Flea continues to trudge through life betraying everyone she knows. What makes her watchable is that she's smart, funny, insightful, and trying to be better. Yes, even Flea knows she's flawed. She's also "pervy," as the English call it; and even though this element may have helped to sell the series, it wasn t the most compelling aspect of Flea's character. It's not her perviness that makes her interesting but rather her impulse to destroy, even though she wants to do good.

As much as she uses her indulgences to push down her dark actions, she suffers the consequences of her transgressions. It is this dynamic within Flea that honours the essence of comedy. Had this character been presented in tragedy or melodrama, it would have been a difficult ride.

Fleabag is a testament to the power of the British short series, and it offers a female twist on the original version of the brilliant Alfie. Here, the protagonists aren't victims, but rather sculptors of their own hell, carving out difficult trajectories from places of naiveté, selfishness or greed.

And this potential lurks within us all. We are so often encouraged not to take responsibility for our dark choices in a society with an intense intolerance for powerful women. Yet this intolerance incapacitates and undermines our power. We need these stories to understand our capacities both to create and to destroy, so that we can have the insight to choose wisely. Fleabag is available on Amazon.

Not everyone needs Amazon to make a TV show. Open TV, an online platform for television by queer, trans and cisgendered women and artists of colour, is led by Aymar Jean Christian, an assistant professor from Northwestern University in Illinois. Open TV has launched the career of director-producer Sam Bailey. More in the tradition of gritty kitchen-sink realism than the surrealist antics of Broad City, or the glib self-awareness of Girls, Bailey's storytelling is funny, smart and touching in tiny, perfectly crafted segments-the cinematic equivalent of flash fiction.

You're So Talented stars Bailey as Bea, an out-of-work African American actor in Chicago, and includes her group of friends and frenemies. Shawn, her dorky hipster ex, played by Dakota Loesch, has the demeanour of an old beater car. …

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