The New Girl(s)
arissa, darling, you can only flash your hot little midriff at me so many times before I yawn. Damsels-in-distress of your ilk, Coop, have gone the way of hair bands and videocassettes. Unless, my dear, you add snappy one-liners and charisma to your otherwise mundane repertoire of character traits, you will soon be outmoded. Take a gander at your television gal pals that have singlehandedly shattered and reimagined expectations for post-adolescent TV heroines. The patented sneer. The emotional baggage. The delightfully wonderful fashion sense. And, most importantly, a disaffection towards all the little jabs the universe might throw at them. These are ladies that have mastered the art of pathos through comedy. Their flaws are not life problems that can be fixed with half a bottle of Popov and some painkillers. The Marissa Coopers of the world are just going to have to step aside for a flashier, boldier heroine. Marissa, meet Veronica, Georgia and Claire. These are girls—nay, young women—who capture our hearts not with their Crest white-stripped teeth, and Seventeen magazine fashions, but with their ability to marry the real and the melodramatic together with well-timed one-liners and glowering stares. They make the ordinary so utterly, fabulously extraordinary. The only time we see their white-stripped teeth is when they sneer derisively at any sort of authority.
Veronica Mars—from UPN’s Veronica Mars—is a pint-sized blonde firecracker who many have dubbed the natural successor to Buffy of Sunnydale. Mars is smarter than most, if not all seventeen year-olds, including the bee brats over at Scripps. Last year, she solved one of the biggest whodunnits in Neptune—the murder of her best friend Lilly. All the while, she balanced boyfriends, a budget, and a string of one-off mysteries for her classmates. But the best part about Veronica? She manages to look fantastic while multitasking. Her trademark fashion is eclectic, though never outlandish. And anyone who can pull off Sailor Moon hairbuns and a polo shirt while affecting a fake Brooklyn accent is undeniably a fashion maven. But consider that while putting her cute little outfits together, Veronica also has to make sense of the alcoholic truant of a mother who runs off with her college fund, her role as a high school outcast, and the local sheriff’s wrath. Veronica talks a mile a minute and her words are soaked with self-deprecating irony and pop culture references. But trust me, this is one girl whose bad side you wouldn’t want to get on: she can no doubt singlehandedly drive you out of town.
One sees Veronica and wonder if Georgia Lass, from Showtime’s shortlived Dead Like Me, had anything to do with Veronica’s snarky sensibility. Georgia, better known as George, a college drop-out whose own show lasts no longer than a meager 29 episodes has enough disaffection to make Veronica glitter like a cheerleader. In the series, she moves back home, starts a soul-crushing pink collar job, and then dies at lunchtime on the first day—only to become a grim reaper. While eventually absolved of the emotional baggage that Veronica Mars carries around with her like a Louis Viutton set, Lass still has plenty of reason to walk around with a vicious sneer on her face and an arsenal of tart-tongued jibes—after all, she died when she was 18. She’s smart about being pissed off, though. This is the distinct mark that sets her breed of heroine apart from the flimsy waifs who wouldn’t know how to respond to snarky if the proper comeback arrived gift-wrapped. Besides, consider the truer tragedy: dying, but then having to live to admit your mistakes in life, or breaking up with your high school sweetheart. George may not be particularly hot, but she has a bite that certainly makes up for her lack of bombshell appeal. In fact, when she shares screen time with resident sexpot Daisy Adair, George still manages to hold her own, despite being the patently frumpy of the two. Her bitter mien is something that all of us fringe kids from high school (or even the ones of us who are perpetually living on the fringe) can relate to and just like Veronica, George makes it look damn delicious to keep a panoply of snide remarks on hand for quick use.
Shirking humor in most cases for studied disaffection is Claire Fisher, fresh from her burial from last summer’s Six Feet Under on HBO. Though she and The OC’s Coop have similar strategies to coping with conflicts in their lives (read: They both do drugs to circumvent actual problem-solving), Claire’s got something that makes her infinitely more gorgeous. It’s the same thing that makes Veronica and George heart-throb material: Claire’s neurotic. She weathers the deaths of her father, boyfriend, and older brother. She singlehandedly smokes enough pot to support the gross domestic product of Colombia and stumbles into college with a remote interest in art only to later drop out. All the while, she is flaky and unapologetically selfish, struggling to grab onto something stable. Also like a properly disaffected heroine, Claire’s fashion sense is definitive of her personality without being too bombastic. She exudes her signature “Yeah I threw on whatever I could find, you wanna fight about it?” motif in a pair of tight jeans and a flannel shirt, swapping the flannel for a nice blouse as she matures. Maturity proves to be Claire’s strongest suit: whereas Veronica is persnickety and George is snappy, Claire manages to channel elegance. All three prove to be definitive components of the brand of heroine that showrunners are slowly unleashing into the televisual fray.
So what is it with this emergence of the disaffected heroine that is at once so unnerving but thrilling to viewers? It’s that they appear ordinary and their virtues lie in their cynicism, flaws, and razor-sharp comebacks. More so, it’s the vulnerability these women have that makes them so winsome. The fact that they’re not perfect and prone to a certain kind of absurdly pedestrian tragedy (after all, what is a more unglamorous way of dying than getting struck by a falling toilet seat from a Soviet space station á la George Lass?) make them heroines we can all relate to. For not all of us can relate to Marissa Cooper and her well-dressed familial dysfunction. After all, the best heroine can even make the unglamorous seem dazzling. And as men and women whose thrills are best lived vicariously through television, it’s nice to see a new brand of heroine who can make us see that there is still a level of excitement awaiting us in the tepid pushes and pulls of our lives, so we won’t need to go creating drama in wealthy seaside California suburbs. We can leave that sort of tawdriness to soap opera pixies.
By: Rohin Guha
Published on: 2006-01-04
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