In this year's Emmy race,
"Orange," with multiple-nominee
But with 12 nominations, more than any other scripted comedy, "Orange Is the New Black" has a much bigger point to prove: Women, both as creators and characters, are changing the nature of comedy, and television.
Set in a Connecticut correctional facility, the series was created by a woman (Jenji Kohan), from a memoir by a woman (Piper Kerman) and features, with a few fine exceptions, an all-female cast.
A single episode follows more female performers in a wider variety of roles than could be seen a decade ago in all the Emmy-nominated shows put together.
Much has been made over the recent increase of female leads in television. Certainly, the great exodus from film to television began with women. When she couldn't find roles in movies,
Their presence is not just a question of gender equity. As any good sociologist might have foreseen, this shift has changed how television tells stories, often blurring the lines between comedy and drama, between satire and pathos.
There is no better example of this emerging hybrid than "Orange Is the New Black." Last year the show's star,
Certainly it is as funny as HBO's
There is plenty of drama in "Orange," and the laughter it provokes is often rueful, in recognition of shared pain and the dreadful absurdity of the personal choices that so often cause it. Indeed, the humor of "Orange," "Nurse Jackie," "Girls," or Showtime's
This, of course, is the basis of all comedy. The shift is in the nature of the problems. Women have historically been able to laugh at their romantic foibles, their marital frictions, their familial imperfections and, more recently, their attempts to juggle all the demands on their time. But the flaws, and problems, of TV's female leads mostly remained skin-deep.
In this age of broken heroes and fractured worldviews, the women we watch are still held to a higher standard than men. Unfettered by either the whore or madonna template, men can exhibit a far greater range of "bad" behaviors. Male leads don't even have to be likable. In this age of the antihero, TV prefers its men broken, complicated, intriguing. Likability can actually be a drawback.
Not so for female characters, for whom likability remains key. As some less-than-perfect female characters — Lori on "The Walking Dead" and Skyler on "Breaking Bad" — have proved, women still must display some measure of warmth, some degree of compassion, or risk audience vitriol. Don Draper can essentially abandon his children and still be the subject of our empathy, not so ex-wife Betty. Claire Underwood on "House of Cards" may turn out to be even colder and more calculating than her husband Frank, but she isn't allowed to have nearly as much fun either.
Comedy, as viewers discovered with
Seven years after "Sex" premiered, Kohan planted the seeds of "Orange Is the New Black" with her Showtime series, "Weeds," in which a newly widowed suburban mom turns to drug dealing to pay the bills. Although much more traditionally comedic in its earlier seasons than "Orange,"
Now, as male comedians like