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Bitches on the Boob Tube

Has TV regressed in its portrayal of the working woman? With TV’s spring lineup kicking off, there may be hope for contemporary portrayals of working women on TV. So where do Murphy Brown, Roseanne and Murder She Wrote fit into this picture?

“I know it’s a little dated — but I think she’s actually a little more subversive example than you might think,” says Bitch Media Web Editor Kelsey Wallace of Murder She Wrote’s Jessica Fletcher. “She’s retired, she’s older, she’s widowed and she doesn’t have children.” Wallace moderated the pre-conference panel “9-5: Women’s Work in Popular Culture” at the UO’s Gender Equity and Capitalism Symposium earlier in March.

Roseanne Conner and Murphy Brown also got props from the panel for being realistic female leads. Roseanne, after all, depicted a blue-collar matriarchy that tackled taboo topics like teenage pregnancy and gay rights long before Glee. And Murphy Brown was a pioneer of the single working mother at a time when Dan Quayle was accusing the show’s eponym of “ignoring the importance of fathers by birthing a child alone.”

But this trio has not graced our rabbit-eared TVs since Clinton was in office. As for their present-day counterparts? “I see a lot of trends that are negative,” says Wallace. “A woman, in order to be successful at work, either has to put down other women or she has to sacrifice everything else.”

Spring premieres a whole slew of women-centric shows. How do they stack up against their fearless predecessors? 

Bent, NBC (March 21). The tagline for this comedy is “Bad boy. Good girl.” Alex is a high-strung lawyer and recently divorced mother who contracts Pete, the womanizing handyman who is going to fix up her home (and perhaps her broken life?). Speedy banter between two attractive leads ensues, and so do the stereotypes. Even the trailer features a lesbian contractor named “Big Deb” spitting like a truck driver.

Don’t Trust the B--- in Apt. 23, ABC (April 11). “A wide-eyed Midwestern girl moves to New York City to pursue her dream job only to find herself living with an outlandish girl with the morals of a pirate,” says CBS about Apt. 23. Start counting the clichés! The title is offensive enough — apparently ABC believes that women who live unconventionally are bitches?

Veep, HBO (April 15). Veep follows senator turned VP Selina Meyer (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) navigating the political idiosyncrasies of Washington, D.C. Like most women played by Louis-Dreyfus (Seinfeld’s Elaine, The New Adventures of Old Christine’s Christine), Meyer feels more authentic, funny and flawed than other women on the tube, teetering between confidence and frazzled incompetence. 

Girls, HBO (April 22). The latest HBO show about four single New York City women is being called the “antidote” to Sex and the City. Whereas SATC is set in the city’s most glamorous pockets, Girls takes a sharp, comic and more relatable look at Big Apple life for ambitious and broke recession-era twentysomethings who get tested for STDs, smoke pot, struggle with their weight and have awkward sex.