Technology with attitude

TV Offers Women Better Roles Than Movies


In the trailer for the movie Life As We Know It, the “money shot” is a close-up of Katherine Heigl with a blob of baby poop on her cheek. Ick.

Pardon my skepticism, but I doubt this appalling and unfunny moment of brainless vulgarity is going to be immortalized in the comedic Hall of Fame. Chaplinesque, it’s not. Heck, even the infamous Farrelly brothers would be embarrassed.

Cringing in the movie theater, I asked myself again why did Katherine Heigl leave Grey’s Anatomy? If it wasn’t just about getting bigger paychecks and the Emmy award-winning actress truly wanted to do something different, then doing formulaic romantic comedies was the wrong decision to make and it’s only going to get more difficult.

Once actresses hit their mid-30s they have to work harder than they should to find good roles in Hollywood mainstream films. Once you’re on the wrong side of 30, you’re not the hero’s girlfriend anymore, you’re his mother. A few wrinkles here, a gray hair there and before you know it, goofy sock puppets like Kristen Stewart are taking your job.

And what are the options, usually? Housewives, boozy prostitutes, bitter ex-CEOs whose naked ambition drives men away or sex-crazed grandmas.

I think things are getting better, however. In the not-so-good old days, the only available options were for actresses who wanted to keep working was selling ugly jewelry on the Home Shopping Network, a new career as a TV talk show host, becoming a film director, marrying a rich old white guy or doing an off-Broadway revival of “Sweet Charity”.

But now there’s another place women can go where they don’t have to squeeze into drab, ill-fitting stereotypes: television. It’s no longer the boob tube, an idiot box or a vast wasteland. The majority of shows on television today are innovative, smart and well-written. What’s more, it’s giving actresses roles commensurate with their talent.

Wasn’t it great to see Glenn Close take off that stupid Cruella DeVil wig and instead portray a tough precinct captain confronting Michael Chiklis’ crazed pit bull of a cop Detective Mackey in “The Shield”? Even better, Ms. Close followed that up with “Damages”. Holly Hunter’s “Saving Grace” was marvelous. So was Mary McDonnell in “Battlestar Galatica”. Krya Sedgwick’s exceptional work on “The Closer” is earning her almost two million dollars an episode.

Unlike movies, where it’s easier to distract the audience with car chases and explosions, the episodic nature of television demands strong, well-defined characters that you care enough about to visit every week. On programs like “Law and Order: SVU”, “Nurse Jackie”, “Weeds”, “The Good Wife”, “Mad Men”, “United States of Tara” and “The Big C”, women can finally act their age without being punished for it.

In the film Sunset Boulevard, I’m reminded of that famous scene where William Holden is a dirtbag ex-screenwriter who says to the delusional actress Norma Desmond,” Oh, yeah—you used to be big.” Outraged, Norma proudly replies: “I am big! It’s the movies that got small!” Isn’t it funny that the only place big enough for actresses these days is a television screen? I hope Katherine Heigl finally understands that because the prop department isn’t going to be running out of fake baby poop anytime soon.