Thane Rosenbaum on the rise of the mentally unstable, lonely, workaholic heroine.
American culture is undergoing a dramatic shift in how it likes to see its heroines portrayed on TV and in film. Gone are the days of Mary Tyler Moore, Rachel and Monica, and the fun-loving, heart-of-gold Sex in the City girls. In fact, both men and women are painted in the most unflattering of lights on the small screen these days. We’ve got philanderers and serial killers, bipolar ice queens and small-town drug dealers. While the results can often be dramatically exhilarating, our attachments to these characters can get downright confusing. Harkening back to that Simon & Garfunkel song, it’s no longer just ‘Where have you gone Joe DiMaggio'—the same now hold true for Mrs. Robinson herself. We’ve seen her kind before, but the women on TV and in film today aren’t evil—they’re mental.
Bad boys and mad men are very much the rage nowadays. Chivalry is dead when it comes to TV’s male heroes, replaced by dissolute behavior and moral ambiguity. The public seems to have grown to appreciate the seedier exploits of the new antihero—morally compromised louts though they may all be. James Gandolfini’s recent death was a reminder of his iconic portrayal of a mafia chieftain who was conflicted about almost everything except murder in The Sopranos. The dapper but hopelessly depraved Donald Draper (Jon Hamm) in Mad Men is becoming increasingly harder to root for. And Walter White (Bryan Cranston), the high school chemistry teacher turned methamphetamine dealer in Breaking Bad, can make a viewer long for the innocence, and even some of the inanity, of Welcome Back Kotter.