Allison Janney Is My Hero

Recently, I have been mainlining The West Wing. This sometimes happens.

I watched it first, from start to finish, with Alison. Our roommate Elizabeth jumped in about halfway through. Once we finished the series, Elizabeth started again from the beginning, and we watched with her. Elizabeth’s then-boyfriend, later-fiancé, now-husband Joe got into it. We all watched it again. These days, Elizabeth watches random episodes to unwind after work and texts me about it (claiming that she’s trolling for clips to show in her US Government class. She does not need to justify herself to the lady who grabs at any and all Harry Potter books to calm herself during moments of distress).

But these past few weeks, in a fever leading up to Election Day (DID YOU VOTE. DON’T LIE TO ME, I WILL KNOW.), The West Wing’s idealistic, quick-fire, smarty-pants back-and-forth has been particularly comforting—and one character, in particular.

C.J. Cregg.

Pause. I know, everybody: Aaron Sorkin isn’t known for writing well-rounded women. I sometimes wonder if he has actually met a human female. But C.J. is smart, funny, incredibly sexy (knows it), and is just—cool. Nerdy, weird, powerful and very cool.

She also has the incredible advantage of being played by Allison Janney.

Guys. Have you noticed how Allison Janney is taking over the world, and being amazing at it? She is everywhere, and she is good at everything. We are talking about one of the most intelligent, sensitive and beautifully hilarious actors in this world right now. In most places—like in The Help (ugh, The Help) or The Object of My Affection—you don’t even realize she’s there until she suddenly is, killing it. Because every character she plays is so specific, and so wonderfully nuanced, we forget about the actress—it’s not Janney we see, it’s Loretta or Bonnie or C.J.

Most of Janney’s characters are a touch kooky, and larger-than-life—but when they are in danger of veering into insanity or bitchiness, Janney grounds them with a kind of vulnerability that makes you go—that person is a real person. Even though they’re on TV. And fictional. If you’ve seen even forty seconds of Margaret Scully in Masters of Sex, you know what I’m talking about.

So, just for fun—because it’s late, and I’m tired, and I wish I could talk to Allison right now and tell her how much I like her (with my eyes, not with my words—because I don’t want to freak her out): Important Role Models In My Life, As Played By A Fabulous Amazonian Actor I Love.

Mom: Bren, from Juno.

I have an awesome mom. But should I ever become teen pregnant (time travel!), I would want Bren by my side, ready to tear into anyone who glanced at me sideways. The way she did to that mean sonogram lady.

giphy (1)

Cool Aunt: Bonnie Plunkett, from CBS’s Mom.

Are you watching this show? Please do, if only to admire all the ways a tall woman can rock ballet flats. Bonnie is a hysterically funny, unbelievably irresponsible mother figure who really knows how to have fun—while maintaining her (very necessary) sobriety. She’s self-centered and egotistical, but she tells it like it is and has the best stories. I wouldn’t trust her to house-sit, or take care of my dog, though.

Eccentric Neighbor: Betty, from The Way, Way Back.

She’s loud, crude, drinks all day and gets way too familiar with you and with your stuff. But she would never judge, and is by your side, cocktail in hand, when you fall to pieces. Cause she has been there.

giphy

Psychiatrist slash High School Guidance Counselor: Obviously—Ms. Perky, from 10 Things I Hate About You.

Doesn’t everybody need a person who’ll say, Get over yourself, you are not the center of this universe—and then distract you with all the adjectives she’s found for “throbbing?”

BFF: C.J. Cregg. See above—and see this.

—Elise

SWFs Seek Pretty Much Anybody, Sort Of

2014-01-10-Heaney_NeverHaveIEverTP

Never Have I Ever: My Life (So Far) Without a Date, by Katie Heaney

Guys, I read this book, and I’m pretty sure I wrote it. Or else this bitch stole my diary.

In the opening pages, Katie introduces her dating theory: there are two types of people, Lighthouses and Bermuda Triangles. The first group is a radiant bunch, never without a boy for long, at least on the back burner. On the other hand, there are people like Ms. Heaney:

“[A Bermuda Triangle] doesn’t mean to do any harm, and it’s actually pretty nice once you get to know it. It’s just that Bermuda doesn’t know how to handle itself when somebody sails into its territory, because that hardly ever happens. It hasn’t had much chance to practice, and it’s used to things going a certain way. So if a sailor DOES come around, it gets a little nervous, freaks the fuck out, and creates hurricane-like devastation around it. And then it gets embarrassed and sad and calls its friends.”

 tumblr_m3y1a4Kf6r1qcwhkeo1_400

If only I’d known that spilling all my lack-of-love stories would get me a book deal, I wouldn’t have started this godforsaken blog. Instead I’d be in St. Tropez right now, with a bed made of money and a pet diamond. Alas.

Over the course of her book, Katie tracks her history with boys from kindergarten to the present day. She describes the archaeological treasure that is her childhood diary (containing inexplicable entries like, “I have a very cute boyfriend. He is funny. I love Jesus. Oxoxoxoxoxoxoxoxoxox.”); lighting a chip on fire and then eating it to impress a boy at her first high school party (unsuccessful); and a five-hour Internet date with a dude who said “buckets” instead of “fuck” (as in, “what the buckets”).

Reading all this, I was overcome with déjà vu. Like Katie, I was obsessed with following the rules and terrified of my parents. Once, in third grade, I forgot to write my name on my homework, and I cried. (This, while humiliating, did get me out of having to go to Homework Accountability a.k.a. Basically Pretty Much Detention, You’re Not Fooling Anyone.) I also had crushes on one boy or another throughout my entire education, though they were fodder for daydreaming more than anything else. In middle school, I was desperate to get to freshman year because I was sure a boyfriend awaited me there. Tell 12-year-old Alison that 26-year-old Alison still hasn’t been able to lock it down, and she’d probably retreat further into her love of Hanson and musical theatre, destined never to be kissed.

Like Katie, I have some amazing Lighthouse friends, who are beautiful and smart and hilarious and independent. Though thankfully none of them are boy-crazy (a phrase which never fails to remind me of Stacy from the Babysitter’s Club), their single-time is full of guys asking them out, them being like, “Ugh, I don’t know, I’m still getting over whats-his-face,” before one of their suitors inevitably turns out to be solid BF/GF material. On the other hand, my last date was a blind set-up that got downgraded last-minute from an actual restaurant to a Corner Bakery. I REPEAT. My only date in the past seven months was at a place the dude referred to as “the Panera of downtown.” Uh, pretty sure PANERA IS THE PANERA OF DOWNTOWN, GUY.

Clearly, I’ve had poor luck in the love department. Actually, “poor” is probably too dramatic. If anything, I’ve had non-luck. It’s been a series of spread-out Situations that start with varying levels of promise, but fizzle after about a month. And that’s pretty much it. I’m comforted by Heaney’s story: it’s nice to know that I’m not the last lonely singleton out there, and that frankly, there’s someone out there with even less experience than me. She’s had a distinct lack of any Situations whatsoever. It’s like finding the Chupacabra.

Now, I don’t mean to get too off the rails into the Land of the Sad Sacks. I’m not sitting at home pining away about finding “The One”—I really like my life, everybody. And importantly, while the comedy of this memoir is much stronger in the beginning, as she describes the shenanigans of her youth, its heart shows up in the second half. The book transforms into a story of female friendship. Like how she “calls an emergency cabinet meeting” a.k.a. individually texts all her friends for advice in times of Great Boy Uncertainty. I’m not super proud that I, too, have this tendency. In fact, such texts are usually followed by something like, “Ugh sorry that I’m the most annoying.” But my buddies are spread across the country, and sometimes I need everybody to chime in on pressing questions like “Does this Tinder guy look like he’s actually gay?” or “Does this Tinder guy look like he will murder me?” or “Should I get off Tinder because it’s full of gay murderers?” I wish I could ask them in person, over a glass of Malbec.

And in that spirit, let these words from the introduction encourage you to please, please read this delightful book:

“My absolute favorite thing in the world to do is sit around a room with my friends and some wine and remind each other of our worst-ever dating stories…That’s what I hope this book feels like. You and I are hanging out, and I am drinking too much and talking to you—about my most embarrassing adventures in flirting and kissing and liking boys—for a really long time. You are such a good listener. I mean it.”

And that’s exactly what it feels like.

BREAKING NEWS, Catzilla and I both swiped right, so maybe things are looking up.

photo (1)

– Alison

GIRLFRIENDS.

Pilot season this fall has been dominated by marriage, and explorations of committed, boy-on-girl relationships. I literally cannot be argued with–just look at the series titles: Married on FX. Marry Me on NBC. The Affair on Showtime. Seriously, it’s right there.

Thing is (and I’m definitely not the first person to say this, nor the last): What I’ve seen of this new crop of shows isn’t…good. I’m already missing some of the fresh, hilarious gems that brightened my summer–when, in a surprising and delightful turn of events, lady comedians and female friendship dominated the airwaves. Here, a tribute to one of my very favorite new shows, and a personal plea to USA TV execs for renewal:

The premise of USA’s Playing HouseEmma and Maggie have been best friends forever. Emma returns to her small-town home for Maggie’s baby shower. Maggie promptly discovers that her husband is a cheating Internet weirdo, and Emma drops everything to move in with Maggie, and to help with the newborn. Co-creators and co-stars Jessica St. Clair and Lennon Parham are real-life best buddies and collaborators, and it shows. The show glows with warmth generated by their love and their crazy. Awkward plot moments and the super-thin secondary characters (thus far, but improving) move to the background when Emma (St. Clair) and Maggie (Parham) come together onscreen. This thing is begging for renewal.

I don’t love it when girls touch me. I’ve never quite understood the GIRLS-style female friendship that requires joint nudity, or doing that horrible arm-in-arm walking thing. It is the least effective, least comfortable way to walk.

But ladylove, Emma and Maggie-style? I have that. Let me tell you, that kind of friendship is pretty singular, and I am not sure a girl should be allowed more than one. One at a time, at least–maybe one in a lifetime. There is a ridiculous abundance of brilliant, hilarious and wonderful women in my life. But this one, with my co-blogger, and the one I see when I watch Playing House, examines something uniquely female and totally underrepresented on the small screen ’till now. One where the emotional stakes don’t necessarily manifest physically–with touching, hugging, curling up together in bed or snotting in a bathtub. You just–feel them.

boundaries

Since I moved to San Francisco, Alison and I have stayed in shockingly close touch. I’m actually pretty good at keeping up with people, in general (I lied in our first post). But there are only so many bi-monthly hour-long phone-call-type relationships one can sustain. It’s exhausting. But then texting happened! It’s so great! And, if you’re Alison and I, it’s also the perfect tool to hone our writing-based, cynicism-powered observational one-liner skills.

In the way that so many ladies decide they’re “a Miranda” or “a Carrie” in their friendships, Alison and I both agree that if Playing House were a thing that happened to us, we’d both be Emmas. But the dynamic is us–two smart, stubborn and fiercely independent women who also, somehow, need each other. But NEVER talk about it. Because that’s sort of gross and also because–who cares? We don’t need to say it out loud. It’s there.

That kind of easy female comfort, coinciding with a deep mutual respect and awareness of boundaries/wants/desires is incredibly rare. And unbelievably hard to write. That’s probably why we haven’t seen it on TV until two BFFs decided to make it together.

Emma can go take a nap when she’s tired of hanging out. Maggie won’t get pissed–she’ll probably be glad for a moment to herself. Maggie can bust out Bosephus, and Emma can reminisce briefly about dry-humping some guy they both knew under the bleachers in high school. Most especially for girls, shared memories lay the foundations for the kind of wrought-iron friendship these ladies have. But memories are not the sum of that friendship–Emma and Maggie are invested in the present tense. In creating that present tense together, and also by supporting and celebrating their independent experiences.

This, I think, separates it from a show like Sex and the City. The show is a classic portrait of feminine friendship, yes–but you can’t divorce that friendship from men. Male relationships and sex are the foreground for each character’s story–again, it’s baked right into the title.

So, I’m excited about Playing House–for all the reasons that any person should love good art. They see themselves in it. I see Alison and I, albeit quietly, in Emma and Maggie. And it makes me hope–nay, believe–that were I pregnant and divorcing my cheating ex-husband, I’d have someone to call. Or that if Alison found herself in that hysterically funny situation, vice versa.

springsteen

To Alison, and all the Jessica St. Clair and Lennon Parhams out there, let me illustrate what I mean with one final example, drawn from another Very Important Female Friendship Moment on TV: if you were Carrie, your diaphragm were stuck, and you genuinely, seriously needed a Samantha-style “helping hand” (terrible), I would be that hand. Without question. But I will not hold your hand for no reason. That’s weird.

-Elise