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TV Eye

No Damsels Allowed

By Belinda Acosta, October 8, 1999, Screens

Sometimes, I find myself wishing I were a girl. Not that conflicted, hormone-crazed girl-beast I was at puberty, and not the little girl at the mercy of adults to lead me across the street or provide drinks of water. No, it's the girl in between I wish for. The girl I'm talking about played football in the street. She collected Indian head nickels and pretended they were pirate doubloons. She cried inconsolably when Charlotte in Charlotte's Web

died and almost set the kitchen on fire. She played "wedding" with the bevy of Avon bottles,

lipsticks, lotions, and perfumes on her mother's dresser and imagined herself a recurring guest on The Mike Douglas Show (not as creepy as Robert De Niro in King of Comedy, and not as loony as Seinfeld's Kramer, who salvaged a Merv Griffin set from a dumpster to commiserate with friends). The girl I'm thinking of rode her bike down steep hills, legs kicked out to the side, face beaming back at the sun. Now that was a girl.

I'm reminded of her when I see some of the girl-power shows on television nowadays: The Powerpuff Girls (Cartoon Network), the syndicated Xena: Warrior Princess, and Buffy, the Vampire Slayer (WB). I also think of that girl when looking at the proliferation of women or girl-centered programs that feature magic or superhuman physical ability. Buffy, Xena, and the Powerfpuffs fall into this category, as do Sabrina the Teenage Witch (ABC) and Charmed (WB). My how times have changed.

As a girl, I watched reruns of Bewitched and I Dream of Jeannie. I convinced myself that if

I wished very hard, I could twinkle my nose and make things happen, too. The depth of that longing kept me awake late at night, and frustrated me during the day, when I very desperately wanted to turn my brother into a toad. But I had no desire to be Samantha Stevens or Jeannie. They were nice, but captured; domesticated creatures in suburban, ranch-style prisons (that "comfortable concentration camp," as Betty Friedan would call it). As a poor child, I didn't pine for the modern appliances, nice clothes, and all the pretty things that accessorized Samantha's or Jeannie's TV lifestyle. What I wanted very badly was their power. If only they wanted it, too.

In retrospect, I see that Bewitched and I Dream of Jeannie were not fantasies for women. They

were fantasies for what I hope is a now-extinct version of a straight man: one who likes his

women obedient, available, and well -- house-broken.

Bewitched and I Dream of Jeannie were escapist domestic comedies, airing from 1964-1972, one of the most tumultuous times in American history. The Vietnam War, a reemerging women's movement, the civil rights movement, the assassinations of John and Robert Kennedy, and Martin Luther King, all occurred during this period. As a girl, I thought the world seemed like an angry, dangerous place. Who wouldn't want to twitch their nose and make it all go away?

Is it a coincidence then, that at the turn of this century, a time of great anticipation and

fear, women, magic, and supernatural power has made another appearance on television? What is

there to escape from? The answer in my mind is not to escape, but to claim.

As frivolous as these shows seem to be on the surface, they are the best examples -- metaphorically speaking -- of women coming to terms with their power in this world at the turn of the century. Season premieres of Buffy and Charmed, for example, found our heroines questioning the

usefulness of their supernatural powers, and even doubting the strength they already knew they had. Xena is constantly battling evil in a pre-modern world where justice or privilege is determined by might. And those quirky Powerpuffs are open-hearted little girls eager to make bad people (or evil monkeys) be nice.

Silly escapism? Over-the-top violence? There's some of that. But between the captured beauties of Bewitched and I Dream of Jeannie, I'll take my heroines with humanity, wit, and a big dose of

whoop-ass. If you missed the premiere of Animal Farm on TNT, there are several opportunities to catch this notable film produced by Hallmark Entertainment for the cable network. Based on the 1945 novel by George Orwell, the film features state-of-the art animatronic technology developed by Jim Henson's Creature Shop, hundreds of live animals, and a bucolic Irish countryside.

Orwell's allegorical novel was originally written as an indictment of communism under Stalin, but has become a lasting lesson on the corruption of power. Babe lovers will not find the charming little piggy that many came to adore in the film and its sequel. Instead, Animal Farm manages to reach a gritty realism that prior attempts at dramatizing Orwell's book, namely a 1954 animated cartoon, could not muster. Finally, technology has caught up with Orwell's vision, making it possible for the story to be brought to amazing life.

A fine cast of human voices complete this exceptional film: Peter Ustinov is Old Major (aka Karl Marx); Patrick Stewart is Napoleon (Stalin); Frasier's Kelsey Grammer is Snowball (Trotsky); Ian Holm is Squealer, Napoleon's right-hand man and chief of propaganda. Other voices include Paul Scofield, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, and Julia Ormond.

The deeper meaning of the film will be lost on small children, who will be entranced by the realism of the talking animals. But Animal Farm is no kiddie movie. An animal falling to its death and later butchered, along with a sexually suggestive scene, are inappropriate for tots. Though TNT does not offer a rating for the film, my educated guess is that it's most appropriate for teens on up.

The TNT presentation of Animal Farm airs Saturday, 10/9, 5pm; Sunday, 10/10, 1pm; Wednesday, 10/13, 8pm; and Saturday, 10/16, 9pm. Dates and times are current at press time. Check local listings to confirm.

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