The Austin Chronicle

TV Eye

Even bad girls cry

By Belinda Acosta, May 20, 2005, Screens

It might have been the first time in "TV Eye" history that I watched a review screener twice. The second episode, three times. Each time, I found myself more perplexed than the time before. I loved it, I hated it, and, now that it's all said and done, I'm not sure I would watch it again. The screener was for the new Jenny McCarthy vehicle, The Bad Girl's Guide, premiering next week on UPN. Based on Cameron Tuttle's Bad Girl's Guide books, the series is either a brilliantly subversive commentary on the commercialization of female images and expectations, or it's just another annoying, undercooked Sex and the City wannabe. Honestly, dear readers, I can't decide which way to fall on this one.

Let's start with what I like. McCarthy is perky as JJ, the Carrie knockoff among a trio of working women (one her roommate, the other her workmate) who laugh at desperate women looking for love on reality shows while crowing, "Just because I want a man doesn't mean I need a man." As Holly (the faux Samantha), Marcelle Larice is a kick. With her creamy caramel skin and striking platinum punk cut, her sense of style is less Madison Avenue than it is urban funky. Christina Moore as Sarah (the Charlotte) is the most off-putting of the group. Moore laughs so gregariously at the punch lines, one wonders if she's medicated. She could leave the show and not be missed. And Miranda? There is no Miranda, which is just as well. There isn't much room for a levelheaded, driven woman in this series, the premise of which is that girls just want to have fun. And if the right man could come along for the ride, then great. If not, well, we'll get by. But where's that man? Where is he? Where is he?!

And that's what I hate about the series.

When it came right down to it, Sex and the City was not about the Manolo Blahniks, single women dating, or the delicious fantasy of a writer able to live in New York on a columnist's salary. No, the series was about female friendships. Lovers may come and go, but female friendships are made of steel. In The Bad Girl's Guide, female friendships take a back seat to finding a man at nearly any cost.

I was ready to write off The Bad Girl's Guide entirely until I watched the perplexing second episode. In this, a male consultant is brought to the ad agency where JJ and Holly work to tutor them on what it means to be a female between the ages of 18 and 34 (their age group). Mr. Know-It-All says women are finding contentment in being wives and mothers. When that's not possible, they develop "frunions," where women, unable to find a husband, pool their resources, buy property, move in together, and wait to die. This puts off JJ, but she really starts to unravel when she can't close her bathroom window. She searches for a man in her apartment building to help. Not finding one (and after meeting a frunion version of herself next door) she returns to her apartment and lo and behold: She figures out how to close the jammed window herself. There is something liberating in that moment. Unfortunately, it's short-lived.

When JJ finally catches up with her friends, they have hooked up and ask permission to be with their men. JJ gives her blessing, and heads home. It's pouring rain and running to her car, she falls in the street, spilling the contents of her purse, her keys locked in her car. But hark! Who's that with the umbrella? It's none other than the Mr. Know-It-All, who helps JJ pull herself together, puts his coat around her, and calls AAA. She cries into his shoulder as the camera pulls away.

Why is she crying? Because she was surrendering to Mr. Know-It-All, who was right after all? I want to believe the tears were from something bigger, more complicated and true. It's confusing to be a woman, with all the mixed messages out there (ironically, JJ works in an industry whose goal it is to create those images). Be strong, be independent, be smart, be sexy and thin, but by God, be yourself. And yet, the determination to be yourself is at war with the real and honest feelings of wanting a partner – and defining what that means in this day and age. There's no language for that in The Bad Girl's Guide except in relation to the existing fabricated images and messages. Huh?

In JJ's tears, I felt the torment of battling the contradictions in your head and heart. However, I'm not sure that's what the show's creators were going for. If they were, the road to that well-intentioned journey was filled with many strange and confusing turns.

The Bad Girl's Guide premieres Tuesday, May 24, 8:30pm on UPN.

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