The 2012 Primetime Emmy Awards nominations were announced in the wee hours (of PDT, anyway) this morning, and there were actually some surprises reflecting the ascendancy of new “prestige” television, where cable reigns fully supreme. That is a rare occurrence for an awards ceremony that tends to recognize the same people over and over and over again.
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Two weeks into the new HBO series Girls, one character has emerged as the most divisive: Marnie, the gorgeous, uptight roommate of the show’s heroine, Hannah. In a discussion about the most recent episode, Slate’s L.V. Anderson asked, “Does she have any redeeming qualities?”Vanity Fair’s Julie Weiner echoed the sentiment, calling Marnie “a gallerina with overbearing mothering tendencies.”
Marnie is not TV’s first beautiful control freak: She fits squarely into a character type formed by Mad Men’s Betty and Sex and the City’s Charlotte, two stunning women with deep neuroses. Marnie, Betty, and Charlotte highlight a strange trend in highbrow television: With beauty comes a desire for control—which the character ultimately must lose in humiliating fashion.
Most television characters are physically attractive, of course, andGirls is no exception. But the other women on Girls have qualities that blunt their beauty in some way and make them seem “realer.” Jessa has her ridiculously bohemian outfits and tough attitude; Shoshanna her laughably dated Juicy jumpsuits and tense, eager-to-please smile; and Hannah her well-documented arm and tummy fat. Marnie, however, is basically physically flawless. She has beautiful hair, clear skin, and a long lean frame, and she wears classically fashionable clothes that fit her well. She has no obvious outward flaw to signal to the audience that she’s “just like us.” […]
This combination of beauty and obsessive self-control is toxic. Countless articles and video montages decry Betty’s poor parenting skills,self-pity, and all-around annoyingness. Charlotte didn’t inspire the same amount of vitriol as Betty, but still had her detractors. Over the course of the Sex and the City’s six-year run she was dismissed as “dopey,” “prudish,” and “conventional.” After just two episodes, Marnie is getting the same treatment: Good magazine wonders why Hannah would ever be friends with her; Vanity Fair calls her the show’s “most polarizing character.” Even her defenders couch their approval in apology: A male reviewer at Mother Jones says, “I fully understand the kind of guff I’m inviting by reserving praise exclusively for the hot one.”
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