Issue #12: The allure of bad women

Where my anti-heroines at?

Hi,

Welcome back to Continue Watching! We missed you! We couldn’t send out the last three issues, so it’s been two months since we landed in your inbox. The day after a long weekend is always rough so we hope this has been a pleasant addition to your morning. 

This is a longer break than we ever planned to take but we’re learning to live with the fact that not everything is always in our control all the time, even about our own lives. Some day, we will tell you about what happened in these two months, but today we’re just happy to talk to you about our favourite thing, the thing that carries us through the best of times and the worst of times—television. 

Before we begin, here’s a question for you. Is 2021 somehow harder than 2020? Like, generally. In 2020, we were collectively dealing with a massive crisis and there was a sense of solidarity in that. By 2021, we are all tired and exhausted and confused, nothing seems to make sense, and we’re all singularly venturing back into the world and no one knows how to do that. Few things center us now, this newsletter being one of them, but we have to be honest with you—after a break of two months, being able to finish writing this was almost unbearable for us. What is going on? How are you guys dealing? If you have some tips to combat whatever this is, write to us!

Anyway, moving on to what you’re really here for. We’re very excited about the theme of this issue, because it’s messy women! We love watching messy women on TV because a) we relate, and b) they put our own messy lives in perspective. Rooting for women, who seem to be making one bad decision after another, is a special kind of high. And sometimes there isn’t even any good reason for why they’re ‘misbehaving’. When women do bad things on TV, they’re unlikeable. When men do bad things on TV, they’re anti-heroes. Whatever you want to call them, we love these bad, messy women. We’d love them even more if all of them weren’t always white and blonde, but we love them nonetheless. So that’s what both of our essays are about in this issue. We gotta say, we love the fact that we’re making a comeback with an issue about the allure of bad women. Kinda on the nose but also very fun!

Also, just because we were MIA here doesn’t mean we weren’t watching any TV. So let’s get to our favourite section!

CURRENTLY WATCHING

Kashika 

Saraswatichandra: I am very upset about not having a Hindi TV show to watch these days. None of the stuff that’s currently on TV interests me and I have rewatched old favourites endlessly. Watching Qubool Hai 2.0 (which was unexpectedly good) made me realise how much I miss my daily soaps. Saraswatichandra is a rare show that I haven’t watched so I thought why not. This was a Sanjay Leela Bhansali production, starring Jennifer Winget and Gautam Rode, who are both beautiful and talented. It has a very Devdas vibe and the story is super old and sort of ridiculous, but it has all the tropes I love in Indian TV, so watching it has been somewhat delightful but not very interesting. I can literally predict every beat. Not sure if I will watch all 450 episodes though, especially because Kumud, the main lead, is about to be tortured a whole lot. Streaming on Disney+ Hotstar.

Lovestruck In The City: Ji Chang-wook is one of my OG Korean drama crushes, so when I saw that he is in a new K-drama, I got very excited. Sadly, this one is no Healer or Suspicious Partner. Lovestruck In The City follows a group of young men and women in Seoul who are being interviewed for a documentary about love and relationships. The mockumentary format is interesting, and the fact that the episodes are mostly 30 minutes long (as opposed to the usual 80-90 minutes) is a RELIEF, but I’m having a hard time staying invested in the characters. I’m going to keep watching but I don’t have high hopes. Streaming on Netflix.

Shahana

Riverdale: I’m a simple person, I see a plot that makes absolutely zero sense and is strangely fascinating, I enjoy it (I miss you Pretty Little Liars). And when you open the dictionary, it says every episode of Riverdale under the word “bonkers”. The show that gave us Archie fighting in an underground fight club in jail and then getting attacked by a bear is now giving us Jughead getting abducted by aliens, said alien corpses stored in maple syrup for decades, Cheryl in her late 20s dance battling teenagers so she can coach the school cheerleading squad (I know how this sounds), and FBI agent Betty dealing with unresolved trauma from when she was captured by a serial killer. If all that sounded absolutely nuts to you, trust me, Riverdale is the gift that keeps on giving and there is so much more where that came from. Streaming on Netflix.

Memories of the Alhambra: A South-Korean show that follows Yoo Jin-woo (Hyun Bin), the CEO of a company that wants to buy an AR game about medieval battles set in Granada and the legends of the Alhambra palace. Jin-woo travels to Granada to meet the creator of the game, who has gone missing. As Jin-woo plays the game, extremely odd things start happening with him, and things that should stay in the game start to bleed into reality, with fatal consequences for some. The female protagonist isn’t really doing much even though she has potential to do plenty, and every episode is basically me watching the writers coming up with new ways to torture poor Jin-woo, but the premise is really intriguing. A game you can’t log out of and if someone attacks you, you really die? With stakes that high and Hyun Bin’s dimples keeping me company every episode, I’m sold. Streaming on Netflix.

By the time you get this in your email, all of us would have completed a year of working from home. A year of ‘the new normal’, though nothing in normal about this. You have been a real spark in both of our lives in this last year and we hope you will welcome us back just as warmly after this unexpected break. Please write to us with your thoughts, feedback, and comments. We love hearing from you and we love writing for you!

Continue Watching (and reading!),

Kashika and Shahana

Cassie Bowden, Georgia Miller & Me: Why Messy Women On TV Are My Ultimate Life Coach

By Kashika

Until I watched The Flight Attendant in January of this year, I’d forgotten how much I loved watching fun shows that do not leave me in a puddle of tears after every episode. I am used to watching flat out sitcoms or really soapy dramas, but I do not watch a lot of mysteries. The Flight Attendant is a fun mystery show, which is the best kind. 

But I didn’t love it because of the plot or the cliffhangers, all of which were great. I loved it because of its lead character, Cassie Bowden, played by Kaley Cuoco, whom I have only ever seen as Penny in the fairly annoying The Big Bang Theory. Cassie is a flight attendant and an alcoholic in denial, who goes on a date with a passenger from one of her flights, only to find him dead the next morning in bed right next to her. She had blacked out, so she (and the audience) has no idea if she killed him. The show is her trying to figure out who did and derail the FBI investigation in the process.

Cassie is… a hot mess. There is no other way to put it. She is reckless and impulsive, but her survival instincts are through the roof. I have never seen one person make so many bad decisions one after another in order to save their own ass. She honestly made me feel so much better about my own plentiful bad decisions, though the stakes of mine are nowhere near as high as those of Cassie’s. Just to give you an idea of Cassie’s bonkers decision-making—she cleans up the crime scene when she finds the dude lying dead next to her before taking A SHOWER IN THAT HOTEL ROOM. Then she tries to dodge the FBI when they want to question all the flight attendants who were on the same flight as the dead dude, and when she finally speaks to them, lies about every single thing. This is all in one episode, and if it sounds stressful, try watching it on a Monday night while stress-eating some terribly-made matar paneer

The show that I watched immediately after The Flight Attendant was Ginny & Georgia. I went into it with a lot of attitude because of its similarities with Gilmore Girls. I didn’t want to love it, and I didn’t (the episodes were too long), but I kinda fell in love with Georgia Miller. 

Georgia is a 30-year-old single mother of two, including 15-year-old Ginny (whom I wanted to slap in every single episode, which means I am now OLD), who moves to a new town after her husband unexpectedly dies of a heart attack. The husband is not the father of either of the kids, so it’s not a real tragedy in any sense. As we find out more about Ginny and Georgia, we realise that there is so much more happening under the surface. Georgia might not be who she is, she could be a liar, a thief, a con artist, or something much worse. The more Ginny got disgusted with her mother for never telling her the truth, the harder I liked her. Georgia was a survivor and I loved that. I mean, her dead husband leaves her a ton of money in his will, which his first wife is contesting, but Georgia already buys a house in anticipation of the money. When this happens, does she, as I would, sit on the floor of her bedroom and sob? No, she lies and cheats and steals (without really hurting anybody) but never lets her kids figure out that they are flat broke.

See, I understand on some level that both Cassie and Georgia can be characterised as annoying. They’re unreliable, selfish, and never follow any rules. If I knew a person like either in real life, I’d probably despise them. But watching them on screen was different. First, the actors really made these characters. And second, as someone who wants to destroy everything in a 100km radius the moment anything goes even remotely wrong in her life, I sort of understand them? Of course, none of my self-destructive rampages involve lying to the police or stealing from my workplace or dating psychopaths, but the vicarious thrill I feel when I watch messy women on TV make shockingly bad decisions for self-preservation makes me feel like I should speak to a therapist about it rather than writing an essay on it.

I have a few theories about why I love these characters: 

  • I am glad my life is not as messy as theirs.

  • Their mess puts mine in perspective.

  • Watching them take risks I’d never take makes me feel safe(r).

  • As someone with questionable self-preservation instincts, I am awestruck by the lengths to which they will go to save themselves

Writing all of this down is making me worry about myself a little bit, but I think this is true for all of us to a certain extent. Why do we love Fleabag? Why do we love Villanelle? Not because they’re a ray of sunshine, but because they’re messy. They’re messy and messed-up and they do a great job of cleaning up their act towards the end of the show. I think, more than anything else, that is why I love messy women on TV. Because at the end of it all, we are told over and over, that there is hope for them. That there is hope for everyone. 

Shows mentioned:

The Flight Attendant - You’ll have to get creative to find it ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Ginny & Georgia - Netflix ⭐⭐⭐

She’s The Worst: Let Women On TV Be Shitty For The Sake Of It

By Shahana

[Some spoilers ahead]

In season one of Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s Fleabag, the eponymous Fleabag says, “I have a horrible feeling I’m a greedy, perverted, selfish, apathetic, cynical, depraved, mannish-looking, morally bankrupt woman who can’t even call herself a feminist.” The show establishes that Fleabag is named so because she is a terrible person, but this scene ensures that we know she’s aware. Fleabag spends the majority of her life deflecting any kind of self reflection, but she’s not the Don Draper-esque kind of shitty who can’t and won’t see the depths of their shittiness. Fleabag is a bad person and continues to be so, because that’s who she is. She’s not rebelling against the patriarchy or is the way she is because of a traumatic past that has hardened her, she’s a bad person because she likes being that way.

In Bad Feminist, author Roxane Gay said, “When a girl is unlikeable, a girl is a problem.” Female characters on television know this. Male “anti-heroes” however, not only get celebrated for their bad behaviour, we’re also supposed to find that attractive? Walter White, Don Draper, Sherlock, Tony Soprano—this list is too long and frankly, irritating. Lena Dunham got so many questions about the “unlikeability” of Girls’ Hannah Horvath, she had to address it: “We get so many questions about the likability of our characters. But it’s such a weird question to be getting in a world where our favorite television characters are Tony Soprano, Dexter, and Walter White. People are like, ‘He did the drugs for his family!’ and then they’re like, ‘And that girl was mean to her friend, and she should get the death penalty.’” 

In the years since Girls, thankfully, television writers have taken to writing unlikeable and shitty women who are shitty just because. And there is joy in watching them be that way because they want to, with no reason or backstory justifying their depravity. Gillian Flynn, whose books led to some of the shittiest female characters in cinema and television history, said, “Women have spent so many years girl-powering ourselves — to the point of almost parodic encouragement — we’ve left no room to acknowledge our dark side. Dark sides are important. They should be nurtured like nasty black orchids.” 

Some of the most compelling female characters do exactly that, nurturing their dark sides, no matter who they trample to get to their destination, no matter how inane or major. Veep’s Selina Meyer, played by Julia Louis-Dreyfus, sells out her devoted assistant so she can become POTUS, falsely implicates a fellow Presidential candidate in a sexual harassment scandal, uses her Black grandson as a prop, makes secret deals to return Tibet to China in exchange for voter suppression, you get the gist. Selina Meyer is an awful person, and that’s what makes her so incredibly fun to watch. There isn’t anything likeable about her, and Selina Meyer couldn’t care less. 

Likeability, when it comes to women, is a set of rules we have to live by, and any deviation from it instantly turns us into witches that must be burnt at the stake. But what about the women who use that set of rules to their own advantage? Not because they need to survive, but because it gets the job done? 

UnReal’s Rachel, played by Shiri Appleby, is cute and petite, wears “This is what a feminist looks like” t-shirts, and has the air of exhaustion that comes with having a tough job and a demanding boss. We want to like her, we want to be on her side, and she uses exactly that to exploit everyone around her. Rachel plays up her relatable and likeable persona to distribute advice “as a friend” so they’ll all do what she wants, and what she wants are often horrible things. She pushes people to relive their worst moments on camera, coerces people into drinking heavily, creates scenarios that lead to date rape, forces people to confront abusive exes and situations, and then coaches younger producers into doing the same things, creating more cute monsters just like her. Likeability in Rachel’s hands becomes a weapon, one she wields with dwindling amounts of remorse.

I enjoy watching women misbehave, and I love the ones who do it for the sake of it, instead of the ones who are forced to do it for their families, or because circumstances have turned them into the tough people they are today. Game of Thrones’ Cersei Lannister, played by Lena Headey, is cold and calculating because life treated her badly. Sure, she’s fun to watch, but you never really want her to succeed. Killing Eve’s Villanelle, on the other hand, played by Jodie Comer, takes such joy in killing, that you forget that she’s an actual assassin who kills people and feels nothing. The set of rules that splits women into good and bad, likeable and shitty, become a guidebook to be explored rather than followed on Killing Eve, where the audience, just like Eve, are fascinated and captivated by Villanelle rather than be repulsed by her. 

The television landscape is now starting to see more shitty women, and in them, I see women who are sick of the prescribed roles we are assigned. These women do not have the desire to stick to the rules or give in to the urge to become the Cool Girl, to be the “the girl who likes every fucking thing he likes and doesn't ever complain.” Shitty women are themselves, unapologetically or otherwise. In becoming these women, they accept themselves, and give us the permission to accept those parts of ourselves as well. To go back to what Roxane Gay said, “When a girl is unlikeable, a girl is a problem.” And problems are worth remembering.

Shows mentioned:

Fleabag - Amazon Prime Video ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Veep - Disney+ Hotstar ⭐⭐⭐⭐

UnReal - You’ll have to get creative to find it ⭐⭐⭐

Game of Thrones - Disney+ Hotstar ⭐⭐⭐

Killing Eve - Amazon Prime Video ⭐⭐⭐

Recommendations

We get so many requests for TV show recommendations from friends, so we’ll get to them here in every issue.

Give me something simple. An old school network drama type of show which has multiple things happening at the same time. Something in the same vein of The OC, The Vampire Diaries, Gossip Girl.

Elite, a Spanish drama, fits the bill. The show follows Samuel, Nadia, and Christian, three students from working-class backgrounds who each receive a scholarship to study at an elite and exclusive high school named Las Encinas. As they try and fit in with their rich and privileged classmates, confrontations and clashes occur that lead to the mysterious murder of one of their classmates. While the murder and the mystery around it makes it a very interesting watch, it’s the character development that keeps you hooked. Characters go beyond their stereotypes, and character development is never sacrificed for the sake of a plot twist. Every character has their own aspirations and motivations behind every single act, so nothing ever feels out of character. As far as the plots are concerned, there’s plenty going on, but nothing feels forced. There’s a coming-of-age romance between two boys, a polyamorous throuple, class structures and divides, complicated friendships, xenophobia, homophobia, racism—yes, it seems like too much, but Elite’s writers ensure that all of these conversations are nuanced even while being entertaining. 

Streaming on Netflix. 

Shout-Outs

Kashika

The fact that Lauren Graham has a Gilmore Girls clause in all her contracts in case of another GG revival has warmed my heart. And if you, like me, are a Lauren superfan then I hope you’re watching The Mighty Ducks: Game Changers on Disney+ Hotstar. She plays another single mom in the show and, honestly, is there anything more comforting than that?

Shahana

My father passed away last month, and I watched a lot of Korean shows to cope. Every time the female leads called a friend and got to cry to them about whatever was wrong, I pretended it was me. Every time the male leads wrapped them up in a hug and said they’d take care of things, I pretended I was getting the hugs and someone else would handle things that needed handling. The characters on the shows I watched got what I was and am unable to ask friends and family for, and it was enough. Every time something good happened, I pretended, for a little while, that everything was fine. And when something bad happened, I cried, and pretended I was crying about what I was watching. At some point, Google recommended I read this and this, and while they’re not exactly why I fell in love with them, they might convince you to start watching.

The Revolution Will Not Be Televised

Links and resources to understand what’s happening around us, and what you can do to make a difference. If you want us to feature a particular cause or endeavour in this section, please email us.

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