Monday, March 23, 2015

Real Influential Women Role Models (Real and Fictitious) - Fictional Woman of the Week: The Women from "Girlfriends" (2000-2008)

"Girlfriends" is my most intense sitcom on this year's list, and by intense I mean that it covers more serious issues than the other two do. The show discusses jealousy, sex, weddings, failed marriages, being a black woman in today's America, and AIDS, which is somewhat rare for a sitcom. Though other sitcoms may include it, this sitcom focuses on it a bit more heavily. It's actually pretty educational in regards to AIDS, especially in the episode "The Pact". Even though all three shows bring God and religion into the equation, "Girlfriends" is the one that tended to do it the most often.

The show follows the lives of four professional women. They also have a male friend in William (Reggie Hayes), but the main focus of the series is the female camaraderie.

Of course I would like it. :)

TV Tropes

I started watching this show again because I noticed that Tracee Ellis Ross, who played "Girlfriends" lead character Joan, is now in the new ABC comedy "Black-ish".

Out of all four ladies, I always felt like I related to Joan Clayton, Esq. (Ross) the most. Joan is a lawyer but eventually in Season 5 opens up a restaurant called "The J-Spot". She is considered the mom of the group and is not as free-spirited as the others. However, she is very loyal and usually the voice of reason. Even though all four women are the show's main characters, she's the rock that holds the story together. Without Joan Clayton, we wouldn't have "Girlfriends". We see her perspectives the most. In the beginning episodes, she would even break the fourth wall so we could see her inner thoughts.

I also like how she often addresses her friends as "You guys."

However, watching it again as an adult made me realize her negatives more.

Throughout the whole series she is on the search for a husband. This is her main goal, which now that I think about it when writing this series, is a change of pace. Here we have a professional woman looking to be a wife when normally female characters would more likely be wives looking to have professional lives.

This isn't a bad thing to want nor is Joan a horrible person, but at times in her quest to find true love she can be very insecure and in other circumstances get too involved where she shouldn't. Then there are times where she is not as loyal as she could be and tends to be selfish and condescending, even though this is not her intention. She is just trying to juggle her friends and priorities, which proves difficult for her.

Most of her problems in the show involve her childhood best friend, real estate agent Antoinette "Toni" Childs (Jill Marie Jones). Because Toni was always there for Joan in the past, Joan feels indebted to her and is quick to give her the benefit of the doubt whenever she wrongs her. Even though Toni is often there for Joan and is the first one Joan turns to in times of trouble, like when she thinks that she is pregnant in "Pregnant Pause", Toni is often Joan's main antagonist that causes her unnecessary stress. She is usually portrayed as the bad guy because, like I said before, the show is from Joan's perspective. Their on-again, off-again friendship is much of the show's conflict, especially early in Season 2 when Joan goes to therapy because of her. Another example is the story arc in the last half of Season 3, which consists of Toni preparing for her wedding to Todd (Jason Pace) with Joan persistently and obviously being jealous of her.

Toni stands up for others and herself, but her narcissism and self-centeredness is her trademark at an extreme degree and she is often prone to hasty actions. She is very confident in herself, especially her looks, though she comes across vain, and like Joan she too tries to be there for her friends. She prefers the finer things in life because she grew up poor, but when she finally has her child Morgan with Todd, she matures and becomes a devoted mother.

Both Joan and Toni have qualities that don't make audiences totally despise them, but they both also come with baggage and drama, which they acknowledge. This makes them more human as opposed to archetype, cartoonish characters. There are many layers to them. Their roller coaster friendship is such an important aspect of the show that the hostility between the two even continues after Season 6 when the Toni Childs character is terminated, thus terminating the friendship once and for all because Joan missed Toni's custody hearing even though she promised she would be there. Jones decided to leave the show and her character, who is now separated from Todd, moves to New York so that Morgan could be with her father, leaving Joan feeling withdrawals and guilt. This plot point is very evident in the Season 7 episode "Everybody Hates Monica".

The other two women in their "four girl ensemble" are a bit more real and straightforward and less likely to get into high school drama but are also very loyal friends, though often caught in the middle of the Joan/Toni disputes. The first of the two is Maya Wilkes (Golden Brooks). She is introduced as Joan's secretary and assistant and is the teenage mother of the series, her son Jabari a recurring character. At first she and Toni don't get along because they come from opposite worlds, but eventually they warm up to each other.

Maya is the character that is most like everyday people. She isn't rich like Joan or Toni but struggles to make ends meet. Perhaps the fact that she is a mother makes her more down to earth than the rest and we see how good she is to her son throughout the series. She is the one with the quick wit and snarky remarks that often uses sarcasm to respond to and make fun of situations. She coins the phrase, "Oh, HELL no!" Lol. I love that. I think she says it at least once in every episode. I always like the way she expresses herself, even her laughter. She also mentions once that she loves her some Jon Bon Jovi. That's not very important but it needs to be included in this regardless. lol

Like Nikki Parker, Maya too tries to go to school and get her degree, but her stress in piecing together her life and having conflicts with her husband Darnell (Khalil Kain) emotionally leads her into the arms of another man, Stan, who is first introduced in "Maya Takes a Stan". This causes a separation between Maya and Darnell, but they eventually get back together by the end of the series. She also becomes an author of a self-help book entitled Oh, Hell YES!, so that's pretty cool.

Finally, we come to the comic relief and the character most post-graduates could relate to the most, Lynn Searcy (Persia White). I call her a comic relief because she's the one laid back character that has most of the funny lines in spite of everything, but it's not like she's only there for that reason. She seems to be more of a side character, and maybe she is at the beginning, but she eventually becomes a more solid character and has her own serious storylines, which get more and more serious as the series goes on and she matures as it progresses. She's also half white and was adopted and raised by a white family, thus adding more details to her.

Lynn is Joan and Toni's bohemian friend from college who is always crashing at her friends' places. In fact, now that I think about it, I don't think she ever has her own place in the entire series. She holds five post-graduate degrees but yet lacks motivation to find a job and struggles to keep one. She cares more about developing her creative side, being the artistic one of the group. She dresses like a hipster, attends poetry slams, and eventually makes a documentary about African American women and the AIDS epidemic.

My favorite Lynn-centered episode is "Take This Poem and Call Me in the Morning". In this episode, Lynn meets her love interest Sivad, a poet who performs at one of the slams Lynn attends and is the one who inspires her to make the AIDS documentary. She finds out that he is celibate, which marks her relationship with him a huge story arc for her. Out of all four women, Lynn is the most sexually experienced and experimental. Sex is a huge part of her character and she is very open about it. Sometimes it is used for comedy, but other times it's a big factor in her relationship with men that can either make her or break her. At first she hides this from Sivad and tells him that she is celibate too in order to get closer to him, but he eventually finds out that she is lying. They then agree to become a couple anyway with Lynn willing to repress her sexuality to be with him. Knowing how sexually driven she is, seeing her willing to surrender that about herself for love is a very mature move for her and renders respect.

Lynn utters one of my favorite lines in this episode. I liked it so much that I put it under my Facebook quotes. She equates sex with freedom, so after the poetry slam at the end of the episode when she and Savid are discussing her sexuality, Lynn says:
"My sexuality has been my spirituality."
This was so profound to me when I first heard it. It's beautiful. I never really linked sex and worship together before but her saying this made a lot of sense to me. This brought up to me a whole new way to express spirituality and a whole new way to connect to God, though she is referring more to a connection between two people. Sex is a beautiful thing that is often tarnished by media, so therefore Lynn saying this reiterates the true intention of sex.

However, it comes to a point where Lynn can no longer handle her new celibate lifestyle and the two decide to call it quits and have a mutual breakup the following season in "Snoop, There It Is". Even this is handled good-heartedly and maturely. It's actually pretty impressive that she lasted as long as she did, so I consider this storyline a turning point for her character. Towards the end of the series, Lynn finds music and starts a band called "Indigo Skye". She is seen singing, songwriting, and playing the guitar.

As you can see, this was a very deep show. It had eight very good seasons, but unfortunately it did not get the series finale it deserved when it was cancelled in 2008 and abruptly ended with no satisfying conclusion.

Next week's sitcom had a decent series finale, but it was too good to be true. In fact, the whole series was too good to be true. There's your clue. Stay tuned and thank you for reading! :)

4 comments:

  1. This was so great! Thank you for sharing it with me. Girlfriends remains one of my most favorite shows. I loved it because a lot of it was realistic and they did not shy away from talking about serious topics (as you mentioned) As I told you earlier, I really hope that they get to do a movie because I feel like I need that closure!! lol Have a great week!

    http://www.hertaintedlips.com

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    1. I'm really glad that you enjoyed this, UneekDiva! You're very welcome! I agree. It was one of the more realistic sitcoms out there. It would be cool to see a "Girlfriends" movie. Thank you so much for your comment! You have a great week as well! :D

      -Stef

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  2. I never cared for Toni to have grown up "poor" she was Waaaaay to uppity. I loved me some Maya though she kept it 100

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    1. Hey Adrian! I agree! Thank you so much for your comment! :)

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