You may not think it from the name, but Trophy Wife is one of the best new comedies. It's the most recent example of a startling trend of great shows burdened with awful titles.
We're not alone in thinking that Trophy Wife has a titular problem. For instance, Willa Paskin's review for Slate is titled "Terrible Name, Good Show." Trophy Wife is really good. It's, yes, about a pretty woman (Malin Akerman) who marries an older man (Bradley Whitford) with two ex-wives (the serious Marcia Gay Harden and the kooky Michaela Watkins, finally getting her due). But Whtiford's character isn't a playboy and Akerman's character isn't a bimbo. She's just trying to fit into this bizarre extended family that has somehow learned how to coexist. Though executive producer Lee Eisenberg has said that the title is meant to be "ironic," irony doesn't always best convey the content of a show. We have a legitimate concern that too many people are just going to skip the show, thinking it's something it's not.
Trophy Wife is far from the only show with this problem. Some have been able to rise above their crappy titles, while others have been felled by them. Here's a brief recent history.
Orange Is the New Black
Obviously, Orange Is the New Black is one of the success stories, but, boy, is that an annoying title. First of all, it's too long, meaning it gets shortened to OITNB, which isn't even a good acronym. The concept behind the title is that Piper used to be a fashionable New Yorker (black) and now she's in prison (orange), but really the moniker—which was also the title of the book on which the show was based—conveys nothing.
Don't Trust the B---- in Apartment 23
Don't Trust the B---- in Apartment 23, often known as Don't Trust the B----, is now dearly departed, and the title never did this strange, hilarious show justice. First off there's the problem with the B----. Titles should never be censored. What exactly is a "B----?" viewers who don't take the time to play the title's game of hangman may inquire. (Also, you can say "bitch" on ABC, so why can't it be in the title?) But even if you use the show's original title, Don't Trust the Bitch in Apartment 23, it's still bad. Why? Not unlike Orange Is the New Black, it's such a mouthful. The show was smart and snappy. The title is a drag.
Cougar Town is probably one of the most famous examples. Though the show found its voice, and a home at TBS after ABC dropped it, it's title was always a burden. As Paskin wrote in her piece on Trophy Wife for comparison: "A few years ago, ABC alienated potential viewers of Cougar Town by burdening it with a tawdry moniker that referenced women who fixate on dating younger men, an association it couldn’t shake even as it became a series about friends who drink too much." It became such a burden the creators started to make jokes about it during the opening titles, much to fans' delight.
What's a bunhead? That's the problem here. James Poniewozik detailed his issues with the title in a piece for Time. "First, there’s the show’s title itself—a slang term for ballet dancers—which is a trifecta of badness," he wrote. "It’s poorly descriptive to someone who hasn’t yet watched the series (is it a reality-competition show about bakers?). It’s slightly misleading if you have watched the show (it suggests the show is mainly about the ballet students, who have a large but supporting role)." The counter argument is that Bunheads is a good title if you're a bunhead. But otherwise it just doesn't reach the barre (that's another ballet joke).
Marvel's Agents of SHIELD
The verdict's still out on whether the show will survive, though we liked the first episode, but this title is an annoying mouthful. First of all, there's the Marvel product placement right there at the beginning. Then there's the little matter of the periods that no one wants to type ever.
Masters of Sex
Showtime's new Masters of Sex is a wonderful show that looks at the lives of sex researchers William Masters and Virginia Johnson. You see, the title (also the title of a book) is a pun on Masters' name that makes it seem like the show is about people who are really good at sex. It might come as a surprise to you then that this show is not sexy, unless you find people masturbating in a hospital room with electrodes attached to them sexy. Sex is treated scientifically in this show, even though it's not in the titillating title.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.
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