Yes. And they can also watch New Girl, Two Broke Girls, and most of the other female-centric comedies on TV today.
There are lots of ladies on TV these days. Funny ladies, even. So many funny ladies that one of entertainment's most boisterous boneheads, Two and a Half Men creator Lee Arohnson, even noticed, providing his wildly misogynistic analysis: "[We're] approaching peak vagina on television to the point of labia saturation." Perhaps accidentally, Arohnson's comments are well-timed to the news, as the Lady TV situation is only becoming more engorged this week, with the arrival of ABC's Don't Trust the B— in Apartment 23 and HBO's Girls. And while his remarks are abhorrent, incorrigible, disgusting, and untrue—plus, as Lena Dunham, the wunderkind Jill-of-all-trades behind Girls points out, not even funny—they do reflect a very real attitude of many TV-watching dudes who stumble upon these female-centric shows. That is: Change the channel.
While TV comedies have steadily grown more interesting, unique, and culturally exciting over the past three years, among the best new ones to arrive recently are quite blatantly "girl"-ish. There's New Girl, 2 Broke Girls, and just Girls. There's the titular bitch in Apartment 23 and Courteney Cox in Cougar Town, not to mention Showtime's two returning ladies-with-problems shows Nurse Jackie and The Big C. Girls be everywhere...and they're making really good TV. But guys aren't watching.
According to Nielsen statistics, 25 percent more women age 18 to 49 (the most desirable demographic to advertisers) watch 2 Broke Girls than do men. For New Girl, that number is 50 percent. But numbers only tell you so much. The furrowed, judgy, are-you-being-serious-right-now? expression that my roommate gave me when I proclaimed the zany, whip-smart New Girl pilot my favorite of the season says more. The guttural laugh my co-worker snorted when I suggested he check out 2 Broke Girls (he's a fan of Kat Dennings!) speaks volumes. Let's not get into what happened when I tried to convince a (male) friend to stop on Cougar Town when we were surfing for something to watch (it's not about cougars anymore, man); hell, even I had a panic attack Wednesday morning when I thought I forgot to delete the Courtney Cox sitcom of our DVR before my roommate came and could see that I recorded it.
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OK. It's not that hard to see why guys may not be willing to give these shows a shot. Their titles probably scare them away, giving off a "this is a show about women and their issues" vibe. But that's a shame. Most of the shows are supremely well-done, daring, and, most importantly, fun to watch. And the perceptions about them are preposterously misconstrued. Unlike Sex and the City, or Desperate Housewives, or Designing Women, or any number of similar shows whose titles telegraph female-centric programming, this new crop isn't about Cosmos, tampons, manicures, or feminism. They're not particularly about "lady issues" at all—at the very least not to the extent that many of my colleagues and scary manly friends may believe.
New Girl, for example, was marketed with Zooey Deschanel batting her Precious Moments eyes, sporting polka dots, and otherwise being adorkable. But the show itself is as much about Max Greenfield's Schmidt learning to tone down his douchey-ness or Jake Johnson's Nick having to grow up (post-grad boy issues) as it is about Deschanel bein' quirky. Courteney Cox stopped prowling for young dudes on Cougar Town around its third episode; now the show differs from Scrubs, which was also created by Bill Lawrence, not at all. There's the same comedic sensibility and same relationship between characters on both shows, except one is headed by a woman and has an unfortunate title. Krysten Ritter's loathsome character in Apartment 23 finally introduces a female TV character who's a sociopath on par with House, Dexter, and Shameless's Frank Gallagher. And, yes, 2 Broke Girls may be more brazen with its use of the word "vagina" (which by today's standards means it's uttered once, maybe twice). But is that any more outlandish than the unsettlingly aggressive number of allusions to Ashton Kutcher's allegedly prodigious penis in the episode of Two and a Half Men that airs just after?
Which brings us to Girls, a series which The Hollywood Reporter calls "the most original, spot-on, no-missed-steps series in recent memory". The Daily Beast calls it "the sort of television show that comes around but once in a decade." I call "just freaking fantastic." What TV fan, regardless of gender, wouldn't want to watch a show that's heralded in such a way? Especially considering, as many critics are pointing out, the series—a glorious, of-the-now portrait of four not-so-fancy girls struggling to come into their own—speaks to a generation of twentysomethings in general, and is as on-the-nose with its depiction of the conflicted young man as it is with the young woman.
In other words, most of these programs don't differ all that much from, say Parks and Recreation or Weeds, two female-headed series with passionate male fanbases. But unlike comedies with a variation on "Girl" in its title, viewership among men and women for Parks and Rec is nearly identical according to Nielsen—even though it's a show with a strong female lead grappling with what could be easily be construed as a feminist issue: a woman trying to make it in politics. Is it just the gender-neutral titles that makes these series more OK for guys to watch?
Without getting all Women's Studies 101 on everybody, there's something to be learned and, yes, celebrated, about the vaguely feminine aspects of these shows. For once, I see girls I recognize and would want to hang out with being funny on network TV—not harried housewives rolling their eyes at their husbands' belly fat, fabulous fashionistas making sarcastic puns, or daffy sidekicks being oh-so-clumsy-but-still-cute. That "can women be funny?" question is about as stupid as can be in this day and age, but the ways and colors by which they are hilarious is changing like never before. Watching these series and knowing I'm one of the few guys doing so is a bit like peering into that peephole in Porky's—I'm seeing what other men don't, and it's so good that they're going to wish they had.
So is there anything to be done? Or are we all just going to keep our TV habits awkwardly segregated like we're at a middle school dance with girls gossiping about New Girl over on one wall while guys twiddle their thumbs bored at the other end of the gym? The thing about middle-school dances, is that those awkward boys always secretly want to join in on the fun with the girls, but are too proud to do so. That is, until a grand uniter—that "I Wanna Dance With Somebody"/"Like a Prayer" girly pop song that's just too catchy for the wallflower boys to ignore—brings everyone together. TV's had one such uniter before. When Desperate Housewives began scandalizing the watercooler crowd in 2004, men, wondering what the fuss was about, started tuning in, too. By its first season's midpoint, nearly 40 percent of Housewives viewers were men, and it was the No. 3 show among guys ages 18 to 34, behind Monday Night Football and The Simpsons. My grandfather never missed an episode.
Maybe this fawning over Girls will have the same crossover effect. If only guys would grow some balls—and some brains—and just tune in.
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