Fabulous Female Foursomes

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What is it about TV series starring four fierce females that suck us in every time?  Girls makes its debut on HBO this Sunday and my DVR season pass is already set.  Entertainment Weekly film critic Ken Tucker (my trusted source) praises it thusly:  “one of the most original thingamajigs to come along in awhile.”  He then goes on to give it the elusive “A” grade.  So, while the four lead women  —  Lena Dunham, Jemima Kirke, Zosia Mamet and Allison Williams —  aren’t exactly household names right now, they might be very soon.  In fact, I’m sure it’s just a matter of time before a slew of online quizzes will tell us if we’re a Hannah, Marnie, Jessa or Shoshanna.  (Those being their characters’ names, obvi.)

Based on Mr. Tucker’s review, I highly doubt that the four Girls girls will represent the archetypes typically associated with female fronted fare: the Ringleader, the Sexpot, the Realist and the Innocent.  But the sisters who paved the way for this latest crop of women tended to fall neatly into those categories.  Let’s take a look back, shall we?

THE ORIGINALS:  The Golden Girls (NBC 1985 – 1992)

Ringleader:  Dorothy
Sexpot:  Blanche
Realist:  Sophia
Innocent:  Rose

Bea Arthur (Dorothy), Betty White (Rose), Rue McClanahan (Blanche) and Estelle Getty (Sophia) were sassy senior citizens sharing a home in Miami.  Over the course of seven seasons, each one of these actresses would win an Emmy Award for her role in the series.  Now they’re all gone, save for Betty, our national treasure.  But they set the tone for the next wave of shows starring four women.  Those old broads certainly knew what they were doing.

THE SOUTHERNERS:  Designing Women (CBS 1986 – 1993)

Ringleader:  Julia
Sexpot:  Suzanne
Realist:  Mary Jo
Innocent:  Charlene

Dixie Carter (Julia), Delta Burke (Suzanne), Annie Potts (Mary Jo) and Jean Smart (Charlene) all work at Sugarbaker Designs in Atlanta.  Over the course of six seasons and several cast changes, they charmed us with their southern accents.  Annie Potts is currently working her Texas twang in GCB, yet another show dominated by strong women.

THE MANHATTANITES:  Sex and the City  (HBO 1998 – 2004)

Ringleader:  Carrie
Sexpot:  Samantha
Realist:  Miranda
Innocent:  Charlotte

Sarah Jessica Parker (Carrie), Kim Cattrall (Samantha), Kristin Davis (Charlotte) and Cynthia Nixon (Miranda) drink cosmos, buy shoes, bed men and then talk all about it over brunch in the chicest Manhattan eateries.  This was zeitgeist-changing stuff, and continues to inform New York culture eight years after it went off the air.

THE SUBURBANITES:  Desperate Housewives  (2004 -2012)

Ringleader:  Susan
Sexpot:  Gabrielle
Realist:  Lynette
Innocent:  Bree

Teri Hatcher (Susan), Eva Longoria (Gabrielle), Felicity Huffman (Lynette) and Marcia Cross (Bree) rule Wisteria Lane in sunny Fairview; playing poker, gossiping, fighting and dealing with various murders, suicides, plane crashes and tornadoes.  No wonder it’s finally signing off this season… these women must be exhausted.

THE TEEN DREAMS:  Pretty Little Liars  (ABC Family 2010 – present)

Ringleader:  Aria
Sexpot:  Emily
Realist:  Spencer
Innocent:  Hanna

Lucy Hale (Aria), Shay Mitchell (Emily), Troian Bellisario (Spencer) and Ashley Benson (Hanna) are high school students in Rosewood, Pennsylvania, who are terrorized by the mysterious “A” after their frenemy Alison is murdered.  They’ve ably carried on the torch passed down for decades of the fearsome female foursome TV ensemble.  I, for one, can’t wait for the show to return in June.

Whether or not Girls will have the impact and success of these other classic and current series remains to be seen.  But I sure am hoping that water-cooler conversation on Monday morning centers on that most critical question:  Are you a Hannah, Marnie, Jessa or Shoshanna?


No it’s your turn:  Which classic female-driven farce is your favorite?

Designing Women

Desperate Housewives

Golden Girls

Sex and the City

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