Franklin & Bash, a new show on TNT starring Mark-Paul Gosselaar and Breckin Meyer, debuted unimpressively this past week. (Past two weeks? I don’t know, the ads are everywhere, I couldn’t get away from it.) One of the first episodes replayed late last night, and in true pop media form, it was a train wreck from which I could not peel myself away.
This episode concerned a woman, Jennifer, who was suing her former company, a magazine catering to “men’s lifestyle” (some kind of take on Maxim), for firing her because she was too pretty. These two green lawyers jump on this case like white on rice, for no other reason it seems than their interest in gaining access to a woman they assume is stratospherically hot. We then watch their excitement melt into a puddle of disappointment as they meet the woman. I thought she was pleasant, pretty, engaging. She wasn’t skeletal. I would show you a picture, but, interestingly, in the photo album for this episode posted on the show’s website, there are no pictures of her! Despite being the namesake of the episode. Interesting.
Franklin and Bash meet Jennifer in the office. Their faces contort as they try to hide their obvious disgust, that this woman who considers herself beautiful and attractive – as she should, and as she is – doesn’t look like this:
“Uh, you’re suing them for firing you because you’re too…hot?” Franklin says (or maybe it was Bash? I don’t know, who cares) with disdain. Jennifer also cheerfully compliments the female lawyer at the men’s firm (who also stopped in her tracks at the sight of this woman who dared to consider herself attractive), by noting how beautiful she looks in a dress. The female lawyer continues to look dumbfounded that this woman, who does not match her inch-for-inch (not enough vertically, too many horizontally) has the guts to engage her in conversation with genuine goodwill.
They leave her standing there to find the senior partner who had gleefully passed the case on to them, and in an accusatory shout, exclaim “You knew she wasn’t pretty!”
His response?: “Depending on the light, she’s last call pretty.”
Bash’s (or Franklin’s, again, who cares) retort: “Yea, in Alaska!”
I will pause here just in case in anyone missed the blatant, sexist crudeness of that comment. She is only maybe, possibly attractive in the middle of the night, while intoxicated, in a lowly populated state. How on earth, these men wonder, can this woman possibly think she is attractive?
In their first meeting with her, they ask her this: “Have you ever modeled?” Followed by: “Yea, and, um, gotten paid for it?”
She is only maybe, possibly attractive if other people (the very objective fashion industry) have come to this conclusion? And if they have decided her beauty is worth paying for?
They then say: “We’ll pop over to your office and take a look at the rest of the women there.” Now her attractiveness is on a relative scale compared to the other women in her office?
As they head over, one of them says: “Is she the most delusional woman in the world, or just someone with an overly inflated ego?”
Where to begin.
Because this woman did not fit into the very narrow ideal that they have deemed is attractive – the ideal that we see populated at Jennifer’s office when the two do go in fact visit (all of whom basically looked like this, and actually weren’t wearing much more clothing than the women in these pics) – rail-thin, teased hair, high-fashion, high-heeled, a bit too scantily-clad for any work environment I’ve ever been a part of – the lawyers determine that she is out of her mind for finding herself beautiful and desirable. Which is actually a totally normal, healthy self-image.
As the episode progresses, we learn that the woman in question did not take advantage of the plastic surgery which was a part of the company’s healthcare plan, and was in fact fired by her boss because she didn’t consider her to be attractive enough and was also jealous of the attention she garnered for being so friendly, intelligent, and engaging. At this point, the female lawyer in the firm begins to “like” the woman in question – she admits that confidence and self-possession are true marks of beauty. While it’s nice that she concedes this, I’m still rather bothered by the fact that it took a lawsuit and a woman she thought was a bit overweight (but who herself saw beauty), to get to that point.
And even when she does get to this point, she decides to play upon any insecurities that the female jurors may have about their own appearance by instructing Franklin that they identify with Jennifer – and if they think she can snag a man like Franklin, then they’ll believe the apparently absurd idea that she was attractive enough to be fired for her physical characteristics.
I’m sure that Franklin and Bash thought they were making some kind of social commentary and being progressive by showing that a woman who thinks she is beautiful is in fact what makes her beautiful. But there were so many landmines before the realization at the end – that a woman who has confidence, is self-possessed, generous, friendly, and engaging is in fact beautiful – occurred. Not only do we never see Zach or Travis really agree to this, but it is entirely possible to send this positive message and not precede it with 40 minutes of offensive and insulting commentary towards women. We see them ogle bikini-clad women at a party, refer to Jennifer’s one-piece that covers her shoulders and thighs as a “burqini” (a little xenophobia with your sexism?), and kiss her on the stand in a pandering ploy to convince the jury that they find her beautiful even as they continue to insult her. They allow her to think she is beautiful, but they haven’t changed their assessment of what makes a woman attractive. Will we see them jumping after a clothed confident woman instead of the women at this party in future episodes?
Unlikely. In the end, Jennifer is vindicated and her self-perceptions confirmed – but I don’t think Zach and Travis came out of this with any real re-evaluation of their definition of beauty. And the 39 minutes of insults aren’t likely to be canceled out by two minutes of “wow! Smart, confident women are sexy!”concession. Which is evidenced by Travis, who, at the end of the trial, commends the founder and head of the magazine, which itself perpetrates narrow and objectifying definitions of beauty, by saying what a big fan he is of his work. That’s like saying Steinem enlightened you through “Bunny Tales” and in the same breath remarking how much you enjoy reading Maxim on the toilet.
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