Defying Stereotypes, Inspiring Laughter: A Tribute to Rose Marie

Full disclosure: I am only twenty-three years old and the most exciting thing I have done in recent memory is attend a special screening of—and Q&A session for—the new Rose Marie documentary Wait for Your Laugh. I know some would find this more than a little surprising, and I completely understand why; I was, after all, the youngest person in the theater. Still, if you follow this blog or know me personally (perhaps noticing my Dick York desktop background or Sinatra posters), this really is not that surprising.

Rose_Marie_1970

Of course, this post is not really about my affinity for classic Hollywood stars; it’s about Rose Marie herself and, more specifically, why her career (spanning roughly 90+ years) is worth knowing. Though she is most famous for portraying sassy television writer Sally Rogers on The Dick Van Dyke Show, Rose Marie has been dancing, singing, and acting for stage and screen since the tender age of three.

I honestly knew very little of her fascinating childhood years prior to seeing the documentary, but I was definitely familiar with Sally. It’s no small exaggeration for me to say that, as a writer, I have consistently found Sally inspiring ever since I first watched Dick Van Dyke reruns as a young girl. A true equal next to her male counterparts, Rob (Van Dyke) and Buddy (Morey Amsterdam), Sally worked hard, voiced her opinions confidently, and could more than hold her on against any joke with a clever wisecrack of her own.

In addition to inspiring me that women can and, in many ways, should tell their own stories through writing, the fact that Sally never quite fits into a pre-designated “box” as to how a woman “should behave” (especially by ‘60s standards) is equally inspiring. Whether in the ‘60s (when the series originally aired) or during the present day, she is a reminder that women should never feel confined by societal expectations and should instead live their lives as they themselves see fit: laugh, cry, embrace traditional feminine roles, reject those same roles, talk, listen—or, yes, maybe even write for a television show.

It’s only fitting then that, in real life, Rose Marie has also been someone who defies expectations and stereotypes. Of course, she will forever be associated with Sally Rogers, but—as Wait for Your Laugh proves—it would be unfair and limiting to let this completely define her, as it would downplay everything else she has accomplished as a true trailblazer in the industry. So, let’s not try to define her at all; let’s simply laugh with her.

Advertisements

Seinfeld: Making it Happen (Or, Well, The Opposite)

George Costanza has always been my favorite Seinfeld character. The George-centric episodes have consistently been my favorite, I recognize Festivus each year, and once had the infamous “Believe it or not, George isn’t at home…” tune as my ringtone (though it probably would’ve worked better as my outgoing message). In other words, it was inevitable that my first Seinfeld post would revolve heavily around him.

Still, I have to briefly touch upon Seinfeld itself first. There are a few key points that usually come up when discussing or analyzing the series. First, there’s the fact that the sitcom has found its way into the American lexicon in a way that, arguably, no other one has. Then, there’s the discussion of how Seinfeld has come to be nicknamed “the show about nothing” (though Jerry himself would say it’s more about “how a comedian gets his material”, while the idea of it being about “nothing” is just a joke). Of course, let’s also not forget the series’ infamous “no hugging, no learning” rule (aka no positive growth for the primary four characters).

Aside from this, I find it fascinating how, for all the show’s relatability in so much as it frequently tackles everyday occurrences, no one ever seems to want to admit to actually identifying with the characters themselves. With Friends, the conversation is very much people debating whether they are “a Phoebe” or “a Chandler”, but no one’s ever really claiming (or longing) to be “an Elaine” or “a Kramer.”

In many ways, this makes sense. After all, Seinfeld is a darker, more cynical sitcom than most others. The entire series finale was even focused on the simple fact that the years had done nothing but make Jerry, George, Elaine, and Kramer even more selfish than they originally were.

Sitcom Study: Seinfeld’s “The Opposite” (5×21)
Relevant Episode Information: George convinces himself that his bad luck will turn around if he does the exact opposite of his normal instincts; it works. Meanwhile, Jerry realizes that everything always balances out perfectly for him.

 

5792697420_ef18614b63_z
I’m a big fan of “fate versus free will” debates and, in many ways, “The Opposite” is a good case study on how and when one can win out over the other. While certain events are ultimately out of anyone’s control, I do tend to believe in the importance of hard work and perseverance (especially in striving to achieve personal goals). I believe in “making it happen”, to the best of one’s abilities, and that there’s no such thing as being “too busy.” I frequently remind myself that if a hobby, goal, or friendship is really important, I will make time.

Similarly, if I find myself in a rut, I reflect on the choices I’ve recently made and consider what I can do differently to be more productive. While I’ve never worried that “every decision…in my entire life has been wrong”, as George does during the beginning of “The Opposite”, I can appreciate and agree with the basic philosophy behind his realization that he needs to do something different in order to move his life forward. George’s life was not going the way he had hoped, so he ultimately had two choices: deal with it or make a change.

By the episode’s conclusion, George has landed a date, moved out of his parents’ house, and started a new job with the New York Yankees. On the other hand, there’s Jerry. As previously mentioned, it’s during “The Opposite” that he finally realizes what’s obvious to anyone who watches Seinfeld; everything always seems to work out for him:

Jerry: “… like yesterday I lost a job, and then I got another one, and then I missed a TV show, and later on they re-ran it. And then today I missed a train, went outside and caught a bus. It never fails! I always even out!”

We all probably know a few people like Jerry, individuals who seem to have good fortune regardless of the amount of effort they put into something. This can inevitably be infuriating but, when all is said and done, it should never discourage anyone from achieving his or her own goals (something I must frequently remind myself). In George’s case, since this is still Seinfeld after all, his growth does not last beyond this episode.

Though, if anything, the fact that this is only temporary can serve as a warning against becoming complacent or eager for the easy way (as George tends to do in nearly every other episode). In other words, don’t be a George. Also, try not to be discouraged by someone who’s a Jerry.

One of the Best Decisions Friends Made

        Friends has consistently been one of my favorite sitcoms for well over a decade. Even if I go a few weeks without watching it (which has happened at least once or twice, I think), I still know each episode by heart and reference scenes on a daily basis.

But if you’ve read this blog before, you already know I’m a Friends fan. You also know that I have some relatively unpopular opinions about the series, including the fact that I’m not a fan of Ross and Rachel as a couple (but love the similar on again/off again Sam and Diane on Cheers) and consider Monica my favorite female character.

This post is about an aspect of the show that, while probably not as unpopular as the others, is nonetheless one that is often debated by fans: Should Joey and Phoebe have gotten together (however briefly) or were the creators right to keep them as just friends?

11103892_f57d05a21e

Sitcom Study: The Friends creators were not only right to keep Joey and Phoebe just friends, but this was also one of their best and most important decisions.

For those of you who are fans of the Joey/Phoebe pairing, I can imagine at least a couple counterarguments you’re probably thinking right now:

  1. But Matt LeBlanc and Lisa Kudrow had such amazing chemistry!!

I agree. I’d also argue that one of the reasons Friends was successful in the first place is because ALL main cast members had amazing chemistry and so ANY combinations among the six worked well.

  1. Joey and Phoebe always had such sweet moments.

True. Still, I stand by the fact that all six characters had sweet moments with the others. Plus, if Joey fell for Phoebe, you’d have all six partnered off with each other (and no Paul Rudd). This would have been too unrealistic, even for a show with infamously unrealistic apartments.

Joey and Phoebe undoubtedly love each other, but this does not mean that this is a romantic love. I strongly believe in the notion that there are different types of love and that one is not necessarily more important than another. Many still believe that even if two people insist they are “just friends”, they will eventually fall for each other (or will harbor feelings until the “time is right” like The Office’s Jim and Pam).

This line of thinking is deeply problematic. Namely, it implies that a friendship’s only value is to serve as a stepping-stone for a romantic relationship. It also suggests that, if you do have romantic feelings for a friend, the best thing to do is keep this to yourself and wait for the stars to align. Let me get on my soapbox for just a second: do not ever wait for the stars to align. I believe everything happens for a reason and people can come into your life at the most unexpected times. Still, if someone truly wants to be with you, excuses such as “too busy” or “maybe it’s the wrong time” won’t matter in at least trying to make a relationship work.

The Joey/Phoebe relationship is perfect just the way it is; it serves as a reminder that the love between friends is beautiful in and of itself and should not be seen as merely the means to an end. Actually, in a way, I guess Friends did partner off all the main characters: the on-again/off-again couple (Ross and Rachel), the friends who do fall in love and get married (Monica and Chandler), and the pair who loves each other deeply as friends and share a special bond (Joey and Phoebe).

Female Sitcom Characters Who Changed My Life

In honor of Women’s History Month (and because a new post is definitely overdue), I’ve comprised a carefully considered list of the female sitcom characters I have cared about most over the years. Listed in no particular order, these characters have resonated with me more than others; I’ve come to personally identify with some, while others inspire me, and others still are just hilarious and well-written (or all of the above). My main rules in deciding the list: I could not choose more than one female character from the same series and I had to limit the list to three or four key characters. Now, onto the list!

  1. Monica Geller (Courteney Cox on Friends)

Memorable Lines: “Fine! Judge all you want to but, married a lesbian, left a man at the altar, fell in love with a gay ice dancer, threw a girl’s wooden leg in a fire, livin’ in a box!!! and, of course, “SEVEN!”

As far as the Friends universe is concerned, I’m definitely a Monica-type. In addition to having this listed on pretty much all of my social media accounts (plus the About Me page of this very blog), Monica is my go-to “Starbucks name” (mainly because I know from experience that they won’t spell my real first name correctly anyway). While I’m not a “neat freak” to the level that Monica is (but I’m not sure if anyone really could be), I consider myself very ambitious, competitive, and organized; I’ve also been called either “the planner” or the “mom friend” by myself and others too many times to count.

For these personal reasons, Monica clearly holds a special place in my heart, but that’s not the only reason she matters to me. She’s also incredibly inspiring, arguably the most inspiring of the six Friends. Sure, it’s admirable how Rachel goes from the stereotypical “spoiled rich girl” and Phoebe is undeniably a strong woman who has overcome a great deal, but let’s not ignore the amazing journey Monica undergoes.

The product of an emotionally abusive household where she struggled with her weight and had a mother who constantly criticized her, Monica nonetheless overcomes this to become a strong, confident woman who goes after what she wants and never settles. In Season Two, she memorably dates the older and sophisticated Dr. Richard Burke. Even though she comes to love him deeply and, at the time, sees him as the probable love of her life, she musters the strength to let him go when she realizes a key difference between them: unlike her, he doesn’t want children (well, in his case, he doesn’t want children again.

Her personality was also never confined by any gender stereotypes. She excelled at football and was repeatedly proven to be one of the physically strongest Friends, but also relished in planning her wedding and took pride in cleaning. She was the glue that held the Friends group together and made them feel more like a family (and was probably the funniest drunk out of the six).

  1. Samantha Stephens (Elizabeth Montgomery on Bewitched)

A Couple Memorable Lines: “I am a witch. A real broom riding, house haunting, cauldron stirring witch!” and “Oh my stars!”

In an earlier blog post, I credited Bewitched as the first sitcom I ever cared about enough to watch religiously (not to mention it was the first one I enjoyed analyzing closely). Even in my college thesis (which dealt with sitcom relationships), Sam and Darrin were the first couple I chose to analyze. Basically, there was never any doubt in my mind of whether or not Sam would make this list.

As I briefly mentioned in my aforementioned post, I’ve always stood firm in my belief that Bewitched is, indeed, a feminist show. Samantha, expected to live a supernatural life of wonder among the clouds, defies her family by marrying a mortal man and choosing to live (mostly) without witchcraft. Sure, Sam’s choice may seem a bit bizarre, but what matters is that it is her choice and it is one she proudly defends, whether she’s going up against the Queen of the Witches or her own mother. Played by the incredibly talented Elizabeth Montgomery, Sam was intelligent, unwaveringly kind, strong, and funny. She could have anything she wanted with a twitch of her nose, but used her powers for good and only as a last resort, always choosing to solve any problem first and foremost with her mind and heart.

  1. Roz Doyle (Peri Gilpin on Frasier)

Memorable Lines: “I’m smarter than he is, more confident, more articulate, but the stupid little wusses think I’m a hothead!”and “When I die, I want it to be on my hundredth birthday, in my beach house on Maui. And I want my husband to be so upset he has to drop out of college.”

            On countless sitcoms, female characters are generally depicted as “incomplete” until they find “the one”, settle down, and marry. And then there’s Roz Doyle: snarky, career-driven, and unapologetically sexual. She takes pride in her work as a producer and, despite many a verbal jab from Niles and Frasier, she enjoys living an active single life (and can out sass the Crane brothers any day of the week).

Roz’s tough exterior masks a warm, sensitive heart; the times she allows herself to be vulnerable are few but beautiful to watch. She’s been let down and had her heart broken more times than she’d like to admit, but she never gives up on herself. Despite her initial fears when faced with the reality of becoming a single mother, she overcomes these hesitations and successfully balances her career with the demands of motherhood.

More than being unapologetically sexual, Roz was always unapologetically herself. She’s proof that a woman’s happiness does not have to be anchored by one person, but instead can come from within as a result of self-confidence, inner strength, and determination. Frankly, TV is still very much in need of more female characters like her.

  1. Diane Chambers (Shelley Long on Cheers)

Memorable Lines: (in response to Sam noting she’s drunk) “Wow, you’re stupid. I’ll be sober in the morning!” and “Diane has the bar.”

I’m aware that Diane gets a lot of flak for being pretentious and loquacious, but I absolutely love her. One half of my favorite will they/won’t they TV couple of all time, Diane elevates every scene she’s in on Cheers (and later as a guest on Frasier) to new heights (and Sam Malone’s character suffers deeply when she’s no longer around to simultaneously challenge and ground him).

If Roz Doyle guards her vulnerabilities with a mask of snark, Diane Chambers guards hers with one made of steel. Diane is bookish, quick-witted, moralistic, and not so secretly believes she deserves only the finest things in life. For all her book smarts, she often struggles to fit in with the “average Joe’s” at Cheers and in her most vulnerable moments, it’s evident that she longs to be accepted. Diane is frequently mocked by the other characters who don’t take her seriously, while she in turn often takes herself far too seriously. She can become giddy over simple things (such as when she’s given brief control of the bar) and has a treasured stuffed animal collection—proving she’s not as haughty as she’d like to appear. Beneath her pseudo intellectualism, Diane is very much simply a woman in search of her place in life—and she should absolutely be taken seriously (even if Shelley’s performance leaves you in stitches).

Bewitched, Beguiled and Beloved

I owe a great deal to Bewitched. The first sitcom I ever cared about and watched religiously (via the magic of frequent reruns and DVDs), it is no exaggeration to say that my passion for sitcoms and television in general may not be where it is today without the iconic witch with a twitch.

I remember sitting at home with my mom well over a decade ago as she flipped through the channels and stopped on Bewitched. She explained its basic premise and how it had been a favorite of hers years ago; I was instantly intrigued.

“So, Samantha and Endora are both witches?” I asked. My mom nodded.

“What about him?” I inquired, indicating Dick York’s Darrin (by the way, if there is anyone who prefers Dick Sargent’s Darrin let me know as I have never encountered such a person).

“Nope, he’s a mortal, but Endora and Samantha sort of help him out sometimes,” mom said.

The more I watched Bewitched, the more I loved it. What’s not to love? The writing is funny and clever; the cast is wonderful (i.e. Darrin and Larry as the advertising dream team decades before Mad Men’s Don and Roger existed) and features some of the funniest and most memorable supporting characters of any series (i.e. nosy neighbor Gladys Kravitz, incorrigible prankster Uncle Arthur and bumbling Aunt Clara).

Then there’s also the fact that Bewitched really was ahead of its time in that it had such a strong, independent female protagonist––something that quite a few people seem skeptical about when I bring it up to them. They wonder: Isn’t Samantha a witch who becomes a housewife upon marriage and promises to give up witchcraft to please her husband, Darrin? To which, I say: Yes…but not quite.

Yes, it’s no secret that Samantha promises Darrin she won’t use witchcraft (a promise she rarely keeps, otherwise there would be no show), but this isn’t him controlling her. It’s her choosing to have this life. The mere fact that Samantha, a witch who could zap up any dream man with a twitch of her nose, chooses to marry an ordinary mortal deemed extraordinary by her because she falls in love with him is in and of itself a sign of independence; she is choosing the life she wants, damning the consequences. If it’s considered rebellious to sneak out of the house as a teenager and risk punishment, imagine how much of a rebel Samantha was by defying her entire supernatural family’s wishes and living as a mortal.

 

79376d88e80

Sitcom Study: Bewitched’s “A is for Aardvark” (1×17)

Relevant Episode Information: After Darrin finds himself bedridden due to a sprained ankle, Samantha casts a spell that causes their house to respond to his desires. But will he become too carried away with his newfound witchcraft?

In what producer William Asher considered to be the definitive Bewitched episode, “A is for Aardvark” reiterates just how much Samantha loves and values her life with Darrin. The episode has several humorous moments as Darrin grapples with and ultimately enjoys his newfound magical prowess, but what really makes it so pivotal is its emotional ending. Fully embracing the magical life, Darrin retracts his objections to witchcraft and now fully supports living a more supernatural life. He goes as far as quitting his job and proposing that he and Samantha partake on an extensive trip around the world. This breaks Samantha’s heart; she doesn’t want such extravagance, she is happy with the life they have built and earned together.

Finally, Darrin comes around as he presents Samantha with a bouquet of flowers and a watch (“I love you every second” as the inscription):

Sam: “Oh Darrin, I love you… please believe me, this watch and these flowers are the most important things I’ve ever had in my whole life…but I want you to understand.”

Darrin: “I do understand, no one’s gonna take them away from you…I don’t know if I’m too crazy about the idea of never having to worry about anything anymore. “

Sam: “Oh! You do understand!”

The scene is particularly poignant not only because it highlights the sincerity of the couple’s love and Samantha’s commitment to living as normal of a life as possible, but it also reveals just how human Samantha truly is as a character. She does not want anything handed to her, she wants to make her own happiness. The tears she cries here are tears of joy; she is relieved that the man she fell in love with is not lost. She is relieved to work for what she wants and enjoy what she has. What could be more human for a witch to feel than that?

Not Letting Baggage (or a Suitcase Full of Cheese) Win

With over a dozen Emmy wins and ratings that kept it within the “top ten most-watched shows” list for five out of its nine seasons, Everybody Loves Raymond was undeniably one of the most successful sitcoms of the 90’s/early 2000’s. So, why isn’t it talked about more? Sure, the show still airs daily in reruns and has an active Facebook page to go along with it, but considering its considerable accolades it is definitely not discussed, referred to on Buzzfeed or Tweeted about nearly as much as, say, Friends.

When I ask someone if they have seen Friends I generally hear one of the following: “Not really, but I’d like to watch it more” or “OMG YES I WATCH IT ALL THE TIME! I AM CHANDLER, CHANDLER IS ME.” On the other hand, when I ask the same of Everybody Loves Raymond, I usually hear more casual responses along the lines of “watching it sometimes.” Of course, I understand the love for Friends. It is my favorite show and it is no exaggeration to say that I can identify any episode within moments and quote it word for word. But here’s the thing: I can do the same with Everybody Loves Raymond.

Maybe I can more often personally identify with the characters in Friends because, like them, I am a twenty-something living in New York City, but Everybody Loves Raymond is all about family and my real-life experience of watching the show has always been tied to my family. When I was younger, I actively watched it with my parents. By the time I reached high school, my maternal grandmother discovered a love for the show and to this day it remains one of our most fond bonding experiences. Then, of course, there is the fact that I am half-Italian and often joke that my paternal grandmother is like Marie Barone (in the “makes amazing food way”, not “intrusive” way, thankfully).

I may not be married with kids, nor do I have an older policeman brother or a father who frequently screams “holy crap”, but its deeper themes have always resonated with me. In fact, this blog was originally supposed to be exclusively dedicated to Everybody Loves Raymond before I thought expanding it would be fun. Of course, that does not mean I will not still write posts showing why I love it––the following episode seems like a good place to start.

Sitcom Study: Everybody Loves Raymond’s “Baggage” (7×22)

Relevant Episode Information: Ray and Debra return home from a weekend getaway, but one thing remains from their vacation even as the weeks pass: the suitcase they brought with them, which remains on the staircase. Both passive-aggressively refuse to move it, believing it is the other’s person “place” to do so.

If one of the greatest debates within the Friends fandom is whether or not Ross and Rachel’s presumed and infamous “break” made it okay for Ross to sleep with Chloe the Copy Girl (I’ll get to that in a future post), one of the great debates in the Everybody Loves Raymond fandom is probably the one in this episode: Was it Ray or Debra’s “place” to move the suitcase?

One of my favorite things about Everybody Loves Raymond is the fact that, in most cases, whenever two characters are fighting there is a valid reason for both parties to feel hurt or upset. For example, in “Ray’s Journal”, Ray has every right to feel that his mother Marie violated his privacy by reading his journal when he was a child. At the same time, it is understandable that viewers (especially those who are parents) will sympathize with Marie when she reads Ray’s entry: “I ehat (his not-so-secretive code for “hate”) my mom.” In “Baggage”, both Ray and Debra have valid reasons for not wanting to be “the one to move the suitcase”, but this is only a small part as to why this episode is so intriguing and worth analyzing.

In the beginning of the episode, Ray explains the suitcase situation to his brother, Robert. Ray explains how he believes that, at this point, Debra is deliberately refusing to move the suitcase in order to “wait him out” and “win.” He then adds that she is “gonna be waiting a long time.” Robert has the logical, incredulous response: “This is insane…you’ve had a two-week fight over a suitcase.” Ray insists that it is not a fight since they have not actually been arguing and ups the stakes by filling the suitcase with cheese. Meanwhile, Ray’s father Frank urges Ray to not back down because whoever moves the suitcase will symbolically be the one who “wears the pants” in the relationship. Later, Debra tells Frank that her anger over the situation stems from the fact that since she does “everything” around the house, it wouldn’t hurt Ray to move the suitcase up the flight of stairs. Finally, Marie urges Debra to move the suitcase to prove she is “the bigger person”, following a story about a similar fight she once had with Frank over a big fork and spoon. She memorably says: “Don’t let a suitcase full of cheese be your big fork and spoon.”

tumblr_lvp7yjELcm1r7fje8o1_500

            It is definitely a loaded episode with a great number of ideas to consider from each character’s perspective. I truly love Robert’s line about how ridiculous a “two-week fight over a suitcase” is. He is right. Actually, the idea of any fight between two individuals lasting two weeks (especially when about something as inconsequential as a suitcase) is ridiculous. Obviously, it is understandable that the people involved may want some time (maybe a few hours or a couple of days) to calm down and reconsider their feelings about the fight. But “taking space” about the same issue beyond a couple of days? That solves nothing.

Whether the fight is with a colleague, a significant other or a friend, completely avoiding the other person (not to mention the original disagreement) for too long leads nowhere positive and usually implies one of two scenarios: “I haven’t been mad for days but my stubborn desire to ‘win’ this fight by not being the one to talk first is more important to me than solving this” or “I’m still mad and obviously am okay with losing you over this, otherwise I would say something.” If you can honestly and sincerely assess yourself to the point where you realize that neither scenario matches how you have been feeling and that you truly want to mend fences, the solution is simple: speak to the person directly.

“Baggage”, if albeit a bit indirectly, also deals with the notion of how a “little fight” is usually not about that one fight at all. In the heat of the moment, it can be easy to think that your frustration with the other person really is about, say, a suitcase. When you take the time to truly consider it, however, you will usually realize that the “little fight” merely symbolizes a more general, often deeper frustration. For instance, Debra’s comment that she feels she does “everything” around the house complements a repeated theme in the show concerning how Debra often feels unappreciated and wishes Ray would help out more. There are definitely episodes throughout the series where Debra directly explains her feelings to Ray and he understands. For comedic effect, Ray’s helpfulness typically does not last too long. In real life, of course, directly telling someone why a particular issue upsets you so much ideally garners a more lasting understanding.

Finally, there is Marie’s humorous yet poignant line: “Don’t let a suitcase full of cheese be your big fork and spoon.” Probably one of my favorite lines in the entire series, its message is vital and clear: do not let a minor disagreement weigh you down. Also, never fill a suitcase with cheese.