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.

 

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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.”

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            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.