Sunday, June 23, 2024

The World Needs More Paula

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Like possibly all women, I have to admit that Sex and the City has been a bit of a guilty pleasure for me. This, despite the show’s many and totally distracting absurdities.

Chief among them being, of course, the protagonist. No seriously, Carrie Bradshaw is a ridiculous and totally unrelatable person. (And she’s a terrible writer—but I really shouldn’t say that because only one thing can happen when one writer calls another “terrible.”) Am I supposed to relate to her shoe obsession? How does she afford an apartment in Manhattan writing one weekly 500-word column in one newspaper? How is she so thin when she does nothing but eat out, drink cocktails and claim that “shopping is [her] cardio”? And how does she afford it? Also, she’s shallow and self-absorbed. (And a bad writer.)

No, the only reason anyone ever liked that show was because of the secondary characters, Carrie’s girl squad: Samantha, Charlotte, and Miranda. Not only did the three of them have actual jobs that they were actually good at, but they even had vaguely relatable arcs during the course of the show. (And Miranda is the most relatable character ever. We all know that if I ever received an “I love you” cookie, I would eat the whole thing too.) Why wasn’t the show about them, for fuck’s sake? Why did I have to sit through that stupid “Big or Aiden” bullshit to find out if Miranda would move to Brooklyn, or Charlotte would ever have a baby?

I mention this because it seem to be a tradition in female-led comedies that the side characters be better than the protagonist. Who always has to be a terrible person, for some reason?

Case in point, my new guilty pleasure Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. (I lie…there is no guilt.) This show is about a successful cutthroat lawyer who has a mental breakdown and moves to a crappy suburb of LA to get back with her high school boyfriend. Except she didn’t move for him. Except she totally did.

Rebecca Bunch is not Carrie Bradshaw levels of bad protagonist. She may have inherited her mother’s borderline personality disorder, and her relationship with money might be just as bad, but they are moments where I can see myself in her, or relate her behavior to humans. But, there’s no denying that there are times when I much rather watch a show about Paula.

Paula is a paralegal at the crappy new law firm that Rebecca works at, and she quickly becomes her BFF. (They like to commit minor felonies together in order to further Rebecca’s love life.) Paula is middle aged, eats far too many doughnuts, has no idea how to be a good wife or mother, is underpaid and overworked, is secretly brilliant, and omg, Paula is every single one of us, isn’t she?

The moment I knew that Paula would be the most real character ever was in the seventh episode of the first season, “I’m So Happy that Josh is So Happy”. While Rebecca is running around being a literal homewrecker, Paula almost has an affair with a hot guy.

Yeah, almost. The show had spent quite a bit of time building up how unfulfilling Paula’s home life, and marriage in particular, was. It all seemed very bad for her. I thought I knew for sure how this story would go; Paula would have this affair, rediscover her empowering sexiness, and get rid of the deadweight in her life that was Scott. For empowerment.

But no. Not only does Paula decide not to have this affair (with some help from Rebecca, to be fair), but she and Scott work things out. Scott’s not a bad guy, after all, and there’s a reason he and Paula got together in the first place, they were just going through a rough patch. A state of affairs that I would argue is much more relatable than her BFF’s roller coaster of serial monogamy.  

But the Paula moment that all but took my breath away happened at the beginning of Season 2. Paula, who is already an awesome paralegal, decided that she was going to go to law school. Her boss even pulled some string so that she could start classes early. But there was a hitch, Paula had an unplanned pregnancy.

I swear, I’ve never seen this topic dealt with with such sensitivity and candor before. It was just so goddamn real. Paula agonizes for days over what to do. At first she thinks any possibility of going to law school is over, and she’s rather bummed about it. But a rather random confirmation that, yeah, she would be an awesome lawyer convinces her that she should get an abortion.

There are two reasons I loved this. Firstly, when was the last time you saw an abortion storyline involving an adult woman who already has children, much less a middle-aged, and middle class, women? I’m not saying it’s not important to talk about this issue in the context of teenagers and poverty, but Paula might be a more accurate representation of women who get abortions anyway. And to be honest it’s also nice to hear about abortion in fiction just in a situation that’s not a life-or-death crisis. (Because abortion is a valid option, even when there’s not life-or-death crisis.)

Secondly, like I said, Paula is all of us. By “us” I mean the women who have taken it upon ourselves to take care of others and put their needs before our own. You see, Paula had her family to support her, which I’m sure she found very comforting,

But she had to go through this without her best friend. It’s not that Rebecca didn’t care, she was just too wrapped up in her single rich person shenanigans to notice, and Paula didn’t want to bother her.

Art imitates life, just as life imitates art, because just as Paula is every overworked mom, she’s every fat/old/quirky female side character in every female lead comedy ever. She’s always there, making the show better, teaching us about ourselves, an island of realness in the ocean of contrivance and ridiculousness that even good comedy often is. (By design, one hopes.) So my question is simply, why can’t we have a show about Paula?

I would watch the fuck out of a show about Paula.

Images courtesy of the CW

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