Uncertain Attraction in Work in Progress and Dare Me – The New Yorker

Posted: December 17, 2019 at 2:51 am


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Showtimes Work in Progress opens on a dark note, with its heroine threatening to kill herself in a hundred and eighty days if happiness doesnt come her way. I mean, Im forty-five, Abby gripes to her therapist. Im fat. Im this queer dyke who has done shit in her lifeand that is my identity? In a funny, curmudgeonly monologue, Abby describes herself as an unfinished building ruining a good neighborhoodan eyesore. When she glances up, her shrink, still grinning supportively, has dropped dead.

Its a Borscht Belt gag, but, then, Abbys whole life feels like a punch line. Still, buried in that Eeyore-ish lament, theres something else: Abbys girlish fantasy of herself as a fucking damsel longing for rescueby a prince or a princess, the details dont matter. Magically, thats just what she gets when she meets Chris, a twenty-two-year-old waiter who Abby (Abby McEnany) initially assumes is hitting on her straight sister. Played by the supremely chill Theo Germaine, Chris looks like Abbys prince in shining tank tops, capable of fixing the unfixable.

This budding romance isnt precisely a Nora Ephron meet-cute, but its a charmer in a new way. Abby is unfazed by the news that Chris is trans, and, despite the generational gulf, theres symmetry to their gender issues: to strangers, Chris, who cant afford top surgery, reads as a cute lesbian tomboy, while Abby, with her shlumpy butch charisma, short-cropped gray hair, and button-down shirts, has spent her life being mistaken for male, even in lesbian bars. In college, she was taunted as Pat, after the Saturday Night Live character, and when, on their first date, she and Chris run into the comedian who played Pat, Julia Sweeney (an executive producer for the show, gamely playing herself), Chris urges Abby to tell her off. I really love conflict, he explains, smiling sweetly. Because hes twenty-two, Chris is stunned to hear of the existence of Patwhats so funny about a person whose gender cant be guessed?

Work in Progress, like its heroine, is sweetly imperfect: not every bit lands, and Chris can feel, at moments, too good to be true. But the series explores, with warmth and originality, the messy gulf between the era when Abby came outas an overall-wearing romantic in a frat-boy world, drinking in lesbian bars full of folksingersand Chriss community of cheerful poly hipsters in Spock ears, corsets, and throuples. When Chris takes Abby to a night club, which features bare-assed burlesque and signs for fisting demonstrations, she groans, I look like Mitt Romney, Jr. Junior? Chris shoots back. In another episode, in a cab, the couple text their sexual preferences back and forth, turning informed consent into flirtation. PENETRATION, Chris texts. I dont think I can fit my Thoughts into one text, Abby texts back, throwing off panicked GIFs of Mr. Furley, from Threes Company.

In many ways, Work in Progress is a familiar entry in an established genre: its an indie comedy by and about a clever, dyspeptic misfit looking for love. Like Pamela Adlons Better Things and Tig Notaros One Mississippi, its about a single misanthrope cautiously dipping her toe into the dating pool. Like Josh Thomass Please Like Me and Maria Bamfords Lady Dynamite, its interested in mental illness and self-help. But Work in Progresswhich is co-written and produced by Lilly Wachowskiis smartly edited, full of odd little montages and visual juxtapositions. It has its own distinctive, salty vibe, driven by McEnanys simultaneously self-loathing and self-aggrandizing swagger. Shes an irritant with charm, along with genuine baggage. (Among other things, she has O.C.D.; as annoyed people bang on the bathroom door, she washes her hands raw.) She also has a secret closet full of notebooks in which shes recorded her whole life. Nobody knows it, but Abby is telling their story. In certain ways, Work in Progress is a mirror image of Hannah Gadsbys Nanette, which argues that self-deprecation, especially for people like her and Abby, amounts to self-harm. Work in Progress takes the position that it might be something better: a tool that, in the right hands, could renovate an unwelcoming culture in Abbys imagecrankiness, grief, and all.

In Dare Me, on USA, a cheerleading team in a depressed Rust Belt town hires a new coach, a blond hot shot who the rich boosters hope will whip their squad into trophy-winning shape. What do I see? Spray tans. Gummy-bear thighs, the coach, Colette French, observes, strutting across the school gym, pinching a girls soft belly as she passes by. (Fix this, Colette says.) I do not see my top girl. One of the cheerleaders, Addy, the striving daughter of a single mom who is also a cop, falls in Colettes thrall, becoming her favorite, her babysitter, and her confidante. Addys best friend, the troublemaker Beth, sees Colette as the enemy.

We know from the start that something bad is coming: those unexplained flash-forwards to a black pool of blood are kind of a giveaway. But while the series, an adaptation of a novel by Megan Abbott, is full of shady twistsblackmail, cyber chicanery, adultery straight out of Double Indemnitythe criminal mystery is not really its central appeal. Its a sharp character portrait and a dreamy mood piece, one style inflecting the other. Beneath the shows poetic, occasionally repetitious narration (there are only so many times we can hear Addy brood, in voice-over, about the fact that people have shadows and wear masks), theres a clear-eyed examination of a small town full of dangerously bored kids, partying in the woods, soft targets for coaches and military recruiters who offer them a ticket out of the busted local economy.

Still, the power of the show flows just as much through its imagerya decadent, unashamedly voyeuristic vision of athletic beauty, with a hallucinogenic verve that keeps it from becoming cheesy. Closeups turn a bruise or a glittering lip into a fetish object. It often feels as if the girls are being shot in slo-mo, even when theyre not. The camera lurks by the lockers, watching the team shower, vomit, and spar; it hovers under the bleachers, ogling muscular thighs. It takes a Gods-eye view of the squads wild lifts, nudges in as they grind at parties, stares out of the mirror when they apply false lashes. To call these shots objectifying would miss the point: they replicate the way the girls see themselves, as both prey and predator. Dare Me is certainly not the only show on TV with bitchy, gorgeous cheerleadersits a clich of many teen series, in multiple genresbut it treats their experiences with a freaky, sensual gravity, not as an arch joke.

The show is especially interested in female ambitionand the ways users can warp a girl-power fantasy to suit their own needs. Who runs the world? Girls!, Beths sleazy dad announces. Youve seen the T-shirt. For him, the team is a lure for investment in a lucrative stadium deal; in private, he bribes his daughters with fancy purses. Some of the best scenes are between Beth and her dissolute mother, a pill-head divorce at the crossroads between Eugene ONeill and The Real Housewives, who is a different kind of coach. You have to play the part: smile and smile, she tells Beth, pressing her to manipulate her dad. Maybe it is my fault. I made you think you can be anything, do anything. Beth answers like a Peter Pan desperate not to go Wendy: I hope I never grow up at all.

Amid a strong cast, Willa Fitzgerald is the standout as the enigmatic Colette, who alternates between spurring her cheerleaders to victory and inviting them over for drunken dance parties. Hanging out with high-school kids seems to work as a contact high for her, normalizing her hidden recklessness. You are the one who wanted the house! she hisses at her husband, as they fight. You love a pretty front. When Colette cheats on him, the show has the respect not to film the sex scenes clinically or from a distance: in the honorable tradition of noir, it looks like the kind of sex youd risk your life for.

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Uncertain Attraction in Work in Progress and Dare Me - The New Yorker

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December 17th, 2019 at 2:51 am

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