feminist classics of 80s TV: ‘Anything But Love’ and ‘Beauty and the Beast’
Funny how jumbling old TV shows together accidentally, like happens sometimes when they coincidentally get released on DVD around the same time, makes you see connections between them you never expected. Like how a beloved sitcom and a beloved fantasy, both new on DVD but hailing from the late 1980s, could highlight how much ground women have lost in the interim years. Not too long ago, women were following “Rules” for snaring husbands, and today we’re all supposedly “opting out” of careers to be mommies, but in the ‘80s, the idea of having a career and love, if in less than conventional ways, was still a fresh, hopeful one.
I fondly remember Anything But Love, and when I say that this is one of the best TV series ever made, and one of my favorites, you need to know that this show started out with a huge strike against it: it’s a sitcom, and I hate sitcoms. But Anything But Love doesn’t just transcend the drawbacks of the format — the emphasis on snappy, clichéd one-liners over humor that springs organically from plot and character; a reliance on stereotypes over unique and genuine personalities — it reinvigorated the format in a way that still has not been completely taken advantage of more than a decade and a half later. The platonic romance of magazine writers Hannah Miller and Marty Gold — played, in one of the greatest TV pairings of all time, by Jamie Lee Curtis and Richard Lewis — and their witty, sophisticated friendship set the stage for the likes of Seinfeld and Scrubs, but no comedy series has done a better job of breathing believable life into complex, flawed, but ultimately irresistible people as this one. Unlike most sitcoms, which trade on the brutality of humiliation, this series was never less than truly in love with its characters — the joke was never on Hannah and Marty; we only ever laughed with them, not at them. BEST TOUCH OF OPTIMISTIC FEMINISM: Hannah and her best friend’s in-joke, in which they call each other “Mrs. Schmenckman,” a reference to their childhood dream of marrying brothers, and to their adult realization that their girlhood fantasies of what adult women are “supposed” to be is the biggest joke of all. (Volume 1 of Anything But Love includes all 28 episodes from the first season on three discs, including the unaired pilot, plus audio commentary by Curtis and Lewis on select episodes and two featurettes.) [buy at Amazon]
On the other hand, I never saw Beauty and the Beast, but I know that fans of fantasy television have been waiting for this 20-year-old series to arrive on DVD for a long time. They may be disappointed to discover that nothing seems to have been done with the video, which is grainy and scratchy in spots, nor with the audio, which remains stolidly mono. And there are no extras of any kind: no commentaries, no featurettes, nothing at all to feed fan hunger. (The more cynical ones will surely suspect that this is merely a tease for a fuller-featured release to come, one that will force us purchase another set.) But as a way to discover this wonderful show for the first time, this is still a worthy indulgence. Man-beast Vincent (Ron Perlman, strikingly expressive even under the heavy makeup that transforms his face into something lionesque) lives in the baroque demesne hidden under the streets of 1980s New York City, a world of candlelight and poetry and romanticism of all stripes. Catherine (Linda Hamilton) is a busy district attorney and socialite, a product of the feminist revolution who values career above all else. They meet when he rescues her after a vicious street crime, and their seemingly irreconcilable worlds clash through 22 episodes across six discs that pit old manners and mores against new and challenge these unlikely, spiritual lovers to dare to embrace the impossibility of their being together. Perhaps the most fantastical element of the show is not the physical monstrousness of its hero but that he’s a man who talks so much about his emotions. But that’s why we gals love this show so dearly. BEST TOUCH OF OPTIMISTIC FEMINISM: The entire ethos of the show, which is wholly supportive of Catherine’s unconventional choices, and which plays happily with Katharine Hepburn’s snarky, feminist, but fully adoring-of-men conviction that sexes should live next door to each other — or above- and underground from each other — and merely visit once in a while. [buy at Amazon]
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