INT. CROWDED NEW YORK CITY SUBWAY – MORNING
It’s an unbearably hot, humid July day. One sweaty, solitary 20-year-old girl stands against the center pole. Her appearance is marked by heels she obviously is not handling well, a University of Michigan umbrella that negates any pretense of style and white headphones resting innocently in her ears. She laughs uncontrollably.
* * *
Obviously, that perspiring loser was me. I spent my summer riding New York subways, and to pass the time I became enamored with podcasts. (Yes, I’m a Millennial, come at me.) I’ll admit, I had never really understood the podcast game, as a lifelong reader myself. But my much more cultured friend gave me a list of ones she thought I would like, and my summer became marked with having strangers’ voices constantly in my ear.
Now back at school, one of those podcasts is still a weekly touchpoint for me — “Call Your Girlfriend,” a cast primarily about two long distance best friends catching up every week. Ann Friedman and Aminatou Sow — both warm, accomplished and well-read women in their early 30s — spend an hour each week talking about a range of topics, all squarely within my wheelhouse: Feminism, politics, Beyoncé, menstrual cramps and “The Good Wife.”
Ann and Aminatou are the long-distance besties that I hope my close female friends and I to be someday. But they also are one of the few external expressions of close female friendship I’ve felt connected to in a long time. Barring 2005’s seminal “Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants” film and Abbi and Ilana on “Broad City,” pop culture has a dearth of accurately represented girl best friends. Other than my close family members and few friends of the male inclination, I can say pretty much exclusively that the most important people in my life have been my female friends. I want to see more of that in the media I so reverently consume.
There are shows and movies that stab at it: “Gilmore Girls,” one of the most feminist shows of all time, is a celebratory homage to strong and intelligent women. And yes, Lorelai and Rory each have a best friend: positive, supportive, slightly dependent figures in both their lives. But on a show that is so female-focused it barely passes the reverse Bechdel test, there are few Gilmore female relationships beyond these singular best friends during the seven-season course of the show.
In contrast, HBO’s “Girls” doesn’t lack a variety of friendships, but the show spends more time engaging with the selfish, destructive side of friendship, never building up the warmth and connection that can and should be present.
On the other hand, “Friday Night Lights” never pretended to be an expert on female friendship. It was a show about a small-town football coach and his luminous wife. But since its debut in 2006, “FNL” has been rightfully heralded as a show that thrives in its relationships — the spectrum of intimacy is palpable between all the different types of characters that exist in Dillon, Texas. But while we see Coach and his players connect, young teens fall in love, fathers and sons crumble and one marriage stay blessedly strong throughout, “FNL” never gives us the relationship that I find most relatable: The close female friendship.
Why do some of the best writers of our time struggle with this relationship? Is it that writing is still a man’s game in Hollywood? Or that executives can’t imagine a female relationship that isn’t sexualized in some form? I really don’t know. But I can count on one hand the number of friendships I have seen in pop culture that reflect my own, and I don’t like that.
Enter: USA’s “Playing House.” I’ll admit, I’m way behind the times with this show, now deep into its second season. “House,” a half-hour sitcom written by and starring real-life best friends Lennon Parnam and Jessica St. Clair, follows two adult women at crossroads in their lives. Maggie is eight months pregnant when she discovers her husband is cheating on her, and Emma quits her high-powered job to come home and help her raise the baby.
It’s the perfect domestic partnership my best friends and I dream of having, if sexual preference wasn’t an issue. But really, this show gets it. Maggie and Emma are comfortable with one another in ways only female friends can be. They fight, but it’s never overblown or disastrous. They understand each other’s strengths and weaknesses deeply, and feed into one another’s insecurities only when feeling insecure themselves. They have fun together. They laugh often. They talk about boys and sex and careers with equal measure. As a show, “Playing House” isn’t perfect — the humor is risk-free and the plot points are never particularly strong. But like “Call Your Girlfriend,” it’s a comforting and rarely seen expression of female friendship. I see myself and my friends in Maggie and Emma, and I’m grateful that their relationship is never belittled.
I know I am lucky in the female friendships I have had, to hold such a high standard within pop culture. But in a world infatuated with bromances, I’d love a little more representation. As I sit here on my porch, drinking a beer with my best friends — all smart and kind and interesting and funny — I can’t help but think: Why hasn’t anyone made a show about us? Hollywood, please get to work.