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What Would Nancy Do? Jenji Kohan’s Female Anti-Hero

by Ethan Tussey

by Maya Montanez Smukler for IN MEDIA RES

In TV’s last decade, there has been much talk about the female anti-hero. Tony Soprano and Walter White’s bad behavior is beyond reproach, but would a woman character be afforded the same indulgences? Many have said it’s impossible. That she inevitably will be saddled with too much female baggage to enjoy the perks of anti-heroism—to be nasty and revered. For her it would be only: Bad mother. Bad wife. Bad girl. However, it is the way the female anti-heroine’s badness is defined by and collides with her femaleness that makes her so compelling. Agent Carrie Mathison’s psychosis. Nurse Jackie Peyton’s pills. Doctor Mindy Lahiri and Hannah Horvath’s narcissism. Even gladiator Olivia Pope is throwing her white hat into the ring with some questionable behavior.

In 2005, Jenji Kohan’s Showtime series "Weeds" (2005-2012) introduced anti-hero Nancy Botwin (Mary Louise Parker), an upper middle class suburban housewife turned international drug dealer; accomplice to murder; sexy and slutty, on her own terms, which were often questionable ones; and the nucleus of a tight-knit family who was as loyal as they were dysfunctional. She even did time in prison (between season 6 and 7).

On OITNB, Kohan introduces an entire prison full of questionable characters to root for. Jail is the perfect setting for the anti-hero. Everyone has done something bad to get there, but the details of their crime may not be as cut and dry as the legal system believes or the television audience expects. Similar to Nancy, Piper compensates for her ability to offend others with a tenacity that is inspiring. Also like her predecessor, Piper is a privileged gal making due under unforeseen circumstances and while we feel sorry for her (the shower, the toilet, the tampon sandwich), we were slightly annoyed with her to begin with. Piper is more sensitive to others than Nancy: she wants to make alliances to survive prison, and she also needs human contact to live. However, the end of season 1 suggests that Piper has a dark side that would rival even Nancy Botwin’s worst moments in her short shorts and high-heeled sandals.

What Would Nancy Do? Jenji Kohan’s Female Anti-Hero

by Ethan Tussey

by Maya Montanez Smukler for IN MEDIA RES

In TV’s last decade, there has been much talk about the female anti-hero. Tony Soprano and Walter White’s bad behavior is beyond reproach, but would a woman character be afforded the same indulgences? Many have said it’s impossible. That she inevitably will be saddled with too much female baggage to enjoy the perks of anti-heroism—to be nasty and revered. For her it would be only: Bad mother. Bad wife. Bad girl. However, it is the way the female anti-heroine’s badness is defined by and collides with her femaleness that makes her so compelling. Agent Carrie Mathison’s psychosis. Nurse Jackie Peyton’s pills. Doctor Mindy Lahiri and Hannah Horvath’s narcissism. Even gladiator Olivia Pope is throwing her white hat into the ring with some questionable behavior.

In 2005, Jenji Kohan’s Showtime series "Weeds" (2005-2012) introduced anti-hero Nancy Botwin (Mary Louise Parker), an upper middle class suburban housewife turned international drug dealer; accomplice to murder; sexy and slutty, on her own terms, which were often questionable ones; and the nucleus of a tight-knit family who was as loyal as they were dysfunctional. She even did time in prison (between season 6 and 7).

On OITNB, Kohan introduces an entire prison full of questionable characters to root for. Jail is the perfect setting for the anti-hero. Everyone has done something bad to get there, but the details of their crime may not be as cut and dry as the legal system believes or the television audience expects. Similar to Nancy, Piper compensates for her ability to offend others with a tenacity that is inspiring. Also like her predecessor, Piper is a privileged gal making due under unforeseen circumstances and while we feel sorry for her (the shower, the toilet, the tampon sandwich), we were slightly annoyed with her to begin with. Piper is more sensitive to others than Nancy: she wants to make alliances to survive prison, and she also needs human contact to live. However, the end of season 1 suggests that Piper has a dark side that would rival even Nancy Botwin’s worst moments in her short shorts and high-heeled sandals.

Female Anit-Hero's and Orange is the New Black

Trailer to Weeds

from Weeds Season 4 - Made For Walkin' Trailer (2008)
Creator: Lionsgate Television
Distributor: YouTube
Posted by Ethan Tussey
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