A Girl Thing


By Cynthia Fuchs

PopMatters Film and TV Editor

Good Behavior

It’s true that A Girl Thing concerns girls, or more accurately, women of various ages and backgrounds. But it doesn’t appear that they have a communal “thing,” unless you count the fact that they’re all wealthy, or at least doing well enough that they can afford to wear designer outfits and see the same upscale psychiatrist, the eminently sensible and professional Dr. Noonan (Stockard Channing). She’s the element that links the four separate storylines in Showtime’s anthology series, which winds up being a shallow excavation of gendered trials and tribulations (with a solid soundtrack by Terence Blanchard). As you might surmise, given this set-up, each story is about working out some specific relationship problem—romantic, workplace, and familial. Each leads to a trite resolution, in which the women learn to behave better, that is, more in keeping with social norms.

As the arbiter of these norms, Dr. Noonan is on screen a lot. You not only see her in her office with patients, but also outside her office—yelling at cabbies while she crosses the street, greeting her dog when she comes home from work, getting common sense advice from her local coffee shop owner, May (Margo Martindale). In the office, Dr. Noonan takes sass from her secretary Lani (S. Epatha Merkerson, whose immense talents are wasted here) and most annoyingly, registers her post-session thoughts on a mini-tape recorder.

The first story, titled “It Don’t Mean a Thing if It Ain’t Got That Swing,” involves a first lesbian experience for Lauren (Elle Macpherson). Her problem is not with her partner, the vivacious and intelligent Casey (Kate Capshaw), but with her reputation, or maybe it’s her self-image. While the segment focuses on Lauren’s dilemma—which she tells her doctor in installments, like a soap opera—but it’s hard not to wonder why Casey is interested in her, because, aside from being tall, blond, and perfect-like-a-model, Lauren is unbelievably dull. You never hear her say anything remotely amusing or interesting (though Casey tells her best friend/confidante that she “makes me laugh”). Exacerbating Lauren’s self-doubts is the grief she gets from her supposed friend and fellow lawyer at her fancy firm, prissy Claire (Kelly Rowan, perhaps best known as the object of Tony Todd’s affection in Candyman 2). Claire frets that Lauren’s decision to sleep with a woman threatens the stability of her own sexuality—my god, you just can’t tell who might be lesbian or gay! Their conflict begins to affect their work, and so it must be settled by their boss, a gray-haired fatherly type (Kevin McNulty), who sets the girls down and tells them to behave.

The second segment is also about getting women to behave. It concerns three grown women dealing with the death of their mother (Elizabeth Franz, seen in videotape) and the ridiculous test she puts them to, in order to “win” her considerable estate. The sisters—Kim (Rebecca De Mornay), Helen (Glenne Headly), and Kathy (Allison Janney)—apparently dislike one another so much that Dead Mom arranges for them to spend a week in her mansion, under surveillance by video cameras in every room. Dead Mom’s lawyer watches from his office, and every time the sisters act badly (hit, kick, or variously abuse one another), he offers a warning by way of a big-brotherish voice, warning them that they’ll lose the prize. As if the women’s instruction by this guy isn’t bad enough, they are also looked after at the mansion by Dead Mom’s faithful maid, Alice (Irma P. Hall). She cooks for them, offers maternal advice, and sets them straight when they’re acting out. I hardly need mention that, while Hall is a wonderful performer, this good mammy figure is tired.

The second night of the series begins with a segment starring Lynne Whitfield as Nia, gorgeous, rich, and neglected by her husband Paul (Scott Bakula). Suspecting that he has a lover, she sends a “decoy” to test his loyalty. Rachel (Linda Hamilton) works for an agency that specializes in this sort of things, and she assures Nia that she’ll get results, because no man ever says “No” to her. When Paul does say “No” (he tells her she’s not his “type”), Rachel is (unprofessionally) furious and trails him to a diner where he picks up his other woman, a waitress named Betty (Mia Farrow). Instead of fighting, the women hook up to plot revenge, suggesting that women of various ages, races, and classes can feel abused by no-count men, indeed, the same no-count man. When Nia tells Dr. Noonan about this great idea, the shrink warns her not to do it, and indeed, by the end, the women have learned that the way to get by in this world is not to act out, but to act properly.

The last segment is the most out there, plot- and lessons-learned-wise. Suffice it to say that it takes place in Dr. Noonan’s office, where a disturbed patient, Suzanne (Camryn Manheim) busts in with a gun and takes hostages. I won’t spoil the details, except to say that it gets very silly very fast, and makes the case—again—for good behavior. Acting outrageously only makes a mess.

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/girl-thing/