Mad About You was an award-winning 90s sitcom starring Paul Reiser and Helen Hunt, as Paul and Jamie Buchman respectively. It aired on NBC for 7 seasons, from 1992-1999, and won 5 Emmy awards.
I remember watching an episode here and there on TV as a kid, but never really watched the whole show until recently. I consider myself something of a sitcom buff, and I’ve watched most of the classic TV sitcoms by this point. At some point they’ve all crossed the line into misogyny, but considering the state of American society today that’s not particularly surprising.
However, Helen Hunt famously won the Emmy for Jamie Buchman four years in a row, so I did have some expectations coming in. I literally hate-watched the first four seasons until I just couldn’t take it anymore. Considering the fact that I’ve been watch, and often enjoy, 6 seasons of The League, I think that’s saying something.
And this was before I had my education in feminism, when I was less conscious of the way sexism and misogyny affect our society.
1. Most of the episodes are written by men.
Now that I’ve become more woke, I’m less tolerant of men trying to write for women’s voices. It takes a team of writers to make each episode, and if post-2010 television has taught us anything, it’s that diversity in the writer’s room pays off.
But it’s not a secret that comedy is a boy’s club and I doubt there were too many women in the writer’s room on Mad About You. Don’t believe me? Look at the Jeannie Gaffigan character on The Jim Gaffigan Show, another autobiographical sitcom based on the life of, another, white male comic.
They co-write the show, and she’s the most realistic female character I’ve seen on TV, maybe ever.
2. The female characters are so one-dimensional.
I don’t expect women on TV or in movies to be likable. I love Mindy Lahiri, who is arguably very unlikable. But the best thing about Jamie is that she loves Paul. Lisa is just a trainwreck. Sylvia, Paul’s mom only lives for her family. Fran is another walking tired trope, the compulsive micro-manager. Theresa Stemple, Jamie’s mother, is toxic to both her daughters.
Literally every female character is just a tired trope.
I’m not saying women don’t micromanage, toxic monster-in-laws don’t exist, or even that there aren’t women with crippling mental illness.
What I’m saying is that isn’t all that they are. Women are complex people, with varying good and bad qualities.
That is not reflected in the writing on this show.
3. The female relationships are unrealistic.
For starters they’re annoying AF. The women don’t seem to like each at all. They just tolerate each other for some reason or another. Not to mention the relationship between the female relatives. They’re just all so cliche.
The sister dynamic between Jamie and Lisa is so one-dimensional. When has anyone ever seen a sibling relationship between two sisters lacking any depth whatsoever?
Fran and Jamie’s friendship lacks the warmth to make it believable. And the toxic mother-daughter relationship between Jamie, Lisa, and their mother is somehow not believable and tired at the same time.
4. Almost every single episode is directed by a man.
The director is the one that brings the script to life, so their interpretation has a lot of impact on the episodes they direct. Over twenty years have passed since this show premiered, yet most directors in Hollywood are still male. Like, an overwhelming majority.
Very few episodes were directed by women.
So this issue, compiled with a lack of diversity in the writer’s room, results in very uninteresting female characters. It might as well have been called the Paul Reiser show, because he was the best part of the show.
And that’s not a coincidence.
It’s because, while Paul Reiser is a great comedian, the material he had to work with was award-winning. The writing and direction for Paul Buchman’s character were fantastic. The same cannot be said for Jamie Buchman, who, for some reason, was lauded for her realism.
I hate Ursula, which is the point. I get it.
But Ursula is only funny as a foil to Phoebe. Without Phoebe, she’s just another problematic, one-dimensional female character. As a millennial born in 1989, I knew Ursula from Friends, not from Mad About You.
On Friends, she makes sense. On this show, she’s just another example of the problematic way women are represented in comedy and on television.