Features

A Peep into the Politics of Gender-flipping

It was recently announced that US channel FX Networks are planning a female-led reboot of the UK show Peep Show. This isn’t the first time an American reboot of Peep Show has been attempted, in fact, it’s not even the second time. However, this is the first time women have been used to replace the original duo Mark and Jez.

Now, I loved Peep Show, but do I want to see it again, only this time with American women? Hm, not really. Do I want to see any of my favourite shows remade only with women in the lead? No. In fact, I don’t want to see any reboots at all, but I particularly do not want to see any reboots with a gender flip.

Is this because I hate women and do not think them capable of busting ghosts, pulling off heists, or sharing a flat in abject misery? No. It’s because these reboots all have the not so faint whiff of a hand-me-down about them and while I have no issue with thrifty living I do have a problem when the powers that be can’t be bothered to commission something new about women.

Not only does it strike me as somewhat lazy, but it also suggests that women-led projects don’t sell and that men lead the way. Even though Absolutely Fabulous, Broad City and Bridget Jones’s Diary disprove this. In fact, arguably, Miranda led the way for Fleabag, which exploits the same devices but takes the lead character to a darker place. You’re probably reading this and wondering why I went with Bridget Jones’s Diary and not Bridesmaids. Here’s why, lest we forget the brilliant film Bridesmaids was repeatedly sold in to us as the female The Hangover.

I’ve seen The Hangover. It isn’t the slightest bit like Bridesmaids other than it’s a single-sex ensemble piece and people are getting married in it. But in order to make its success acceptable Bridesmaids still had to be sold with the disclaimer that it was like a male film we all know. So everybody calm down.

But back to the women-led Peep Show. Over the weekend one half of the original Peep Show writing duo Sam Bain wrote an article for the Guardian in which he compares his experience writing comedy in the UK and now in the US. Acknowledging his privilege as a white man in comedy, Bain touches on his rather haphazard approach to diverse casting, which was to consider a diverse range of actors for each role. A technique he proposed for his new project in the US, “But my US producers said they weren’t convinced by this approach. First, because it’s no guarantee of ending up with an inclusive cast; but also because they felt it was important to write specifically for black or Asian characters, rather than having characters who are “ethnically neutral”.”

Bain makes no attempt to argue with this, instead agreeing with the logic of it as well as discovering the merit in it. “As I rewrote, I noticed the script was starting to evolve. Specifying the ethnicity of each character brought the subject of race more and more into the script”

I don’t particularly care for societally assigned gender binary ideas, but unless you have the opportunity to be raised by wolves it tends to impact on the person you become and therefore taking in a gender or race’s common lived experience in a script adds greatly to the roundness and plausibility of a character.

Of course gender and race are different subjects within the sprawl that is ‘diversity’. But a similar approach applies to writing scripts with a character’s gender in mind. Am I saying men can only write men and women can only write women characters? No, of course not, but I will say you can’t shoehorn a woman into a male role without some hiccoughs. For instance Danny Ocean has no idea how much time cis-women spend trying to make other men feel comfortable keeping their egos intact, Peter Venkman has never fretted over giving the wrong impression romantically and I dare say Jez was never wolf-whistled in the street when he was 12, although I suspect he’d tell his mates he definitely was.

Perhaps I am being too harsh when it comes to this Peep Show gender flip. Although I do rather balk at Bain’s statement that “The freshness of making the character female seemed the simplest, most effective rewrite imaginable.” when describing his response to Gravity. I should take into account this project is being led by Karey Dornetto whose CV includes Portlandia and Community.

Bain concludes: “Ultimately, the best way of building gender inclusivity into scripts is to get women to write them. I can’t wait to find out what sick and twisted bullshit goes on inside the minds of a pair of female losers.”

I just wish FX had given Dornetto the chance to create some brand new female losers.