On this week’s Funny Women Survival Guide podcast I had the pleasure of joining Alexis Strum in talking to Pamela Adlon and Celia Imrie. We discussed lockdown in our respective countries, Better Things, that Tilted dance scene. Another thing that came up was Adlon’s character Sam Fox’s relationship status and that, in turn, got me thinking about how we view single women characters.
If you aren’t familiar with Pamela Adlon’s show Better Things then allow me to briefly catch you up; Pamela plays Sam Fox, a voiceover artist, actor and single mother to three daughters, who lives next door to her English mother Phyllis, played by Celia Imrie. The show centres around Sam and all the issues that come up when you’re juggling a professional, family and social life, Sam occasionally dates men but so far these relationships haven’t stuck. Because when you’re already looking after four people, is it necessary, or even sensible, to seek out a fifth?
Yet, when I think about the women leads from most comedy films and shows, often her storyline ends in finding true happiness in a relationship with a man. The only difference I have noted is that in films the woman is child-like waiting for her handsome prince to step in like Daddy issues on toast and in sitcom the single woman hunts down a man to mother. Either way the solution to a woman comedy lead’s life is always a man.
In films if a woman character sleeps around it is not because she enjoys no-strings-attached sex, it is because she hasn’t found the right man (a man who will very kindly overlook her bed notches). Or, if her character has a successful career, this is not reason enough to live and she must be looking for a man full of sperm to impregnate her. If she is a bumbling creature too old to be a Manic Pixie Dream Girl, then she needs a man to step in and help her focus. On what, we don’t know because the film always abruptly ends once they get together.
In sitcom, we have the examples of successful chef Monica Bing née Gellar, who spends her much yearned for married life helping Chandler find his true calling; hers being marriage and kids, his being a career in advertising. Rachel Green abandons a dream fashion career in Paris to be with Ross and his double standards. In Cheers, Diane Chambers thrives professionally when single but is reduced to a mithering inconvenience at the bar when she and Sam Malone are together. Effectively, in sitcom when a woman is paired with a man, the man’s storyline is augmented, hers is halved.
This is not to say we dislike single women characters. There is a reason Bridget Jones is single for the majority of each book (and film), we like our women characters to be single as long as she is on a manhunt, but lose interest when they get shacked up.
Since speaking with Pamela Adlon and Celia Imrie I have been wracking my brains to think of women characters in comedy who are single and stay that way throughout a series run. Fran in Black Books only goes on a couple of dates I suppose, Daisy in This Country doesn’t display any desire to be in a relationship. We all know Daisy in Spaced ends up with Tim. Absolutely Fabulous’s twice-divorced Eddy Monsoon is arguably in a relationship with BFF Patsy… after that, I’m struggling to think of many.
It doesn’t just make sense to me that Sam Fox remains more or less a singleton – I inferred from Adlon that it makes sense to her too, put it this way, I don’t think season four of Better Things is going to end on a wedding – I think it is important that Sam joins the small group of comedy’s single women for whom singleness isn’t a character trait.
You can listen to Pamela Adlon and Celia Imrie on the Funny Women Survival Guide podcast here!