By Rosie White. I.B. Tauris & Co, 2018. 226 pages. 978-1-78453-362-5, pp. viii–226.
While many people flick on their favorite show after dinner as a means of checking out of the late capitalism existences that they inhabit from nine to five, Rosie White’s Television Comedy and Femininity: Queering Gender reminds readers that television is unusually rich with critique of those very existences. As White exposes in her intricately researched yet accessibly written scholarship, TV comedies have openly challenged heteronormativity, heterofemininity, and hegemonic masculinity since the earliest days of network sitcom, and “unruly” women have always held an integral role in those challenges (63–64). White notes, “Funny women are always already odd, other, and out of step with the fiction of hegemonic femininity,” paving the way for the queer readings and reorientations that she enacts throughout her work (13). White uncovers, recovers, and deconstructs feminine queerness, demonstrating how gender and sexual orientation have developed within television narrative through feminist and postfeminist eras.
White’s book covers the extensive critical ground in relatively few pages, offering queer readings of landmark American television classics such as I Love Lucy, Sex and the City, 30 Rock, and Parks and Recreation; lesser-known American sitcoms like The Burns and Allan Show; and British television hits like Smack the Pony. While White thoroughly catalogs representations of the “funny peculiar” nature of unconventional femininity, Television Comedy and Femininity by no means lets anyone off the critical hook (12). White’s analysis acts as a critical pharmakon, identifying both the poison and potential remedy disseminated through television comedy depictions of femininity. White levies critical blows at obvious transgressors Friends and Two and a Half Men as well as less apparent perpetrators The Big Bang Theory, 30 Rock, and Parks and Recreation. White observes that while many comedy shows launch themselves featuring explicit challenges to heteronormative and hegemonic gender identifications, the pressures of capitalist Hollywood inevitably result in a capitulation to heteronormative romantic pairings and displays of hegemonic gender behaviors (118).
Rosie White’s Television Comedy and Femininity: Queering Gender is an enjoyable read because it speaks to what we find familiar, yet in the familiar White finds the queer, the ambivalent, and sometimes the problematic, exposing the need for continued re-readings and reorientations of even our most beloved pop culture productions.
Clayton N. Cobb
University of Nevada, Las Vegas