television

Television Just Perfected the Abortion Episode 3 Times Within a Month

Wound up in a messy knot of religion, politics, gender, and healthcare is abortion, one of the most divisive subjects in our nation right now. Abortion has always been tricky for television shows to tackle, and especially given the impending conservative political climate about to fall on America, it’s risen from a hot-button issue to a scalding one. But in the face of this controversy, several TV shows have to turned the issue on its head all coincidentally within the span of a few weeks.

Historically, long-running television dramas would depict abortion as a major arc in an episode or season. The decision would be treated weightily, and episodes focusing on abortion tended to take on the preachy feel of an after school special. In contrast to that, recent episodes of Jane the VirginYou’re the Worst, and Crazy Ex-Girlfriend have all left to moralizing by the wayside and instead portrayed abortions as matter-of-fact decisions that woman have had to make in order to do the right thing for themselves and their families. And most importantly of all, each abortion served only as a subplot, occurring in the background with each episode revolving around a different main issue.

As the only hourlong drama of the bunch, Jane the Virgin understandably lent the most weight to the subject. But notably that weight was not on Xiomara’s decision to have an abortion, but instead on coming to terms with telling her Catholic mother Alba about the procedure. Having spent a large chunk of the previous season reiterating the fact that she doesn’t want more children, Xiomara finds herself testing positive for pregnancy after a one-night stand with a man that she doesn’t want in her life. Xiomara gets the abortion and does not feel guilty about her decision, but she does grapple with how to break the news to Alba. When she tells her, the mother and daughter begin to fight, but in the end, Alba comes to accept her daughter’s decision and they move on together.

True to its blunt style, You’re the Worst made the rationale surrounding Lindsay’s recent abortion even less emotionally driven. After Lindsay (rightfully) realizes that she would not make an ideal mother and that she actually cannot stand her boyfriend Paul, she wistfully has one last meal where she can “eat for two” with bestie Gretchen and they set off to get her abortion as if it were between grocery shopping and doing laundry on a list of errands. To drive the point home further, a pro-life protestor even sits Lindsay down for a discussion as she makes her way into the clinic, and after hearing about her situation, the protestor admits that she agrees abortion is the best option for Lindsay in this case.

Finally, a mere days after these other two episodes of TV, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend featured what is most likely the most passing reveal of an abortion of a main character in television history. After Paula discovers she’s pregnant, she resigns herself to put her dreams of enrolling in law school on hold as she and her husband realize that they are already struggling to raise their two children and maintain a budget. But after a judge commends Paula on her impressive legal ability, she decides that it’s about time she start prioritizing her ambitions, and both her family and friends are shown to support her decision when in a quick scene we learn that Paula got an abortion and submitted her application to law school.

The shift in tone from weepy to matter-of-fact surrounding abortion would be refreshing in just one show, but coincidentally occurring in a similar fashion on three separate shows at the exact same time, it’s barometric of population that is well past religion and politics encroaching on a woman’s individual right to make the decision that is right for her. At such a tense and frightening time for the reproductive rights of women in America, it’s at least somewhat comforting to know that we can escape into television for an unsentimental depiction of a scientific procedure that has helped thousands of women in this country live better lives.

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Glimpses of The White House on Television

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As I decided to squeeze Scandal‘s “mid-season premiere” (whatever that means) in the middle of my House of Cards binge, it struck me how many of today’s popular TV shows share the same setting: The White House. And although this setting does not same name and outward appearance, its presentation and function varies considerably from show to show.

Here’s a look at how the political epicenter of America is presented in four popular television series: Scandal, Veep, House of Cards, and The West Wing. (Unfortunately, I have not seen other popular political shows such as 24, The Newsroom, Political Animals, or The Good Wife, and so I cannot write about them.)

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A Sought-After Prize: Scandal‘s White House

As you might expect, the main thing that goes on within the White House walls on Scandal is, well, scandal. There is some mention of foreign affairs and I think maybe they mention that Congress and the Senate exists, but personal drama undoubtedly takes the forefront. In this way, the White House serves as more of a pedestal to try not to fall from rather than an actual political position. The main plotlines involve characters forming plans to obtain political power or to keep political power. And sex, there’s a lot of that too.

Smiling and Waving: Veep‘s White House

The only comedy of the bunch, Veep‘s depiction of the White House is also less focused on actual political maneuvers (although major plotlines do involve foreign espionage, trying passing a bill, and even a timely government shutdown) and more on trying to get good press despite comical mishaps. As the show focuses on the vice president rather than the president, it largely presents a flurry of functions that VP Selina Meyer has to attend to make the president and herself look good to the public.

A Rock-Climbing Wall: House of Cards‘ White House

Similar to Scandal, political positions within the White House in House of Cards is viewed as a prize. Except rather than watch the president attempt to keep his position (as we do most of the time in Scandal ), we watch the conniving Frank Underwood attempt to climb his way into the presidency, no matter how many bodies he leaves in his wake. While there is definitely personal drama, it is mixed nearly evenly with political maneuvers that Frank thinks will discredit his opponents. Affairs are less scandalized and used instead to garner more power. Largely, the White House is presented as a puzzling rock-climbing wall, requiring careful strategic planning on where to place your foot next — it could be your last step or bring you closer to the top.

Strictly Politics: The West Wing‘s White House

Arguably the pinnacle of political television, The West Wing‘s White House is presented less as a building full of power-hungry politicians and more as a group of people actually trying to make the country a better place. Sure, there’s plenty of personal scandals and worrying about reelection, but mostly it depicts a devoted staff and president trying to pass a law they believe in or perfecting a speech or discussing the ramifications of taking sides on foreign affairs. The White House is full of busy people with a million things to do each minute, who famously cannot even stop walking to have a conversation.

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It’s probably not possible to capture the entire essence of the White House in a television show, so it’s good that we can see the building and what it represents in so many different lights. But I’m still curious to see which depiction President Obama would find most accurate.