Quirky Female Leads: Unconventional Feminist Comedy

If alt-comedy offers an alternative to the dominant mainstream form of comedy at a particular time then perhaps the recent shows Two Weeks to Live (2020-) starring Maisie Williams and Sian Clifford and Out of Her Mind (2020-) created by and starring Sara Pascoe could be viewed as alternative by including unconventional feminist comedy through the use of quirky female leads rather than the more common strong female leads.

I would argue that Two Weeks to Live (2020-) offers an alternative to the more mainstream crime/thriller series by including quirky female characters in the main roles and using comedy and complete absurdness throughout the narrative. Main character Kim (Williams) has been kept in a cabin in the woods by her mother her whole life and is a trained killer which no knowledge of the ‘real’ world beyond the cabin, so when she runs away to go experience life she appears completely insane to other characters. Kim’s ignorance about the world, lack of social skills, and tendency to violently attack men provides most of the humour and presents her as a completely surreal character (and her mother is not much better).

The two main characters are definitely not your typical feminists as they assert themselves as strong independent women through their use of violence, particularly against men. Since feminism is supposed to be about equality though perhaps these men-hating characters are not the best role models? The situations that the characters get into are completely insane and how they deal with them is even more surreal. The show also seems to mock the whole ‘end of the world’ scenario that is seen so often in film and television today and even currently in the news with the pandemic.

Out of Her Mind (2020-) also features a quirky female lead and has many moments of surrealism. Sara Pascoe plays herself and the narrative is told in random bits and pieces with constant breaking of the fourth wall when Sara talks directly to the audience, often giving us fun biological facts or pieces of random wisdom or her own wacky insights into life. In the second episode, Sara dresses in a fat suit and has surgical line markings on her face to to represent plastic surgery and highlight the dark side of feminine beauty. Surrealist scenes are placed in between pieces of the narrative and are used to identify the anti-feminist morales of fairytales including Alice in WonderlandCinderella, and Goldilocks and the Three Bears.

I’ve included trailers for the shows below:

References

Leon Hunt (2013), ‘From alternative to cult: Mapping post-alternative comedy’, in Cult British TV Comedy: From Reeves and Mortimer to Psychoville, Manchester: Manchester UP, 1-35.

Out of Her Mind. Sara Pascoe. 2020-present.

Two Weeks to Live. Al Campbell. 2020-present.

One comment

  1. I’ve never really been aware of either of these, so thank you for giving me two new things to add to the watchlist! I am interested in what you are saying about surrealism, absurdity and women– do you think that female surrealist humour is inextricably tied to markers of gender and feminism? I’m thinking here about The Mighty Boosh in comparison to what you have said about Out of Her Mind: while the Boosh boys have endless sources of inspiration/comedy drawn from as little as a coconut on a stick they call Milky Joe, from what I’ve gathered from your piece is that a lot of the surreality of Pascoe’s work in particular is explicitly feminist and explicitly tied to conversations around gender and the feminine experience, and I would be interested to hear your thoughts on this!

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