Lena Dunham And The Stars Of HBO’s ‘Camping’ Are Confronting Criticism Of ‘Unlikable’ Female Characters

Film/TV Editor
10.16.18 20 Comments

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HBO’s Camping debuted on Sunday. If you didn’t catch the first episode, chances are high that you’ve seen one of the many reviews that dismiss Jennifer Garner’s Kathryn character as “unlikable.” Those takes don’t really contextualize Kathryn within her group of companions in the dialogue-rich series, which shows a group of friends during a long weekend in the woods, where they must confront harsh realities about their relationships with one another. It’s not an entirely pretty picture, but as a whole, the show provides some intriguing character studies. While speaking with the Hollywood Reporter, much of the show’s talent is aghast at how characters like Kathryn are besieged for not presenting life as sunshine and rainbows.

Series co-creator Lena Dunham “can’t believe” that, in 2018, people are still hyper-focused on “unlikable women on television.” She’d prefer that people attempt to understand Kathryn’s plight. Indeed, she’s best studied in relation to her companions, and Dunham further pointed out the hypocrisy in the public’s adoration for certain complicated male characters:

“It just drives me nuts that we can have a Tony Soprano or a Walter White or any of these characters who are wreaking literal havoc on the world around them and killing people, and then when you have a woman who’s thorny and complicated, and there’s no way to find empathy for her … The idea that we would have to show you her soft, gooey center in order to prove she was worth caring about, it makes me nuts on a personal level, it makes me nuts on a professional level.”

Dunham makes a solid point, which also extends to comedic male characters who were bristly as hell but nonetheless embraced (or at least tolerated without much complaint) by audiences. George Costanza or Ross Gellar, anyone? Kathryn’s controlling behavior may not arrive with a laugh track but plays a lot like Gellar’s famous “PIVOT!” directive. And Dunham wasn’t alone in her sentiment. Brett Gelman, who plays Kathryn’s brother-in-law, George, called “unlikable” a “lazy” descriptor of a female character. “What does ‘unlikable’ even mean?” he asked. “You have Kathryn leading this show, where if she was a man, I think people would think that that character was hilarious.” Gelman believes that audiences simply don’t want to see female characters who are are “a wreck,” an attitude that he calls “pure, unadulterated systemic misogyny.”

As for Garner herself, she “grew to love” Kathryn even if she didn’t initially “like” her. In addition, she points out that anyone who goes camping with such a character would never go without toilet paper or bug spray. That’s absolutely true, and not incidentally, if one takes away the laugh track on Friends, Ross Gellar isn’t very “likable” either. Just saying.

(Via Hollywood Reporter)

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