1
How Big is Your Baby?
2
On the “Best Saga” Hugo
3
The Vikings *is* Game-of-Thrones-Lite, and that’s why I like The Vikings more
4
New Short Story, New Anthology of Essays
5
Statistics of Gender on the Hugo Writing Nominees: Probabilities and Standard Deviations
6
Los Angeles Seems to be Lacking Squares
7
Fleeting Thoughts
8
The Submission Process, The End
9
The Submissions Process, Part Six
10
Broad City … Once You’re In, There’s No Pulling Out

How Big is Your Baby?

When you get pregnant for the first time, you’ll find that many pregnancy websites and apps attempt to give you a weekly update to help you visualize the size of your fetus. Most of the time, they do this using fruit. Which isn’t as helpful as one might think, because of this:

s_HelloWaterColorLet’s face it, it’s not the most accurate system out there. They also tend to give you the exact measurements in inches and/or cm, but that doesn’t quite cut it in terms of imagining the size of your bebe. And it’s suddenly an imperative to know just exactly how big is this thing growing in your uterus, so you come up with your own ways of visualizing its size. Except sometimes, your partner doesn’t quite appreciate your creativity.

s_HelloWaterColor(1)

s_HelloWaterColor(2)s_HelloWaterColor(3)And when your partner takes the initiative, you might not appreciate his creativity.

s_HelloWaterColor(4)s_HelloWaterColor(5)

On the “Best Saga” Hugo

Due to Enormous Real Life Events, I’m still way behind on the comments on my last Hugo post (ARGH! SORRY!), but, you know, if I made myself catch up on everything ever before saying anything new, my inbox would be empty but I wouldn’t have a writing career.

So, this Best Saga Hugo.

I instantly loved the idea, so I probed on Twitter trying to figure out why I was seeing so much negativity about it.  Some people said they supported it in theory but the devil was in the details of this proposal (which, I believe, is still in its revision stage, so I hope it gets thrashed out to people’s satisfaction (eta: revisions being discussed here!)).

But others brought up the same arguments I’d seen elsewhere: that we shouldn’t have this award because it would favor established and/or white male authors.

Now, a lot of people know both the Hugos and the field a lot better than I do.  For instance, when I first saw the suggestion, one of the ways it immediately appealed to me was that it felt like it would lead to a greater likelihood of urban fantasy and SFR nominations, two subgenres that are historically ignored (and have a lot of female authors writing them).  Twitter, unfortunately, told me I was naive about this, because girl cooties.  I admit Twitter does know more than I do about these things, just as lots of other people in the field know way more about the history of the genre and the awards than I do.[1]

So although I like the idea of Best Saga because it matches the way I read — I love series, and there are series I would nominate as a Saga at the drop of a hat while not feeling any installment deserves Best Novel — I don’t feel I quite have the authority to speak to whether such a category change would be advisable for the Hugos or beneficial for the field.  My instinct is that a demographic argument is not really a good one — and I’m honestly still confused as to why we wouldn’t want to honor established authors whose work may be hugely loved but doesn’t fit neatly into other categories — but on the whole I’ll leave those larger arguments to more knowledgeable heads than mine.

But considering that so much of the conversation is centered on this award favoring established, white, male authors, as an unestablished, POC, female author — and one whose first work has been part of a series — I feel I do have something to add from that perspective.

Which is: more awards mean more people talking about their favorite things.  And now that the axing of Novelette is no longer part of the proposal, the addition of another category means more people talking about more of their favorite things, which can be good for lots of people other than established white men.[2]

To demonstrate, let me tell you my experience as a person who was nominated for zero awards this year. Because there’s this thing that happens around awards season, which is that people start recommending stuff, and it’s pretty heady.  So here’s what happened to me:

  • Best Short Story is a category.  My eligible short story was on more than one person’s “best of” list. People were talking about it and reading it.  I didn’t get a nomination, but being talked about — AMAZING,  YAY!
  • The Campbell is a (not a Hugo) award for new writers.  I’m a new writer.  I saw myself get recommended . . . probably ten or twelve times.  Let me tell ya, could’ve knocked me over with a feather the first time it happened!  But the point is, if the Campbell Award weren’t a thing that exists, then people would not have been mentioning my name for it.
  • Best Novel is a category.  I don’t think I got a whole lot of votes for this — I think most people who like my novels thought of me for the Campbell (YAY! FEATHER! THANK YOU!) but I was mentioned a couple times, including in discussions of diversity in novel lists.  For example, when Kameron Hurley asked come awards season for people’s favorite 2014 novel by a woman of color, and HEY LOOK PEOPLE ARE MENTIONING ME.

In other words:

  • Zero women of color were nominated for Best Short Story this year, but the existence of the award still benefited me, a woman of color.
  • Zero women of color were nominated for the Campbell this year, but the existence of the award still benefited me, a woman of color.
  • Zero women of color were nominated for Best Novel this year, but the existence of the award still benefited me, a woman of color.

As a completely unestablished, non-white, non-male person writing a “Saga,” I admit it kinda makes my teeth itch that people are telling me the existence of this award would be bad for people like me.  Yes, I’m completely unlikely to be nominated for such a thing in the foreseeable future.  But hey, you want to know what would happen if we had a Best Saga award?

People who like my books would talk about them more.

People who are interested in making sure their reading and awards nominations don’t only privilege white men would start asking around for women and POC writing sagas, and my books would get talked about more.

like being talked about more.  And I, as an unestablished person, might even get more just out of being talked about than the Already Very Popular and Established Author who actually wins the award.  (But if he gets a bump too, who cares?  I refuse to believe publishing is a zero sum game.  The category benefiting someone else more doesn’t mean it still wouldn’t benefit people like me.)

And yeah — I said this in one of the footnotes, but it bears repeating — I get why people might think Best Saga is less valuable than an award category that might have a broader demographic bent, like Novelette or YA.  And if the proposal were coupled with one of those still, I’d understand people pushing against it for those reasons.  But now that it’s not, there’s no zero sum game here, either, is there?

Honestly, I’ve been trying to figure out why I feel so bothered by the above sorts of arguments, and I think it feels a little like the existence of POC and women writing series is being erased or ignored.  Which is . . . not a very nice feeling, you know?  Because we’re here, and we’re doing it.  Instead of completely shutting down the category that best fits our work, wouldn’t a better solution be to have the category . . . and then recommend the heck out of your favorite women / POC / more-unknown authors who are writing in it?  Rather than saying we don’t want a category unless it’s already more evenly demographically split, why not use the existence of the category to give word of mouth to your favorites who are overlooked in that form?  To help make the form more fair by getting people to read your favorites?  After all, the more they sell, the more publishers will support other series like them . . .

Again, maybe I’m naive.  Maybe there are bigger sociological arguments I’m missing.  I’ll freely admit there may be.

But I felt like I should share this perspective.  Because I’m the exact category of person these arguments are supposed to be defending, and I just . . . don’t feel very defended by them.

 

Closing comments because I am WAY behind on everything right now and I don’t have time to moderate at the moment (and I don’t want the thread to accidentally run away).  But please feel free to approach me on Twitter — @sl_huang — and tell me if I’ve got the wrong end of the stick somehow.  If convinced, I’ll happily edit this post.

Footnotes    (↵ returns to text)

  1. Heck, it seems like every year my knowledge — and thus opinion — of the Hugo Awards changes.  It was only a few years ago that I realized they weren’t juried, and when I found out they weren’t, I was initially kind of indifferent to them.  Ironically, as the shenanigans of the past few years have unfolded I feel I’ve gained a great deal more respect for the Hugos, because I’ve seen so many stories of what they mean to people and of the amount of work put in by the volunteers who love the field enough to administer them.  I feel like I’m still gaining understanding and nuance of the conversations surrounding them, but I’m enthusiastically participating and listening now, because at the heart of the Hugos seems to be people’s love of genre — and I am so on board with that.
  2. I see why people would, given the choice, want other categories before Saga for demographic reasons — keeping Novelette, for instance, or adding YA — but I don’t think this is a reason not to add Best Saga on its own merits.

The Vikings *is* Game-of-Thrones-Lite, and that’s why I like The Vikings more

Source: http://www.vikingstvstore.com; Fair use - commentary

Source: http://www.vikingstvstore.com; Fair use – commentary

I like the TV series Game of Thrones. When I heard that the History Channel’s The Vikings was GoT-lite, I thought: Oh, let’s give that a try, but I know it ain’t gonna be as good as GoT, cuz GoT is pretty splendid.

I watched the first couple episodes of The Vikings and wasn’t impressed. It was okay, but the production value wasn’t nearly as shiny GoT’s. To be fair, GoT probably had 5,000 times the budget. Then I watched more of The Vikings. By the end of the first season, I was hooked. Having seen three season, I can safely say that I love it more than GoT.

The two shows have one thing in common: political intrigue. But there are key differences. The Vikings has one dominant story line. My atrophying brain finds it very taxing to follow the multiple parallel plots of an epic like GoT. Some GoT storylines I just don’t care for that much, and I find myself zoning out while waiting for the show to return to the characters I care more about. Second, The Vikings is faster paced. Lots of fighting. So yes, The Vikings is lighter. Lighter is more digestible. And digestion is good. Sometimes less is more.

The story is about Ragnar, a Viking leader whose dream is to go overseas (i.e. England) and raid. And raid. And raid. Them Vikings like to raid so much you’d think they have nothing else fun to do. If you’ve seen Sons of Anarchy (another fantastic show), Ragnard might remind you of Jax Teller. They’re both smart, cunning, and ambitious. Most importantly, they’re patient, biding their time until it’s ripe. Whereas most of their peers would gobble up their marshmallows in seconds, Ragnard can wait for hours. Days.

Since modern-day Scandinavia is one of the most socially liberal and egalitarian places, it’s fitting that the The Vikings portrays a progressive culture as well. The people vote for their leaders. Unmarried people cohabitate without shame. People (even kids) talk about sex as a natural human activity, not a dirty taboo. When a woman complains about an abusive husband, she is believed by the authority, not dismissed like chattel. Upon hearing that, the English king mused that the Vikings’ pagan laws seemed more enlightened than the English’s Christian laws. However, I don’t know how much of the show is historically accurate.

Lagertha is probably the most unexpectedly fierce character on The Vikings. She is smart and headstrong, but the best part is that she kicks ass. She goes with the men on raids and cuts up people as easily as she chops turnips. One time she leads a group of shieldmaidens (female warriors) on a special covert mission, kind of like Viking navy seals. Shieldmaidens are prominent in Scandinavian legends, though scholars disagree whether such warriors actually existed.

My favorite character is Rollo. Cuz he fights awesomely and is awesomely sexy. ‘Nuff said. If you don’t find him hot then I don’t know what to say.

If you like ancient political dramas like The Vikings and GoT, another good show to check out is Rome. Unfortunately, that one had a short run (only two seasons), but it’s very compelling drama.

I’m a season behind GoT and I’m still looking forward to watching it, but what I’m really eager to see is the upcoming fourth season of The Vikings.

New Short Story, New Anthology of Essays

I’ve been traveling without a laptop and have been terribly remiss on updating the Interwebz!  (Still traveling, but laptop is back so hopefully I can catch up a little.)  Anyway, I HAVE A NEW SHORT STORY!  And my essay is in a NEW CRITICAL ANTHOLOGY!

  • “By Degrees and Dilatory Time” was published last week at Strange Horizons, along with beautiful illustrations (eek!) and an audio version (eek again!).  It’s a story that’s very personal to me and one I’m very proud of.  Many, many thanks to my generous betas for making the story better, the excellent editors at Strange Horizons for making it even more better, and the incredible illustrator and narrator.  You all improved this story by a factor of a thousand!
  • I’m very proud to say my essay “Nobody’s Sidekick: Intersectionality in Protagonists” is part of the anthology of essays on representation Invisible 2, edited by Jim C. Hines.  I hopped on the Amazon page on release day (was going to try to tweet it but failed at phone copy/paste), and we hit at least #2 in the SFF History & Criticism category.  Whee!  (Also, all proceeds go to Carl Brandon Society to Con or Bust.)

Check ’em out!

Statistics of Gender on the Hugo Writing Nominees: Probabilities and Standard Deviations

I’ve been trying to stay out of saying anything about the Hugos Awards, mostly because lots of people are saying lots of things already and I haven’t felt like I have anything to add.  But then Jim Hines posted today speculating about MATH, and, well, I got nerd-sniped.

Here’s the original (long, long) comment I left on his blog.  I finally decided I couldn’t not do a normal distribution and standard dev, so I came back here for it, but the numbers in the original comment might be a bit more intuitive for non-math folk than what I’m going to do here.

Motivation

The Hugo Awards are a SFF award nominated by popular vote.  There is some controversy (understatement) about the nominations this year.  I’m not going to get into that here, just going to display some numbers.

It would, however, be disingenuous not to state my own bias, which is that I think institutional discrimination against women and people off the gender binary exists and is a problem.  I’ve allowed that bias to affect how I frame my wording (and I’ve editorialized at times), but I’ve performed the math exactly as I believe is correct.  Since it’s very possible to make statistics seem skewed toward a particular viewpoint by bad-faith numerical sleight of hand, I want to state up front that I have not done so here — any poor mathematics or misunderstanding of confidence levels is due to (1) my lack of background in stats or (2) genuine error.

What I’m doing, and what it means

The four writing categories for the Hugo Awards have 5 nomination slots each, for a total of 20 nominations for fiction writing.  I’m going to make the probability distribution for the likelihood of a particular gender split (e.g., find the probabilities of a 10/10 split, or a 9/11 split, or a 15/5 split, etc).  This will approximate a nice normal distribution.  If you don’t know what that is, that’s okay — the important part is the next bit.

Once I have the probability distribution, I’m going to take the standard deviation.  Standard deviation is a very useful statistical tool that tells us the likelihood something will be in a given range of numbers.  For example, it’s not terribly useful to look at the probability of a exact 8/12 split — it’s more useful to look at the probability the gender split will be within a certain range of numbers.

For a normal distribution, 68% of the data will fall within 1 standard deviation of the mean (the mean = the average), 95% will fall within 2 standard deviations of the mean, and almost 100% will fall within 3 standard deviations of the mean (99.7%).  Once we get out to three standard deviations from the mean, we’re talking about extreme outliers.

This will tell us whether a given gender distribution is within what we’d consider an expected year-by-year fluctuation from 50/50, or whether, assuming a 50/50 gender split, it would be…well, an extreme outlier.

Caveats
  • I’m a mathematician but NOT a statistician; I’ve never actually studied stats.  I only know enough basics to get me in trouble.  If you know more stats than I do, please jump in!
  • I’m considering gender to be 50/50 split on a male/female binary because I couldn’t quickly find stats on nonbinary folk.  (Sorry!!)
  • I’m the type of mathematician who hasn’t worked with numbers in so long that I’m very prone to arithmetic mistakes.  If you find any, please shout.
Tools
The Data

I’m keeping it easy: 20 nomination slots, 50% probability of a given gender getting a nomination.[1]

I haven’t talked about much specific Hugo data here, but when I have I’ve pulled it from the graph in Jim Hines’ post.

Binomial Probability and the Frequency Distribution

Binomial probability gives us the following distribution — conveniently, the calculator above gave it to me all in one go when I entered n=20 (20 nomination slots) and p=.5 (50% probability of male or female).  The following table is copy/pasted verbatim from the results.  For non-math people, note that we’re not calling a male person or a female person in a nomination slot a “success” or a “failure” in the semantic sense — here “success” and “failure” are neutral probability terms.

Binomial, Poisson and Gaussian distributions

Number of trials (or subjects) per experiment: 20
Probability of “success” in each trial or subject: 0.500

Number of
Successes
Number of
Failures
Exact
Probability
Cumulative
Probability
0 20 0.000% 0.000%
1 19 0.002% 0.002%
2 18 0.018% 0.020%
3 17 0.109% 0.129%
4 16 0.462% 0.591%
5 15 1.479% 2.069%
6 14 3.696% 5.766%
7 13 7.393% 13.159%
8 12 12.013% 25.172%
9 11 16.018% 41.190%
10 10 17.620% 58.810%
11 9 16.018% 74.828%
12 8 12.013% 86.841%
13 7 7.393% 94.234%
14 6 3.696% 97.931%
15 5 1.479% 99.409%
16 4 0.462% 99.871%
17 3 0.109% 99.980%
18 2 0.018% 99.998%
19 1 0.002% 100.000%
20 0 0.000% 100.000%

 

Cool!  This gives us a frequency distribution.

The Normal Distribution

Binomial probability (what we just used to get the frequency distribution in the above table) with p=.5 and a reasonable number of data points is known to approximate a normal distribution, aka a bell curve.  Here’s a normal distribution via Wolfram Alpha of these data:

http://www.wolframalpha.com/share/img?i=d41d8cd98f00b204e9800998ecf8427ene3s1qcrn&f=HBQTQYZYGY4TMNDEGQYTKZJQMYYDCNDEGQYWGMRTMRTDSMBQGE2Aaaaa

Notice that it’s centered around the mean (average) of 10, as we would expect.  We’ve got the number of nominees of a given gender on the x-axis (it doesn’t matter which gender we choose, as it’s symmetric — we could say the x-axis is the number of male nominees or we could say it’s the number of female nominees), and the percent probability we’ll land on that number of nominees on the y-axis.

Whether we look at the table or the graph, we’re hitting about a 17-18% probability of an even 10/10 split, and it drops off quickly on either side, until a 0/20 split in either direction has almost a 0% probability.

Standard deviation

(I actually found the standard dev first and used that to graph the normal curve, but shhh!  I think it’ll make more sense to non-math people to write it in this order.)

One reason it’s so lovely to talk about standard deviations in a normal distribution is it gives us very pretty ranges that other people who know basic stats can easily grasp — if you say “more than a standard deviation from the mean,” people who know what standard deviation is will have an idea of how hefty a divergence that is.  Here’s a great visualization for standard deviation on a normal distribution:

Standard deviation diagram

By Mwtoews [CC BY 2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.5)], via Wikimedia Commons

As you can see, the dark blue is within 1 standard deviation of the mean and takes up 68.2% of the data.  The lighter blue shows going out another standard deviation from the mean, and the even lighter blue goes out to a third standard deviation from the mean, where the probability of landing is very close to zero.

Standard deviation has a complicated formula that’s beyond the scope of this post — I just used my calculator.  The standard deviation for these data is about 2.236.

For a normal distribution, that means 68% of the data fall within 2.236 of the mean.  In other words, 68% of the data fall within a difference of 2.236 from 10, or between 7.764 and 12.236.

It’s easy to check that this is about right: if we go to our table above and add the “exact probability” column for 8, 9, 10, 11, and 12, we get a bit above 70%.  It’s not exact because our frequency distribution is only approximating the normal distribution, but it’s a very good approximation, and it’s generally considered an appropriate model for binomial distributions with non-extreme probabilities and a reasonable number of trials.[2]

One Standard Deviation, Two!  Three Standard Deviations, More!

Remember that about 68% of the data will fall within 1 standard deviation of the mean, 95% will fall within 2, and 99.7% will fall within 3.  In other words, another advantage of standard deviation is that it gives us some nice arithmetical shortcuts, as follows:[3]

  • 1 standard deviation:  7.764 – 12.236
  • OR: About 68% of the time, the gender split will be 8/12 or closer.
  • 2 standard deviations: 5.528 – 14.472
  • OR: About 95% of the time, the gender split will be 6/14 or closer.
  • 3 standard deviations: 3.292 – 16.708
  • OR: About 99.7% of the time, the gender split will be 4/16 or closer.

And finally:

  • A gender split wider than 4/16 is an extreme outlier.[4]

Note that though a split wider than 4/16 suggests something very statistically unlikely is going on, it does not say why, and it does not assign intent.  My lived experience suggests that intentional sexism should not generally be assumed when systemic bias will suffice, and in a process like writing, publishing, publicity, and awards nominations, there are plenty of stages at which institutional bias can manifest itself.  This does not, of course, mean there is not a problem — in fact, it would mean the problem may be one that requires more thought, awareness, and effort to address.

I’ll further note that if you consider the years 2010-2014 (none of which had fewer than 7 nominations for either gender) and compare them to 2015,[5] and this leads you to conclude (along with a preponderance of other data, I am aware) that something untoward happened in 2015, I’ll further note that even one person or one small group of people with a particular subgenre taste having chosen a fantastically statistically unlikely slant of genders still does not imply malicious sexism.[6]  What it does imply, in my opinion, is a variety of other extremely upsetting problems, exacerbated by the fact that nonmalicious sexism can be much, much harder to combat.

So.  What was the gender split in the writing categories is this year?

  • 3/17.

 

 

Footnotes    (↵ returns to text)

  1. Yes, I’m aware there are factors affecting that 50/50 probability, even in years that aren’t this one — potentially factors at every step in the publishing process, not just the nominating-for-awards stage.  This post could be, in that vein, viewed like a proof by contradiction — I’m showing the probabilities of expected fluctuations, and if you’re seeing greater extremes, that might indicate the starting assumption of 50/50 gender blindness at all steps is, in fact, incorrect.
  2. This distribution definitely has a non-extreme p — I tried to figure out if 2o trials is a reasonable number for approximating via a normal distribution and didn’t get anything definitive, although I did compare by hand and the numbers all seemed pretty close.  But if you distrust the model, notice that I’m really only using this one to make relatable statements about the exact raw data that you can look at in the table above — if you want to, you can define your own terms to look at probability ranges by adding the numbers in the third column, and you’ll come to the same conclusions.  In other words, about 70% of the data fall between 8 and 12 whether we use the vocabulary “within one standard deviation of the mean on a normal distribution” or not.
  3. You could, again, find the exact percentages by adding the numbers in the table.  But this is faster.
  4. As far as I know “outlier” doesn’t have a specific statistical definition, but I’ve seen it used to mean “three or more standard deviations from the mean,” so that’s what I’m doing here.
  5. If you do compare, be aware that some of those years had greater or fewer than 20 nominations — presumably because of ties or the 5 percent rule — and I’ve not accounted for those sorts of variations here.  The ideas should be broadly applicable, however, and if we’re speaking roughly, I’ll note that 4 out of the 5 years from 2010-2014 had at least 8 nominations from both genders, and the other year had a 7/11 split, which is perfectly in line with the numbers above: if 4/5 years fall within the 68% (roughly) and 1/5 falls outside the 68% but within the 95%, that’s about what we’d statistically expect.
  6. Well, at least one person involved has nonfiction writings that would support such a conclusion, but I will not extend his philosophies to the rest.

Los Angeles Seems to be Lacking Squares

Pershing Square-2

By Visitor7 (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

I realized something the other day: LA doesn’t have squares.

I could not think of a single square in LA.  In contrast, I could think of six squares in Boston off the top of my head (Kendall Square, Harvard Square, Central Square, Porter Square, Inman Square, Davis Square).  And actually, technically none of those are even in Boston proper, but are in Cambridge and Somerville areas in the very narrow environs I used to frequent.  Boston probably has even more squares.

I could also think of squares in pretty much every other American city or town I’d lived in, even the small ones.

My friend hypothesized that LA’s lack of squares might have to do with the geography here—LA roads work around hills and valleys and freeways and often lack well-laid-out right angles—and that maybe the lack of places that fit the geometry of a square resulted in us not using the word “square,” even for places which function like squares.  I wondered if it could also have something to do with the sprawl, if LA is so wide and scattered that no place seems central enough to a neighborhood to deserve to be called a square.  Or maybe LA lacks the drive for community the other cities work for, and therefore urban planning has not included as many squares.

Hmm.  It fascinates me, the way we use language.  The different names we call things.

Well, I did just do a Google search and it turns out LA does have a few squares, including Pershing Square which I knew of but had forgotten about.  Still, considering what a huge city this is, LA doesn’t seem to like squares all that much.  I’m tempted to do a square-per-square-mile or square-per-capita study just to see if I’m right about this . . .

(And now I feel this post is getting decidedly silly.  What can I say, sometimes I wonder about things!)

Fleeting Thoughts

Window_peek_at_rainy_time,_wayanad

In waiting for the sun to come to just the right angle I have missed the moment entirely.

Photo: By yjenith (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

The Submission Process, The End

Day ??

Since I’m writing this final post like a year after I went into subs with my first book, I can’t remember at which point I had The Talk with my agents. Sorry guys! But it went like this:

1. My agents informed me that they were receiving the same sorts of rejections: YA Dystopia isn’t selling.

I think we’ve figured this one out ourselves.

Read More

The Submissions Process, Part Six

Day 43:

I totally caved and sent an e-mail to Junior Agent. She replied and told me that the MS is still with 8 editors and there have been no updates from them so far, but that she will nudge them this week. Well! That’s sorta good news! At least there haven’t been any rejections, right? Wheee!

Read More

Broad City … Once You’re In, There’s No Pulling Out

 

Two young, goofy women deal with daily life in NYC—not the most original premise, but the humor of the TV show Broad City is all fresh. Less serious than Girls and less quirky than Portlandia, but funnier than both. Like Seinfeld, Broad City is a show that seems to be about nothing yet mines comedic gold out of the most pedestrian grounds.

Ilana Glazer and Abbi Jacobson, who created and star in the show, are best friends whose specialty is getting into situations that go wrong. Ilana “works” at a company that promotes internet deals, yet the only time she produces results is when she hires free interns to do her work. Abbi is an artist, but her day job is cleaning endless disasters in the restrooms of an obnoxiously positive fitness club. “Oh Abbi, hey, I know you’re not working today, but we could really use some Abbi magic. There’s a pube situation in the locker room that is unprecedented.” Hahahaha. Yes, I’m juvenile.

One of the funniest scenes is in the premiere episode of season two, when Abbi mutters a double entendre about “pulling out.” Pure comedic beauty.

Broad City is not afraid to push satire into risky territory, touching upon ethnicity, rape, sex offenders, and anal sex. And this is the deftness of the show’s style: it embeds subversiveness into humor and teases out absurdities from serious matters. Under the jokey veneer are thought-provoking takes on the complexities of taboos. Their jokes don’t usually have political content (maybe they do, and I’m just too dense to get the nuances). It’s always funny first, then implicitly asks you what you think.

Any twit can babble commentary (you’re reading it now). Smart commentary is hard. Funny commentary is harder. Smart and funny—that’s the hardest. Glazer and Jacobson are subtle enough to not seem like they’re trying to prove how smart and funny they are. I kinda have crushes on them both.

Seinfeld was the last pure comedy (i.e. not comedy mixed with drama) I loved on network TV. Since then, the best pure comedies have been non-networks, e.g. The Daily Show, South Park, and Curb Your Enthusiasm. Larry David ended his show, and to my distress, Jon Stewart will be leaving soon (please change your mind, Jon). Good thing Broad City has come along. On Comedy Central, of course.

The show has gotten great reviews, with the second season even better than the first. Though still a bit under the radar, Broad City deserves many more seasons to come. The Comedy Central website has locked all of the episodes except the first one of the second season.  It’s only twenty minutes, and I’d watch it just for that one joke. I probably replayed the scene five times already, giggling like a doofus each time. Yes, that’s how mature I is.

I watch Broad City on Hulu Plus, where you can stream all the epis. I’m also watching The Vikings and Twin Peaks, and about to start on Empire. Between Netflix and Hulu, there’s really no time for anything else in life.

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