Jake Martin, S.J., reviews two new "working girl" sitcoms, and looks back at the surprisingly durable genre:

When Marlo Thomas mussed her hair for the first time during the opening credits of “That Girl” in 1966, the gesture marked a shift in how single women were perceived. Since then, stronger gestures have been made, like Mary Tyler Moore’s tossing of the beret. In the nearly 50 years since Thomas’s character, Ann Marie, flew her kite around Central Park, the life of the single woman has been examined on television from all angles. This year Fox and CBS have offered two new shows, New Girl and 2 Broke Girls, that seek entry to the pantheon of the working girl sitcom. While neither show is as cloying and sexist as “That Girl” would seem to audiences today, neither breaks new ground either.

Television since its inception has provided women with a unique voice, and the sitcom in particular has allowed comedy writers and actors an environment in which to tweak societal expectations of what the role of woman should and could be. Shows like “That Girl” and “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” in all their half-hour, episodic benignity, made clear to a whole generation of young women that they had real-life options, possibilities and potential.

Perhaps most important they depicted a definite place for the feminine outside the domestic sphere. In the sitcom cooler heads prevailed, and no head tended to be cooler than that of the female protagonist. She brought a unique, humanistic perspective that none of her masculine counterparts could offer. It wasn’t just about being rational; it was about the way the female lead understood the dignity of the person. Mary Richards, for example, typically wound up in her conundrums because she was concerned about the well being and dignity of her peers: Ted Baxter was always an idiot, but Mary never forgot that idiots are still people.

It was this gentle morality that made the comedy better. Too often comedy can lapse into the realm of the vicious and cruel or, at the very least, the apathetic. Bringing the feminine into the sitcom forced writers to take higher ground and move beyond irony into the more curative realm of satire.

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Tim Reidy