This review contains mild spoilers.
Stop me if you’ve heard this one: A handsome, successful straight white man swaggers onto your TV in a pilot episode and spends the next five years systematically destroying everything he ever claimed to love. Tony Soprano, Don Draper, Walter White, Dexter Morgan, Nick Brody, Hank Moody, Gregory House. These are the men around whom prestige television — and prestige television criticism — was built. White guys writing about white guys. So it’s no surprise that Naomi Watts’ new Netflix series, Gypsy (more on that name in a minute), has bored mainstream male TV writers out of their minds. Watts’ WASPy Upper East Side therapist, Jean Holloway, is a paint-by-numbers antihero.
What sets Jean apart from the Dick Whitmans of the world are the facts that she’s: a) a woman, who b) dismantles her life, piece-by-piece, because of her attraction to another woman. And the show’s queerness doesn’t end there. Like all antiheroes, Jean’s obsession makes her more and more unlikable as the series progresses, but Jean’s young daughter, Dolly, begins exploring her queerness in such an authentic and endearing way she ultimately emerges as the most heroic and relatable character on the show. It’s a striking juxtaposition.
It all starts when Jean pops into her local coffee shop/bar for a decaf Americano one morning on her way to work. She makes up a fake name for herself as a lady barista catches her eye. “Diane,” she lies, easy as breathing. Sidney Pierce is the lady barista. She’s beautiful, she’s British, and she wears just enough extra eyeliner to let you know she’s a musician. Jean is so intrigued that she stops by again after a day of dealing with therapy patients and orders a chardonnay. Sidney gives her bourbon instead. They flirt a little, some gentle teasing; they promise to remember each other’s names. Jean covertly stuffs a flyer for Sidney’s band into her pocket as she’s leaving the Rabbit Hole to pick up her daughter from school. (Yes, the Rabbit Hole. Yes, it’s underground. So yes, Jean literally keeps going up and down the rabbit hole to visit Sidney. This show does not pass up one single opportunity for a heavy-handed metaphor.)
Jean’s interest in Sidney goes from piqued to peaked when she sees Sidney perform. They share a couple of drinks afterward and the first of half a dozen almost-kisses. “I can’t explain it but there’s something about you that reminds me of me,” is what Sidney says the first time their lips get close enough to touch. They’re even wearing the same perfume.
In between emotional foreplay with Sidney, Jean counsels her patients, the most troubled of whom is a guy named Sam whose girlfriend broke up with him eight months ago and he’s still not over it. “She made things exciting,” he explains. “Whatever you were doing, she made you feel like you were part of the best thing in the world. I never was adventurous, but she made me feel like I was.”
Sam’s ex-girlfriend is obviously Sidney.
What follows is ten episodes of two dynamic, manipulative, gorgeous, narcissistic women who’ve never had trouble negotiating power in their relationships with men trying to outmaneuver each other at every turn. Lying. Dancing. Drinking. Promising. Touching. Yelling. Soothing. Withholding. Lying. Lying. Lying. It’s sometimes clunky and often weird but almost always sexy.
And then there’s Dolly, Jean’s daughter. Dolly likes dinosaurs, video games, action figures, remote control trucks, and most especially Star Wars. Dolly gets frustrated when she can’t hang out with the boys, but she’s also very bonded with her best friend, Sadie. She tells Sadie she loves her, and Sadie hugs and kisses her on the cheek when she leaves school every day. Dolly wears button-ups, ties, and backwards baseball caps. When Jean tries to tell Dolly her long hair is beautiful, Dolly says, “I don’t want it to look beautiful. Do you think G.I. Joe has beautiful hair? No.” And then she gives herself a haircut before her birthday party, explaining, “I wanted to feel like me.”
The writers never make it clear if Dolly is a blossoming little tender butch lesbian who prefers a more masculine gender presentation, or if Dolly is experiencing gender dysphoria and is actually a trans boy. What they do make clear, however, is that Dolly is always right, and the adults — including her mother — who are uncomfortable with her preferences and decisions are always wrong.
So. About that show name. Creator and showrunner Lisa Rubin, who had a knack for writing “good sex scenes” and “flawed women grappling with issues like control, obsession, identity, and sexuality” as a grad student in Columbia University’s film program, conceived the idea for this show when she heard the Fleetwood Mac song of the same name playing in a coffee shop where she was writing. Like so much of the dialogue and nearly all the visual metaphors that comprise Rubin’s fictional world, Fleetwood Mac’s immortal lyrics are just so very right on the nose. Stevie Nicks is putting her mattress on the floor to pretend she’s living in simpler times when she wasn’t so anchored to the world and boxed in by her success; Jean Holloway is masturbating to fantasies of her patient’s ex-girlfriend on her husband’s side of the bed while he is at work.
That the name of the show is based on a song doesn’t make it any less of a slur. It’s a word steeped in oppression and persecution. It’s terrible. It’s a terrible name. However, it does force a complicated conversation about queer cultural criticism. More and more lately, it seems like one side of the world is made up of straight white guys who still, even after watching the 2016 presidential election, don’t see the difference between the way women and men move through the world (thus the difference and significance of a woman inhabiting a archetype historically portrayed by a man), and the other side of the world is made up of socially conscious activists and minorities who have become increasingly unlikely to publicly engage with art that has been deemed problematic in any way. And once a -phobia or an -ism or a type of erasure has been assigned to a TV show or a book or a movie, any website or magazine that chooses to critique it is tagged as unethical.
A lot of important conversations are being lost in that ever-widening chasm. Essential stuff happens in the mental wrestling match between idealism and pragmatism and I think it’s a real shame that queer women are, in many ways, erasing ourselves from conversations about us by refusing to participate in them.
There have been a handful of women antiheroes on TV over the last few years, but what sets Naomi Watts’ new show apart is the way it centers on three different queer experiences.
It’s not prestige drama, but it’s way too well acted and well filmed to be disregarded. It’s not good, but it’s fun. It’s not going to push the LGBTQ rights conversation forward, but it’s also careful not to suggest that queerness causes Jean and Sidney’s worst behaviors. It focuses on the toxic impulses of two women, but it saves its most scathing critique for good old “nice guys.” Jean is an antihero archetype, but she’s not Don Draper. This isn’t Mad Men. This isn’t about men at all.
Interesting. I don’t typically like to watch shows about characters (usually dudes?) destroying themselves, but it can work for me.
Totally agree about how wide the conversation has become, in that we can’t “like” anything that has any problematic points. Some stuff has little to no redeeming quality. But a lot of stuff is just imperfect. And having conversations about that and growing as a community is more important than throwing the baby out with the bathwater.
But, it’s an issue that I’ve wrestled with for some time, and will probably continue to do so the rest of my life. Along the lines of problematic people creating interesting or transcendent art.
Recently on a slack channel with a bunch of friends we were freaking out in a good way over a “head canon” that reimagined certain characters as trans. And one of our trans members was hesitant to “bring down the room” by pointing out this one part of how it was presented that was an issue, but he was brave enough to do so anyway, because it was important to him.
If we can’t watch things critically while still liking them, talk about them and how they can be better, what even are we doing?
As a therapist and as a stifled queer who once wrote fanfic about myself and barista-musician-girls…I feel personally attacked and am waiting for my royalty check to come in the mail!
From the name on down, this show is bad news. It is some of the WORST therapy dialogue I have ever heard and I supervise first-year interns!!! My first-year interns are extremely intelligent and would never say things like, “I am not your friend. I am your therapist” in such a condescending, fake-boundaries way or do things like have highstakes psychodrama with their patients’ ex-girlfriends or children. My friend at Smith College School for Social Work wrote a thesis on how therapists in media are almost never portrayed acting in ethical ways and I tire of always seeing on-screen therapists act out their forbidden sexual desires / power trips instead of doing interesting clinical work.
That being said the first episode was compelling as heck. It was like Lifetime goes Netflix.
That Vanity Fair article I linked to talks about how the showrunner’s sister is a therapist and she was like, “No. Nope! Absolutely not. No one would say this. It would never happen.”
yeah this morning i said to heather SHE IS THE WORST THERAPIST I HAVE EVER WITNESSED
My favorite TV therapist to date is Dr. Akopian from Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. She even sings a solo to her client, decked out in sequins (it’s a musical show).
But I think that the show is also trying to say is that she is so tangled up whith all the lies and pretending that she is losing herself in her profession as well. So she is colapsing her personal and professional life bit by bit. She is slowly losing the hability to work with people she is wrongly envolved.
Tbf so much of the dialogues felt bad and cliché and made me roll my eyes. I turned it off after 4 episodes.
The Vanity Fair also says that her sister worked as a technical consultant, ensuring that Jean’s language with patients was realistic.
I wonder what the original script was like.
As somebody who has been in therapy for a long time I know her dialogue and behavior is horrible. Bahaha.
Oh, I’m intrigued. Might be the next new series I check out.
I’ve loved Naomi Watts since Mulholland Drive and then you have queer Naomi Watts, bonus! Also, I find it interesting that she used “Diane” as her fake name considering the Betty/Diane contrast in Mulholland Drive.
Many thanks for your thoughts in the last three paragraphs. Perfect would be perfect, but: Voltaire: “The best is the enemy of the good.” Confucius: “Better a diamond with a flaw than a pebble without.” Shakespeare: “Striving to better, oft we mar what’s well.”’ from Google when “perfect the enemy” is entered in search. Some years back, an election year, I think, someone (can’t recall who) compared the choices with this: the flight attendant listed the entree choices, chicken or dog poop. The response was: Is the chicken boneless?
The name definitely turned me away at first, but after reading this I’ll probably give it a chance. I’m generally not into shows with antiheroes, but this sounds interesting!
The fact that she orders a decaf Americano makes me not want to watch this
A good friend of mine has done a lot of work and research and writing about the problems the Roma people face in Hungary, and he has taught me a lot on the subject. Without this review, I wouldn’t have touched a show named “Gypsy” with a ten foot pole (…unless it was a TV adaptation of Gypsy the musical because HOLY SHIT SIGN ME UP FOR THAT).
But oh man, this show sounds INCREDIBLE. I’ve been saying for YEARS that all I’ve wanted from a tv show was a typical white-male-anti-hero show where the white-male-anti-hero was instead a queer woman of colour. How To Get Away With Murder has been filling that hole for me a bit, but this sounds like an EXCELLENT addition to that canon (well, um, minus the “of colour” part. Please tell me the show isn’t as white as those pictures all look?)
The title is absolutely problematic. But Heather you have done EXACTLY the right thing, in giving us an honest review of the show, but by ALSO recognizing and calling out the problematic nature of the title. To quote Anita Sarkeesian: “It is both good and even necessary to simultaneously enjoy media while being aware of its more problematic or pernicious aspects”. So yes, we can all still enjoy a show with a problematic name, so long as we never forget why that is so.
A lot of wtf moments. I’m not sure if I hate or love Jean and Sidney. But I actually enjoyed the show a lot.
Sad though that it sounds like there won’t be a season 2.
Welp, I’ve finished the entire first season and even though I hated it the entire time, I also couldn’t stop watching it and can’t wait for Season Two. The writing is clunky and the plotting is clumsy, she is the worst therapist in the world and maybe 10% of the whole thing earns its right to exist, but BUT i liked how dolly’s situation was treated as a low-key thing rather than a full-on parenting crisis and also i mean what can i say, i watched it even on my phone at the gym, i was that glued. now i feel like i am a danger to myself and possibly also to others, tbd
I saw only Jean/Diane & Sidney bits in youtube, but gosh oh gosh, it was confusing as heck. And sexy. Because Naomi Watts. Ever since Mullholand Drive, i have been waiting to play something like this.
Sidney seemed to be all on to Diane when they have a smoke together outside and persuaded her to go back into the bar. But then, was it just me who felt that Sidney just was too eager to get pot whilst they were having sex for the first time? The EF? And they way she goes all into Diane a few moments and then acts all interested in her ex other times.
Damn. Not sure if this is boon or a bane.
I stopped watching The Flash, and declined to watch the new Mystery Science Theater 3000 precisely because of those shows having characters with that precise ethnic slur for a name. Definitely not going to touch a show that uses it as a title. If I can’t say a show’s name out loud, I’m certainly not going to watch it.
Ah, I watched this show yesterday and was hoping Autostraddle would publish a review.
Only having read a short synopsis of this show prior to watching it, I went in expecting a one-night stand between Jean and Sidney at best. Therefore, I was pleasantly surprised by how much attention and weight this relationship was given, even though a lot of it was hella strange and ambiguous.
Gypsy is so not my thing, but I can’t wait for season 2.
“Jean’s interest in Sidney goes from piqued to peaked ”
Beautiful writing, Heather. I’ll watch this show, seems interesting
Stop me if you’ve heard this one A handsome, successful straight white man swaggers onto your TV in a pilot episode and spends the next five years systematically destroying everything he ever claimed to love. Tony Soprano, Don Draper, Walter White, Dexter Morgan, NICK BRODY, Hank Moody, Gregory House end Quote
well , even though nick brody is a big part in season 1-3 of Homeland, i always saw this a clearly centered Show around a strong woman,aka claire daines wo isnt always likeable,( as they sadly portray many female characters so no one is alienated, god forbid, she has her own mind). Even though, yes he destroys many lifes along his way, acidentally or intentionally.(i want to see dana “lazaro(?)former dana brody return somehow, she as an interesting ans strong female character as well.
I don’t know What the end was about?? Why wasn’t she furious? Why did she smile?!?!
i think because she recognized a fellow con-woman and they were setting it up for their season two relationship to continue in an even more complicated manner. she finally saw her for who she was and was like “checkmate.”
I think she was totally turned on and even more intrigued by Jean. And Jean, being that much narcissistic, felt thrilled discovering that even though Sidney knew the truth she was also envolved enough not to ler her go.
Has anyone seen ‘Ackley Bridge’ yet? 4 episodes and it is very impressive.
5 Minutes into the show and I’m hooked.
Do you know what Gypsy is?
It’s that under budgeted no name thriller you stumbled across at like, two a.m. on some obscure channel, while insomniac for one reason or another, that featured a destructive, thrilling attraction between two women.
One of them usually the FBI agent/Detective/Bored housewife, the other the suspect/girlfriend of the deceased with a murky past/younger woman.
Just as I did then, I’ll just lean back and enjoy the noir and the delicious tension.
And all the clunkyness and heavy handed foreshadowing.
I’ve only seen a few gifs on tumblr about this show and wanted to know more and if I should invest my time in it. When you first talked about Dolly I thought she was like 14-16 and then when I got to birthday party picture I was like wtf she’s like 4-6. I don’t know but I think I’m gonna be out for this one.
Just finished the show but Naomi Watts/Jean is Mommi af, right? #neverforget
I actually thought the writing and acting was exceptionally good until the middle of season 8, but htat coincides with when things really start to go off the rails for Jean’s different lives so maybe it was that. I’ve never been to therapy so maybe that’s why it doesn’t bother me as much; could be like when science shows are inaccurate and it kills the enjoyment for me since I’m a bio nerd.
I think the secondary characters are really well-developed and believable, especially Rebecca’s mom Claire: I love her; she seems so totally real to me. Jean’s friend, and Alexa, even Sam a bit, all seem like real ppl. Sidney and Dolly seem a bit of a cliche.
Anyway, would definitely watch season 2 if there was one; I like the show. Thanks for review; prob wouldn’t have noticed the show if AS hadn’t covered it.
I’m all for this show. I’m tired to death of “progressive” TV sex injected into mainstream TV always happens to be graphic gay sex, but we still shy VERY far away from lesbian encounters, and when they happen there is virtually no grunting or actual behavior that happens during sex (is this male privilege expressed through gay sex? lol).
For some reason woman on woman is still taboo, despite shows like How to get away with murder featuring about 48 man on man sex scenes, and Ozark featuring an FBI agent who switches male partners every other episode.
For my part I happen to adore shows that feature ZERO sex, especially when sex has absolutely nothing to do with why i am watching the show.
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