Popular Sitcoms Deviating from the “Manic Pixie Dream Girl”

Gender roles are heavily based on stereotypes that have been popularized in society. These stereotypes are seen not only in the media, but throughout common family traditions. This dynamic usually involves a “machista male” and a submissive woman (typically depicted as a caregiver). The description above can be described in #1 The Manic Pixie Dream Girl (Tropes vs. Women) YouTube video. A trope is defined as a common pattern in a story or a recognizable attribute in a character that conveys information to the audience. Feministfrequency remarks the Manic Pixie Dream Girl as a supporting character used to further the storyline of the male hero. Their essential purpose is to fix lonely, sad men so that they can go off and fix the world.

Media objects portraying this particular trope include both movies and television shows. 500 Days of Summer (2009) and Garden State (2004) are both mentioned in the video as being classic depictions. This all sounds harsh on paper because we’re essentially supporting a stereotype, but we let it become the norm as it does make for a great source of romantic comedies. According to Rotten Tomatoes, 500 Days of Summer received a rating of 86% for its real life sense of romance and reminiscence of Annie Hall (1977). Garden State on the other hand has the same critic rating but higher audience score of 88% for its [compelling] “illumination of a young man’s overdue coming of age with unexpected depth and grace.”

Moreover, ever since the 1950’s the major theme of domestic comedies have been the myth of female dominance and break-down of male authority (124). In contrast to the media examples above, here are a few shows that battle the popular trope: Love (2016), How I Met Your Mother (2005), and 13 Reasons Why (2017).

Love tells a romantic tale between an unlikely couple, Mickey (Gillian Jacobs) and Gus (Paul Rust), due to their polar opposite personalities. Roles are reversed here, Mickey represents the cool girl persona with a destructive side and Gus is simply a dork that gets walked all over like a mat. The focus of this comedy revolves around Mickey’s addictive qualities and how that plays out through her day to day life.

How I Met Your Mother is yet another love story, taking the audience on a 9 season journey with Ted (Josh Radnor) to find his one true significant other. He’s a hopeless romantic who falls for Robin (Cobie Smulders) again and again. In her first appearance, Ted sees Robin from across the room (cliche from romantic comedies, much?). The mise-en-scene is deliberate in giving off a Manic Pixie Dream Girl vibe, but throughout the series we learn that this character is more than just your average girl next door.  

13 Reasons Why thrills viewers with flashbacks detailing a woman’s struggle towards happiness. This controversial show received both applause and backlash for a storyline that played the truth too well. The main character, Hannah (Katherine Langford), along with the entirety of the Netflix original series brings attention to mental health and how that affects young adults. Her search for self-identity opposes the notion of just being a supporting role because it’s all about her, not helping someone else find themselves. 

The media has been slowly working its way towards breaking down barriers and progressing towards equality. Actor and writer, Paul Rust, states, “We didn’t want it to be that thing where a woman just needs to find the love of a nice guy and she’ll be okay and it’ll fix her. That’s just an incorrect way of thinking.” Hence, the rejection of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl because that is just an idealized version of finding self-identity through the “love” of another person.

As told by Feministfrequency, “You might now know this but we’re [women] full and complete human being with our own troubles, interests, and endeavors. So how about you stop using us as your muse and start writing us as real people.” So how does Hollywood respond to this request? Characters straying from traditional gender roles inevitably become an “unhappy and pathetic” protagonist. It’s rather unfortunate that the only female alternatives are presented in a negative light, for example, being alone or socially inept.

This is true with Mickey’s character in Love when she finally admits her addiction to sex, love, drugs, and alcohol. She has a difficult time staying sober long enough before she relapses again. Although she finds a balance between her relationship with Gus, “It’s like, um… you pushed me a little closer to the ledge. Yeah. And you… you pulled me back from it.”

Not only that but she also has a manipulative aspect to her personality, something that’s seen more often in males. For instance, she sleeps with her boss as a “power move” rather than for the purpose of having romantic feelings. Their one-sided relationship is permanently ruined with this one impulsive action that “doesn’t count” on Mickey’s terms. Her boss gives a blunt warning to Mickey’s current boyfriend, Gus, when he says “the point is she’s a fucking user, Gus. Mickey used me to keep her job. She is using you. She doesn’t like you. You’re just another schmuck in a… in a long line of schmucks that she sleeps with to make her feel like her life means something.” We sympathize for both the male characters here being portrayed as mere victims. A couple other examples are when she first kisses Gus to prevent him from walking out of her life forever and when she tricks her new roommate, Bertie (Claudia O’Doherty), into going out to spend quality time together when Mickey’s true motive was to see Gus without his knowledge. Love takes a drastic spin on the idealized female protagonist by giving her serious issues to deal with.

Taking a look at Robin Scherbatsky in How I Met Your Mother, she proves to be a very capable and independent character. Though she’s one of the many love interests of Ted Mosby, the Manic Pixie Dream Girl quality just isn’t there. Robin can hold her own ground with the support of her strong Canadian roots, love for guns, and apartment full of dogs.

Her spirit sounds great, right? As cool as her character may be, she definitely has some anger issues. A lot of this anger throughout the series is reflected towards her annoyance with Patrice (Ellen D. Williams). Robin’s feelings aren’t masked at all, but actually out in the open for everyone to see.

This character also deals with the need for companionship. She dates here and there but no one seems to really stay. As the seasons go by, Robin develops more depth when we learn that she isn’t able to bear her own children (spoilers!). She finds different ways to fill this void, like focusing on her career for example.

Hannah Baker in 13 Reasons Why is far from the happy-go-lucky female character. Aside from battling depression and her inner most thoughts, she hardly ever smiles. This is making a bold statement to the idea that women should smile more. Why should we? I’ve personally been told this before, more than once actually, and found it rather offensive and inappropriate at times (especially when it’s a male telling me to do so).

Details, details, details. This is exactly what gives these females the complexity they need to stand out. Gender roles are now becoming a thing of the past. Women can be anything they want. Unfortunately, in this case they are anything but stable. It’s easy to analyze this through a negative perspective, however, it makes you realize everyone is going through something (regardless of gender) and more importantly to be mindful of that. Can you think of a form of media where the female character isn’t like a sidekick to a male superhero or as troubled as a villain?

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