The musings of a feminist pop culture fanatic

Bechdel Week: Thursday

Sorry this is up late. Thursday is my most crowded night for television, so I couldn’t get everything watched in one night. Tonight’s line-up includes analysis of The Big Bang Theory, 30 Rock, Up All Night, The Office, Glee, Grey’s Anatomy, Parks and Recreation, and Scandal.

Reminder of the Bechdel test requirements: Two women must talk to each other about something other than a man at any point in the episode.

“The 43 Peculiarity”
Written by Steven Molaro, Jim Reynolds, Steve Holland, Chuck Lorre, Dave Goetsch, & Anthony Del Broccolo
Summary: Howard and Raj try to discover where Sheldon disappears to every afternoon at 2:45. Meanwhile, jealousy appears to have insinuated itself into Leonard and Penny’s relationship.
Does this show pass the Bechdel test? Epic failure.

There are a grand total of two women in this episode and they aren’t ever even in a scene together. Considering this episode was written by six men, and Big Bang isn’t known for its portrayal of gender roles, it was pretty much a lost cause. I would have been more shocked if it had passed.

“Aunt Phatso vs. Jack Donaghy”
Written by Luke Del Tredici
Summary: Tracy portrays Jack as a villain in a new movie, causing friction between the two. Meanwhile, Liz undergoes foot surgery, and Jenna tries to protect Kenneth from Hazel’s sly machinations.
Does this show pass the Bechdel test? Yes!

Hazel (Kristen Schaal) manages to convince Liz (Tina Fey) to let her be her assistant. It’s pretty much wonderful. Everything between them passes the Bechdel test and is also completely hilarious.

Written by Joel Church-Cooper, Austen Earl, & Rene Gube
Summary: Reagan tries to give Chris a perfect Thanksgiving after he misses his chance to go home for the holiday. Elsewhere, Ava and Walter devote their time to charity; and Scott arranges a dinner for divorced dads.
Does this show pass the Bechdel test? Narrowly

At one point, we see Ava (Maya Rudolph) talk to her manicurist about what her plans are for Thanksgiving. It’s a fairly minimal scene, but it’s the one that helps set up the rest of Ava’s storyline. Technically, Walter (Sean Hayes) is also present for the scene, but Ava and the manicurist do talk directly to each other without Walter’s interference.

“The Whale”
Written by Carrie Kemper
Summary: Dwight faces his greatest profession shortcoming – selling to women. As a result, the lady staffers step up to give him advice so he can successfully sell to an important female client. Meanwhile, Angela suspects her paramour is cheating.
Does this show pass the Bechdel test? Yes

We see Jan (Melora Hardin) and Pam (Jenna Fischer) talking about their children.

The central plot to the episode focuses on how Dwight (Rainn Wilson) talks to women and how that hinders his ability to be an effective salesman. As Dwight is easily the most misogynistic on the show and possibly on television as a whole, it’s nice to see him called on his behavior. While these scenes don’t technically pass the Bechdel test, they involve five women teaching Dwight how to be a better listener and act like an actual person. Dwight and Pam also have a conversation about Dwight’s feelings toward women and Pam explains why he’s wrong.

Written by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa
Summary: Rachel, Kurt, Santana and Cassandra July return as the glee club kicks off its production of “Grease.”
Does this show pass the Bechdel test? Yes, but that doesn’t mean it’s all positive

All the interaction between Marley (Melissa Benoist) and her mother passes the test. We also see Marley, Tina (Jenna Ushkowitz), Kitty (Becca Tobin), Sugar (Vanessa Lengies), Brittany (Heather Morris), and Unique (Alex Newell) talking about body image and having a sleepover. At the sleepover, we see Kitty teaching Marley how to make herself throw up. We also see Brittany and Santana (Naya Rivera) have a conversation about the status of their relationship.

The body image stuff isn’t handled perfectly, but it’s much better than I expected. It helps that the most competent writer on the Glee staff wrote this episode.

“Second Opinion”
Written by William Harper
Summary: The crash victims proceed with their lawsuit, which requires them to face their injuries. Meanwhile, Bailey sneakily gets Arizona to assist with a pediatric case; and Cristina works on adjusting to her new surroundings.
Does this show pass the Bechdel test? From the first second.

The opening scene features Bailey (Chandra Wilson) and Callie (Sara Ramirez) talking about fellow co-worker/Callie’s wife Arizona (Jessica Capshaw) and how she’s handling her recent leg amputation. Later, we see Bailey talking to a patient’s mother about her daughter, followed by a conversation between Bailey and Arizona about a patient. I could recap every scene they have together, but suffice it to say, that entire storyline passes the Bechdel test. It focuses on Arizona’s struggle to accept her status as an amputee and accept that she is not yet perfect at using her prosthetic leg. It also shows how Bailey is trying to be a good friend by encouraging Arizona to move past her injuries and integrate them into her normal life.

“Leslie vs. April”
Written by Harris Wittels
Summary: Leslie disapproves of April’s plan to transform a lot into a dog park, while Ben gets roped into helping Tom launch his new business venture, and Andy finds himself playing crime-scene investigator.
Does this show pass the Bechdel test? Yes!

The entire storyline between Leslie (Amy Poehler) and April (Aubrey Plaza) passes the Bechdel test. The focus is on which of them can get the city to approve plans for a park. It also touches on how April has evolved since the beginning of the series and showcases a great relationship between a mentor and mentee. Basically, each ensuing scene between Leslie, April and Ann (Rashida Jones) more than passes the test.

“Spies Like Us”
Written by Chris Van Dusen
Summary: A mysterious letter alludes to Huck’s sinister past and warns it may be revealed. Meanwhile, Olivia wants Harrison to contain the damage from a coworker’s disclosed secret; and Cyrus and Fitz handle the fallout from James’ front-page story.
Does this show pass the Bechdel test? It’s a little bit of gray area.

We primarily see people interacting in a professional setting. There is no scene involving only two women until one of the very last scenes and they do talk about a man. However, there are plenty of scenes where women outnumber men and all interact with each other. The primary group of employees consists of three women and two men and the leader of the firm is an incredibly powerful woman. Most of the scenes are mixed gender and involve more than two people. Relationships aren’t the main focus of the show, so nearly all the talk is about fixing political conflicts.

Olivia Pope (Kerry Washington) is one of the most powerful people in Washington and spends a lot of the episode giving orders to her employees (which consist of both men and women). She does spend a portion of the episode trying to break up the relationship between her employee Abby (Darby Stanchfield) and AUSA David Rosen (Joshua Molina) because it causes potentially life-threatening political problems. Unfortunately, her strategy to break them up involved convincing Abby, who was previously in a very abusive relationship, that David is also an abuser, even though he’s not at all.

Overall, this was a fantastic night for the Bechdel test. 30 Rock, Up All Night, Parks and Recreation, Grey’s Anatomy, and Scandal all are shows that portray strong female characters. Only one show (The Big Bang Theory) completely and utterly failed it, but I don’t think anyone ever expected Big Bang to pass. Up All Night and The Office didn’t pass with flying colors, but more stumbled through with a passing grade. Glee wasn’t fantastic, but did portray issues with body image mostly okay, which is incredibly relevant to the teenagers who are watching the show. 30 Rock, Parks and Recreation, Grey’s Anatomy, and Scandal also have the added benefit of portraying women in fields typically dominated by men (television writing, politics, medicine, and law, respectively).


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