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he’s got takeout, she’s got e.s.p.

August 1, 2011

If you’re like me and your work schedule prohibits you from consuming a lot of pop culture when it’s actually happening (in the evenings), Netflix and Hulu can be your best friends in catching up. Right now I’m on a little “Medium” jag. The series ended this year after 7 seasons, and though I remember watching a few episodes when it started, I hadn’t watched any more until now.

It’s not like a great show. I’m attracted to it because it involves the supernatural, but the main character’s extrasensory powers are basically just a mash-up of all the general stuff. She can talk to the dead, she has prophetic dreams, and she can see people’s pasts by shaking their hands, depending on what’s most convenient for the plot. Nothing new there. I am also attracted to the crime drama part of it: I find it very satisfying to watch programs in which bad guys are identified and justice is done, and I don’t mind if the first part always happens around 21 minutes and the second at 43. This show does that.

The thing that is actually interesting about “Medium” is the life of the family, the DuBois (DuBoises?). Every episode that I’ve seen has involved at least one morning scene, in which Allison and her husband Joe attempt to feed and nurture three children, get them off to school, and get themselves off to work, all the while examining her latest vision and trying to solve the crime. Many episodes involve discussions between the two about who said they’d remember to pick up dinner, who wasn’t going to work so late anymore, or who forgot to take care of what chore during the day. I love this detailed presentation of the family challenges of having both parents work. I love seeing a woman deal with the burdens and joys of both and I love seeing her succeed at it.

“Medium” premiered around the same time as “The Closer.” Both feature central female characters and a male lead that plays a genuinely supporting role, both as character and actor. The boyfriend in “The Closer” has a job and is involved in many of her cases in that capacity, but his overall function is always to develop her character. Likewise, Joe has a job that sometimes fits into the plot, but primarily as a supplement to Allison’s story or the story of one of their daughters.

Feminism for me is not about simply inverting the power structure. It is not about making women always the breadwinners and adventurers and men always the supporting cast. It is about making marriages genuinely equal, a partnership in which both people care for children and the home and both people pursue their goals and ambitions. Or more accurately, it is about making that an option, along with traditional marriage and its inversion, depending on the couple.

One way of creating that possibility in people’s minds is to tell stories in which women play the central role and to include in those stories the struggle to balance work, life, marriage and motherhood. “Medium,” quite refreshingly, does that.

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