Sunday, October 16, 2011

Fictional Icon: Penny Hartz

Casey Wilson's character Penny Hartz on ABC's Happy Endings has given me a realization about her character.  The first season gave us the impression that she was going down the path of a sad, lonely, manic, desperate woman wanting to be married and have children ASAP but isn't having any luck.  Granted, this makes for great situational comedy, especially because Wilson is such a great physical comedian.  But what makes Season 2's Penny so gosh darn respectable and feminist?  Read to find out.

1. Penny acknowledges her own feminism and insecurities about it.
Last season dealt with Penny doing anything to try to date and keep a man, adapting to the man's lifestyle (being Jewish and a hipster).  But in this year's season premiere "Blax, Snake, Home", Penny moves into a new (and humongous) condo, as she got a promotion.  And on the first date since she got the condo, she brought the man back to her place.  The guy became insecure since a woman was making more money than him.  He decided to "go work on [his] resume."  What a jerk.  This left Penny depressed, even though she discovered she has a wine fridge!  She then becomes susceptible to being cursed as "a sad spinster".  She begins to believe the idea and furthers the depression.

Penny occasionally falls back into the weak, submissive Penny, a showcased in Season 2 Episode 2 "Baby Steps".  She and Alex become engrossed in high school drama, befriending the Mean Girls of the local high school.  Penny wants to be accepted by the popular folk, rather than ridiculed by them.  She even went so far in high school as to pretend she was a Latino exchange student.  She falls back into that, declaring "Dos Mio" when the girls begin talking to Alex.  Her high school crush is a brother to one of the girls, sparking a hope that she can finally be with him.  But she eventually comes back to reality after realizing she's been used for her money.

The first season finale, Penny's backup husband is getting married, so she gets a fake fiance as well.  She declares to her friends, "I made a big mistake.  I panicked.  I mean I’m an independent woman and everything but no matter how hard you sing to Liz Phair or how many women’s surf camps you go to, when the chips are down, you’re going fake fiance."  She knows she's supposed to be an independent woman, and sometimes it takes extra effort for her to not rely on finding a man to give her the happiness she wants.  This struggle is often overlooked, and it's downright delightful!

2. Penny is the group's glue, even while she's falling apart.
In the opening of the pilot, when everyone is in Dave and Alex's honeymoon suite and everything falls apart, Penny is the one to save the day by removing the knife from Brad's leg, taking the epipen from Alex and using it on Jane, and throwing the ice from the ice bucket on Max who nearly vomits along with Jane and Brad while Alex and Dave are freaking out.  Penny then acts like nothing happened, ordering a movie.

She continues this aspect of her personality in the third episode when her mom, down in the dumps after Penny brings her to reality, makes harsh comments to her friends.  They don't take it well, and Penny is the one to cheer them up.  She realizes that she's the positive one of the group and keeps them all in line.

3. She's a strong woman, moving her way up in the business world...without sleeping with bosses to get her there!

That's right...Penny's great at her job, as expressed in the last episode with her mother (Megan Mullally), when she comes up with the pitch that sells the awful idea of neck exercisers ("Nexerciser").  She even wrote the commercial for the Nexerciser, the number one seller on Sky Mall, y'all.

After last season's 13th episode where she wanted to be the cool boss but rather got taken advantage of by her new assistant, it seemed like she may not be able to be the aggressive independent woman.  But we're now proved that she is.

It is "The Year of Penny."  And a great year it will be.  Let's raise our glasses to Penny Pen Pen!

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