Judd Apatow has a rep: King of the Bromance. But now, he’s got a new show coming: GIRLS, on HBO. Although he’s not writing the show, he’s Exec Producing - which means he’s the keeper of the creative flame. My bet is that he’ll get the zeitgeist right. To illustrate, let’s look at a previous work, Knocked Up - and see how he got women into theaters to see (and love) a farting, pot-smoking, porn-site-developing slacker named Ben Stone.
Ask 20-35 year-old women today about the opposite sex, and you’ll hear again and again: “For the love of God, we want men to be men - not boys in men’s bodies.” A lot of women want men to be more assertive - to be more traditionally masculine. They understand it’s a little complicated these days, but come on - would it kill you to pick up the check? To put down the beer bong and get a job? To make a freaking commitment?
This, incidentally, is not cool to discuss in some circles. It’s considered anti-feminist. But, of course, the living, breathing ticket-buying culture doesn’t care about what’s politically-correct - it just rocks on being its authentic self. And the deeply-felt longing among many women for men to take charge once in a while - old school - is quite real. Not all women, of course …
Possibly doesn’t attend many romantic comedies
At the beginning of Knocked Up, Ben Stone (played by Seth Rogen) epitomizes the slacker stereotype. He’s also recently impregnated the much-hotter, much-more-successful Alison, played by Kathryn Heigl.
“I’m seriously freaked out and unprepared for this.”
So much, women are likely to hate. But by the end of the film, Ben is transformed, Beauty and the Beast style: he’s got a steady job (cubicle!), read his baby books, and got his own apartment (with baby room!). Still, for the Z to be fully acknowledged, Ben needs to assert himself - to be a man. In Knocked Up, this means that Ben must overthrow Alison’s sister, the shrewish Debbie. She’s got to be moved.
You might think, this being the 21st century and all, that Apatow would ease into it. Be respectful. Ummm, No. Remember, Apatow isn’t playing to the womyn’s studies department at Sarah Lawrence - he’s playing to the mass zeitgeist. In that world, women aren’t waiting for one more sensitive guy. They’re genuinely longing to feel the security of a strong, assertive man. Let’s see how it’s done.
Alison’s in the maternity room, and the baby is on its way. Debbie, acting again as surrogate husband, has told Ben to shove off. We have our moment of truth: Will Ben finally be a Marlboro Man?
INT. HOSPITAL - HALLWAY
Ben and Debbie talk in the hallway alone.
I’d like to be in there with
Okay. I understand how you feel, but
this isn’t up to you.
Look, Debbie, you are high off your
ass if you think you’re coming into
that room. If you take one step
towards that door, I will tell
security there’s a crazy chick in a
pink dress snatching up babies. Okay?
So don’t even try to come into that
room. That’s my room now. That little
area with the Pepsi machine…that’s
(points to hospital room)
(Points to waiting area)
Your area. Stay in your area. Stay out of my room. Back
the fuck off.
Ben Stone is now officially, satisfyingly (to the women who flock to Apatow comedies) a man. But we need to see the reaction for the women in the audience to reach … let’s call it sateity. Apatow doesn’t disappoint - the very next scene:
INT. HOSPITAL - WAITING ROOM
Debbie sits down in a seat next to Pete.
What are you doing here?
He just kicked me out. He told me to
leave. But I guess it’s good, right?
He said he’s going to take care of
her. He really seems on his game. I
think he’s going to be a good dad. I
think I like him. Thank God.
Not included in the screenplay is the huge sigh Debbie gives before the last line. It’s almost post-coital in its satisfaction.
This is how it’s done: you find the Z - the attitudes, anxieties and aspirations of the target audience, then articulate those values back to the audience with maximum empathy. There’s a reason women come to Apatow movies. It’s all about the Z.
Apatow gets women and doesn’t pull punches. He’s proved it before - and my money’s on him getting it right again with his new show. Can’t wait to see how he plays it to a younger demographic.