"BITE ME, ALIEN BOY!"
--Catherine Tate (as Lauren Cooper) to David Tennant on this must-be-watched Comic Relief sketch
I've been thinking, fleetingly, about duos lately. And about what makes partnerships work. My own fannish life seems to have been surrounded by twosomes, generally writing or comedy ones, generally all male/male. And it got me thinking about what male/female TV duos there is out there that I enjoy. (Not many, it turned out. Because male/female duos are tricky. And I'll get to why in a minute.)
I have also been thinking about female role models. Which, having spent so much of my blogging time fangirling people from Russell Brand to Gerard Way to Ricky Gervais to Mark Gatiss to Damon Albarn, was about bloody time.
Late as always, Catherine Tate caught my eye when she was David Tennant’s sidekick on Doctor Who for a full series and there was something about that, about the two of them together, that got me. For one, she’s older than him, which isn’t just a rare thing for a female sidekick on Doctor Who, but is basically unheard of in the entire world of movie and television history. She’s also funnier than him. I mean, she doesn't always get the best lines on the show, but when she does, she shines. Added to that is the fact that he genuinely doesn’t seem to mind that she’s funnier than him, not on-screen and not off-screen. Again - not something that’s only rare for a British science fiction show about a 900 year old Time Lord.
And that is, of course, why they are one of my favourite boy-slash-friend-slash-girl-slash-friend television duo, right up behind Mulder and Scully. Because the thing about David Tennant - and why he's been widely considered the sexiest man on british TV for a number of years now - is his complete lack of Alpha Male-ness. Which is why he can be in a male/female, non-sexual duo with someone like Catherine Tate. All male/female television duos out there can sit up and start taking notes now: This is how you do it. (And, yet, none of you are.)
Because come on, we all know what m/f television duos are like, and why they never work, and why there always has to be that sexual side added to it because otherwise it would just be dulldulldull. We're not allowed to say it, as when Cissi Wallin criticized the eurovision presenters before they even had appeared on TV, but we all know. The television hosts and the crime show drama couples and the radio djs. We know what the template is. It's always the same. He's the goofy, funny one and she lets him play off her. He is the leading man. She, although generally more carefully styled to draw the audience's and the media's attention to
It was evident on Doctor Who. It's evident on Comic Relief. And it's evident in all their joint interviews (they're currently doing Shakespeare together so there has been a lot of them recently).
There is an episode of Nevermind the Buzzcocks. I’ve been a big fan of the show for years, especially after Simon Amstell took over, but you can’t get away from the fact that when it comes to funny female panellists, it’s just as lacking as every other comedy panel show out there - from QI to Big Fat Quiz of the Year. So when Buzzcocks did a Doctor Who special with David Tennant as the host and Catherine Tate as one of the pannelists, it warmed a feminist heart to watch. Because she is the funniest one in it, no contest (oh, and so genuinely uneducated in Doctor Who trivia despite having been on it for a year, that Tennant at one point exclaims ”It’s like we’ve never met!”). And it’s also so clear that Tennant loves watching her do her thing, and that even though they made him the host, he has no problem taking a backseat and let her steal the show.
As a woman, rarely seeing women stealing the show on TV hurts your self confident in that area, and claiming that it has no profound effect on how women are viewed and view themselves is just silly, and kind of arrogant. And the fact that people, even male comedians themselves, today feel comfortable discussing "male humor" and "female humor" as two different things (even though this strangely accepted view on humor being gendered ironically produced the funniest SCIENCE FAIL ever!) is evidence of the biggest problem with the m/f duo template. And then they claim that men and women compete on equal terms, even though humor is something you develop, and obviously not on equal terms.
Catherine Tate: "What's it called…that thing…?”
Noel Fielding: ”Scifi?”
Catherine Tate: ”Yes!”
--Nevermind the Buzzcocks Doctor Who special