Plain Jane is all about how a British woman turns a girl I would give my eyeteeth to date into a girl just like every other girl. There's a scene where show center Louise Roe, the aforementioned British woman, straps a shock collar onto the girl she's trying to transform from plain Jane into sexy swan (or whatever) and sends her out to talk to guys in a dog park. At first, she's talking to guys sarcastically, cracking jokes and bending down to pet their dogs, but then Louise keeps shocking her. Don't be sarcastic! Don't bend down! We are not on our knees here! Here's the thing, though: A witheringly sarcastic girl who pets every dog she comes into contact with? I LOVE that girl. I MARRIED that girl. By the episode's end, she's got some of her essential soul, but she's been made to be every guy's submissive dream. She's less interesting. I get that society is all about the triumph of conformity, but good Lord, The CW.
Our heroine—named Cristen, if you must know—has embarked on this journey because she's had a crush on a guy named Ty since college, and she doesn't know how to tell him this. "Oh, hey, Ty, would you like to go on a date sometime?" is just too tough, I guess. So she's called in Louise to help her overcome her fears and gain confidence, and at the end of the process, she'll go on a blind date with Ty and declare her intentions toward him. This is a pretty basic self-improvement reality show with a side twist of the old-fashioned Princess Diaries transformation scenario, and I get why that's appealing to people. Hell, I enjoy the shit out of transformation scenarios. The idea of someone becoming someone else is vaguely unsettling to me, and I like the way these shows don't realize that what they bill as a "good thing" is almost always kind of scary. But Plain Jane repulsed even me.
I'm about to spoil the ending of Plain Jane. I know you're shocked.
Ty has always liked Cristen. He had a crush on her in college. HE HAD A CRUSH ON HER WHEN SHE WAS SARCASTIC, DOG-LOVING GIRL. But the two were both too shy to ever bring it up with each other, so this resulted in a completely unnecessary confidence-boosting exercise (complete with elaborate She and Him infused soundtrack) constructed entirely to give Cristen the confidence to tell Ty that she liked him. But she could have been dating him years ago, without having to receive zaps from a shock collar and the withering disdain of a British person if she had just gotten up the gumption to tell him. The final moment in the episode is a montage of photos of the two's current relationship, and in every single one of them, Cristen has retreated from the "lessons" she learned on the show, returning to hoodies and blue jeans and tennis shoes. The one change she's made to her overall look is that she wears her hair down more, and I could have friggin' told her to do THAT. But in the photos, it's clear that Ty pretty much adores her. As well he should! She's winning and cute and funny. She didn't need all of the other bullshit.
I'd give the show complete props if it grasped the irony of all of this, the fact that its transformation element was completely unnecessary and could have been completely replaced with Louise sitting Cristen down in a chair for a few hours and repeating, "The worst thing he can say is no" to her over and over and over. But it seems a little oblivious to the fact that everything it did to this girl was unnecessary. She didn't need to wear a shock collar to get a confidence boost. She didn't need to put on a pretty dress and learn that she has pretty nice boobs with the right top. She just needed to be forthright and, indeed, be herself. I get that this is a big problem for a lot of people—both men AND women—but the show really seems to think that the reason the two got together was because it slapped an expensive dress on Cristen and gave her shock collar confidence training.
The screener The CW sent out for this was around 15 minutes short of something that would actually air on TV, so rather than pre-review it, I diligently waited around for the actual broadcast to see if the show was at all self-aware. Instead, the additional minutes were mostly filled with lengthy montages. Montages of Cristen having makeup applied. Montages of Cristen's old and new wardrobe. Montages of Cristen getting her hair done. (Though one thing the show cut out from the old version was just how uninterested her hairdresser sounded in her constant babble about the guy she's had a crush on since college. Even HE knew it was time to push the button and see what happened.) The whole thing was lengthy chick lit porn, with the idea that if you got picked by just the right reality TV show, you, too, could be the heroine of a Jennifer Weiner novel (only a Weiner novel totally would have gotten the irony).
It is entirely possible that I don't get how hard it is to be on the dating scene because I've been with the same woman for a while and never had trouble talking to girls before that because I'm a.) from a small, rural area and b.) delusional. It's entirely possible that I don't get how hard it is to put yourself on the line with a guy you've been so obsessed with for so long that even your friends' eyes glaze over when you talk about him. And it's entirely possible that I don't get how hard it is to live in this society as a woman, where every other image you see suggests to you that you are just not good enough to find some sort of lasting love.
But you know what? I'm going to make this confidential to ALL WOMEN: You are great. Really. I've liked just about every one of you that I've ever met on one level or another, and the few that I've disliked have had a tendency to skew more toward the pretty ones you all seem to aspire to be than toward the unattractive ones you fear you are. I know that most of you know this because most of you are strong and confident and happy with your lives. Most of you are happy to be goofy and sarcastic and dog lovers. But there must be a vocal minority of you who aren't that way because shows like this keep popping up, and they're always just successful enough to suggest there should be more shows like this. So I'm just going to say this, once again: The last thing Cristen needed was a makeover. The first thing she needed was someone to tell her how awesome she was as is. Now, in a roundabout, totally ass-backwards way that makes me hate television and the human race, she has that. Everybody else? You don't need a TV show or British person to tell you that. I only give F's to shows I find base and offensive. Plain Jane is selling a fantasy, sure, but it's also selling the idea that the only way to find true happiness is to embrace that fantasy. And, worse, it doesn't seem at all aware of just how ridiculous it sounds saying this with a straight face.
- I once met a girl who was in her husband's e-mail to get some information for the hotel they were staying at on a vacation and found out he'd been corresponding with the show What Not to Wear about giving her a makeover. She wasn't sure how to feel about it. Hell, I have no idea how I'd feel about it if I found out my wife was going to enter me on … well, I don't know if there's an equivalent reality show for guys.
- I also had a friend on A Makeover Story once. That went better all around.
- Next week on Plain Jane: A totally kick-ass girl who dresses like a crazy person gets turned into a straight-haired beauty who exclusively wears dresses. COME ALONG FOR THE FUN.