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Jane by Design: ABC Family’s newest installment in female wish fulfillment

6 Feb

I guess I missed the memo that told me if I needed to get a paying job in New York City, what I really needed to do was go back to high school, apply for an internship in fashion and accidently get hired as a top designer’s new executive assistant for a part time rate that didn’t seem to exist when I was looking for part time jobs in New York.  But that little issue in the premise aside, this show is fast becoming my secret guilty pleasure.

Jane By Design was created by April Blair and executive produced by Blair and Gavin Palone (think Gilmore Girls which is wholly ironic considering Polone’s reputation for not being cozy and cuddly; but that’s fine with me, as sickly sweet people not only make me entirely suspicious but make me want to well, either be sick or deck them, most likely, both).  Palone is also executive producer of Larry David‘s Curb Your Enthusiasm, far more Palone, far less girly.  But this show, whose premise is that Jane Quimby (Erica Dasher) is a high school outcast who lives a double life, isn’t wholly sweet by any measure.  In fact, Jane encounters so many bitches by the fourth episode and has figured out how to make them either human or at least cope with them that I think she needs to create her own self-help guide and sell it.  Honestly, I wish I had taken lessons from her years ago.  Her best friend, Billy (Nick Roux), helps her navigate high school and sometimes aids her in some of her many fiascos at the fashion house.  I’m still not sure how I feel about the episode where he plays her personal dresser in the girl’s bathroom where she must change in between a formal dress for a school dance and one for a fashion show event on the same night.  Maybe times have changed concerning girl’s toilets and getting dressed in front of guy best friends.  Again, I must have missed that memo.  It seems creepy.  Even more so because we know he is straight and in love with Jane’s arch nemesis in school, the most popular girl, Lulu (Meagan Tandy).

Not to worry, Jane has her own personal arch rival at the fashion house as well, India (India de Beaufort). Watching India operate is like watching a primer in how to deal with workplace enemies.  She is especially slippery as she is older and far more cunning than Lulu.  The problem is that sometimes, India can be a bit human.  Yes, that happens after adolescence.  At least to females.  I’m never sure if straight males evolve that far.  Sorry straight males, I know, a few of you have but you are in the minority.  The other strong female presence in Jane’s life, who is at once the greatest challenge to Jane and her greatest asset, is her boss, Gray Chandler Murray (Andie McDowell).  McDowell does a wonderful job playing the exact type of hard-assed woman who I detest working for.  The ones that are never happy and constantly undermine and undercut you and your performance.  The question is:  will McDowell’s character become human by the end of the season?  Because that fascinates me even more than if Jane will survive her internship/assistantship.

While I have some feminist issues with women’s wish fulfillment television shows and films, I find this show a bit refreshing, most certainly when it comes to Jane’s drive and ambition.  The fact that she isn’t letting her loser status in high school influence her confidence when it comes to her career and natural gifts (in her case, fashion design) is a lesson we all need to remember.  As Jane’s confidence grows through her professional work and accomplishments, her personality starts to shine through, even at school.  This is probably the most important message coming from this show:  believe in yourself and your natural abilities.  Some of us were not lucky enough to realize our natural abilities in high school.  So think of this show as an intervention for assessing your natural abilities.  I wish I had.

Yes, there are stereotypes in the show.  But with men and women.  Billy undermines his friendship with Jane because he likes Lulu.  Jane’s brother and guardian (their parents are dead) is a jock who isn’t the brightest person, but he is learning to be kind as he… matures.  Finally, Jane’s workplace romantic prospect, Jeremy (Rowley Dennis) is just as big a louse as the jock, Nick Fadden (Matthew Atkinson) she likes in high school.  Both play around.  There isn’t a version of the idolized male here.  Certainly not in teen boys nor in some men in certain professional positions.  Of course, maybe most females don’t see this the same way I do.  Perhaps they like to accept some guys are players (or think they are).  Perhaps that makes them feel even more wanted.  That would be the female viewers with low self esteem.  At least Jane sees Jeremy for the snake that he is and chooses to form a professional alliance/friendship with him rather than any romantic entanglement.  I’m sorry but I’m not sure I believe any teenage girl would be that strong or sophisticated in her emotional choice when it came to some hot, successful guy’s attention.  But then, I’m just a pessimist watching a teenage girl’s wish fulfillment show.

Jane By Design can be seen on Tuesdays at 9pm on ABC Family.

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