Month: August 2012

A note about the finale of Lipstick Jungle and being “incidentally Asian”

In the Season 2 finale (which turned out to also be the series finale) of Lipstick Jungle, we meet Victory Ford’s parents.

Now, actress Lindsay Price is half Korean, half “white bread American,” but no mention is made of Victory’s ethnic heritage until this last episode. The only slight reference we get is when she and Wendy move a folding partition from Victory’s store into Wendy’s apartment to create a home-office space. The wall divider has Korean characters on it, and Victory jokes about what they mean.

Note: We could assume that Victory’s somewhat conservative stance on nudity and alcohol draws from an Asian-influenced upbringing… But I don’t think that was really the writers’ intention. I think they chalked that up to her being from the traditional-values-loving Midwest.

Anyway, as a fellow halfie, part of me liked that Victory’s background was never an issue, and part of me was disappointed.

On the one hand, it’s no fun when ethnicity becomes a character’s defining trait. It’s too easy to get caught up in race politics that way, not to mention stereotypes and bad jokes. So I’m glad that Victory just was whoever she was — “incidentally Asian” — without it coming up all the time.

On the other hand, ethnicity and culture do play a part in one’s identity. Whether you embrace it, deny it, or something in between, it’s a factor. So for it to never come up seems a bit odd. Would it have been so hard to show a Korean influence in Victory’s home decor? Or in her fashion designs? Would that not have made her more distinct as a character, without it becoming a Thing that needed to be mentioned aloud?

Sidebar: Actually, that balance is something I think the writers of Cashmere Mafia handled well with Lucy Liu and her character Mia Mason. Mia’s Asian-ness is never directly mentioned by her friends or coworkers, but at some point we meet her parents, and we get a few cultural insights (from all sides) when they try to set her up with a handsome Chinese neurosurgeon.

Look, it’s not like I run around shouting “I’m half Asian!” Many people would probably never even know. But my heritage does subtly color my thoughts, my values, and my actions. It would be nice to see that accurately depicted more often.

To be clear: I’m not saying Lipstick Jungle did a bad job. Far from it. I just think they could have done better. (And who knows, maybe that’s an angle they were planning to explore if the show continued.)

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Lipstick Jungle

For some silly/stupid reason, when Cashmere Mafia and Lipstick Jungle came out at the same time, I felt like I had to choose one or the other. I chose Cashmere. (Similarly, as a kid I thought I couldn’t like Star Wars because I was already loyal to Star Trek.) Even though I still like Cashmere better, if I could do it all over, I would probably watch them both.

(Especially because Kim Raver is awesome. I’m so glad Grey’s Anatomy introduced me to her.)

In the pilot, we see 3 different versions of the same chick lit trope: beautiful, successful woman struggling to “have it all.” That’s not a bad theme, but dressing it up in different outfits doesn’t make it any more original. Plus there’s the steamy affair, the billionaire hero, and the perfect, self-sacrificing, stay-at-home dad/husband. Trope trope trope.

But with each new episode, the tropes melted away, transforming these characters into real women with real problems.

(Well, Nico and Wendy, anyway. Victory remained a mostly superficial, rom-commy kind of character. She asks once or twice, “Why do you guys always treat me like the baby sister who can’t take care of herself?” Uh, because you are.)

Funny enough, I identified most with Victory and Wendy, even though Nico (Kim Raver) was my favorite. This is partly because Victory is played by Lindsay Price, a fellow halfie, and partly because her character is creative/artistic. With Wendy, it’s because her home life is what keeps her grounded — a stable family matters to her, and to me.

Nico gets the most compelling and nuanced stories, though — from her affair, to her husband’s affair, to the baby, to her brother’s legal troubles, to the fertility stuff. The details are far out of the realm of my reality, but the writing and acting got me to empathize.

Sidebar: I like how the elevators at Nico’s office occasionally echo the elevators in Grey’s Anatomy. Awkward tension, secret kissing, sliding doors hiding and revealing all sorts of things…

The first season was better than the second, but ultimately I enjoyed the whole series.

Also, I have to give Season 2 credit for developing the male characters. Wendy’s husband Shane was by far my favorite, especially since I already knew/liked him from Big Shots, where he played a very different type of guy (i.e., douche). Nico’s boytoy Kirby was easy on the eyes — and the heart. Joe was… Well, Joe was every little girl’s dream, right? The white knight riding in on his private jet? But I guess I outgrew that, because the “charm” of being repeatedly saved by a romantic billionaire didn’t quite work for me.

Nor for the actor who had to portray it, apparently. Andrew McCarthy (who I loved in the Joy Luck Club) seemed incapable of making anything other than a furrowed-brow grouchy face. It would have been nice to see how the actor (and character) handled his change in fortune, introduced at the end of Season 2.

Someone who was definitely not grumpy: Rodrigo.

While Lipstick outlasted Cashmere, unfortunately it still didn’t get a clean end. The Season 2 finale was clearly spinning up some new threads to carry into Season 3, and then boom: cheesy montage of Happily Ever After moments.

Oh well.

Last random note: At first I hated the song in the opening credits, but by early in the second season, I had fallen in love with it. Now I sometimes find myself singing it randomly. Read my lips…

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