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‘That Girl: The Complete Series’ (DVD review)

Allied Vaughn

That Girl, the groundbreaking television series that premiered in 1966, stands as a cultural artifact of its time, with both commendable and questionable aspects.

A delightful mix of groundbreaking moments and eyebrow-raising clichés that left audiences both applauding and scratching their heads in equal measure.

Created by the dynamic duo Sam Denoff and Bill Persky, the show set out to challenge traditional norms, placing a young, ambitious woman at its center in the bustling backdrop of New York City.

At its core was Ann Marie, a young woman with dreams of making it big in the bustling metropolis of New York City.

Portrayed by Marlo Thomas with a mix of charm, wit, and determination, Ann Marie quickly became an iconic figure, embodying the spirit of independence and ambition that defined the era.

One of the show’s notable achievements was its portrayal of Ann Marie as a multifaceted character, navigating the complexities of both her personal and professional life. Unlike many female characters of the time, whose sole purpose revolved around their relationships with men, Ann was portrayed as a woman with agency, pursuing her own dreams and aspirations with unwavering determination.

Central to Ann’s journey was her relationship with Donald Hollinger, played by Ted Bessell. While Donald initially appeared as the quintessential supportive boyfriend, the dynamic between him and Ann evolved over the course of the series, reflecting the shifting attitudes towards gender roles in the 1960s. Bessell’s nuanced portrayal added depth to the character, elevating him beyond mere stereotype and allowing him to serve as a foil to Ann’s aspirations.

The characters in That Girl reflect the era’s attempt to redefine traditional gender roles. Ann Marie is portrayed as an independent woman with aspirations beyond marriage and domesticity, a departure from the typical female characters of the time. Yet, the show’s attempts to challenge norms often fall short, as Ann’s storylines frequently revolve around her romantic relationships and her struggles to balance personal and professional life, reinforcing some traditional gender expectations.

Critical reception to That Girl was mixed during its run from 1966 to 1971. While praised for its progressive portrayal of a single, career-driven woman, the show faced criticism for its occasional reliance on clichéd sitcom plots and its failure to fully break free from gender stereotypes. The audience reaction was generally positive, with viewers appreciating the lighthearted humor and Thomas’s engaging performance.

Throughout its five-season run, That Girl boasted an impressive roster of guest stars, ranging from established icons to up-and-coming talents of the time including such recognizable performers such as Bernie Kopell, Dabney Coleman, Ruth Buzzi, James Gregory, Alan Oppenheimer, William Christopher, Alex Rocco, Dick Van Patten, Avery Schreiber. Stuart Margolin, Rob Reiner, Ethel Merman, Russell Johnson, and Penny Marshall.

The overarching plot of That Girl follows Ann Marie’s journey to establish herself as an actress while navigating the challenges of being an independent woman in the 1960s. While the show successfully captures the spirit of the time, its formulaic approach to storytelling and reliance on conventional sitcom structures limits its impact. The series often sacrifices its potential for deeper exploration of feminist themes for the sake of comedic convenience.

In terms of its place in the history of women’s rights, That Girl can be seen as a modest step forward. The show provided a platform for discussing women’s aspirations beyond marriage and motherhood, but its portrayal of independence remained somewhat constrained within societal norms of the era. Ann Marie’s character, while groundbreaking for its time, did not fully embody the radical feminist spirit that emerged later in the 1970s.

Despite its progressive aspirations, That Girl faced criticism for occasionally reverting to clichéd sitcom plots and failing to fully break free from gender stereotypes. However, its impact cannot be understated.

While an important milestone in television history, That Girl falls short of being a revolutionary feminist masterpiece.

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