When NBC’s Grimm started airing, I got extremely excited. I felt like I was getting the dark, delicious, fun, interesting show I’d been longing for, something to sink my teeth into every week. As the weeks passed, I developed increasing doubts, because, well, Grimm wasn’t shaping up to be all I hope it was from the packaging on the box. Instead, it was turning out to be yet another mundane, predictable, dull entry in a series of lacklustre television that’s been polluting US airwaves of late, as though the networks simultaneously decided to bore us into submission.
There was initially a lot to like about the show. I liked the Pacific Northwest setting and some of the characters and the underlying concept, that the Grimm fights monsters the rest of the world thinks aren’t real and has to deal with the complete disruption of his mundane world. Unfortunately, though, the show has fallen into a trap that a lot of fantasy shows tend to get snared in, and that is a trap laced with misogyny, which makes it distinctly unfun to watch.
I don’t know why television persists in doing this, because there is ample evidence that women watch and enjoy fantasy shows and actively want more of them. One of the reasons Buffy was such a big hit, after all, was because it had so many female fans, and because it had a much better track record on gender issues than many shows airing at the time—and since, it would appear. While Buffy certainly had flaws as a work of pop culture in terms of how it handled gender, it made an attempt at depicting a different kind of fantasy, where women become something other than objects and take an active role in the plot. Where women can save the world, and where interdependent relationships are modeled and praised instead of being feared.
With Grimm, the lead is male and so is his partner, as is his werewolf sidekick. Already, it’s hard to see how a woman can fit into the story. Nick has a girlfriend, but she almost never appears, and is there primarily as set dressing to remind viewers that he had a nice, normal, conventional life before all of this happened to him. We see very few women out and about on the show as characters participating in the action, let alone taking active roles in charge of things. There’s no sassy female detective at the police station to counterbalance all the men, for instance.
Instead, women on Grimm are objects, and they are there primarily to be rescued. When I wrote about the show at xoJane, only a few episodes had aired, and I was maintaining some hope that the show would turn around and get it together. Growing criticism of the show’s misogynistic trends apparently went ignored by the creators, though, because it marched on ahead with those storylines. The main premise of many episodes is that a woman is in trouble, and Nick must rescue her. Until he does, she must wait helplessly, unable to advocate for herself, to escape, to do anything to get herself out of the situation.
We had, for example, the episode where women are trapped by a creepy goat guy who seduces them and then locks them in his basement and keeps them drugged. There was another episode where a missing girl had gone feral, and thankfully Nick was there to establish communication, to turn her from a growling antisocial mess into someone who could speak English and navigate the world. And so on. And so forth. Grimm has turned into a show where every week I tune in with a sense of dread to wonder what new creative horrible situation the show will have found for a female character so Nick can ride to the rescue.
This style of writing and plotting is really frustrating. It’s not just that it is misogynist and that I like my pop culture to be interesting and dynamic and to not perpetuate hateful tropes about women, like that women are helpless and rely on big strong men in their lives to save them when they run into trouble. It also shows the limitations of the creators, who clearly can’t write female characters, are afraid of female characters, and deal with it by basically just not including them. There’s no effort to give women any kind of texture and depth in this show, which means that immediately half the viewers are going to have trouble finding someone they identify with.
And it’s just sloppy. Good pop culture requires work, requires effort, requires research, requires critical thinking. A show that is so overwhelmingly male-dominated is just not very impressive, and betrays interesting things about how the creators view masculinity and what it is like to be a man. Do the writers on Grimm all think of men like they portray Nick? Because if that’s the case, it’s rather sad. Masculinity can be so complex and diverse, and varied representations of men aren’t really presented on the show.
When your pop culture is deficient, it’s your job to rectify it. By hiring more writers, for instance, who can bring some diverse experiences to the table and flesh out more of the characters, give the show more texture and personality. Possibly by researching, and also by paying attention to critics to see how they are responding to the show, and what they are hoping to get out of it. Women are talking about misogyny on Grimm, but so are men, many of whom are not pleased with it either. When a growing number of viewers is having fundamental problems with the way you handle your characters, you have a serious problem on your hands.