It was only a matter of time before the part-reality television spoof that is Another Period cast its critical gaze on The Bachelor. The show regularly makes fun of how society treated women at the turn of the 20th century. What better way to hyperbolize that commentary than by using a form known for its misogynist treatment and sexist portrayal of women in the 21st? After all, any woman worth her Master’s degree and savings account only wants one thing: Marriage.
If you detect a note of bitterness here, it’s less that than boredom. I avoided The Bachelor and all its spin-offs for years before succumbing to the show in 2013. I’d just moved to New York and wanted to bond with my new roommate, who adored it and never missed a Monday. I began joining her every week, she watching hungrily, I ironically (or so I told myself). But eventually I did begin to like it, even beyond the minor schadenfreude it provokes. It can be entertaining. For a while, that is, and then the formulaic nature of the show and especially its casting becomes boring. I watched three seasons, yawned and found something else to do with my time on Mondays. The damage was done, though. I knew enough to pick up on Another Period’s very clear, almost frying-pan-over-the-head parody because The Bachelor involves such heavy-handed repetition when it comes to tropes and sayings, like “Here for the right reasons” and all that jazz.
In “The Prince and the Pauper,” Commodore (David Koechner) finds a foreign bachelor for his daughters Lillian (Natasha Leggero) and Beatrice (Riki Lindhome), since American men find them too old and therefore no longer valuable commodities. It’s a problem going around, apparently. On a date with an eligible Vanderbilt, Lillian learns his wife died tragically after turning 38. “One day she was 37 and then the next thing we knew…” he says, trailing off. Even though both sisters were sure they’d do well on the romantic market, they begin to realize being single over, say, 20 puts them at a disadvantage. “Who knew being single in 1903 with eight children wouldn’t be appealing to all men?” Lillian bemoans.
As feminist a voice as it presents through such commentary, Another Period isn’t above making fun of women who perpetuate the patriarchal system. Those sorts are equally complicit in a world that values them as property first and breeders second. Throughout the series, Lillian constantly makes straight-faced comments or asides about how good women have it. In this season’s first episode, she responded to Harriet Tubman’s idea about finding a charitable cause by insisting there’s nothing left to fix. “Everything’s perfect!” she exclaims. “Women don’t have to vote, we drink as much as we want, and children can work as much as anyone else.”
Through the romantic competition between Lillian and Beatrice, the show extends that critique to present-day women who participate in similar exchanges prizing them not for their intelligence, education or accomplishments, but for their wifely possibility. Each sister takes their suitor, Prince Apato (Rizwan Manji), on a one-on-one date that reveals them for the boorish natured “Pig Sisters” the media dubbed them at the end of the first season. In a bit of physical comedy the show loves to exacerbate, Beatrice becomes a literal manhunter, chasing after the twee servant Garfield and tackling him to the ground before putting a knife to his throat. Lillian, meanwhile, goes on a balloon ride with the prince only to shit over the side of the basket because she drank too much arsenic before their date. (Arsenic apparently serving as the beauty regimen of choice for its skin lightening properties.) It’s a crass episode, to be sure, but the show has never shied away from physical comedy that pushes its female characters into traditionally male territory for laughs.
Beyond blurring the gender lines that tend to exist in comedy when it comes to crass subject matter, Another Period pokes fun at how society depicts the lengths women go to when a man is on the table. Beatrice’s raw physicality and Lillian’s beauty regimen throw into question the very public act of courtship that exists on The Bachelor and the antiquated notions such behavior perpetuates. Better to seek out acceptable identities such as wife and mother rather than be cast aside and relegated to society’s most damning label, spinster. Heaven forfend.
Amanda Wicks is a freelance journalist specializing in comedy and music. Follow her on Twitter @aawicks.