Ladies and gentlemen, we know have a term—with its own acronym and everything!—for the polar opposite of the sparkly, frantic princess known as the Manic Pixie Dream Girl. Let’s all give a warm welcome to the “Manic Bossy Nightmare Girl.” It’s about time.
But first, let’s give credit where credit is due: This morning, Heather Havrilesky (otherwise known as “Polly” on The Awl’s excellent advice column) coined the phrase in a piece for Salon called “Louie‘s manic bossy nightmare girls: How Louis C.K. destroyed this male wishful thinking fantasy,” in which she argues that the women in the show—the women whom, more often than not, Louie ends up sleeping with are certainly manic, yes, but in a way that’s less “aw!” and more, well, “AAAHHH!”
We’ve been hearing about the death of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl for years now, mainly due to the fact that overzealous critics really enjoyed using the phrase where it didn’t actually apply (cough, cough, Annie Hall, and I would argue, Summer of the 500 Days, although this appears to be an unpopular opinion), and thus depriving the trope of its original meaning, the female love interest in indie films who, according to Nathan Rabin at the A.V. Club:
“exists solely in the fevered imaginations of sensitive writer-directors to teach broodingly soulful young men to embrace life and its infinite mysteries and adventures. The Manic Pixie Dream Girl is an all-or-nothing-proposition. Audiences either want to marry her instantly (despite The Manic Pixie Dream Girl being, you know, a fictional character) or they want to commit grievous bodily harm against them and their immediate family.”
This, of course, is the other defining aspect of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl: Of the viewers that immediately despise her, many will likely do so precisely because she doesn’t actually exist in real life, despite continuous claims otherwise during a wave somewhere between 2012 and 2013 of women claiming they were, or had been at one point a real, in-the-flesh embodiment of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl, the problem being, of course, that nobody is. The Manic Pixie Dream Girl is a role to be played, a trope to use and then discard, not a person to become.
And that’s why the Manic Bossy Nightmare Girl feels so fresh. Here’s how Havrilesky describes her:
“Rather than peppy and inspiring, the Manic Bossy Nightmare Girl is forceful, neurotic and sometimes downright scary. She knows exactly what she wants, and she’s not afraid to make an unceremonious lurch for it, even if a few innocent men are emasculated or eviscerated along the way. Time after time, the Manic Bossy Nightmare Girl sees right through Louie. She makes him feel weak and tongue-tied and pathetic. In other words, the MBNG teaches depressed, soulless middle-aged men to grow up and get their shit together, via lecturing, shaming and/or sucker punching.”
If you watch the show, you’ll recognize the MBNG in the vast majority of the female characters on Louie, notably played by Melissa Leo (the woman who owns a landscaping company and demanded Louie go down on her in her truck), Gaby Hoffman (Louie’s girlfriend who knows what he wants before he does, and isn’t afraid to tell him), and of course, Parker Posey, in one of the most fascinating arcs in sitcom history: When Louie meets her at a bookstore, she’s wearing German braids and in general, being Parker Posey–level adorable, and it isn’t until a few episodes later until we learn that she’s dangerously impulsive and a severe alcoholic. And then there was the blueberry lady, who queries Louie for “intercourse,” demands he go out to buy her Vagiteen and blueberries, and then asks to be spanked, which, naturally, causes her to have an excruciating-to-watch breakdown in which she repeats, through tears, “I’m so sorry, Daddy.”
But it’s not that these women don’t exist in other facets of pop culture. Louis C.K. didn’t invent the idea that women can be both intriguing and terrifying at the same time. What Louie does, however, is present these women as women so often are—as objects of love interest—and exploit this fact by giving them complicated histories and inconvenient emotions that make Louie, not his love interests appear shallow for ditching them, which he always ends up doing.
So, welcome, Manic Bossy Nightmare Girl. In a borough too-often labeled as an MPDG paradise, it’s nice to know that the mass effect of manic-pixie-ing women is spawning its polar opposite.
Follow Rebecca Jennings on Twitter @rebexxxxa