Throwing Popcorn: SheZow
When SheZow was announced in late 2012, I was curious about the potential for a gender-role defying, crossdressing superhero. The Australian production caught a lot of people’s attention with the unusual (for American TV, at least) premise.
The potential for a boy to be presented in a way sympathetic to girls was great — and, sadly, squandered. It must have been too much to ask to have a boy realize that the way the world treats girls is sadly and dramatically skewed in men’s favor. But Hollywood is also skewed in men’s favor, so that may explain why such a high concept was given such a lowbrow approach.
The backstory showed promise: The SheZow legacy has been woman after woman, handed down in the same family for generations from prehistoric times all the way through to modern day — only to have it accidentally hijacked after the death of Agnes, the most recent SheZow, by her nephew — a boy named Guy Hamdon, who finds the ring and puts it on as a joke before his sister Kelly can. The ring is a presto-change-o device, much like a Gatchaman wristband or a Sailor Moon compact, and in a blink, Guy finds himself turned into SheZow and unable to remove the ring. Apparently being SheZow is a lifetime commitment to anybody in the family line.
The resulting cartoons are mostly about Guy. His best friend Maz acts as goofy ever-changing costumed sidekick, relegating Kelly who actually knew about the family lineage and was supposed to take over as SheZow to a support/ teaching role and working with the SheZow computer, Sheila, who is literally nothing more than a sexy voice and a pair of lips. They could’ve gone the JARVIS route with a clever, snarky AI. To a degree they did, but what a way to go about it.
In the universe, SheZow has an immense fandom — fan clubs, comic books, and the whole thing. Guy’s own mother is a huge fan, much to her husband’s dismay. So the show’s conflict for Guy is that he has to keep his existence secret from his father, the police officer who thinks SheZow is an arrogant showboater. At least he’s not hating on SheZow because girls shouldn’t be heroes.
In an alternate universe, the SheZow legacy has always been patrilinear, instead being a hero called DudePow, and the same accidental hijacking happens to Guy’s alternate: a girl named Gal. As SheZow is color-coded pink, DudePow is color-coded blue. We unfortunately don’t get to see much of DudePow, nor her world where she gets to see what it’s like to live as a boy.
So Guy, as SheZow, has to fight evil, protect himself from his father finding out about his superhero identity, and learn about the legacy from his twin sister who was the rightful recipient of the power while wearing a pink leopard outfit with miniskirt and go-go boots.
Has Guy learned anything from being perceived as a girl? Nope. The whole thing is played for laughs. When his best friend gets hurt at all the attention Guy’s getting as SheZow, SheZow’s only response is to dismissively tell him to stop acting “like a girl.”
In the episode “Momnesia,” Guy’s SheZow secret is treated like a positive thing despite being warned otherwise. It’s kind of vaguely analogous with coming out of the closet for gay people. Guy’s mother is supportive to the point of wanting to tell the world that her son is SheZow. Unfortunately, SheZow’s heroics do a lot of damage, and the town was more excited at the prospect of holding the heroine financially responsible for it than supporting the boy-in-girl’s-clothing do-gooding. In the end, even though Guy’s mom was supportive, the knowledge is erased due to the monetary consequences.
The show isn’t all bad; the animation is sharp, fun, and cute. If you like puns, there are more than a few, all based around the “she” pronoun. Some of the more thoughtful episodes have a woman’s name as the writing credit, so that’s something.
If you’re looking for thoughtful animation with a feminist bent, this is not your show. If you’re looking for dumb body-function comedy and the usual 11 minute mind candy, SheZow is your show — if you can find it. The first season has finished its run and the second has not yet been announced.
There was a petition on Change.org sponsored by a Heterosexual Awareness Month group to remove the show. Thankfully, it closed with only 170 signatures, so Change.org did not have to act on it.
Despite creator Obie Scott Wade saying the show is getting high ratings, The Hub Network has removed SheZow from its Saturday morning lineup and as of this writing only airs SheZow in the late-night time slots.