“Gypsy does what it says on the tin, making it the perfect guilty pleasure.”
Episodes Reviewed: Season 1
Creator: Lisa Rubin 👩🏼🇺🇸
Writers: Lisa Rubin 👩🏼🇺🇸 (10 eps), Jonathan Caren 👨🏼🇺🇸 (10 eps), Sean Jablonski 👨🏼🇺🇸 (2 eps), Jessica Mecklenburg 👩🏼🇺🇸 (2 eps), and Sneha Koorse 👩🏽🇺🇸 (1 ep)
Reviewed by Laura Hindley of Strong Female Lead 👩🏼🇬🇧🌈
Gypsy is penned as a psychological thriller and is obviously written with a second season in mind, so it’s a little frustrating that Netflix didn’t renew the show. Ends are left a bit loose and the audience never sees a satisfying conclusion. However, what we are given to work with is enjoyable, if a tad clichéd.
The protagonist Jean, played by Naomi Watts, seemingly has the perfect life—a cute kid, a handsome husband, and a gorgeous house. She’s a therapist, though not a very ethical one as her hobby is injecting herself into the lives of her patients’ loved ones. While pursuing her passion for crossing boundaries, Jean meets Sidney (Sophie Cookson), an ex-girlfriend of one of her patients. From there, a thrilling game of cat and mouse ensues.
Gypsy is never going to win awards for its subtlety, for it has none. But that’s not always a bad thing. In a world where so many projects strive to be clever while missing the mark, Gypsy does what it says on the tin, making it the perfect guilty pleasure.
Gypsy has an interesting take on gender roles—or, more accurately, the reversal of them. Jean’s husband largely plays the moral compass of the show, a role often designated to a female character, whereas Jean is going through somewhat of a mid-life crisis. Think leather jackets, an affair with a sexy barista, and a newfound love of whiskey. (Thankfully, she hasn’t quite got to buying a motorcycle just yet.)
The series poses a number of interesting questions. Why are women discouraged from connecting with their sexuality? Why is it deemed normal for middle-aged men to have affairs but not for their female counterparts? Why is a woman labelled as a sociopath if she lies in order to fulfill selfish desires, but a man is not?
However, for all the good it does in putting women centre-stage, Gypsy lacks in depicting a range of them. The two leads, Jean and Sidney, are manipulative; the woman who wants to have an affair with Jean’s husband is calculating; and Jean’s mother is narrow-minded and judgemental. While characters do have some redeeming qualities, such as Sidney’s vulnerability, the show could have done a lot more to explore both sides of its female characters to achieve more overall complexity.
Considering New York City’s 2015 demographics, which were 32% non-Hispanic white, 29% Hispanic, 22% black, and 14% Asian, Gypsy fails to reflect the racial diversity of its setting with its majority-white cast. There are merely two peripheral characters of colour:
- Larin, Jean’s close friend and colleague, is played by Poorna Jagannathan who is of Indian descent.
- Alexis, the woman Jean’s husband almost has an affair with, is played by Melanie Liburd who is biracial black and white.
In its defence, the show focusses on Jean so the cast is relatively small—9 main characters and 6 recurring are listed on the show’s Wikipedia entry. Still, one would have expected more non-white characters for a show set in one of the most diverse cities in the country.
Gypsy predominantly centres around the romance between Jean and Sidney. Both women are bisexual (though they don’t like to label themselves) and actively pursue unhealthy relationships, including the one they share. While normally toxic relationships can be a negative portrayal of LGBTQ characters, it’s important to remember that Gypsy is a psychological thriller, and Jean has maladjusted relationships with just about everybody in her life. That’s what makes her character so watchable.
Where this score dips a little is how the relationship between Jean and Sidney never filters out naturally into other aspects of their lives. For example, we never see any support characters or locations that overtly present as LGBTQ. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, of course—as a queer woman myself, I’m able to socialise in places that aren’t exclusively labelled as LGBTQ venues. But if we are meant to empathise with Jean’s journey of struggling with her sexuality, it would have been helpful to see her interact with other members of the community.
In addition to Jean and Sidney’s romance, the show also features a child who potentially identifies as queer. Jean’s daughter, Dolly (Maren Heary), dresses “like a boy” and doesn’t conform to the “girly” standards her classmates do. When Dolly is bullied and ostracised by her peers, the audience is able to briefly see a more softer and maternal side of Jean.
Mediaversity Grade: B- 3.69/5
Had different actors been cast in the show, I feel it would have been a flop. Luckily, the chemistry between Naomi Watts and Sophie Cookson drives the narrative forward. If you want something easily-bingeable, Gypsy is it.