The Evolution of the Single Girl From Marlo Thomas to Tina Fey

The single girl archetype in television most logically began with That Girl. Marlo Thomas’ role as the plucky Ann Marie gave rise to a new perspective on how women were viewed. As one of the first shows that actually focused on a woman pursuing her own ambitions apart from housewifery, That Girl was a sign of the revolutionary times of the late 1960s. This soon set the stage for The Mary Tyler Moore Show, in which Mary Richards navigates life as a single girl in the city (Minneapolis) after being dumped by her boyfriend.

Titles for That Girl
Titles for That Girl
After The Mary Tyler Moore Show came the spinoff series Rhoda, in 1974. Following the life of Rhoda Morgenstern, Mary’s best friend, as she returns to her native New York City, the show possessed a distinct voice that was undeniably molded by its creator, James L. Brooks. Rhoda at first lives with an old friend of hers named Brenda (the unmistakable Julie Kavner). She strikes up a rapport with a divorced man named Joe (David Groh), and the two ultimately end up living together after Rhoda tries her hand at living with her parents in the Bronx. However, bear in mind that it’s still the 1970s on mainstream television, so naturally Rhoda marries Joe within the first season, thus showing that the single girl never stayed single for very long in these precursors to the curmudgeonly Liz Lemon archetype. Later, in season three of Rhoda, the show lost a large majority of its audience when Joe and Rhoda separated. Ultimately, Rhoda becomes single again after divorcing Joe, resulting in increased loss of viewership–proving that women at this time still had yet to identify with the pervasive plight of the single girl.
Rhoda married early on in the series
Rhoda married early on in the series
In 1976, TV airwaves were given a shock with the advent of Charlie’s Angels. While this show wasn’t explicitly centered around romantic dalliances, nothing like it had ever been seen before. Highlighting three strong, independent women who work for a private detective agency run by the elusive “Charlie,” this Aaron Spelling-helmed series was an altogether new genre never before tapped into, showcasing the fact that women were capable of focusing on something other than getting married.
The original Charlie's Angels
The original Charlie’s Angels
The 80s seemed to be a rather anomalous time for the portrayal of women on TV, and so, let’s just skip right to the 90s with the collective being that was Rachel Green, Monica Geller and Phoebe Buffay on Friends. Although they didn’t always represent women well–particularly Rachel with her constant clinging to Ross–they did represent a new era in which a world of possibility was at last available to females. In a nod to single girls of the past, there’s even an episode in which Phoebe wears a That Girl t-shirt.
Monica, Phoebe and Rachel: Generally saying fuck it.
Monica, Phoebe and Rachel: Generally saying fuck it.
As the 90s–and Friends–came to a close, thank the TV gods that Lorelai Gilmore came along. Smart, sassy and unapologetically a single mother, the lead character on Gilmore Girls was a force to be reckoned with. Incidentally, Sex and the City and Gilmore Girls shared some overlap time, proving that the late 90s and early oos were the pinnacle of glorious portrayals of female singledom.
Confident, cool, collected
Confident, cool, collected
2006 may very well have been the zenith of what the single girl has come to mean to most women. With Tina Fey’s hilariously bleak interpretation of the life of a career-oriented woman living in New York City, the world’s eyes were opened up to such phrases as, “I’m gonna go talk to some food about this” and “You wanna party? It’s $500 for kissing and $10,000 for snuggling. End of list.”
Food is usually more important to Liz than relationships
Food is usually more important to Liz than relationships
Liz Lemon is the epitome of how drastically and contrastingly the single girl concept has evolved from Marlo Thomas. Instead of a positive attitude and a desire for a relationship, modern life has replaced this stereotypical persona and aspiration with the sort of woman who has to laugh at herself and essentially settle for whatever comes her way. It’s hard to say which is a worse version of TV’s female prototype, but it’s definitely not a challenge to know which version is more entertaining.