Don’t even get them started on the name.
On a recent Wednesday night, The Politico assembled five Washington-based professional Republican women to discuss whether ABC got it right with prime time’s newest conservative Gal Friday — named Kitty.
Kitty Walker, played by Calista Flockhart, is at the center of the network’s woman-comes-home-again saga “Brothers and Sisters.” She’s an attractive, youngish, right-wing radio host-turned-TV host-turned-Senate staffer, whom the show has described as “not Ann Coulter.”
So, basically, “she’s not insane,” said Ken Olin, the show’s producer.
Some of the women described Kitty as “squishy,” others called her “human” and “palpable.” They all bemoaned her career track as very un-Washington, but despite the suspension of disbelief required, they also found themselves “pleasantly surprised.”
“As a conservative watching TV, I have pretty low expectations,” said Mary Katharine Ham, 27, who blogs for Townhall.com, a conservative news and commentary website. Ham originally set her DVR to “Brothers and Sisters” to find out what Hollywood was going “to do with us” and has since been hooked.
The rest of the women watching — some who have followed the show from the start and others who’ve never tuned in — were just as interested.
The pivotal “come to Jesus” moment for Kitty the conservative comes in the first episode. With the opening credits still rolling, she decides, oh so spontaneously, to tick off a neat list of her GOP credentials:
“I’m sick of the cracks about my political beliefs. I am a conservative — tough on crime, big on defense, America First, old-fashioned and in your face. And if you think this is funny, great. I’m glad to be of comic service. But you just keep on laughing and watch the rest of the country pass you by.”
Not exactly seamless, but it’ll have to do.
“That’s what comes up when you Google ‘conservative,'” joked 23-year-old Allison Kasic, director of campus programs for the Independent Women’s Forum, a nonpartisan think tank, which according to its website promotes “limited government” and “a powerful and effective national defense.”
Amanda Carpenter, author of “The Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy’s Dossier on Hillary Clinton,” called the manifesto “pretty lame.” Plus, Kitty’s list of conservative philosophies wasn’t in the right order. Carpenter, 24, would have started with small government.
Last October, The Boston Globe said the true litmus test for conservative TV characters “will be if their creators keep them from becoming reality TV types — that is, parodies of themselves or simply stick figures with labels attached.”
So far, according to this group of women, small-screen, small-government characters have an extremely limited range: vapid moron or shrill harpy.
In the same scene in which Kitty defines her conservative principles, her brother Kevin (who is gay) rails against her “self-involved” boyfriend, who has yet to receive the family’s all-important seal of approval.
“Maybe it’s just part of the whole conservative anti-feminist thing, right,” Kevin avows more than asks, “to sort of put yourself in second place?”
The response from the group? A collective eye roll.
“That’s a common misconception,” groaned Kasic, who said she was tired of feminism being defined as solely a “liberal ideology.”
Carrie Lukas, author of “The Politically Incorrect Guide to Women, Sex and Feminism,” agreed. As she mentioned something about conservative women being typecast as “barefoot and pregnant” drones, she shifted uncomfortably. Literally. Lukas, 33, is six months pregnant.
Speaking of feminism, Walker’s looks, not her smarts, are a chief concern when it comes to her viability as an effective commentator. On her fictitious cable show, “Red, White and Blue,” Kitty sits prettily in the red chair. The promo posters read, “Kitty Walker is RED HOT” and feature her in a tight red dress. (With any luck, soon Republicans will choose a new color.)
It could’ve been worse, everyone says.
“She could have had pearls on,” said Lukas, who was wearing a single-strand pearl necklace with matching pearl-drop earrings. (She noted the irony.)
Brooke Oberwetter, 27, who has appeared on Fox News Channel, said she’s usually made up to look like “a painted whore” when she appears on Fox. (To be fair, TV makeup is always heavy.)
Ham called it “dressing up your evil.”
“You’re supposed to be surprised that she’s sexy — and still a conservative,” added Lukas.
“It’s not our fault we’re pretty,” teased Oberwetter, who tonight has been shattering her own myths — conservatives know comedy.
For most, getting in touch with their GOP side means nights spent with Bree Van De Kamp (“Desperate Housewives”), Harriet Hayes (“Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip”) or even Elisabeth Hasselbeck (playing herself).
“Brothers and Sisters” is an hour-long homage to the Walker clan: matriarch Nora (Sally Field); brothers Justin (Dave Annable), Tommy (Balthazar Getty) and Kevin (Matthew Rhys); and sisters Sarah (Rachel Griffiths) and Kitty.
They fight in a cliquish, inside-jokey sort of way and make up just as sappily, but without the “7th Heaven”-style melodrama. These kids are grown, and so are their problems — infidelity, embezzling, drug addiction and national security all get equal time.
Guess which cause is Kitty’s?
One of the biggest topics on the show is the war in Iraq (and Afghanistan), which comes up so often it should be listed in the credits as the sixth Walker child. Baby of the family Justin is a veteran/drug addict whom Kitty supported joining up. Mother Nora, of course, did not.
When the two go head to head, Kitty usually comes off as the bad guy, since “selling her views” is considered dangerous. “This isn’t your radio show,” snaps Nora, who repeatedly asks Kitty to choose between her politics and her family, since the two, it seems, are mutually exclusive.
“Sally Field is not known for her subtle acting,” quipped Oberwetter.
Carpenter, who probably leans the furthest to the right, said she can relate. Her brother enlisted in the Marines straight out of high school — a decision that was difficult for her mother to process. Still, Carpenter supports the mission, which according to most of the women has not changed since 2003.
“It’s this idea that you would never have a principle that goes against your actual life,” said Lukas, sounding a bit exasperated by Kitty’s constant grilling.
As if “we can’t actually believe these things,” added Kasic.
Perhaps the most controversial episode for everyone is “Mistakes Were Made Part II,” when Kitty flips her position on the war and subsequently bribes a senator — she puts the kid gloves on during an interview in the hopes that Justin won’t be forced to re-up. Sen. Robert McCallister (played by Rob Lowe) does not oblige the pretty blonde, and Kitty must deliver an on-air mea culpa.
“Did she just say, ‘Mistakes were made’?” laughed Ham, who saw the issue of Kitty’s integrity as black and white, calling the character’s indiscretion a career-ending suicide.
“After she sells out, she gets the job with McCallister, who she sleeps with,” explained Ham. “It’s a triple whammy on the conservative woman.”
Maybe she’s a Libertarian, offers Oberwetter.
“What is worthwhile about this woman?” demanded Carpenter, who probably won’t be tuning in on Sunday nights. “If we can’t identify with this girl, I think they’ve failed. Thanks, but no thanks.”
Oberwetter, however, had another take.
“I think that was realistic,” she said. “There are shades of gray on all these issues. I think they’ve done a pretty responsible job. I think it’s a plus.”