‘Birdgirl’s Unrelenting Optimism Makes Superheroes Fun Again

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TV is a lot like high school: it’s not cool to care about things. That’s why Birdgirl was always such a relief whenever she happened to stumble onto Harvey Birdman, Attorney at Law. In this very silly world with silly characters acting seriously, she was a burst of neurotic, grinning, too invested optimism. She was the exact opposite of every cool TV protagonist. It was true then, and it’s refreshingly still true for Adult Swim’s Birdgirl.

Created by Michael Ouweleen and Erik Richter and executive produced by Christina Miller, Birdgirl follows the life of Harvey Birdman’s barely tolerated sidekick. After Judy Sebben’s (Paget Brewster) CEO father dies in an accident, he names Birdgirl as his successor. Not his daughter Judy, an accomplished and obnoxiously type A lawyer. Birdgirl, her secret alter ego. With the help of her friend Meredith the Mind Take (Negin Farsad), Judy will have to learn how to balance her new responsibilities with her crime-fighting hobby.

Adult Swim’s version of Birdgirl has always been a spazz. On Harvey Birdman she routinely hounded Birdman to recruit her for missions, and when she wasn’t doing that she was screaming onomatopoeias like “Punch!” and “Wham!” It’s safe to say that Birdgirl was always chronically uncool, a nod to the over-eager do-gooder superhero personas of the ’50s and ’60s. Over 20 years after Harvey Birdman‘s debut, that characterization hasn’t changed one bit.

With Birdgirl at the helm, her show is as intense and scattered as the character herself. It’s not unusual to listen to a rapid-fire monologue from Judy in a boardroom before watching the superhero break a pane of glass and take down some unnamed baddie. The overwhelming sense of anxiety coursing through this show is best summed up by its theme song, an oddly catchy number that features Brewster chanting “Oh my god” as quickly as humanly possible. It’s very silly, but it also matches her energy to a tee.

It’s also a detail that gets to the heart of this character. For all of Judy’s anxiety, fretting over her own competence is rarely an issue. That’s a theme even in Birdgirl‘s first episode. She’s not upset that her father didn’t name her his successor because she secretly believes she would have been a bad pick for the job. Judy knows that she would make an awesome CEO. She’s upset that her father never saw that.

Judy’s neuroses never stem from a lack of confidence in herself because she knows she’s a kickass lawyer and superhero. They come from the constant dread of trying to succeed at these two all-consuming callings at once. Frankly, Judy’s trying to have it all and is slowly learning that’s impossible no matter how much manic energy she throws at her problems. That’s a lesson that’s characterized the struggles of women in the workplace for decades.

Whether or not Birdgirl is trying to make a larger point, it’s a delight to have Judy Sebben back on television. Being a superhero is supposed to be fun, and so is being confident in yourself. Yet that’s often not the case. Television is drowning in powerful leaders and heroes who spend most of their screen time lamenting about how hard their lives are. It’s nice to see a character who’s actually having fun with her responsibilities without being negligent. Much like a high school honors student with color-coded binders, Birdgirl will never be cool. But it’s that very sincere eagerness that makes her so great.

Watch Birdgirl on Adult Swim

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