Abbott Elementary’s Valentine’s Day episode treated us to an almost Shakespearean mix-up that—for a moment—poured gasoline on the slow-burn workplace romance between teachers Janine (Quinta Brunson) and Gregory (Tyler James Williams). Janine learns from another teacher, Jacob, that Gregory may or may not have a crush on her. (Jacob overhears Janine talking about one of her second-grade students professing his love for her, and, mistakes it for Janine talking about Gregory.)
Of course, Janine and Gregory’s feelings for each other are well-known to pretty much everyone but them at this point; the writers aren’t even being subtle about what’s happening. The Valentine’s Day episode concludes with Janine and Gregory’s gift exchanges with their respective dates being laughably misaligned. The contrasts hint, instead, at how perfect Janine and Gregory would be for each other instead. And of course that’s where we’re heading! Brunson not only stars in but wrote and created Abbott—why wouldn’t she pair herself with the character played by Williams, an absolute smokeshow of a man?
When we think of fan fiction writers, it’s the tween users of Wattpad and Archive of Our Own who inevitably come to mind. But many TV writers are also writing their own fanfic—it’s just of their own lives: They draw on lived experiences and insert versions of themselves into their scripts. Male writers are certainly no strangers to this, but in recent years, some of TV’s most successful, innovative, and/or beloved shows have featured women adopting this approach, creating plucky protagonists who are avatars of themselves, and who get get very frisky with some very handsome men (for the story of course!). I have to respect their art, their vision, and, above all, their horniness.
In Abbott, the mockumentary-style sitcom set at an underprivileged elementary school in Philly is many things (including an indictment of the lack of resources invested in public education). But at its core, it’s an ode to workplace romance, and I am simply living for Brunson’s decision to cast an aggressively hot man like Williams to be her scene partner.
Before Brunson, many a horny foremother blazed a trail in tasteful(-ish), self-insert sitcom smut before her:
- Tina Fey as 30 Rock’s charmingly nerdy Liz Lemon racks up a host of hot male love interests over the series’ seven-season run—like Dean Winters’ possibly psychopathic Dennis Duffy, or the off-puttingly hot Dr. Andrew Baird played by Jon Hamm (of-fucking-course), or literally James Franco himself;
- Lena Dunham as Hannah Horvath in Girls is romantically involved with Adam Driver’s Adam Sackler for a good chunk of the series. Their fundamentally different characters don’t wind up seeing their relationship through, but of course, Dunham still scored the chance to film plenty of sex scenes with Driver;
- In Season 2, Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s titular character in Fleabag— who perennially burns bridges and self-destructs in her relationships (romantic or otherwise), meets and falls in love with the Hot Priest (Andrew Scott), who very much lives up to his internet-assigned name. Waller-Bridge wrote, created, and starred in Fleabag, and while it’s not clear the extent to which the show is based on her life, the casting of a very hot man (with whom she has bananas chemistry) to portray her lover and spiritual support system is a choice, and a delightful one at that.
Which brings me to Mindy Kaling, whose work has famously relied on self-insertion: From her on- and off-screen romance with B.J. Novak on The Office, to the string of all-white love interests with whom her character Mindy Lahiri canoodles in The Mindy Project, Kaling’s stories tend to follow a pattern: a South Asian protagonist who feels embarrassed about something intrinsic to who she is (her heritage, her body, her intelligence) and a conventionally attractive white male love interest who usually treats Kaling’s avatar fairly terribly—which, of course, only makes her fall harder. (See: Kaling and Veep alum Reid Scott in the movie Late Night in 2019, which Kaling wrote and starred in.)
Kaling’s more recent offerings, The Sex Lives of College Girls and Never Have I Ever, follow college and high school-age South Asian protagonists, respectively. On Sex Lives, Amrit Kaur plays what a version of Kaling’s collegiate self: Her character, Bela, is an aspiring comedy writer and is perennially hooking up with men who are either conventionally hot white dudes or thinly veiled Novak lookalikes. In Never Have I Ever, Devi (Maitreyi Ramakrishnan), an adolescent version of Kaling, is caught in an eternal love triangle with the dreamy Paxton Hall-Yoshida (Darren Barnet) and the slightly less dreamy but admittedly very charming Ben Gross (Jaren Lewison).
Valid criticisms of many of Kaling’s writing choices aside, I must say that I deeply respect the overtness with which she crafts each project as, very often, a fan fiction storyboard of her life and her most shameless and intimate desires. Each show of hers is a blank slate through which she appears to live out varying deeply messy romantic fantasies.
For me, at least, there’s something cathartic about seeing on-screen women who may not be the most conventionally attractive (read: white, tall, rail-thin)—or are perhaps aggressively nerdy and awkward—get with very hot men. Sure, at the end of the day, it’s just television, but it’s undeniably cathartic and fun—both for women audiences and, I would hope, the women writers and creators bringing all this to life.
Seared into my brain is the Season 2 Sex Lives of College Girls scene in which Bela, in the midst of sexual intercourse with her comedy-rival lover (and Novak-lookalike), Eric, seems to get off on the two threatening to derail each other’s careers. For months, I’ve been wondering if this is something that actually happened between Kaling and Novak—or is merely a fantasy of Kaling’s. Either way, color me mildly uncomfortable but wildly entertained. Horny women writers, please keep doing your thing.
Read the rest of Jezebel’s Horny Week 2023 stories here.