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Seeing old sitcoms get rebooted or become the center of another internet resurgence has left me waiting for The Nanny to be available on streaming for years. I’m far from the first person to pledge my allegiance to the power of Fran Drescher, just ask the 320,000 followers of the What Fran Wore Instagram, but I am obnoxious enough to try to gatekeep the Fran Drescher fandom to anyone who claims to have a deeper love of the flashy girl from Flushing than I do. Love her all you want, but The Nanny is a part of my culture.
As an infant, my family moved across the bridge from Staten Island, NY to central New Jersey,
where some of my earliest memories are of me and my older sisters watching Lifetime every weekend morning, bingeing a two-hour block of the Golden Girls followed by a two-hour block of The Nanny. Come to think of it, these weekly marathons likely had a hand in making me gay, but ultimately watching The Nanny always felt like taking a trip back to the city to see my loud, eccentric, and (above all else) hungry family. Getting to watch it now across the country in my chosen home of Seattle, the feeling grows stronger.
The story goes that Fran Fine (Drescher) was working in her sleazy boyfriend’s bridal shop before he broke up with and fired her for his younger, blonder new girlfriend. Where was she to go, what was she to do? She was out on her fanny! But when she approached the Sheffield mansion on the Upper East Side prepared to sell cosmetics, she convinced a desperate, widowed Broadway producer named Maxwell (Charles Shaughnessy) to take her on to watch his three kids, thus becoming the titular Nanny.
There, Fran is able to cultivate an instant rapport with the butler, Niles (Daniel Davis), where her street-smart quips and eccentric style bounce off his dry British wit. Her Queens upbringing gives her an edge over the pranks pulled by the mischievous middle child Brighton (Benjamin Salisbury), and lends a guiding (albeit nasal) voice for the awkward eldest daughter Maggie (Nicholle Tom) and the young existentialist Gracie (Madeline Zima). Meanwhile, Maxwell’s coiffed Anglo mannerisms keep him from acting on his temptations for the fashionable Miss Fine, while remaining completely oblivious to the obvious advances made by his pining business associate C.C. (Lauren Lane), who sees the new nanny as direct competition.
Despite even C.C.’s committed grudge against her, no one can deny Miss Fine’s ability to turn heads. Everything is so perfectly placed in a spotless mansion, but in contrast to the reserved WASPiness around her, Fran’s bold fashion and loud mouth are what make her such a distinct icon. When Fran saunters down the stairs in a sequined red slit dress into a room of black, white, and beige suits in the pilot episode, she relishes in the attention and head turning that follows her.
As one of the first Jewish actors to play a Jewish character in a sitcom, Drescher was keenly aware of the importance of making space for the culture and characters she grew up with back in Flushing. Miss Fine took pieces of Drescher’s characters from films like Saturday Night Fever and This Is Spinal Tap, along with her colorful family’s personalities, and became a decidedly Jewish character in the otherwise homogeneous primetime TV lineup of the time.
It wasn’t until Drescher’s real-life idol Barbra Streisand appeared in the 1968 film Funny Girl that Jewish women were portrayed as intelligent, comedic, attractive, and someone to aspire towards, and it wasn’t until The Nanny premiered in 1993 that audiences were shown another desirable Jewish character who was more than just a punchline. A part of what makes the character of Fran Fine so remarkably appealing is how she is able to embody both grit and glamour in one unique package. Even when dressed in her bold designer outfits, Fran is incredibly personable when she tilts her head back and laughs in her nasal bray or while sitting down in the kitchen for a nosh while working out her problems.
The character of Fran Fine was an early inspiration for me in how she portrayed the unique culture of brash New York Jewish-ness. In contrast to the usual sitcom family, I saw my family in scenes where Fran, her mother Sylvia, and Grandma Yetta are having a rather innocuous conversation so loudly that everyone around them conflates the volume as an argument. Or when the Fine family revolves their entire day around the kitchen, forcing food down each other’s throats as a coping mechanism, all while kvetching about how they can’t figure out why they can’t lose weight. I’m brought right back over the Verrazano-Narrows bridge to holiday meals around my New York family piling food on my plate while pointing out how round my face has gotten. While the trope of food within Judaism lends itself to some fatphobic jokes and cringey use of fat suits in the later seasons, it all still rings true to my family’s own lovably toxic behaviors.
Growing up in suburban New Jersey, I often felt that the only way to survive was to cover up anything that made me stand out; my weight, my queerness, my Jewish tendencies. But watching Fran Fine be comfortable in her eccentricities—to the point that they made her appeal undeniable—I yearned to one day be able to feel as confidently glamorous as she did.
When the news broke that The Nanny was available to stream on HBO Max, I woke up to text from seven different people letting me know that Fran’s piercing voice and style could finally grace our television screens. With so many people associating me with The Nanny, I finally felt, for once, that I was in fact the flashy girl from (Staten Island) I always dreamed of being.
Kurt Suchman is a New Jersey transplant in Seattle writing about music, food, culture, and queer shit. Coherent thoughts can be found in Shondaland, Paste, and Food52, and incoherent thoughts can be found @kurtinterrupted.
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