It’s entirely coincidental that “Honeypot!” aired a week after The New York Times’ expose accusing Harvey Weinstein of decades of sexual harassment, and two days after The New Yorker’s companion piece that included further allegations of assault and rape. Unfortunately, workplace sexual harassment/abuse is an evergreen subject that only feels timely relative to the latest allegations and subsequent fallout, evidenced by the names Great News drops this week—Roger Ailes, Billy Bush, Bill O’Reilly. So, it’s not Great News’ fault that this week feels like an especially poor time for a network sitcom to lampoon harassment scandals, complete with reversed genders and a biting idea about “workplace equality.” It can be argued that there’s never a “good time” for it, either because the situation isn’t ripe for comedy, or because the issue will always be uncomfortably fresh in the minds of viewers.
If you believe the former, that it’s inherently unfunny to joke about sexual harassment regardless of the argument it makes, that’s understandable and it’s highly unlikely that “Honeypot!” will work for you. With that said, “Honeypot!” doesn’t exactly succeed on its own merits, anyways. It turns a new character into a temporary monster all in order to make a facile point. There are a few laughs along the way, but not nearly enough to overwhelm the half-baked satire at its core.
Here’s the gist: Diana has been promoted to be the COO of an unpronounceable conglomerate that owns MMN, Nerf, and Lockheed Martin. As a gesture of good will, she promotes Katie to Senior Associate Producer, sealing her loyalty with the departing boss. However, not long after she receives her title bump, Greg informs Katie that Diana sexually harassed him by making him bend over to pick up her pen. Later, other employees tell similar stories: Gene says Diana made him eat a banana (Gene eats it like corn on the cob to Diana’s utter disgust) and Wayne says she forced him to dance in front of her, without music no less.
Katie and Portia dismiss these accusations, claiming that the men in the office are just threatened by a powerful woman. Katie makes predictable victim-shaming arguments (“Even if Diana made you feel uncomfortable, what were you doing in her office…in the middle of the day…alone?”) but pushes the guys to wait until she asks Diana about it directly before they report her to HR. Sure enough, Diana doesn’t deny the accusations but brushes it off as “off-color remarks” and “locker room talk,” claiming that the guys were asking for it or they don’t know how to take a compliment. Diana then pushes Katie not to report her and she will be valued for her loyalty.
If the rest of the episode followed Katie’s struggle to turn Diana in, that would be a fine, albeit predictable, way to follow through with such a premise. However, credited writers Tina Fey and Scott Means take a different, less successful route. Katie learns that her mother only received the head intern position after she agreed to play Go Fish with her “nudie cards,” pushing her to report Diana. The whole team decides to use Carol as a honeypot for Diana so they can get hard evidence of her harassment, but it turns out that Diana was just pretending to be a serial harasser in order to get a big payout like her male peers. “I have fought for workplace equality for 25 years,” Diana tells Carol, “I just want what the men get: $40 million just to go away.”
Fey and Means’ point is clear: Men in power are frequently paid off after evidence of their nefarious behavior bubbles up to the surface, so it’s only “fair” that a woman in power be treated similarly. True workplace equality means that all creeps, regardless of gender, should be plied with money in order to leave their posts. It’s not that that insight is in poor taste, it’s just not a particularly novel one, and Fey and Means don’t have the nerve to push it to its logical conclusion. They still want to make Diana admirable and the Breakdown team likeable, so it can’t really follow through on the conclusion’s nasty implications regarding workplace collusion, profit-motivated manipulation, and complicity in the form of blind eyes. Does a show need to make all those points for a premise like this to succeed? No, but it goes a long way to make the writing less glib.
Fey and Means take appropriate measures to condemn Diana’s behavior: Diana apologizes, calls her behavior disgusting, and openly admits she doesn’t understand what men get out of it. Everyone pledges to go to HR to report her, a la Spartacus, but Diana stands them down. She also allows Katie to keep her title bump. But honestly, the biggest crime the episode commits is making Diana out to be a monster just so she can actually be calculating in a different direction. Fey has made a great addition to Great News, and though it was obvious she wasn’t going to remain with the series forever, she leaves the show on a piss-poor note. Sometimes shows miss the mark, even when their intentions are sound.
- Carol’s B-story this week is pretty lazy. She’s made head intern but fears she doesn’t deserve the job after hearing a head intern shit talk her. She gains her respect by getting a hard-to-reach balloon down from the ceiling using a Ghostbusters-esque vacuum cleaner. Meh.
- Chuck is the new face of the Tomato Juice Council. Their slogan: “Tomatoes. Take a sip. Please!”
- Great News swipes a BoJack joke this week: Katie tries to get a cake for Diana but the baker took her icing request too literally. “Congratulations Diana in Blue icing with explanation point after Diana should I put from Katie on the cake or tell her it’s from me Hey what are you…”
- In England, Law & Order is called Barristers & Decorum, and Dame Maggie Smith plays all the roles.
- “What do you know about lesbian bed death? Because I think it’s happening to daddy and me.”
- “Dropped her pen? I’m sorry, I don’t know that many sex moves. According to a Cosmo quiz, I’m pretty enough to just lie there.”
- “Men just can’t stand a woman in power so they’ll do anything to tear her down. Hillary ‘did Benghazi.’ Catherine the Great ‘had sex with horses.’ Portia-brand teeth whitener is just ‘leftover paint from her gazebo.’”
- “I don’t trust anybody who can afford to work for free. When I was in college, I made my own way, giving tug jobs down at the docks. You know, tugging the boats out of the port with my hands!”
- “I’ll say you called me hot chocolate and spit in my beard.”