Even at 27, I often ask myself “what do I want to be when I grow up?” After watching episode after episode of “The Nanny” on HBO Max, I’ve finally decided my answer to this lifelong question is unquestionably Fran Fine. I have no interest in childcare, or even dating a rich British theater producer. But I want what Fran has: confidence, wit and absolutely iconic outfits.
For anyone uninitiated, “The Nanny” follows 29-year-old Flushing-native Fran Fine who falls into looking after three rich kids. The show’s perfect theme song sums the premise up perfectly — “She’s the lady in red when everybody else is wearing tan / The flashy girl from Flushing, the Nanny named Fran” — and will get stuck in your head for months if you hear it once.
Fran’s character stands out in many ways on the show: She’s Jewish, she’s loud and she doesn’t come from money. But the Sheffield family’s reserved and repressed ways start to crumble when Fran is around. “The Nanny” feels like wish fulfillment, in a sense. It’s not because an unqualified woman could show up at a rich family’s house and be hired, but that she could be so beloved by (almost) everyone who meets her.
I didn’t used to think that Fran was the epitome of style and verve. I remember watching the occasional rerun as a kid thinking, “Fran is so loud. She’s too much! Her laugh! So annoying!” But when I look at Fran now, I see the too-muchness as a good thing; I now realize the thoughts I had towards her were actually thoughts I had about myself.
As a teenager I was constantly focused on how I felt like I was “too much” for everyone around me, and I tried desperately to assimilate to being a normal and quiet person. I remember flat-ironing my frizzy and wavy Jewish hair until it was stick straight and greasy, burning my forehead in the process, and buying concealer that was the wrong shade at the drug store to hide my acne. I was even voted “most annoying freshman” on an anonymous college website. My only interests in high school were musical theater and crying. No wonder seeing someone as sure of herself as Fran Fine awakened something within me. Everything I tried to hide about myself, she proudly owned.
Now as I’m revisiting the show as an adult, “The Nanny” has become a daily craving. Even when plot lines feel stale or hacky, I am always roped in by the joke density, the comfort of a laugh track, and of course, the outfits. And now that I’m more comfortable in my skin, I see Fran completely differently. I couldn’t believe how I internalized this strong, charismatic, funny woman as grating. (Well, I can still see her laugh as grating, but I digress.)
What makes Fran so captivating is that her intensity is actually confidence. When the kids she nannies are neurotic, rude or downright sociopathic, she is the most well-adjusted of the bunch. Fran would never use uptalk, making it sound like she’s ending every sentence with a question? She would deliver a witty comeback while wearing a Moschino blazer covered in fruit. Just like that playground taunt, Fran’s rubber, everyone is glue, whatever they say bounces off her and sticks to them.
Fran does have a few people who aren’t fond of her — namely Mr. Sheffield’s producing partner, C.C. She’s the epitome of WASPiness. But her ice queen schtick doesn’t work on Fran, who sees right through her. If this were a teen comedy, the protagonist would go through a makeover with a montage set to a Blondie song to try to become a popular kid. But this is not a teen comedy; Fran is all grown up and sees C.C. for exactly who she is, while making fun of her mercilessly. We’ve seen this Pygmalion narrative before so many times, where some richer person tries to change someone perceived as lower class. But instead of folding like previous Eliza Doolittles, Fran doesn’t lose sight of herself for one minute.
It’s refreshing to watch a show co-created by a Jewish woman with tons of jokes about Jews peppered throughout the script. Even in 2021, many of them still hit close to home and don’t feel dated. I’m surprised and delighted by relatable plotlines that made it to air, like Fran freaking out over getting front row tickets to see Barbra Streisand.
As I keep watching “The Nanny,” the weighted blanket of sitcoms, I feel buoyed by Fran’s confidence. I am reminded that I am too much, and that is OK. And that I will keep humming that theme song as I scour the internet for a chic new blazer.
Late Take is a series on Alma where we revisit Jewish pop culture of the past for no reason, other than the fact that we can’t stop thinking about it?? If you have a pitch for this column, please e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org with “Late Take” in the subject line.