Last week, my Twitter timeline welcomed a new, much-needed sight: Fran Fine (Emmy-nominee Fran Drescher) the heroine of '90s CBS sitcom The Nanny. She had style! She had flair! She was there, the memes joke. And, as of April 1, she was here in 2021 thanks to The Nanny's streaming debut on HBO Max. Fran Fine, fashion bombshell and TV rom-com queen, had arrived in the modern day to regale audiences with the tale of the Flashy Girl from Flushing, Queens, who becomes a nanny to a wealthy, if repressed, Manhattan family.
Much of the recent chatter around The Nanny has zeroed in on the hard work of the sitcom’s costume designers Brenda Cooper and Shawn Holly Cookson, who doused Fran in sequins, extravagant co-ords, and nylon. All of these looks have been bubbling in my style subconscious since I watched The Nanny — which originally aired for six seasons from 1993 to 1999 — in syndication on Lifetime throughout the aughts. Whether I was home sick from school or sticking to my strict summer vacation TV schedule, The Nanny was always a constant during my childhood and tweendom.
With The Nanny talk at an all-time high, it felt like the right time to return to the beloved sitcom of my youth and rewatch the series. What I found was an astonishingly — and wonderfully — horny little show.
The Nanny wants you to know what kind of sitcom it is from the very first moment. To open the pilot, Fran struts into frame at her initial place of employment, a Flushing bridal shop owned by her soon-to-be-ex boyfriend. “You look just like a virgin,” Fran promises a beaming client in the first 20 seconds of the episode. “Here, I bought you some crackers for your morning sickness.” The underlying message: this blushing bride has gotten laid — and Fran isn’t afraid to talk about it.
From there, most of the sex talk — and polite ogling — is focused on Fran. The premiere features a running joke about just what kind of escapades a young Fran got up to in her early teen years. “What do you think, you turn 14 and boom you’ve got the savoir faire and sophistication of a woman of my years and experience?” Fran asks her eldest charge, shy and sheltered Maggie Sheffield (Nicholle Tom). “Look when I was 14…” Fran has to cut herself off before revealing too much of her liberated past. Nothing Maggie can get up to as a sheepish high schooler will really seem all that rebellious in contrast to the memory of a young, wild, and free Fran Fine.
By the end of the pilot, we get a glimpse into the full sensuality of adult Fran. At the height of the episode’s central soiree, Fran — decked out in a high neck halter gown covered in red glitter, courtesy of her pageant queen cousin — poses at the top of the OG Sheffield mansion stairs. It’s such a moving sight, the party's piano player starts belting Desi Arnaz’s “The Lady in Red” as Fran's entrance music (giving The Nanny a direct connection to its sitcom ancestor I Love Lucy). “Look at that dress!” Fran’s new boss/obvious love interest Maxwell Sheffield (Charles Shaughnessy) gasps to himself… and the woman who is in love with him, C.C. Babcock (Lauren Lane). Maxwell is a sputtering mess in the face of Fran Fine’s beauty — which is the point. Fran uses the dazzle of her looks to convince Maxwell to let his usually poorly behaved children attend the business party. The plan goes off wonderfully — except for when Maxwell finds a catering boy played by James Marsden kissing Maggie.
The Nanny can't help but love smooching.
C.C. does not fare as well when it comes to empowering lusty characterization. When we first meet C.C. in the pilot, she tells her verbal sparring partner Niles (Daniel Davis) that theater is a “passion” of hers. “I can’t wait to see what you’ll be mounting next,” Niles, the Sheffield butler, responds archly. Later, when Maxwell says he’ll take a phone call from C.C. in the library, Niles quips, “Ms. Babcock loves to be taken in the library.” In 2021, these are the kind of double entendres someone would say about themselves in preparation for the alluring Hot Girl Summer ahead for many of us. But, considering the fact that Niles is using his words as digs against a visibly lovestruck C.C., the continuous “joke” comes dangerously close to slut-shaming.
At least The Nanny had 144 more episodes to cement a slut-friendly attitude. It’s a series that would go on to explore drunken sex, secret sex, and the magic of a cleavage-heavy little black dress, creating a sex-positive pop cultural foundation for any young person with access to CBS (or syndication) for decades. Fran Fine helped us open our hearts to future well-heeled, horny sitcom dames like New Girl's Jessica Day (Zooey Deschanel) and The Mindy Project's Mindy Lahiri (Mindy Kaling). Mr. Sheffield's not the only one who finds this whole deal beguiling.