Raul I wondered if I should write about Girls on HBO. No one honors our strict no-spoiler code as we do but I decided it was ok because there’s no reason for you to watch it.
There’s a lot being written about Girls. I don’t read much tv commentary unless you or Doris W. forward it to me but I am aware of it. It’s being criticized and lauded for many things but I’ve realized it really boils down to this – is it worth my time? Not whether it’s watchable or important or entertaining but is it worth adding to my significant queue of magazines, books, tv, movies – in a theater and movies – at home? I do actually like to do things outside in the real world and with so many pop culture demands, it had better be worth it. I don’t think Girls is. But I think it’s interesting for us to talk about how we evaluate a show’s worth.
I have watched all 6 episodes that have aired. While I need my stories to validate my time investment, I am not impatient and know that most good shows need time to find their voice, especially comedies. I think with 6 episodes, Girls has had time to show me what they’ve got. Unfortunately, what they’ve got, I don’t want.
I watched the 3rd and 4th shows and then the first two. I think if I’d watched them in order I would not have made it past the second show. The setup is pretty basic – four artistic-type girls in their early to mid-twenties live in New York. Hannah is the lead and played by writer-director-creator Lena Dunham. She’s a wannabe writer in a relationship defined by awkward sex with a guy who’s supposed to be a weirdo but is really just annoying. Her roommate and bff is Marnie who works at an art gallery – surprise – and has a long-time weenie boyfriend from college. There is Shoshanna who is a spazzy innocent virgin and is roommates with Jessa who is a British, confident on the outside tramp and is someone’s cousin. I think they all went to college together.
First and foremost – I just don’t care about these characters. I think they’re very realistic but wholly uninteresting. Being unsympathetic is ok if you play it for laughs like Seinfeld or real drama like Breaking Bad. I believe there’s criticism that the characters are too unlikable. I’ve said it a lot but I don’t need to like a character to enjoy it. But I need to get something out of it. The show isn’t funny enough to play it for laughs. Shoshanna is funny but she is the most sit-commy. A nervous nelly about her viginity and childish about everything else she’s painted broadly compared to the others who are played for realism. She sticks out like the Family Guy in a Vermeer. Yet the other characters, while realistically drawn are too superficial for drama. They are selfish, self-centered spoiled millennial brats whose sense of entitlement is boundless. And?
I know of these girls but I don’t know anything about these particular girls. There are small crumbs of information that are not explored – Marnie has been dating her boyfriend for 4 or 5 years but has to ask his friend for his address during their breakup. This awful fact is telling but never explored. Why is she such a horrible withholding girlfriend? Does she know she’s horrible? Do her friends think she’s a bad gf? Jessa lures an ex who dumped her back home. She knows he’s moving in with his girlfriend and fucks him to prove she is “unsmoteable.” She declares this proudly but is it even a victory? He is so instantly guilt-ridden he almost weeps. He’s not going to get back together with Jessa and I doubt he’ll ever want to be in the same city again. This is all comically witnessed by Shoshanna in a closet but it is completely left alone. Shoshanna the Virgin is learning about sex or is she? She doesn’t reflect on or discuss Jessa’s vengeance fuck and another event ripe with opportunity is left to wither on the table. Does anyone care to look beyond the surface of anything or anyone on this show?
There have been enough shows to establish the characters but after so much exposition, I need something more. They are typical twenty-somethings who are immature and lost but don’t know it. Where are we going with this? In episode 6, it’s to Hannah’s parents’ house for a visit home. Finally, we get some insight and maybe a little revelation but I felt like it’s just more glossing over. Or rather the same tidbits served up with a new name but the same flavor. Hannah has a one night stand with a cute pharmacist – Lou Taylor Pucci of Thumbsucker. She yet again has awkward unsexy sex. The big city transplant takes her self-loathing out on the townie boy. Nothing new in storytelling and we already know this about her. She does whatever she thinks the boy wants in bed. We, and she, don’t know what she wants. And she doesn’t even really know what the boy wants. She is uncomfortable with sex. She has issues with her body and self-image and when she thinks she’s asserting herself she’s really just throwing a tantrum. We know this because she did the same with her boy back in NYC and her grabby boss. And?
Why? They could make a joke of her blindness or we could learn something new about her even if she doesn’t but nothing. At the end her weird fuck partner calls to say he misses her but I’ve already stopped caring. And what message is that – wait out the ugly sex scenarios and then he’ll really like you! I will say this though – the writing was better. It was the first episode not written by Dunham alone. It was co-written with exec producer Judd Apatow and it showed. There was heart, more humor and her parents were written as actual adults and not as Parents, from a child’s view. There aren’t a lot of adults on this show. I wonder if Dunham knows just how apropos Girls is as a title.
The other bit of criticism I am aware of are accusations that the show is racist because all the characters are white. They’re so unappealing, I don’t know why you’d want to get more races on the show. I want a bitchy, self-serving Asian and I want her now! I do get a kick out of how insanely hipster this show is – hot Jessa with her ridiculous clothes, Hannah the sassy out of shape writer, the gentle boyfriend in the terrible band. All they need is a discussion about bikes over cars and craft beer for full hipster cred, fixed gear and homebrewing for honors credit.
I think this criticism, like the show, is scraping the surface. I don’t think the show lacks diversity of race but of class. These girls – and boys – are entitled brats. Hannah is 25 and gets cut off by her parents in the first episode. I know very well how hard it is to find a job today and the humbling act of asking your parents for financial help. I know too many instances of this. But there is no humility in Hannah. She hasn’t been slaving away at Sbarro, living with 3 roommates she met online in a 2 bedroom flat. She’s shares a pretty decent place with her best friend in New York. There’s no evidence she was trying to find work at all. Her spectacular failure in interviews supports this. But what is her reaction to being cut off? Whining, excuses, resentment but definitely no apologies. She is a child of the worst sort, she’s a kid who thinks she’s a grownup. But her idea of adulthood is a child’s definition – when I grow up I’m going to do what I want, when I want and how I want. And the guy she’s shagging is also jobless, gets money from his grandmother and lives ALONE in New York. Where is the realism here? Even the cast of Friends had jobs. Hannah eventually – and weirdly without explanation – gets a standard issue crap job which she promptly quits. But there is no interaction with anyone of any different experience.
But here’s the thing. I think it is real. For Dunham and the cast. Dunham is the daughter of Laurie Simmons, a photographer and designer, and Carroll Dunham, a painter. Marnie is played by Allison Williams, daughter of Brian Williams. Shoshanna is played by Zosia Mamet daughter of David Mamet and Lindsay Crouse. They have had upper-middle if not flat out privileged upbringing and above average exposure to the arts. At first I thought they are too young, too close to the eye of the storm to have any objectivity and perhaps the crew is also too young to know better. I heard a part of Lena Dunham on Fresh Air. Terry Gross asked her about her tattoos of illustrations from children’s books. She has them and they are incorporated into her character, Hannah.
GROSS: I think it’s a perfect illustration of the – a perfect metaphor for where the character is. She’s trying to, like, assert her independence and adulthood through something like tattoos. But what are the tattoos pictures of? Childhood books.
DUNHAM: Yeah. That’s amazing. I’ve actually never thought about that but that’s an incredibly clear, nice visual for what she’s experiencing.
She’s never thought about what her own tattoos mean? Or about how they work with the character she created? Gross just told her what her show is about. I think this proves my point. The show is all exhibition with a good social vocabulary but little discourse. Maybe they just haven’t been challenged enough by life or exposed to enough outside of their world to know any different. Maybe they are young intellectuals of the worst sort – hipsters. Or maybe I’m just showing my age – complaining about kids today. Maybe this is a show by millennials, about millennials, for millennials. And?