I would like to talk about Girls.
Probably because sometimes it seems like everyone is talking about Girls. It’s been a long time since I’ve come across a piece of media that has people talking quite so… heatedly. Everyone has an opinion and they feel the need to express these opinions forcefully on their various social media outlets, whether it be facebook, Twitter, or even just comments at the bottom of articles written, of which they are every Monday, faithfully and ready for people to argue over. The point is, people have very strong views about this show. And it’s impressive when something captures people’s attention like this. Sure, the show won several Golden Globes and has an eighty four percent approval rating on metacritic, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that people will be engaged in their viewing. And, yes, HBO is known for as a channel that touts quality about quantity. Their not rolling out whatever Housewife wants to be seen this week, they show quality scripted shows. Everyone knows this. But every Monday I find scores of article written about the previous episode and then tons of people either agreeing with the writer or deriding them for their remarks. Sometimes I get so frustrated with those I disagree with, but I have to think that this sort of discussion is great, and that I have to approve of the thing that brought it to us.
I love this show. Really, it took me a few episodes before I loved it, but when I started watching it last year it was with a sort of determination. I have a perfect memory of seeing the poster for Lena Dunham’s Tiny Furniture at my old place of employment. Which was a movie theatre. I remember seeing it hanging on a very precise place on the wall. Of course, I do realize that I hadn’t been working there at the time of this movie’s release so there is no way I could have seen it there. I must have seen it online. But wherever I saw it I remember it well. Dunham is lying on the floor by some, get this, tiny furniture and the tagline is emblazoned over pretty much the whole thing “Aura would like you to know she’s having a very, very hard time.” Well. Look at that. I’m having a hard time too! I promptly put it on my Netflix list, even though it hadn’t been released on DVD and I waited. I waited forever. So when Girls came on my tv screen and was pretty much Tiny Furniture the television show I was all about it. I didn’t instantly like the characters and I had a hard time relating to their entitlement but then three episodes in I realized something. I did like all the characters and I could totally understand their sense of entitlement. What was keeping me from liking them off the bat was my indignant sense of not wanting to see my own flaws. I think this is true of a lot of people. In a lot of ways I think the things people don’t like about the show is that it’s too close to home. People don’t want to believe that they are selfish and their lives are messy and that they make decisions that people stare at and shake their heads, but the reality is that everyone does. What is brave about Girls is that it’s very unflattering. Hannah (Lena Dunham) is lazy, chubby, and likely has an inflated view of her abilities. She’s a lot like me; except I’m old enough that I should have solved it by now. Hannah is clearly the juiciest role of the bunch, but it’s also the most polarizing. She is very easy to hate, mostly due to the fact that she takes very little responsibility for her actions. When the series starts out Hannah is working at an unpaid internship and living off her parents, who presumably pay her New York rent and send her money for living expenses. She graduated from college approximately a year earlier and is in absolutely no hurry to take charge of her life. She’s a writer, after all. In the pilot her parents come to visit and announce that they are cutting her off. She’s understandably upset by this injustice. But this catalyst for the beginning of Hannah’s story is only the very first thing people had to complain about. A friend of mine just watched season one for the first time two days ago and announced that they thought the mother was a bitch because she cut her daughter off. I disagreed. While it would certainly be jarring to suddenly be responsible for living expenses and astronomical New York rent with no discernable income, it is certainly understandable that she must have seen this could not be a permanent situation. Keep in mind, of course, that both me and said friend are currently living at home rent free and eating our mother’s food. Still, Hannah’s grumbling and declarations of unfairness didn’t turn me against her, quite the opposite really, because her reaction was perhaps the most real thing I had ever seen on television. She is, after all, twenty four. It’s clearly Hannah, and the actress who plays her, who has garnered the most criticism. Likely because when watching the credits of the show they go something along the lines of this: Directed by Lena Dunham, Written by Lena Dunham, Produced by Lena Dunham, Staring Lena Dunham. It’s not hard to see that Lena Dunham is almost solely responsible for Girls and as a result she gets the meatiest storylines, the wittiest dialogue, and almost carte blanche to examine what she wants to do with any of the characters. For some reason many people find this self indulgent and egotistical. I don’t, not really, not more than anything else. Hannah’s the meat and potatoes of Girls, yes, but she doesn’t get things going her way, she doesn’t get all the guys fawning over her, she doesn’t even have success. She’s a mess, a great character to play, I’m sure, but given the awkward situations she often finds herself in I can’t imagine she’s the most comfortable. Plus, the emotional journeys of all of the girls are equally strong.
A few weeks ago the website College Humor published a post that applied the criticism of the show, and Dunham herself, to the sitcom Seinfeld. Pretty aptly. It argued that no one had a problem when Jerry Seinfeld cast himself in the role of a successful comedian who dates pretty much exclusively beautiful women. Perhaps we were meant to believe that this was the actual life of the man, perhaps it even was. It didn’t matter to me, at all, because you know what? It was funny. It is still funny. The same applies to Girls. In fact, in some ways it was interesting to see how typical Girls is of a television show, though it’s often touted as not so.
Girls is about a very specific time in people’s lives. There are those, of course, that leave college knowing exactly where they are going and what they are planning to do. They apply and are accepted for jobs, move into their lovely homes, and marry their sweethearts. Then there is everyone else, the demographic that seems to be more and more prevalent in our society and the one that seems to be stretching even beyond the traditional early twenties (I know very few people who are gainfully employed in jobs they want to turn into careers). Some people don’t even get it right the first time.
Marnie is a good example of this. In the beginning of season one she seems to be the one of the group who has their shit together the most. She has a full time job in an art gallery, is cultured, has an adoring boyfriend and a solid group of friends, and lives with a roommate in Brooklyn, New York. She epitomizes a group of young professional, starting out in the field they love but probably nowhere near where they want to be. Ideally, she would marry the boyfriend, be promoted at work, and move into a brownstone in Park Slope. Of course, because in life (like in fiction) things don’t always work out the way they are supposed to, this is not what happens. Instead the boyfriend grates on her nerves, and she is unceremoniously downsized in the first episode of season two. Then she, like her friends and like so many of mine, she starts to flail. She second guesses choices, she gets a menial part time hostessing gig, and she tries on a variety of hats, casting herself in makeshift sophistication in a plastic dress. Finally, she decides (for two episodes anyway) that she wants to be a singer, despite no evidence to the audience that she has ever warbled a note. I don’t believe this is a writing failing, I believe this is the point. Marnie, along with many people I know in real life, has no real idea of what she wants to do with her life apart from that she wants to do something creative. Her talent is, of course, dubious. As most talent is. Her story arch for season two is, perhaps, the most complete of the group and finally acknowledged in episode nine when her ex-boyfriend, Charlie, pulls her aside and tells her that she has to get it together. It would be nice if this was the shot in the arm she needed, an honest admonishment. That’s what would happen in a movie or television show, but this is Girls. And in Girls, like in life, nothing is that smooth.
There is a breed of person. They like to call themselves free spirits because they make seemingly irrational decisions, never stick with anything for very long, and act as thought they are very happy all the time. People look at them and wish they could be more like them. Wouldn’t it be nice to have so few scruples that it would be appropriate to couch surf at a friend of a friends house for two weeks until they start gazing at your out of the side of their eye and wish it was still a social convention to put a pineapple in someone’s room to indicate it was time to move along? You’d certainly see more and do more, have more life experiences. But then you sit back and really think about it and decide you could never inconvenience someone that way. This is the problem with the free spirit; you want to be them, but only for a day. Such is Jessa. Quite honestly, I can’t stand Jessa, and I never could. From the first frame of the first episode she graced I disliked her. There’s a scene in season two, a meaningless scene that has no impact over the rest of the season at all. Hannah is visiting Jessa, who has just gotten a whole box full of puppies, and they are sitting in a park cooing over how cute they are. Jessa then starts to arbitrarily name them. I wish I could remember all of their idiotic names, but I do remember one was Fucker and Hannah suggested Hanukah (which Jessa begrudgingly allowed). These names are so extraordinarily stupid that it made me want to reach through the screen and slap her. Those poor dogs are now going to go through life with names like Fucker. When I named my cat, Pyewacket, I carefully selected one that meant something to me. In fact, my Latin teacher had talked about Bell, Book, and Candle so many times over my two years of Latin that I was pretty sure if I ever got a cat I would be naming it after the witch’s familiar in that movie. Like it or hate it, I thought long and hard about that name because Pye is a living creature that I love. Poor Fucker didn’t get that luxury. And, actually, I shutter to think what is actually going to happen to those dogs since Jessa is unlikely to be a good care taker in the long run (we never do see them again). Perhaps I shouldn’t care or think about it much, but I get horrible images of those adorable puppies being given off to kill shelters. Or, probably more likely, let loose in a case of “they’re animals, they should be free”. She’s a free spirit after all.
Finally, there is Shoshanna. Arguably the least featured of the girls Shoshanna is given the role of neurotic virgin. It’s the sort of role that could have gone horribly wrong had it not been placed in the capable hands of Mad Men alum Zosia Mamet. And, though Shoshanna is frequently hilarious and has the best facial expressions of the whole crew, it makes sense that she’s underutilized. Perhaps she’s best in small doses. Jessa’s cousin, Shoshanna starts out the series as little more than Jessa’s crash pad. She has an apartment that has, seemingly, one room (though I am sure there are hidden depths if the amount of people revolving in and out can be relied upon) and is decorated cutely. Her first season journey is pretty much a quest to lose her virginity, something she is awkwardly trying to dispose of after managing to retain it all through college. It’s clear that Shoshanna considers this a failing, though I’m not quite as convinced. Finally, at the end of the season she does a few drugs, runs around with no pants on, and hooks up with reoccurring character Ray (regular in season two). Pretty soon, though she doesn’t seem to realize it at first, he’s moved in. As I said, Shoshanna doesn’t have nearly as much to do as the others but she’s always funny and frequently steals the scenes she’s in.
There seem to be two camps available to characters on television; to be likeable or to be so unlikable that they’re funny. Mixed in with our Friends and our Big Bang Theories we have our Seinfelds and our It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphias. The intense, almost to a fault, likeability of Rachel, Monica, Phoebe, Joey, Ross, and Chandler (though, yes I am aware you could all weigh in here and let me know the Friend you despised the most) fueled Friends through nine seasons, despite it’s growing mediocrity. Alternatively, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia has been going fairly strong for eight years despite a cast of characters that are foul mouth, drunken, selfish assholes that are as nasty to each other as they are to everyone else. And it’s hilarious. Girls is neither of these things, these characters are neither completely likeable nor completely disagreeable. They all do stupid things, all are mildly selfish, and they tend to make the audience uncomfortable at times, probably because they recognize too much of themselves in it.
When Girls began there was a giant article in my US Weekly comparing and contrasting it to another HBO show about women living in New York. That’s right, Sex and the City. I would never disparage Sex and the City, not even after its brilliance has been tarnished with two pretty awful (but sometimes fun) movies, but I don’t think it has much to do with Girls, and I think comparing them is a disservice. True, they are both about a group of female friends living, loving, and working in New York, where the lead character happens to be a writer. But, Girls isn’t about the glamorous lives of Manhattanites making their way through men while never forgetting their own lives. Perhaps that’s what this group of girls could be, but not yet. Not even close. Carrie, Samantha, Miranda, and Charlotte had themselves together professionally, they were never looking to afford their rent, they had problems with men, of course, but not usually because they were incapable of functioning themselves while maintaining a relationship. Carrie and Company had already done that, at least ten years ago. It’s brought up, actually, several times when Carrie reminisces on her twenties and how she would never want to go back there. They’re a lot of fun, yeah, but Ms. Bradshaw recognized that she was a mess, as everyone is, and as these girls certainly are. Of course the comparisons between these two series were bound to arise, which is why Dunham addressed it in the first episode. Honestly though, anything about women in New York is compared to Sarah Jessica Parker’s pop culture exploding series. It’s simply not possible for something to be so popular and not become the corner stone of comparison. I’m just saying it doesn’t always make as much sense to compare as people would like it to be.
Probably the episode of Girls that has gotten people talking the most this season was what I liked to call a short film of an episode. Having pretty much nothing to do with anything else that goes on in the rest of the season, “One Man’s Trash” stars only Dunham as Hannah and features a short appearance by Alex Karpovsky as Ray. An attractive, middle aged man (played by Patrick Wilson) comes to Grumpy’s, the coffee shop where both regulars work, to complain that someone has been throwing the store trash into his garbage cans. Ray sloughs him off rudely but Hannah gets a bit cagey, and when she follows the gentleman home it’s no surprise when she confesses that it’s been her dumping the trash. Joshua (who Hannah continually calls Josh) is a recently divorced doctor with a Brooklyn townhouse and an obvious case of loneliness. The two talk, Hannah marvels at his ordinary life, he marvels at her youth and they end up having sex in his kitchen, after something like ten minutes. When she goes to leave for the day he begs her to stay, and then call in sick the next day. They spend the day chatting lightly, playing topless ping pong, cooking, and having more sex. Finally, that night, he asks her for something real and she responds with a tearful confession that she feels lost and confused and often thinks her life will go nowhere and she’s worthless. When she’s done things have clearly changed. Hannah is no longer the young girl who came to the door and stayed. She’s no longer the sexually aggressive mysterious young woman she was the night before. Joshua announces he has to work early and when Hannah wakes up in the morning he is gone. She makes breakfast, reads the paper, cleans up, and then finally leaves, putting the trash out as she goes. I liked the episodes, despite its non sequitur. I was certainly not prepared for the media frenzy that would explode the next day. But it seemed as if people had a problem with it. Not that it was boring, or bad, or even that it had nothing to do with the rest of the season and none of the other characters appeared. No. The problem they had was that Lena Dunham is not attractive enough to catch the attention of a man as hot as Patrick Wilson. A series of insulting articles were written, mostly by men’s magazines, about how absurd it was and how it might have been a dream because it was that unrealistic. Women fired back, enraged that anyone would put these insulting views to print. I agreed, mostly. But what I never read in any of the articles about it was what I saw so plainly, and what I expressed in my synopsis; Hannah may not be conventionally attractive, but she is a young woman who miraculously appears on his stoop and has immediate sex with him while understanding the fling for what it is, a fling. It’s him who begs her to stay because he wants more of the uncomplicated isolation. This only works behind closed doors, of course, and when she makes it too real by confiding what he thought he wanted to hear he pulls away. Like men tend to be, he was blinded by her youth and impulsiveness, her looks (and she is not butt ugly by any stretch of the imagination) simply did not factor into it. Basically, what makes this show work so well, the unflatteringly accurate picture Dunham shows of, well, girls, is exactly what men couldn’t handle when shown of themselves. And then, of course, decided to be insulting to women instead.
Every week there are a whole glob of blog posts and articles written about the aired episode. People complain and praise and laugh about the antics of the characters. Roll their eyes and say Marnie needs to get it together and Hannah needs to stop being so self indulgent. They say the dialogue was great but Dunham needs to, please for the love of god, put on some pants. They insist the portrayal is not accurate to their lifestyle or that it is. Men say what they like about it and what they don’t while their female counterparts deride them for “not getting it”, though many of them do. A lot of people fiercely love this show, some people also fiercely hate it, but neither will stop watching it and neither will stop posting about it online. So… hasn’t it then succeeded? The simple act of me posting this blog entry has cemented my part in its effectiveness. No one that’s watched it wants to stop talking about it. Which is probably why HBO keeps it around, despite ratings that aren’t spectacular (its weekly ratings are usually around the one million mark, often below). This is a show for a new generation. The Hannah Horvaths of the world. Us self indulgent bloggers and writers and people who post about their lives on the internet, and don’t quite accept that people don’t care about what we think of a television program.