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January 29th, 2013 / 1:06 pm
Film & Web Hype

HBO’s hit TV show GIRLS: what it should mean for everyone

I feel an enormous (and delicious) pressure to write about the hit TV show GIRLS, now on HBO, every Sunday. I have been told by my editors that women read, watch TV, and purchase “added value” products. I was surprised to learn that anyone still does these things.

This market position makes the hit TV show girls the ideal subject for an HTML Giant post, both in terms of our viewpoint as a media company, and from the aligned viewpoint(s) of our corporate partners.

In addition to this diamond-cut logic, my girlfriend is a background actor in the second season. She and I are constantly seeking a vehicle for our own fame. I desperately want to create my own vision of youth and culture, on an international stage. If only I could find a way to tell my own stories, so that people would listen to me, and so that I would feel loved and understood by the general public.

Here are my original thoughts:

I’ve read comments about Girls that said, in a nutshell, “I like the show, but I can’t see me in the show.” I feel the same way. The guys in the show are the biggest bunch of losers I’ve ever seen. There is a drip who gets dumped because he bores his girlfriend; a dad who hits on his babysitter; a bevy of wussy hipsters who are just grist for the insatiable lust of the too-cool girl with the British accent; and the king of them all, the shirtless dude who talks funny and hides his stomach all the time. I know this sorry representation of men is fair payback for the endless parade of airheaded women on the West Coast male counterpart to GirlsEntourage, which in turn was fair payback for the cast of male dorks on Sex in the City. (They seemed like dorks to me, at least, on the occasions when my ex-girlfriend tuned in while I happened to be around.)

I want to like it. I want to like Hannah, I really do. I want it to be “quirky,” and witty, and smart and even off-kilter and bizarro. But at the end of the day — I just don’t. I cannot escape the feeling of wanting to swear at the television screen and hurl my hipster T-shirt at my flat panel TV. But then I’d be watching the show either a) topless or b) in my cami. Oh wait — Hannah already did that in this episode.

Last week I tried to figure out if watching the show as a parody made me feel better about how the characters are depicted. If this is all sort of a farce, maybe it’s O.K., a broader ironic statement about contemporary culture rather than simply a depiction of “twentysomethings living in an urban environment,” or twentysomething disaster porn. But this episode, in which no one seems redeemable save the recovered junkie who ends up giving Hannah coke, broke down my resolve again. It didn’t feel like parody, it just felt like watching a bunch of unlikable characters without much heart or purpose (in which nothing, really, is at stake) interact thoughtlessly with one another in a way that makes me cringe. The four ladies on this show have me missing Carrie Bradshaw & Company, another bunch of narcissists who did dumb things but at least had a purpose, and a bit of heart, even if they weren’t always easy to watch, either.

But just when Girls seems to veer into an uncomfortable and pitch-black realm, it zigzags back into a refreshingly honest portrayal of female sexuality, friendships, and dynamics in the Facebook age. It’s also at times joyously exuberant, such as when, in a beautifully shot sequence, Hannah and Marnie dance in their apartment at the end of the third episode. Without dialogue, these two unite in such a subtle and soulful way, their bodies moving to the music in a silent reaffirmation of their friendship.

Not only are Millennials apparently hyper-confident, but Millennial women in particular are ambitious and career-driven. They eschew traditional role models and are convinced of their ability to achieve the same level of success as the female leaders they see around them. A third of them believe they will eventually reach the top of their professions. Doesn’t sound like the Girls girls, does it?  Aside from Marnie, who works in a gallery, none of Girls leads hold down 9-5 jobs or have shown any inclination toward embracing working life or make any mention of concrete career goals. Hannah has vague aspirations toward publishing her book of essays, but that’s it.

This “new wave” of feminist activity can be linked to the rise of student activism and the role that protest has played in response to government cuts. There is a feeling that we, as a generation, are not being listened to, that we “don’t know we’re born”. Our lack of voice in public life has led us to resort to other means. The cuts affect the young, and young women specifically. It was my personal involvement in the student protests that led me to feminism, something which, despite being the daughter of a single feminist mother and growing up on benefits, I had smugly derided. Engaging more with politics inevitably led me to think more about my position, and that of other women, but it was also the sense of camaraderie, the feeling of being among other people who were united in the same sentiment, which sparked my interest. During the UCL occupation, a group of six-formers from Camden School for Girls came down to visit us, and their passion and enthusiasm was inspiring.

Still, it’s not difficult to imagine criticisms of Girls, many of them the type that greet “girl culture” in general, from chick-lit novels to Tori Amos albums—that it’s navel-gazing, that it’s juvenile, that it’s TMI. In addition, there’s what Dunham calls “the rarefied white hipster thing.” Despite the denials at HBO and by the show’s creators (it was practically a mantra on set that Girls is not the new Sex and the City), Girls is a post–Sex and the City show, albeit one with an aesthetic that’s raw and bruised, not aspirational. Sex and the City first achieved notoriety when its characters debated the power dynamics of anal sex during a cab ride, during the “up-the-butt girl” episode. InGirls, that discussion is not abstract: It’s Hannah, naked, on her knees, chattering anxiously as Adam pulls on (she hopes) a condom, trying to get some reassurance that he’s not heading in the wrong direction. Still, like SATC, Dunham’s show takes as its subject women who are quite demographically specific—cosseted white New Yorkers from educated backgrounds—then mines their lives for the universal. While the two shows dramatize very different stages of life, Girls might as well swing an arm around its Manolo’d aunt, who (even before she wrecked her brand with that awful trip to Abu Dhabi) took her own share of abuse.

Girls will also surely be compared to Bridesmaids, that other female ensemble comedy produced by Judd Apatow. Dunham is the cable analogue to network’s boom in female creators, among them Whitney Cummings, Suburgatory’s Emily Kapnek, Up All Night’s Emily Spivey, New Girl’s Liz Meriwether, and the reigning sitcom queen bees Fey and Poehler. Her spoiled, self-­destructive Hannah also fits nicely among the sorority of flawed anti-heroines on shows like HBO’sEnlightened and Showtime’s Homeland.

Erik Stinson currently lives in New York and works for Google’s AOL-Netflix media research ROI startup CAVE AGENCY. Both Erik and his girlfriend are available to move to Los Angeles immediately.