Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Please Permit Me to Rave About Girls

I viewed the pilot episode of Girls with completely subjective sensibilities. I literally knew nothing about it. I had seen no preview, viewed no one-sheet, read no review – nothing. And the best way for me to describe how I felt about the pilot was that as soon as it was done, I watched it again.

A breath of fresh air.

You hear that term a lot in the world on pop culture criticism, but that’s exactly what Girls is, especially when you take into context the clichés that muddle practically every other sitcom on television right now.

That first episode of Girls was, to be clear, insightful, probing, jaw-dropping and utterly hilarious. Its razor-sharp cynicism laced with middle-class, twentysomething angst propelled what is (by far) the most accurate conversational dialogue currently on television. The second episode was even better, upping the squirm factor ten-fold, and with gusto. Girls is, in a word, refreshing. But, as I’ve recently discovered, it is also polarizing.

As soon as I finished the pilot for the second time, I got online to see how other people felt about the show. What I found was mostly positive, ecstatic even, but digging deeper, I learned that people not only dislike Girls, they fucking loathe it. Why? At the risk of being presumptuous, I can venture a few guesses.
Allison Williams, daughter of NBC's Brian Williams,
is one of the Girls destined to become a star 
Girls is real. Like… really real. And, if film box office numbers are any indication as to what audiences like to consume on a massive level, people don’t want real. Shame is real. Trust is real. So is We Need to Talk About Kevin and Another Happy Day and Tyrannosaur and Beginners. But how many people saw those movies? I mean really? Critics and dedicated indie fans, and who else? My point is, real has never equated to good, at least not in the eyes of 90 percent of the people watching television and/or movies.

People want their vampires and wizards and modern families and Aquaman movie stars. They want to watch four women who rule New York City with their fashion, money, and prowess, not four girls who want to rule New York City with their dry humor, awkward sex and lack of funds. The last HBO show that was really real was called The Wire, which is widely considered the best show ever produced for the television medium. But how many people actually watched The Wire live for five consecutive seasons? I didn’t. I heard the hyperbolic hype and jumped on the bandwagon late in the game, only to catch up on DVD later.

So, yes, I think the biggest turnoff for Girls is its dedicated accuracy. While myself and damn near every major critic may eat the show’s poignancy up, most people just don’t want to be reminded that life can, you know, be shitty.
But accuracy is only one of the “problems” here. The other major one, so it seems, is the show’s apparent lack of diversity. I’m not black, and it would be offensively unfair for me to say that the fact that Girls does not contain one black lead doesn’t really matter. All’s I can offer on the issue of race is exactly what Woody Allen offers his naysayers regarding the same exact subject. It appears that creator/director/writer/star Lena Dunham is drawing from her personal experiences, and maybe (and again, I’m being presumptuous here) she didn’t share her struggles before, during, or after college with any people of color.

I equate Girls’ lack of diversity to that of the majority of Woody Allen’s films, and, as Allen told Stig Björkman in the book Woody Allen on Woody Allen, Allen’s films don’t contain many black characters because he writes about rich, over privileged, Jewish, upperclass New Yorkers.  This isn’t a fault of Woody Allen’s, nor is it a fault of Lena Dunham’s; they’re writing about what they know. Similarly, Tyler Perry’s movies aren’t bad because they don’t have any white people. Tyler Perry’s movies are bad because they’re bad.

You’ll have to forgive me, this has been as far from a standard review as one can get, but that’s kind of the point. I haven’t even described what Girls is about. How it openly mocks Carrie and Co. and is proudly asserting itself as the anti-Sex and the City. About how Dunham’s main character, Hannah is juggling life in Brooklyn after being abruptly cut off financially by her parents. How Hannah and her smart, or floosy, or wound-tight friends deal with money, sex, and life.  Hell, I haven’t even discussed Dunham’s inspirational career. How she graduated from college and financed, wrote, directed and starred in a tiny movie called Tiny Furniture that made a splash at the festival circuit before nabbing an Indie Spirit Award and being released commercially by The Criterion Collection.
Girls creator/writer/director/star Lena Dunham
I haven’t even gotten into the fact that, at the ripe old age of 25, Lena Dunham has done more for herself based on a flawless work ethic than most people do in their entire artistic careers. In the opening episode of Girls, Hannah tells her parents that she thinks she could be one of the voices of her generation. That may seem like self-congratulatory praise to haters, sure, but that’s exactly what Dunham herself is: a unique voice.

Make no mistake, watching Girls is like watching a History Channel miniseries 20 years from now that’s dedicated to examining the emotional, cultural, and physical effect of America’s current fuckups on contemporary youths. There’s nothing soft or flimsy about Girls – the show is exactly what it aims to be: raw, brutal and sparsely tender.

Girls is realer than reality TV. It’s also the best show on television. My only hope is that HBO has the stones to allow Dunham to tell the stories she wants to tell, for as many seasons as she wants to tell them. It’d be a goddamn shame for this show to go away simply because people aren’t ready for it.


  1. I saw the 2 episodes so far and I'm really enjoying it. Especially the last one. All of that gruesome detail about sex and safe sex made realize that this is not Sex & the City. That's a plus.

    Also, I enjoy watching these four ladies. They're flawed, they're a bit immature, a bit clueless. Yet, it makes me enjoy them.

    They're also not the usual good-looking model or hot thing girl that we usually see and I find myself attracted to all of them. I also like the music as I marked out when they played the Troggs' "A Girl Like You" when Jemima Kirke's character is about to walk into a bar.

    I'm going to stick to this show and hopefully see Tiny Furnitures> some time this year.

  2. I decided to watch the show after reading this.

    It was brilliant! Thanks so much for posting about it. I now have a new show to watch.

  3. I hadn't even heard about this until this post. Will be making sure I see it, sounds awesome.

    Love the comparison to Shame, Beginners and in particular Trust. People don't want real, they want fantasy.

  4. @thevoid99 Nice man, glad to hear that. I'm definitely sticking with the show too (according to Dunham, it only gets crazier from here on out). Bring it on.

  5. @colts18beast Wow, that seriously just made my day. So glad my post pushed you to watch it! Cheers!

  6. @Alex Thomas Yup, and that is a shame (pun intended). Ever since I was a kid, I've always preferred my films to reflect real life, not fantasy. But... to each his own. Hope you enjoy the show!

  7. I'm gonna need to check this out, sounds like something I may relate to, though I don't think nothing will beat Game of Thrones for me :) Damn, I have such a long list of TV series to see, I should just give up on sleeping.

  8. @Sati. Part of my presumption in this post is in asserting that Girls is the best show on TV. That's such a bold statement because obviously, no one person can watch EVERY show on TV, but of the ones I do watch, Girls is by far the best.

    Sorry, that was my ass backwards way of saying I've never seen Game of Thrones, but I want to!

  9. I agree with you on the Woody Allen front. Though I am a massive champion for diversity in film/tv, etc. (and rightfully so, the world is full of so many different cultures that need to and should be celebrated) it always feels like that is the negative point to anything that is attempting to be good and relatable, that there are too many white characters (which in itself could also be derogatory for the white race.)

    As someone from a mixed background (and even if I wasn't mixed) I'd love to see more shows with different races in them, because there really should be as that is how our world is. But pinning all those hopes on Girls seems kind of ridiculous in a way, especially considering the people that the show is about (privileged, upper-class, and yes, white girls).

    Saying that, I am sitting on the fence with Girls at the moment - even though I am enjoying it, it might take a turn in a direction that is more soap opera like than the reality-style of it at the moment.

    They really need to get this airing in the UK as soon as, as I am (sneakily and shamefully) only able to watch it online at the moment.

    Great review, though, and you're getting a follow from me!

  10. @Cherokee Wow, what a seriously thoughtful, articulate and engaging comment you left. I could not agree more with everything you said. Do we need more diversity in our pop culture (specifically our film and TV)? Of course. Should Girls be blamed for not having any? No way.

    I too agree that if Girls strays to melodrama, it will fail. But, for now, I have hope in Dunham.

    Thank you so much for reading and commenting. I see that you recently reviewed Shame, my favorite film of 2011. I'm off to read it now!

  11. I like Girls, I really do- the first episode was, like you said, funny and real. I like the characters, especially Lena Durham's, especially because they are not pretty girls, they do not have the appearance of a movie star (except Brian William's daughter, she's pretty gorgeous). But for me, the second episode was a to describe it? weird? it's not that it was too embarrassing or I felt offended by what they did- it's just....too real?can something like that be too much? does it sound too pretentious of me? although I appreciate it, I still felt a little taken aback by it, and I don't know why (I am referring to the first two scenes; the last one in the doctor's office was pretty funny). Maybe it's just me! Anyway, I will continue seeing it, but I am hoping for something more!

  12. @Diana No I don't think you sound pretentious at all, in fact, I think that you being taken aback by the opening sex scenes in episode 2 are completely legitimate. My whole thing is: I think TV and film are dominated by the notion that as soon as two characters have sex, they are immediately in love with one another for the rest of their lives, which is absurd.

    And when they do have sex, it is slow and beautiful and amazing, with the candles glowing and the curtains blowing and the soft music playing. So, in short, I find that 95 percent of the sex scenes in movies and TV are wildly inaccurate, and take away from whatever I'm watching.

    Girls is different in a lot of ways, and the sex scenes are one of the things that set it apart. They are raw and dirty and awkward and real. I certainly hope Dunham has had better sex in real life than her character is having in the show, but, for now, I'm enjoying the awkwardness of it all.

    But this show is right on the cusp of being masterful, or turning awful. If it stays how it is now, I'll seriously dig it, but if it goes further, I may be turned away. We shall see!

  13. I liked the quirky dialogue in Tiny Furniture a lot(was the best thing about it), so I'm very curious to give this show a look. The only thing I was worried about is would be too girly, but since you give all this praise(and you are a guy), that has put my suspicions to rest.

  14. @Chris Oh man, this is show is in no way girly, trust me. If you enjoyed anything about Tiny Furniture, I really think you'll dig this show.

  15. Just found this brilliant essay. You're spot on about why people loathe it. It's uncomfortably real and I love that about it. I'm so happy to find other men who are enthusiastic about this show. :)

    1. Wow, thanks so much for the kind words man. I can see why people hate it, but goddamn, I just love it to death. Just finished rewatching the entire first season. Hilarious shit. Can't wait for season 2!

  16. I've been thinking about this show a lot lately. I was just about as high on it as you were at the start. By this point, I've seriously cooled on it. And it took me a long time to figure out exactly why. Then I realized - the least interesting character is the main character. The episodes focused on everyone else (or at least balanced) are my favorites.

    Where are you at with it today?

    1. I'm with you to a point. Though I do still get enjoyment out of the show. But, no, I'm not as in love with it as I used to be. Though that huge argument during the beach house episode last season may be my favorite scene of the series.