Some Brief Thoughts on the HBO Sitcom GIRLS

Current Female-Centered Half Hour Sitcoms

Stars an annoying, quippy artist. The humor is intelligent, quirky, and self-deprecating.
Lena Dunham looks like the rest of us, and even her lovely friends are overly critical
of themselves and others.
They say things that I say, like, “You are gorgeous, seriously.” to a friend complaining
about her body.
Set in NYC

Stars an abrasive, loud female character. The humor is dirty and Whitney has her “man” completely “whipped.”
I couldn’t get through more than two episodes because I just hated Whitney.
She’s also the writer of the show.
Set in NYC.

Stars an awkward, goofy female character. The humor is fluffy, slapstick, and Zooey Deschanel is gorgeous, beyond argument. Even at her weirdest, she is gorgeous.
Her female friends are models.
Set in NYC.

I have no idea because I don’t/won’t watch it.
But I’m right, right?

Stars two women– one a rough-talking, sassy Brooklyn-ite, and the other a prissy princess fallen from her wealth.
The humor is slapstick, absurd, and occasionally racist.
It’s set in NYC.

Television shows starring privileged, imperfect white males
(an example– I don’t watch everything but I’m sure there are more):
Mad Men
Breaking Bad
How I Met Your Mother
Every Schmancy Crime Show Ever (White Collar, Lie To Me, etc)

Basically, I’m confused as to why people find Girls to be so abhorrent. The main arguments for its stupidity are:
— the girls are annoying, narcissistic, and privileged
— the characters are all white
— three of the four lead actors are legacies (Dunham’s mother is an artist, and two other girls are the spawn of Brian Williams and David Mamet)

I understand if you don’t like the show because you don’t find it funny, or you don’t relate, or it just isn’t your cup of tea. Some shows people love I hate– it’s called opinions.
But what’s happening here is direct, pretty intense aggression towards Dunham and the show. A lot of this is certainly due to the insane hype surrounding Girls (billboards/ads, trailers, countless profiles in the media proclaiming that Dunham is indeed, “the voice of a generation.”).

I am concerned that the exact objections people are shooting at Dunham and Girls are arguments that could be hurled towards any number of other shows. I’ve mentioned Whitney, New Girl, Two Broke Girls, and Are You There, Chelsea? above, four new female-centric sitcoms that were supposedly game-changing on television. I have watched a few episodes each of Whitney and New Girl, and had to stop because I found them so irritating. And if we’re talking about annoying, privileged women, let’s see (excepting 2 Broke Girls, which purposefully does the opposite of the following, but it ain’t no janky Brooklyn like I’ve ever seen)– all the shows are set in NYC, all the women are “comfortable” in terms of finances, none of the women have real jobs, as far as I can parse, and all of them are weird. But which one do I relate to the most?

It’s not Whitney, who is loud and mean, and who men like because she is trying to BE one;
It’s not Jess (Deschanel’s character), who is pretty and perhaps a little retarded, and who men like because she is “safe,” (nothing scary about a woman who is basically a child)
It’s not pretty spoiled Beth or bitchy, lonely Max from Two Broke Girls, whose relationship to each other is basically beyond actual belief.
And it sure as hell isn’t whatever Chelsea Handler they’ve created for her TV show.

No, it’s Hannah (Dunham’s character).

–she is frequently annoying

— she makes terrible choices (but SERIOUSLY, how many people have not had relationships that are probably unhealthy for them but they still go all in)

–she has huge dreams yet often lacks the immediate ability to make them happen,

–she has a group of friends who love her but are also annoyed by her sometimes (and are well-developed, for “side” characters),

— she  talks in tweets and is desperate to both stay young and grow up at the same time.

People are allowed to not like Girls.
But it irritates me when people are attacking it for reasons that they refuse to apply to other shows.
Girls is different from what’s out there, but people are attacking it for ways in which it’s actually the SAME as mainstream television.

I’m excited to see what’s next.

ETA: A selection from a great essay from the NYTimes:

Aside from a few exceptions — Tina Fey’s Liz Lemon on “30 Rock,” Amy Poehler’s Leslie Knope on “Parks and Recreation,” both farcical enough to have more in common with “S.N.L.” personas than actual characters — we’ve largely been spared confident, complicated, single comedic heroines for a few decades now. Each week on “2 Broke Girls,” the spunky leads flee confrontation, seek solace in each other’s “You go, girl!” clichés and then stride out from their hidey hole to shake a finger in someone’s face (only to be rewarded with more humiliation). For all of the single-girl bluster of “Whitney,” our heroine seems to have few interests outside of her live-in boyfriend, whether turning him on, manipulating him or distracting him from ogling another girl’s assets. Even Jess (Zooey Deschanel) of “New Girl,” the least insipid of the lot, tends to go all bashful and pigeon-toed a few times per episode, forsaking weightier goals in favor of trotting out her oddball charms for the adoration of her male roommates…

Witnessing the female characters on TV comedies today, I find it hard not to marvel at the effortful overcompensation at play here, as adult women are transformed into something lighter, perkier, less frightening. Each character is outfitted with charming tics (“What an adorable sneeze!”) and inoffensive mediocrities (“She’s so clumsy!”) and toothless yuppie righteousness (“You tell that snippy barista the customer is always right!”) Our culture chooses the naïve audacity of girlhood over more robust concepts of femininity — even Madonna has taken to waving sparkly pompoms. If watching shows like “2 Broke Girls” and “Whitney” and “New Girl” brings on a certain nausea and dizziness, it’s most likely a result of seeing the same grown women twirl and twirl and twirl endlessly for an imagined audience each week. Even Carrie Bradshaw, in all of her attention-seeking wishy-washiness, at least had the courage of conviction to dress like an extra in the Ziegfeld Follies….

If “Girls” has been heralded as game-changing television, there’s a reason for that: the stuttered confessions, half-smiles, hissed warnings and quiet shared confidences between Hannah and her friends make the empty sassing and high-fiving of existing girlie comedies look like the spasms of a bygone era. But what’s most riveting about Hannah and her friends is not their wisdom, their righteousness or their backbone — as we might imagine would be the antidote to the frothy pap of other girlie comedies — but their confusion, their vulnerability and their ambivalence. Instead of clamoring for attention like Whitney or Jess, Hannah’s roommate, Marnie (Allison Williams), who is beautiful and has a devoted boyfriend, is bored by his sensitivity, bored by his affection (she complains that “his touch now feels like a weird uncle putting his hand on my knee at Thanksgiving”) but can’t muster the resolve to dump him. This is not how the candy-coated ingénue of American imagining, poised on the doorstep of womanhood, is supposed to react to male attention.

2 thoughts on “Some Brief Thoughts on the HBO Sitcom GIRLS

  1. Pingback: So Long, Farewell, 30 Rock « twirlinggirl

  2. Pingback: All The Things | twirlinggirl

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