By now, you’ve probably heard that HBO’s new sweetheart show, Girls, was not well-received by the general public, for a variety of reasons. The pilot was ripped apart as a meaningless attempt to capture the voice of a generation lost in the present, complete with a side of casual accepted racism. I thought I’d wait it out and see the second episode before I made my statement, and, well, here we are. This is a post about how this show is trying to say that I’m “one of the ladies” and I am saying that I am definitely not one of the Girls.
Within the first two minutes of the pilot, Hannah’s parents announce they’ve decided to stop bankrolling her operation, which apparently is half-assing it as a writer of her memoirs in Brooklyn while working an unpaid internship at a small publisher. But then Hannah goes into this diatribe about how unfair it is because a) the economy is bad, and b) she hasn’t done anything to merit this disowning, as she sees it. She goes on a rant about how she could be on drugs – heroin, or “something more insidious, like pills.” Within those first few minutes, I felt an increasing sense of dread. Was I about to see my life laid out in front of me, every time I’d failed? Did Girls actualize all of the under the surface self-loathing I’ve felt since I moved out of the suburb I grew up in?
And then we learned that her parents have been paying her way completely for two years and I almost fell out of my chair. Hannah rebuts this by saying, “I am so close to the life that I want – to the life that you want for me – that for you to just end that? Right now?” Here Dunham has come so close and, again, missed the mark by so far. Of course we recognize that Hannah is being ridiculous, but behind the words, there’s a hint that perhaps the world is being ridiculous, not Hannah. Maybe we’re meant to wonder if Hannah’s a little bit right (she isn’t, but I suspect someone thought this a thought-provoking moment).
All of these quippy one liners are straight from the bank of growing up in the 90s. We grew up being told that the Brat Pack was what we should aspire to, that we needed to be well-rounded but also be a leader in everything we participated in, that we needed to be funny but not too funny, that our main goal should basically be to get people to like us and the rest would follow. And man, has that paid off for anyone who wasn’t connected through nepotism? And I do say that ironically.
Because I want to talk about Shoshanna, I’ll talk about the other three first. I think I went the entire first episode without knowing any of their names and getting these three confused regularly. Hannah (Lena Dunham) is our everywoman, who suddenly has to find meaning in her life when her parents stop paying for her, and while she’s not the worst offender, she is possibly the most boring offender. Marnie (Allison Williams) looks like she’d rather be anywhere but this show, not that I blame her, but I’m not sure that’s what should actually be going on here. She has this boyfriend who’s obsessed with her, but I can’t figure out why, since every time her smug, mean little looks come on screen I want nothing to do with her. And then there’s Jessa (Jemima Kirke), Shoshanna’s British cousin who we’re meant to believe is effortlessly cool but who I think sold her personality for harem pants instead.
Shoshanna (Zosia Mamet) was probably my favorite part of the show until they revealed that she’s a virgin. Now, don’t get me wrong – there is absolutely nothing wrong with being a virgin, despite what General Society will tell you. However, once this fact was revealed, it became painfully obvious that this was the basis for her character – “So get this, we have these three girls who are having a lot of sex, and then – THEN there’s The Virgin! Hilare!” Everything she’d done until and after that point drew directly from this: she’s uptight where her friends are relaxed, she’s obsessed with Sex and the City where they can’t be bothered to care about which one they are, she wears velour sweatsuits where they’re wearing their most fashionable hipster chic, she’s the one who brought a bag of candy to the abortion party. She’s, well, virginal, in every connotation you could possibly derive from it. And, seriously, aren’t we past that?
The majority of the defense I hear for this show is that it’s meant to highlight shallow girls living in a fantasy world – at least, that’s what the Internet keeps yelling back at criticism. I assume this means the show intends, in ten episodes, to make them grow up, if that’s what it means to center the second episode around getting an abortion. But let’s go back to the beginning of that – why are we making this show if it highlights shallow white girls? This isn’t the space between Sex and the City and Gossip Girl, as Dunham so whimsically intended it. If I had to produce a statement about young women of today, it would involve actual diversity and understanding our place in our mothers’ feminism in addition to the timeless struggle to claim our own identity as a generation. Right now, we’re fighting for our rights, with more tools and less direction than the women who came before us, and if that isn’t something worth writing about, then what are we doing here?
This show is a missed-the-mark look at a generation of young adults who grew up living on their parents’ hard work – twenty-something college graduates who grew up being told that following their dreams and going to college to major in something they really love would lead to success and happiness. And that’s something I could have been able to get behind. That’s where I am in my life, and it’s hard and confusing to know that my charm and wit aren’t always enough to get by. But these women are not me. Girls is a lazy pass at cheap laughs about somebody’s idea of me, and for that, I can’t stand it.
Let’s be clear. This show doesn’t offend me because of what its intentions were. It offends me because I think it’s supposed to represent me, and the only thing that I, as basically a less terrible version of Hannah, identified with is sitting on bed in a towel with my laptop, Google searching inane phrases. I don’t know a single person who would muse that perhaps she should have AIDS or who would make a date rape joke in a professional job interview. As a friend put it recently, Girls is trying to wink at me, and I do not want to wink back. I had such high hopes for this show, and it’s nothing but a hot mess that I want nothing more to do with.
Pilots are tough, it’s true. The dialogue has to be perfect while explaining everything you could possibly need to know, the characters have to be likeable but not too likeable, the plot arc has to be something viewers can identify with yet aren’t bored by – the list goes on. But this is a pilot I’d expect from one of the major networks, not from HBO. And let’s be honest – the second episode was a more grim version of the pilot, with less excitement and more imitation deadpan. I expect more than four bland characters painted across a muted and bleak landscape. I don’t care if it’s a Statement, and if it is, it’s a pretty boring one. It’s not the worst television show I’ve ever seen, by far, but it’s nowhere near the best, or even the level I’ve come to expect from HBO. Then again, I guess I shouldn’t be surprised I saw the infamous couch pose plastering a brick wall in Williamsburg last weekend.
Because I expect more. I expect more than casual accepted racism, more than a desperate grasp at the zeitgeist, more than a vague effort at representing today’s young adult. Girls didn’t do everything wrong – more ladies on television, always – but when I look at the person on television who is directly intended to represent me, I expect more than just girls, and this is not even close.