“I am a voice… of a generation”, insists twenty something year old aspiring book author Hannah, whose parents have just cut off their financial contribution to her New York City lifestyle, in the pilot of Girls, the new show created by and starring 26 year old Lena Dunham. Some critics are calling the show hilarious and refreshing; others lament the fact that it lacks racial diversity and is not representative of today’s young women. These descriptions may all be true – I call the show depressing, and at the same time curiously intriguing, as it precisely captures the lives of certain girls in a certain generation.
Based on my experience watching the two first episodes, I insist that one should not “judge a show by its pilot”. It did not make me laugh, but I rather had my eyebrows drawn together during most of it. However, they did draw apart during the final credits which were accompanied by a joyful tune. Episode 2 did not make me laugh out loud either, but I did smile at comical scenes where, come to think about it, the humour was either in the eww/sucks-to-be-you effect, or in the neuroses of some characters.
Inevitably, Girls is being compared with another HBO programme, Sex and the City. We are discovering four young ladies trying to find success in New York City, one of whom even has a large poster of the 90s show on her bedroom wall. But despite the geographical location, the comparison is all wrong:
The streets of New York are not filmed in a romantic but in a rough way, bringing out the difficulties of making it in a big city where it is hard to care for anything but one’s own survival. The girls, so far, do not seem to complete each other in the way Char, Carrie, Sam and Miranda’s friendship naturally flowed. They seem stuck in this twenty-something stage where the path to thirty seems rocky and filled with doubts. Not the romantic kind of doubt, but plain doubt, frustration and discouragement, related with the economy and the search of love… or at least sex.
While one of the girls is ashamed of being a virgin at 22, another is staying with her long-term boyfriend although he freaks her out, the third one is planning on having an abortion although she would love to be a mother and the fourth one is having bad and ugly sex with – there is no better word – a weirdo, sexual activity in the twenties seems like a battlefield. You look for it for the thrill, but you actually don’t want it, as you are too worried about “what comes around the edges of the condom”.
Carrie and Miranda used to talk for hours on their landlines, while the former waited ages before buying a mobile. Girls’ pilot explains today’s rules of dating and digital communication. Facebook is the lamest way of contacting a boyfriend, texting is the best way, and there are a few in between. You could call, of course, but who has time for that anymore. Even Hannah’s lover (if you can call him that) asks her to “text” him if she ever feels like coming over.
Yep, these are the 2010s. While in Britain TV-viewers seem to turn to period dramas to escape the emptiness of Sunday evenings, in the US, gloss and beauty define the norm, and the frankness portrayed in Girls comes as a shocker, although so many viewers are actually living in this constant fear of First World problems.
I understand the controversy around this show, and why some will just switch off for lack of inspiration, which comes from the fact that the show is so real. The excellent acting probably contains a lot of improvisation, the intelligent dialogues do not try to be artificial and do not contain puns. It feels like we are right there, in the cold streets, in that slightly smelly kitchen or sitting on that dirty bench and hearing the annoying kids playing basketball nearby. Here is a question I cannot answer yet: if we think about it, what is it we want from TV? Harsh and slightly negative reality which may spoil our evening or pink and gold dresses accompanied by white smiles that make us feel like, yes, at least for a few minutes, we could take over the world?