Girls just wanna have fun… but unemployment makes it difficult
The following article was originally published in The Oberlin Review on April 20, 2012, following the premiere of HBO’s hit series, Girls.
It is impossible not to compare HBO’s new series Girls, created by Lena Dunham, OC ’08, to Sex and the City. Any show that portrays the lives of young women struggling with relationships and life in the big city bears that burden. What sets Girls apart from previous attempts at carrying on the Carrie Bradshaw legacy — Lipstick Jungle, Cashmere Mafia — is something perhaps no one was expecting: awkwardness.
Obies might be familiar with the hilariously uncomfortable moments Dunham has written into the first two episodes, screened by HBO to a packed West Lecture Hall this past Thursday. Feeling, witnessing or experiencing awkwardness is, along with agitation or fascination with albino squirrels, a kind of campus M.O.
Beyond the proverbial liberal arts campus, the obsession with awkwardness is somewhat diminished, and mainstream HBO viewers, hooked on Game of Thrones and True Blood may be somewhat removed from life in contemporary Manhattan.
Girls is surprisingly candid. It takes sex to a place Sex and the City rarely went — to a place that makes viewers cringe, laugh and look away from the screen in discomfort. The theme of the trials and tribulations of post-collegiate “adulthood” has been neglected of late, Friends being the last popular show to seriously address this moment in recent history (though some might say How I Met Your Mother comes close). Nonetheless, Dunham enters a territory that has quite the legacy, and it is not an easy task to resurrect and recreate a niche.
The opening scene of the first episode, during which her character Hannah’s parents announce that they will no longer support her financially, resonates with the still stagnant financial climate. U.S. News notes that the scene is an important one for setting the viewer up for further dialogue focused on “twenty-somethings … still deep in the post-recession trenches.” The hilariously uncomfortable treatment of financial burden certainly resonates with Oberlin’s liberal-arts audience, but its humor has relevance for an audience far beyond the “recent-college-graduate” set.
Although the core cast is four girls — strengthening any Sex and the City character associations — these girls are much more real and accessible to younger generations; it is easy to imagine having been friends with or having gone to college with any one of these young women. In highlighting their quirks and insecurities, Dunham adds a little bit of The Office into the mix. The result is a believable cast of characters, all of whom act predictably, whether it is (SPOILER ALERT: SKIP TO THE NEXT PARAGRAPH IF YOU HAVE NOT SEEN EPISODE TWO) Jessa ditching her abortion or Hannah continuing to have sex with Adam despite his less-than-desirable attitude toward her.
The thing about Girls is, it is not feminist, or at least not the way past shows in the same genre have been. It does not shy away from depicting girls as being submissive, not in an effort to undermine them but in an effort to be truthful.
Unlike Sex and the City or Friends, Girls has a fair amount of weight. Psychological complexity, but physical weight as well; the main characters are not size zeroes in desperate need of a sandwich and always ready to slip on a Valentino gown and attend a gala at the Met. The Vogue-cover-ready physique of the women on Sex and the City is abandoned and Hannah’s figure, as well as her sense of fashion, is remarkably refreshing and honest. Her explanation of her tattoos to Adam is a very powerful scene, rendered un-cheesy by Adam’s dismissive and snarky response. Girls is very frank, but avoids making its directness the point of the show.
The first two episodes may have been funny, but the fact remains that Girls is competing with several television series that have permanent imprints on its target demographics minds. Getting past season one will be no easy task; it needs a lot more than a surprise pregnancy and a girl talking to her parents after drinking opium tea to keep the ball rolling.