If Sunday’s episode of Girls (“I Get Ideas”) proved anything, it’s that the first season of Lena Dunham’s hilariously uncomfortable series wasn’t a fluke. With a litany of praise and accolades (including a couple of Golden Globes), Girls is one of the few cable comedies that has earned respect from both critics and audiences.
But, like anything these days, Girls has had more than its fair share of detractors. Written off as hipster-heaven and accused of being just a show about wealthy white kids, Dunham’s series is routinely judged by the trolls of the Interwebs who haven’t taken the time to enjoy its terrific writing and insightful commentary on being a twentysomething in the new millennium. Most dishearteningly, though, is that few males watch the show at all, assuming that, based on the four female lead characters, it is just an updated version of Sex and the City — a misjudgment that would be easily corrected upon viewing. (These characters are far more concerned about making rent than buying Manolo Blahniks, and the dudes are a far cry from Mr. Big.)
To that end, Emma Miller and I have decided to compile a list of reasons why both guys and girls should be watching Girls. There are many, many more reasons than we have amassed, but these should pique your interest enough to set the DVR for this week’s episode.
For the Girls
I am a lady in my early twenties with creative impulses, a list of too many internships on my resume, and a track record of romantic misadventures. Sometimes, like most twentysomething ladies I know with creative impulses, too many internships on their resumes, and a track record of romantic misadventures, I am a bit of a mess.
Maybe that’s why so many women in my demographic watch Girls. (I’m sure the fact that we all have our parents’ log-in to HBOgo.com helps, as well.) There’s something comforting about seeing characters on television who are intelligent college graduates from relatively privileged backgrounds — who still can’t seem to get their shit together. You root for them as you mock them. Because despite their flaws and rampant unlikability, these characters remind you a little bit of yourself.
I can never decide if I’m hate-watching Girls or regular-watching Girls. It doesn’t matter. Either way, it provides plenty of fodder for conversation with my similarly underemployed and overeducated lady-friends. And it’s taught me some very important lessons that I think completely justify my continued watching (and analyzing and recapping and loathing and loving).
A few of these lessons — aka Four Reasons Girls Should Be Watching Girls
1. You are not alone in your memoirist tendencies.
Hannah Horvath — and by extension, her creator, Lena Dunham — is the queen of navel-gazing. When she’s not writing about her experiences with the intention of becoming “a voice of a generation,” she’s making bad decisions for the sake of the story. (Dunham admitted in interviews during the first season of the show that many bits of dialogue in Girls were taken straight from the lives of her and her friends — which would suggest Dunham has made many of these mistakes herself.) Critics have called Lena/Hannah’s preoccupation with herself self-indulgent and self-obsessed. After all, compared to acclaimed shows like Breaking Bad or The Wire, very little happens in Girls — and what drama there is all seems so small-scale: hook-ups, break-ups, the quest for employment. But these mundane issues are universal, and that makes them relatable and relevant. Even those who don’t feel represented by the mostly white, college-educated, parent-supported cast of characters on Girls can relate to the desire to be something, to create something, to find love — and the tendency to make mistakes while doing so. At times, the characters on Girls can be flawed and annoying and unlikeable. But, you know what, so can I, and so can most people (especially of my generation) in their twenties. If anything, Girls shows that you don’t have to live the glamorous, romping metropolitan existence of Sex and the City to be dramatically sustainable. Chronicling your own life can be interesting enough — Golden Globe award-winningly interesting, even.
2. You can privilege ambition over love.
Hannah freaks out at the end of Season 1 when her boyfriend, Adam (Adam Driver), tells her that he loves her. After six months of an undefined, casual relationship consisting mostly of hook-ups and unpredictability, the sudden introduction of emotion into their twosome leaves Hannah uncomfortable and confused. Part of this is the implied commitment that being in love suggests; how can Hannah make a relationship a priority when she has so much she wants to accomplish for herself? Her unwillingness to say she loves Adam back catalyzes their break-up. Then, in Season 2, she keeps her new guy, Sandy (Donald Glover), at a distance — and then breaks up with him as soon as he comes off as critical of her writing. Hannah privileges her creative work and accomplishments over the pursuit of love — and that’s a decision any girl can choose to make — or not make — for herself.
3. You can privilege love over ambition.
On the other hand, Jessa (Jemima Kirke) provides a counterpoint to Hannah. She runs off with Thomas-John (Chris O’Dowd) in an impulsive surprise wedding at the end of Season 1, and married life sans work makes her happier than ever before. “I’ve never been more well,” she tells Hannah. For Jessa, love (and her husband’s money) is enough to sustain her — and that’s okay, too.
4. You can screw up and be just fine.
My biggest takeaway from watching Girls? Everyone makes mistakes. And making mistakes won’t ruin your life. Everyone has rough patches, especially when they’re young and figuring life out. You can make stupid decisions. You can behave badly sometimes. And you can bounce back. Self-awareness, a sense of humor and a group of friends who put up with your flaws will get you a long way. Your twenties are a time for learning who you are and what you want, after all. None of us are alone in this search for self.
That’s a comforting thought.
For the Guys
I was lucky enough to catch the first three episodes of Girls when they premiered at South By Southwest last year. Listening to Lena Dunham and producer/mentor Judd Apatow talk about the series and the potential paths of the characters, I couldn’t wait to watch the rest of the first season (an enthusiasm that unsettled my wife to no small degree). After the critical praise heaped on Dunham’s breakout first feature, Tiny Furniture, I was curious to find out why she would choose a television series as her next project instead of a follow-up film. My curiosity was sated as I saw how well the expanded format of a TV series complimented the world Dunham wanted to create as a writer.
For me, Girls has never been about female-centered or male-centered storytelling; it’s about the crap we all endure in our lives, mostly as a result of our own mistakes. Hannah is a cautionary tale from which everyone can learn a lesson or two, and my hope is more men will begin tuning in as Season 2 progresses.
1. The writing is fantastic (and vulgar).
It’s a good thing Girls is on HBO because there’s no way most of the storylines (and nearly all of the dialogue) would be allowed on network television. Dunham’s characters speak without filters, whether they are discussing sexually transmitted diseases, abortion or their disdain for other people. Like the regular cache of characters in any Judd Apatow movie, Dunham’s brand of humor earns its place on pay cable.
But where Dunham and her writers shine is in the manner of speech specifically developed for each character. As happens in the real world, no two people speak with the same pattern or cadence. Yes, every character is capable of witty retorts and bon mots, but each has his or her own method of delivery. Listening to a conversation between a few of the characters is like eavesdropping on an actual conversation among friends. Not since Arrested Development have I heard such distinctive dialogue and characterization.
Here is an example of a character giving a tongue-lashing to another character.
2. The Guys of Girls
Whereas the male characters of Sex and the City were either 1) Adonis-like specimens of male physical perfection or 2) one-episode throwaways with the depth of a kiddie pool, the men who inhabit Dunham’s world are real, complex and capable of authentic emotions. The guys are as damaged as the girls and, most importantly, given equal consideration when it comes to their personal struggles and development.
Unapologetically blunt, Ray (Alex Karpovsky) is the smarmy jackass that infiltrates every group of friends. His best friend, Charlie (Christopher Abbott), has his heart broken and Ray exacts revenge in a truly evil fashion. Adam, Hannah’s main flame through most of the first season, starts out as a selfish Neanderthal, but we soon discover that he feels as used by Hannah as she has felt used by him; this moment of recognition is magnificent.
The best addition to the show has been Elijah (Andrew Rannells, who is also great on The New Normal), Hannah’s college boyfriend who (surprise!) is actually gay and currently in a relationship with an older man who lavishes Elijah with gifts. Elijah is as broken as anyone else, but he never misses a chance to dole advice out to others that he should be heeding himself.
3. Girls will make you feel normal.
If you feel like you’re bad with women or have a weird sexual proclivity, Girls will alleviate any and all worry. There are no role models on Girls (male or female), but there are plenty of examples of people putting themselves in awkward situations, an occurrence with which most of us are familiar. Charlie is so sweet to Marnie (Allison Williams) that she has to break up with him; Adam’s sexual desires involve Hannah berating and degrading him; Ray chases Shoshanna (Zosia Mamet) around Brooklyn because he is her “crack spirit guide” and strangely attracted to her. It is all quite hilarious and wonderfully cathartic to watch.
4. The show reminds you that “success” is relative.
Hannah wants to be a famous writer, though we have yet to see any discernible talent. Marnie had grand hopes of being a curator at an art gallery though, according to Elijah, there are about five of those in the world. Shoshanna wants the perfect guy, the perfect marriage and the perfect life. What do these three have in common? They’re all unhappy.
Ray, on the other hand, is perfectly happy running a coffeeshop. Adam spends his time doing experimental theatre and/or wood-working and seems totally content. Jessa, as Emma pointed out above, is perfectly fine with being a rich guy’s wife. The point is if you’re happy in what you do, that is a sign of success.
Matthew Newlin lives in St. Louis, Missouri and has been a film critic for over six years. He has written for numerous online media outlets, including “Playback:STL” and “The Weissman Report.” He holds a Master’s of Education in Higher Education from the University of Missouri-St. Louis and is an Assistant Director of Financial Aid. A lifelong student of cinema, his passion for film was inherited from his father who never said “No, you can’t watch that.”