Last night, the much-anticipated new series Girls premiered on HBO. I got into a lively debated with one of my colleagues at Mother Jones, who found the show to be “unwatchable.” After getting a sneak peak at the first few episodes, here are some of the exciting things about Girls that I think he overlooked:
The sex? Plenty of ink has already been spilled over the show’s explicit and often painfully awkward sex. The aggressively un-glamorous hook-ups in Girls are far more realistic than anything else on television. And such a frank and funny portrayal of young sexuality—at least when it’s through women’s eyes—is noteworthy enough to warrant props, as well as plenty of hand-wringing articles about the state of sexual politics these days.
Body image? Much has been made of series creator Lena Dunham’s willingness to put her average-weight body on display. As Emily Nussbaum wrote in her rave review in New York, it shouldn’t be revolutionary to see Dunham’s belly rolls, but “in a culture soaked in Photoshop and Botox,” it certainly is. (See a certain MoJo review that praises “the hot one” for further evidence that Dunham’s deliberate self-exposure is brave.)
The “casual” abortion? With this story line, sprung in just the second episode, the show breaks a cardinal rule of Hollywood: That abortion can rarely even be mentioned, let alone treated as anything less than the most difficult decision of a woman’s life. In reporting to her semi-boyfriend that she’s accompanying her friend to her abortion appointment, Dunham’s character Hannah says, “What was she going to do? Have a baby and take it to her babysitting job? That’s not realistic.” It’s a line that seems custom designed to elicit cheers from the feminist critics who groaned through Juno, rolled their eyes at the linguistic cowardice of Knocked Up, and hoped that the abortions recently portrayed on Friday Night Lights and Grey’s Anatomy might mark the dawn of a bold and honest new era.
STIs? In the next episode, Hannah finds out she has HPV—a move that Alyssa Rosenberg hailed as the “the single bravest plot development of the lady comedy boom.” (If you doubt that, recall that author Ayelet Waldman’s real-life confession that she had the virus prompted an explosion of scolding last year.)
Friends. This doesn’t make [my colleague] Swin’s list, but the relationships between the four BFFs are clearly what the show’s all about. Rebecca Traister explains in a great piece at Salon, “Part of the point of ‘Girls’ is that the sex, and the guys with whom the sex happens, are not the point.” Indeed, the easy intimacy of these friends is easily the most true-to-life aspect of the show.
Overall, I found Girls to be funny and true–although its super privileged characters, and utter lack of racial diversity, limit its relatability for many “girls.” Which is why we need way more good, realistic shows that represent our lives. As Judy Berman notes, “Girls doesn’t speak to everyone, but everyone deserves a Girls of their own.”
Any lucky folks with HBO catch the premiere last night? What did you think?