Quick Hit: What did you think of “Girls”?

Lena Dunham leans on her elbowLast 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?

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11 Comments

  1. Posted April 16, 2012 at 10:03 am | Permalink

    I want to add this commentary from Brokelyn to this mix. I have lots of mixed feelings about the show mostly because of the super privileged characters (although I totally agree with you about the sex, body image, casual abortion, and friendships!). This particular line from the Brokelyn piece struck a chord with me: is our “generation doomed to forever be portrayed in popular media as some sort of whiny, un-self-sustaining succubus class with a sense of entitlement?”

    Ultimately excited to see where the show goes. Hopeful that it will spark some nuanced conversations.

    • Posted April 16, 2012 at 1:27 pm | Permalink

      I completely agree with the entitlement critique. I only made it 10 minutes into the pilot – I put up with enough of this shit as a working class poor kid at a small liberal arts college. I don’t need to watch it for “entertainment.” Especially when there’s a transphobic joke so early in the first episode.

    • Posted April 16, 2012 at 5:35 pm | Permalink

      Good points. I mean, I’m glad if there’s a show talking about abortion and HPV, but as an actual poor person in Brooklyn, this show looks alien to me. Remember, even “Sex And The City” tried to pass Carrie off as “the poor one” at one point because she rented her Upper East Side apartment but had bought too many designer shoes to be able to outright buy it. A Mitchell-Lama candidate if there ever was one I’m sure! “TV Poor”–is that a phrase? Did it just pop into my head just now or is it a thing?

  2. Posted April 16, 2012 at 3:11 pm | Permalink

    I definitely agree with the diversity issues – it would be a problem no matter what but it really sticks out since the show is set in NY. Requires a bit too much suspension of disbelief that the characters’ social circles would remain so white. I was trying to think back this morning to non-main characters who were POC and it saddened me that the two I recalled were both tokeny/stereotypical: the Asian woman in Hannah’s office (who was the “better” intern because she knew Photoshop – playing to the “nerdy Asian” idea) and the black homeless man Hannah briefly encounters on the street outside the hotel.

    I do hope we see the cast get mixed up more in coming episodes, because as Maya notes, there were a lot of things to like about the show, a lot of ways where it did get things right. One thing I was particularly grateful for, which is sort of silly but it’s always a thing with me, is that the characters spoke the way people actually speak. I can’t stand dialogue on TV shows that is so clearly scripted and not at all the way friends, family, coworkers, etc would talk to each other. Most of the time, it really sounded as though you were just listening in on a real conversation, which I appreciated.

  3. Posted April 16, 2012 at 4:10 pm | Permalink

    The show “Girl” is actually quite funny from what I have seen. (Season 1 premier) The main character is shown to be very dependent on the men in her life. (Her “boyfriend”, and her father who discontinues giving her money) Her boyfriend is the one in control of when they have sex.. then she looks needy. I also think that the title being called “Girl” is really generalized because not all girls are like that. ALSO it is a nice change to show a normal average girl as a TV series rather than glamorous rich girls.

  4. Posted April 16, 2012 at 10:01 pm | Permalink

    The idea of entitlement is very interesting. I grew up “privileged”, but once I was done with college, I was also no longer under the tutelage of my parents. I had to get a job, I had rent/bills/a life! to pay for. I was living in the north east then and hated my job but loved where I lived. I ended up moving back south where I got a job that is fulfilling now, which would have not been available to me up north because I lacked the pre requisite education for an area so competitive.
    So one thing I want to point out is, there are other places in the US to be able to do what you want to do. However, those cities are not New York. And while I love New York, it can be very trying to get a job there that is worthwhile, but there are other places, maybe not as TV ready as NYC, but still awesome in their own right.
    I graduated from college right before the financial crisis, and a year into the job I hated , stayed another year because the prospect of not having a job was very scary. But I found that Hannah’s conversation with her parents over dinner very funny. I feel like if I had less shame, I would have said too, I ain’t addicted to pills so help me out for a little longer. To have a job that makes me not cry when I get up in the morning.
    It was the pilot, I think that criticizing the first 30 minutes is premature, and there is so much development for this show…because it also showed a girl who is not hollywood sized, with her arm slung over the tub eating a cupcake. Cause a lot of times, you just wanna do that and not be judged, but be loved, by your skinny roommate shaving her legs next to you.

  5. Posted April 17, 2012 at 12:46 am | Permalink

    I caught bits and pieces of it last night waiting for Mad Men to come on (whoo hoo trial-6-months of HBO!) and watched episode one in its entirety on YouTube today. At best I found it boring…at worst it just made me angry…or I guess frustrated. For me, the entitlement would at least be escapist if it wasn’t so aesthetically and intellectually bland. I prefer my entitlement all glammed up (a la Real Housewives) and my un-realistic NYC-life-comedies more fashionable (a la Sex and the City).

    Maybe it’s secretly being ironic toward the touted depth of this young-NYC-upper-middle-class-white-woman strife? If so, I don’t even know if I like it then.

    And it’s called “Girls.” That bums me out.

    I want to cheer for a young female show creator, but I think I carry way too much working class feminist baggage to enjoy this one.

  6. Posted April 17, 2012 at 7:06 pm | Permalink

    The fact that it is called “Girls” bums me out too… I don’t think there is a show called “Boys”. Everyone is too different for a show to have a title so broad. Maybe it’s just the girls I know, but if their boyfriends clearly didn’t care about them, they wouldn’t be going back practically begging for sex, cause we are girls and we are better than that. I think this show needs to add more self pride to the main character Hannah, and also add give her more independence. This show makes girls look dependent on worrisome.. and not to mention dull and boring. At least some parts are funny.

    • Posted April 20, 2012 at 5:16 pm | Permalink

      The movie KIDS is certainly not about every KID. I don’t think KIDS needs to be renamed.

      Deep Blue Sea has nothing to do with all the creatures of the sea.

  7. Posted April 18, 2012 at 12:48 pm | Permalink

    The first episode had me really worried. I was absolutely heartbroken for those young women.

    But the second episode where Hannah and Marnie stay up late into the night reading “Compulsory Heterosexuality and the Lesbian Existence” and “The Uses of the Erotic” in one another’s arms was exhilarating. And sexy as hell!

    I loved the part where Hannah says: “I know I’m supposed to feel like I’m all sexually liberated or whatever, but what the hell is so liberating about sex that is defined through the bodies and desires of men? Now that I’ve read this stuff I feel like I have finally have the fucking permission to call bullshit! BULLSHIT! BULLSHIT! Just imagine what sex and touch and desire could be if we could start all over again- if we were the inventors, Marnie!” How about when Hannah decides that she is in love with the idea of lesbianism as radical rebellion (and herself as a radical rebel of course)? I found this hilarious and charming and inspirational and familiar all at once. Oh, and the food fight scene where they nearly laugh themselves sick, tangle up in each other- exhausted, and fall asleep loving and inventing and be-coming under Hannah’s down duvet. So.damn.sexy.

    I was really worried when there was nothing said about that rapey scene in the first episode, but was so glad that Hannah and Marnie and Jessa and Shoshanna were all talking at that Consciousness Raising and Cupcake Grazing! party and in hearing each other’s stories came to the conclusion that each of them had had at least one experience (like the one we saw with Adam) with a man that felt fucked up- felt like rape.

    Just imagine a show where women’s energy could be directed to other women. Just imagine a show where a smart, funny, charming woman doesn’t get cut down by an imbecilic, childish, arrogant man. Just imagine a show that doesn’t gloss over rape or sexual harassment. Just imagine a show that truly envisions the full potential of women.

  8. Posted April 20, 2012 at 5:58 pm | Permalink

    except for being “white” and set in NYC, I don’t think sex and the city is like GIRLS at all. SATC made me want to puke. GIRLS was really entertaining.

    I think two of the actresses are Jewish…Lena Dunham described herself as Jewish in an interview. While she “looks” “white,” is her Jewish background considered different from “white?” Is she “white” because she LOOKS “white?” Or is she “white” because light-skinned Jewish people are “white?” I have minimal knowledge about the politics of who gets called “white.”

    A dude comes into my store all the time, and when I said i was tired of old, white dudes lecturing me, he got mad at me for calling him a white dude (he “looks” “white” to me) because he grew up on an Indian Res with a full Cree grandmother. shit.

    Of course, this mincing up of “white” really displays how lacking the show IS in perceived ethnic diversity (i wouldnt need to parce “white’ to pieces if there were some “non-white” (how dominator culture of us) girls in GIRLS). I never lived in NYC, but In Maine, most of my friend were “white” by default, and if I made a tv show, it would be hard for me to naturally be able to write in a character who wasn’t “white.” that is lame. i guess i would need more writers.

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