by Elly Fishman
The hype around HBO’s new show, Girls, has been insane. Over the past couple weeks I have read countless articles—raves and roasts alike—that either celebrate the show for its relevance and honest portrayal of young women or skewer it for self-indulgent, whiny narratives.
All the talk made me nervous about watching Girls. I was unnerved by the idea that writer-director-star Lena Dunham was bringing a “real” representation of twentysomething women to the small screen. As a twentysomething woman myself, I felt pressured to accept Dunham’s narrative as my reality. I was wary before I even saw the show.
However, as a close friend pointed out, the interminable dialogue around Dunham’s “accurate representation” of young women was mostly a symptom of the absolute dearth of female-driven media. Perhaps if there were more thoughtful representations of female life, I wouldn’t feel so pressured to relate to the show.
Of course, I couldn’t help myself. I watched the first two episodes.
Dunham’s auteur filmmaking is a well-crafted mixture of exaggerated unlikability and poignant moments of true friendship. In the pilot, Dunham’s character, Hannah Horvath, grapples with the news that her parents will no longer support her “groovy lifestyle.” Turns out, her life isn’t so groovy.
Dunham’s Hannah is completely infantilized by her privileged upbringing. She allows Adam, her bed buddy, to completely degrade her, she looks down on McDonald’s employees but steals from a hotel housekeeper, and she throws a toddler-like tantrum when her parents refuse her request for 1,100 dollars per month. However, Dunham captures Hannah’s inadequacies through a subversive and nuanced lens and brings a genuine likability to the character.
Tragedy retold is comedy. The horribly awkward scenes in Girls are also the funnier moments. In one scene, Hannah quickly sours a job interview when she makes a series of date rape jokes. In another, she wonders if AIDS is actually the trump card she needs. If she had AIDS, no one would ask about her job search and she would have a permanent reason to begrudge Adam.
Hannah’s friends are also a chorus of female insecurity and confusion. Among them is Shoshanna Shapiro, played by Zosia Mamet (daughter of David Mamet). Shoshanna, often swaddled in pink, is virginal to a point of disbelief; she brings a bag of gourmet candy to an abortion clinic. However, like Dunham’s Hannah, Mamet brings a spark and hilarity to the vapid, naive Shoshanna. This character also seems like Dunham’s jab at David Mamet, who is among the most capricious and crude writers of the era.
Our 20s are an undeniably solipsistic time. Navigating friendship, relationships, and the transition between youth and adulthood is daunting. When I asked my twentysomething female friends about their thoughts on Girls (many of which ended up in this review), the responses were as diverse and smart as Dunham’s writing. We agreed that some of the jokes hit home— like the delusions Dunham perpetuates in order to justify her relationship with Adam and a rambling overshare with her ob-gyn. But, we also noted that this doesn’t mean Dunham is the arbiter of a new archetype.
I liked Girls. It captures women’s diversity of thought, shifting opinions, and the paradox of brilliant idiocy. The show is really the beginning of an important dialogue around women in the media. But it’s just that: the beginning. For me, the reason to celebrate Girls is not because it’s a “real” representation of female inner-life, but rather because it’s a conscious effort to pose the right questions.