Love it, hate it, not sure or even indifferent, the HBO series Girls certainly has people talking and writing about it. That alone attests to its significance, albeit in what seems to me a bizarre way.
One of my major issues with the show before it aired was a disproportional sense of its stature before it aired when a writer on Salon claimed its debut was a “generational event.” My immediate response was, “Huh?” The assassination of JFK was a generational event to us baby boomers as was the arrival of The Beatles on American shores not long afterwards. The resignation of Nixon was one. The death of Kurt Cobain even qualifies.
But a new TV show? That seemed way out of proportion to me. Yet the media coverage remains high and it’s also a pungent topic for Facebook discussions. I was involved in a rather long one myself with such distinguished peers as GQ critic Tom Carson and New York magazine/Fresh Air film critic David Edelstein and other smart folks, and it’s impressive just how much we all have to say about the show and the range of opinions and feelings expressed.
My take? The first season showed enough promise to keep me watching. But only one episode in the middle lived up to the show’s promise and actually elicited a series of hearty laughs. At the point through the second season where I write this, “Girls” has started to feel scattered, confused and somewhat desperate. And within that context its inherent flaws have started becoming evident, in a way like lava bubbles that pop open to emit toxic gasses. I’ve gone from bemused if also rather skeptical last season to downright baffled in its new one.
TV is hardly where real life is generally found in abundance. But as Girls seeks to portray the lives of four twenty-something lasses in New York City, even its basics stretch credulity. How do these “girls” who barely seem to work at low-wage jobs afford such nice and well-appointed Big Apple apartments? It’s not at all like the far cheaper NYC I lived in from 1975 to ’89.
Plus its four principal characters come off as terribly self-involved and shallow if not downright callow. Hence they don’t generate much empathy or liking. And the lame and fumbling depictions of youthful sexual encounters make me pity the hipster generation. We may have still been learning at that age in my days, but it was far more passionate and fun.
And even if I haven’t been in New York City in nearly 20 years, the New York of Girls doesn’t always ring true to this former resident. On the other hand, the HBO series How to Make It in America very much felt like the New York I knew and loved even for all the changes since I left in 1989. And I’ve been scratching my head at that show’s cancelation – more as I liked it than obvious viewership reasons – since Girls came along.
On one Facebook thread about the show a friend a bit younger than I theorized that people – especially those of the same age as its characters – like it because they feel obliged to do so. In part because of the media attention Girls gets as well as its two recent Emmy Awards, I suppose. I think my friend has a good point. Yet at the same time what she posits also points out how there many be a dearth of programs that today’s young adults can really relate to as being like their lives.
But what boggles my mind is how some praise the show’s “great writing.” I don’t hear any snappy, witty and smart dialogue of note, especially when compared with the brilliantly snappy lines that abounded on the just-ended 30 Rock. Or anything even near to the stunningly sharp and hip talk that made The Gilmore Girls such a joy and its creator Amy Sherman-Palladino’s new series Bunheads. I really can’t fathom why her brilliance hasn’t earned a slew of Emmys while Girls won two its first time at bat. But awards are about much more than just quality, of course.
And finally, the news that Girls creator Lena Dunham recently received a $3.7 million advance for her first book flabbergasted me (and as a professional writer likely also feel at least a tinge of envy; but then again, I’d take a reasonable advance and a bigger back end cut for the book ideas I’m developing). If Dunham is the voice of a new generation, she seems a rather flat and uninspired one at that. And in all basic logic it seems unlikely any book she delivers can become the phenomenon it must be to recoup that hefty sum.
I would actually like to like Girls as I enjoy cool new TV that pushes the edge, but for all my trying it just doesn’t grab me much less surprise and delight. And I genuinely fear that Dunham – who seems smart and likeable in the TV interviews I’ve seen with her – will suffer the inevitable backlash that seems part and parcel with youthful success. And when it’s not backed by genuine substance, the turnaround can be brutal indeed.
For now I’ll keep watching Girls and hoping, though with each new episode it seems less likely to win me over. Yes, skepticism and the application of aesthetic judgement is my job, as I see it. But in the end I always just wish to be delightfully entertained and impressed. If that does finally happen with Girls, nothing would make me happier.
Rob Patterson is a music and entertainment writer in Austin, Texas. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
From The Progressive Populist, April 1, 2013
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