There’s a lot of TV out there, and not all of it is for geeks. My wife is not a geek. My wife loves the HBO series Girls.
Me? I don’t hate it, but its hardly appointment TV.
What’s the premise?
Four twentysomething women live in New York City and tend to ruin their lives for a wide variety of reasons. The four appear to come from various privileged backgrounds and are now on their own. In fact, that’s how the show starts, with series lead/writer/creator/producer/director Lena Dunham’s character Hannah being cut off by her parents.
In fact, the privileged background thing certainly doesn’t hurt when it comes to the main cast. Dunham’s mother is the artist Laurie Simmons. The remaining three women are Marnie, played by Allison Williams (daughter of NBC’s currently suspended anchorman Brian Williams); Jessa, played by Jemima Kirke (daughter of Bad Company drummer Simon Kirke); and Shoshanna, played by Zosia Mamet (daughter of playwright David Mamet). Dunham’s mother may actually be the least prominent successful parent of the main cast.
Each of the women has her own way of being awful. Hannah is overly obsessive and tends to keep talking when she should really shut up. Marnie is a perfectionist who makes a habit of getting involved in progressively bad relationships, even occasionally and inadvertently becoming the “other woman”. Shoshanna is largely naive and tends to make innocent and ignorant mistakes on a regular basis. And Jessa is largely just selfish and destructive while being completely apathetic or oblivious to lives she’s ruined in her wake. Seriously, I don’t know why the others hang out with her at all. Oh, and all of them are pretty self-centered, Hannah especially.
What’s the appeal?
What is the appeal? That’s a good question. I don’t think HBO has a more divisive show on the air right now. It’s critically acclaimed, and it does have a loyal fan following, but it also has a number of detractors online who just don’t get it, the worst being those who take issue with the fact Dunham has no problem getting undressed for the camera despite her not having a supermodel’s physique. Oh, the horror.
My wife, huge fan that she is, seems to relate to the women. The problems they go through, though exaggerated for comic effect, are struggles and confusions that young women go through. And much of the humor is derived from the comedy of embarrassment, and Larry David’s been making money of that sort of comedy for decades. The twenties are a time of general confusion for people finally heading out on their own, so that much is well-realized. Dunham’s sense of humor isn’t for everybody, but she’s grown as a writer and performer over the course of the show.
She also makes it clear that answers don’t come in time. When Hannah went home to visit what she was told was a dying grandmother in the hospital, she got to see firsthand her mother and her aunts were just as screwed up as she was. Nobody really seems to know what they’re doing, but the difference may be age gives way to acceptance rather than answers.
Anything stand out?
For a show called Girls, it’s noteworthy that two of the most striking characters are a pair of boys. Adam Driver, as Hannah’s on-again, off-again boyfriend Adam, starts the series as a sleezeball guy who doesn’t seem to own a shirt and lives in squalor. Over the course of the first season, it becomes clear Adam does have some issues of his own, but part of the general grumpiness is caused by Hannah just barging in whenever she feels like it even though they aren’t initially in a relationship. Many of his more memorable and funny reactions come from having to put up with Hannah and her friends’ idiosyncrasies. Adam fulfilled a much-needed void at the end of the second season when Hannah, panicking because she had an entire book due by midnight that she hadn’t started writing yet and had spent the advance on, was the only person willing to come over and comfort her. That he left a new girlfriend he met at AA didn’t help much, but it was a rare sweet moment for the show. And, of course, he didn’t have a shirt when he ran over there.
Likewise, there is Alex Karpovsky’s Ray. Ray is about a decade older than the others, and fills a much-needed role as the guy who tells the others when they’re rather full of crap. Ray may be a cynic, but he’s also a heck of a lot more pragmatic about, oh, everything, and he usually only finds problems when he lets some sort of idealism creep into his life. He may be the one character on the show worth listening to when advice is being offered.
Further, there are usually memorable guest shots that make for a bit of amusement if Dunham’s sense of humor matches your own.
Remember what I said about Dunham’s sense of humor? I don’t quite share it. There are some moments I personally find amusing, but not much. And if you aren’t on that wavelength, this show might wear you out fast.
Case in point, an episode where the women are spending the weekend in a Hamptons beach house. The episode in question ends with a four-way argument where each of the women tells off the others, often scoring really direct and personal hits that can only come from knowing someone very well. My wife is a fan and has watched the episode in question a few times and insists the fight at the end is hilarious, but I just don’t know what’s so funny about it. This isn’t like my experience with those godawful Sex and the City movies where at least I could recognize what the jokes were supposed to be and just didn’t find them funny. I just plain wasn’t sure where the jokes were in this scene.
I should point out I don’t hate Girls or anything along those lines. I can recognize it as well-crafted indy-style comedy. I just don’t find it overly funny aside from the Ray character.