Thursday, January 31, 2013

Why "Girls" Is Compelling, Yet Frustrating, Yet I Still Watch

So I finally gave in and watched the first season of “Girls” over the last two weeks. Now I’m watching Season 2. Maybe it’s part of me wanting to start seeing things before writing them off. I did that with “The Help” last year and came away justified in some of my criticism but surprised in other things.

When I first saw the ads for “Girls”, I was turned off by a few factors.
1) Figured it wouldn’t appeal to me as a guy,
2) I heard reports this was another New York based show with very limited diversity a la “Friends” or “Sex in the City”.
3) It felt privileged considering series’ creator Lena Dunham’s three costars were all daughters of famous fathers and Dunham got lucky that Judd Apatow is behind her.

Now what do I think? It’s a decent show about coming of age in your mid-20’s. The rub for me, though, is that it’s a comedy in ways they probably didn’t imagine. It reminds me of girls I went to college with and how I’d roll my eyes at the immature things they’d do.

I can relate to trying to figure out your life. As much as their world is far removed from mine, there are similarities in finding your place and adjusting to relationships. At the same time, I want the show to take me higher like Treme, Newsroom, The Following (my new favorite show) or something else with more depth.

Hannah (Dunham) is fascinating, awkward, quirky and way too wordy. Even though she’s the main character, I’m mixed on her. I love her as a writer similar to me but at times she makes decisions that make no sense. Like her relationship with her on-again/off-again “boyfriend” Adam or how she shamed her friend Marnie last week for being a bad friend despite having the same qualities when Marnie needed her for moral support.

The supporting characters are a mixed bag. Marnie, my favorite character, appears more grounded even though she’s got similar issues to Hannah (self-absorbed, looking for companionship and stability). Shoshanna’s an annoying/super perky chick that talks way too much and is my least favorite. Jessa’s your typical person who comes off more cultured because they’ve spent time abroad and seems more aware of things. 

Season 2 is weird cause the focus has been more on Hannah, Marnie, Hannah’s gay ex-boyfriend Elijah turned roommate who gave her an STD (I’m still trying to figure out how you go from being pissed at somebody lying about that to forgiving them). I’m not sure where it’s going but it hasn’t risen to another level yet.

So far, the show has racked up 2 Golden Globes, an Emmy for casting and has been renewed for a 3rd season.

The lack of diversity is a problem and adding Donald Glover in Season 2 was a nice touch but he’s gone (?) after two episodes. I wasn’t thrilled with how Hannah dismissed him in a very superficial, stereotypical way quoting Missy Elliot cause it almost showed why the show’s writing feels cheap and predictable.

It feels like everyone’s a type that’s not fully developed. At some point, you should feel like you’re growing with the characters and while sometimes I feel that, most of the time, I feel like they’re stuck in immaturity, 2-D feelings and limp decisions that I can’t relate to or tolerate. Plus they feel the need to say everything that's on their mind instead of let their facial expressions, body language or simple phrases do, especially Hannah.

Some of the writing is good – Like Episode 9 of Season 1 where Hannah and Adam discuss writing and being in character. Some of the jokes are funny. I love seeing that Hannah and Marnie are very similar even if they don’t realize it. The music is typical hipster stuff but it’s fun to hear – like last week when Eve’s “Tambourine” popped up out of nowhere.

At times, the writing has very little that grabs you emotionally and while I laugh at things, I sometimes feel detached.  Maybe it’s like mature cotton candy? It’s like Dave and Buster’s – fun, cool to visit, mature in places but still not all the way grown up. And that's not a knock cause I do love D&B.

This is really one of the first ventures for Dunham and her crew (most of her costars have small resumes although Allison Williams’ is pretty fun like her dad Brian.) So it feels like writers and a cast growing into their zone and I can understand that. There are still some kinks and that’s maybe why I feel like it’s way above a teenybopper show but not on the level of “Scrubs”, which I think is still the best show to deal with being in your mid-to-late 20’s.
Yet when I see “Girls”, I’m weirdly compelled to watch. As awkward, White, immature as it is, it's still a good show at it's core. It's a product of its environment and even though it's not completely believable, it has believable elements and I have to give Lena Dunham props for what she's good at. Telling her story.

Guess I keep looking for more to get from it but I’m wildly amused (in an eye-rolling, can you believe this stuff way) at these girls. If you take it for what it is beyond the hype, it’s either a show that’s not for you or a strange trip into Dunham’s stiff, strange but compelling world. 

(As a bonus, here is what Kareem Abdul-Jabbar said on the show. He added a dimension that I thought about but didn't discuss in depth - are the guys more compelling on Girls than the actual girls?)


  1. I kinda feel the same. Mostly, I'm over it. I think at this point, I watch it out of habit and because of the hype.

    It bothers me that the characters don't think for themselves, which is maybe part of being in your 20s, but Hannah does coke for a job? Marnie has has sex with Elijah 'cause...why? It all seems so obligatory.

    All in all, I feel like it's getting a little self-indulgent. Also, a few episodes with Donald Glover doesn't solve the lack of diversity. There is still no meaningful inclusion.

  2. I'll address that last point first. Donald Glover's brief appearance felt like a token role and if anything, it showed why there needs to be more inclusion. It's like "Let me put this Black guy in here, show me being intimate/lovey dovey with him, and then kick him to the curb like everyone else except in an immature way that shows how White I am." It's almost more fetish than actual depth, which fits the show in my mind.

    Like we said, I think you're 20's is where you learn to do that more often. Maybe I was lucky to do that in college but I can't figure out why there's a lack of independence besides being on your own. For me, I was forced to be independent at my job and in my relationship and since I had already left home for college, I was more eager to do that.

    But overall, I think us being older gives us that perspective so we expect a bit from that era. For me, I think that's what draws me into the show - criticizing where it doesn't but appreciating when it rarely does.

  3. This was spot on. I'm over it too but watch it anyway. I'm sure there are people like this out there but it's still hard for me to believe. Think I would like it more if they existed in another dimension or Earth like planet.

  4. It feels like a world that makes no sense and seems distant from what I imagine New York or even the Westside/Silver Lake area to be. Either way, it doesn't feel as real as Lena makes it out to be cause if people like that exist, it's not in my world.