Pop goes the culture: 'Girls' an entrancing train wreck of a series

Friday, January 25, 2013 | by: Mat DeKinder

 

A ridiculous amount of digital ink has been spilled over the polarizing HBO series “Girls.” It has been credited with being everything from a revelatory masterpiece to a crime against humanity.

People feel very strongly about this show. But even after a full season and now two episodes into the second season, I still can’t bring myself to settle into either the “lovers” or “haters” camps.

I can only barely tolerate any of the characters on “Girls” and almost never laugh even though it is supposed to be a “comedy.” But at the same time, I still watch it and can’t help but feel that it has distinct value and importance.

My hope is that if I can actually put my finger on what that value and importance is, I can stop spending time with these awful people.

For those of you who have no idea what I’m talking about, “Girls” is a television series that focuses on four female friends in their early 20s living in Brooklyn and enduring many personal trials and tribulations.

The show is the brainchild of writer/director/producer/star Lena Dunham, who has earned notoriety not only for her precociousness, but also for her willingness to get naked on screen at the drop of a hat. She’s basically a set of bongos away from being Matthew McConaughey.

Seeing a quartet of reprehensible women fall in and out of bed all over New York instantly conjures up images of another popular HBO series “Sex and the City.” I deplored that show and think it is exhibit A for the prosecution against the material excess and shallowness of pre-recession America.

But while “Sex” celebrated and wallowed in the flaws of its characters, Dunham realizes her girls are messed up and repeatedly calls them out on their general failings as human beings.

Much of the criticism leveled at Dunham has to do with her myopic view of the world, but I admire her for owning it and being able to honestly and frankly examine her own little slice of life experience.

The question I ask when I find myself really hating “Girls” is this: if this show has a right to exist (and I believe that it does) then what should be different about it?

Part of the problem is her subject matter. No one is at his or her best in their early 20s. I guarantee I was insufferable at that age and since I still have friends from that period in my life they must have been just as, if not more insufferable, to have put up with me.

In your early 20s you have no real responsibilities (outside of higher education or the infancy of a career) and nothing much that is truly yours (at 24 all of my worldly possessions fit inside a 1981 Ford Econoline van).

You are passionate about your worldview, but you lack the life experience to realize that worldview is moronic and naive. Of course, a show honestly portraying people in their early 20s is going to be packed with petty, vacuous characters. To quote Blink-182, no one likes you when you’re 23.

Now because Dunham is a child of privilege from Brooklyn, the pretention capitol of the world, the pettiness and vacuousness of her characters gets turned up to 11.

A more interesting criticism of “Girls” is that it shouldn’t be held up as the definitive voice of twenty-something America and that the only reason Dunham’s viewpoint is represented on an HBO series, as opposed to someone from Iowa or Texas or Oregon, is because of her family connections.

I think this is fair to a point. Dunham is well-connected, but she is also extremely talented. And you can’t question her work ethic; writing, starring and directing your own show is a task beyond most seasoned entertainment veterans.

This all comes back to the question of should this show even exist in the first place? In America, we have placed a great value on paying your dues and by that metric you can easily argue that because of her age and social status Dunham has not paid hers.

If New-York-based, actor/writer/director-driven television shows that take bold and frank looks at life through a semi-comic lens were a genre, “Girls” would be included, but “Louie” would be the gold standard.

Nobody can say Louis C.K. hasn’t paid his dues. The guy has toiled on the fringes of stand-up and television for decades before breaking through in both arenas in the past couple of years, and, at least partly, because of that “Louie” is critically beloved by just about everyone.

In spite of their many similarities and equally reprehensible characters, I think “Louie” is a superior show, and not just because I better relate to schlubby, aimless dudes in their 40s.

Louie, as a TV character, makes just as many bad decisions and runs up against just as many uncomfortable situations as Dunham’s character Hannah does. The comedy and occasional poignancy of “Louie” comes from the fact that C.K.’s character knows better and because he plays on set expectations allowing him to boldly take his show in unexpected directions.

Dunham’s journey as Hannah is a lot less interesting because she simply doesn’t know enough yet to know better, and the end result of hers and her friends’ journey is inevitable maturity. Hurray, you don’t suck as much anymore. Congratulations.

“Girls” has value as a work of art because it is a real and honest view of the world from the perspective of an incredibly talented young woman. The problem is that this vibrant and gifted talent is focused on the shallowest age-group living in a gloriously self-important locale.

It would be like instead of the Sistine chapel, Michelangelo decided to paint the inside of port-a-potties.

I’ll probably keep watching “Girls” because it’s so vexingly fascinating, but I’ll be much more interested when Dunham moves on to grander canvases.

 

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