Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Why I'm Finally Getting Turned On by "Girls" (And Just in Time for Season 2!)

Don't worry (or rejoice, depending on where you stand on the subject), my sexual preference remains intact. But to everyone who's ever said I can't admit when I'm wrong, this one's for you: I was wrong.

Well, sort of.

Back in August when I watched the HBO series Girls for the first time - using the ninth episode and the first-season finale as my points of entry -- I was so underwhelmed that I had to write about it. Encouraged by friends whose opinions I respect, I promised myself to try it again, this time starting from the beginning. Last weekend I finally got around to it, and as expected (by my friends with good taste, not me), after watching all of season one in its entirety -- and in order, from the first to the 10th episode -- I find myself eagerly awaiting the second season. January 13 (when it premieres) can't get here fast enough!

Some things haven't changed. I still think the writing can be too arch, in that self-conscious Williamsburg-hipster way (which might be more a reflection of the Brooklynites that populate Girls than the quality of creator/writer/director/executive producer/star Lena Dunham's work), and the acting is uneven. But I get that the show isn't really aiming for Friday Night Lights-style television vérité either.

Also, I stand by my assertion that the Brooklyn it presents could use more color (as in people, not pastels). But now that I understand the specific segment of Brooklyn it represents -- those ironic, unapologetic hipsters -- the whiteness of the core cast makes more sense. Despite the average hipster's claim to open-mindedness, free-thinking and great taste in music, it's a subculture that tends to be incredibly insular and incredibly white.

Girls is a show about the kind of people for whom Wes Anderson films -- also exceedingly ironic... and white -- are made, girls whose parents probably loved Woody Allen movies in the '70s and '80s. Come to think of it, it's not like the Manhattan of Woody Allen, to whom Dunham has been compared, was brimming with black faces. Next season, though, Girls will add a splash of color when writer/rapper/musician/stand-up/actor Donald Glover joins the cast.

Obvious comparisons also have been made between Girls and another NYC institution, Sex and the City (and can be extended to pretty much any series with four female leads: The Golden Girls, Designing Women, Desperate Housewives, Hot in Cleveland and Australia's Winners & Losers). But although Carrie, Samantha, Charlotte and Miranda grew into more multi-dimensional women as the show progressed, Carrie's Bradshaw's friends were more or less archetypes. Women -- and gay men -- are always asking each other and themselves which one they are, and the most common answer involves Carrie Bradshaw and a blend of the others.

The girls on Girls -- Hannah, Marnie, Jessa and Shoshanna -- would probably say the same, though Jessa wouldn't be caught dead watching SATC, and Hannah would no doubt hate it. If I'd initially watched the show in the order that God -- and Dunham -- intended, beginning with the pilot, I probably would have immediately assigned a type to each one. But by the second or third episode, they were already challenging first impressions and revealing themselves to be complicated twentysomething women -- and pretty likable, too.

I'd much rather hang out with SATC's Samantha and Miranda than Charlotte (too boring and traditional) or Carrie (even with gay BFF Stanford in her life, I always got the impression that she thought her heterosexual romances were more significant than his homosexual ones), but I'd totally go to a party, even one in Brooklyn, with Hannah, Marnie, Jessa and Shoshanna, and I'd want to spend equal time with each of them. Like the guy whom Jessa ended up marrying in the finale, I might even want to hook up with Marnie and Jessa!

No, our girls aren't always nice. They're more flawed than the SATC ladies, maddeningly so, but I still feel invested in their stories -- not so much what happens to them as how they react to it. Sex and the City was about relationships and friendships and the actual events in the characters' lives, but Girls is more introspective. Hannah and Jessa would probably make fun of four thirty/fortysomething women who got together to discuss nothing but men over lunch. Girls is more focused on the inner lives of the characters than it is on boys, hence all the lengthy monologues about the characters' favorite subject: themselves.

If there's a theme running through the first 10 episodes, it's that people can be unbelievably self-involved (especially writers!) and that, ultimately, we're not in this together -- we're all on our own. It's not exactly feel-good stuff, but I'd rather wince at these generally decent people behaving selfishly than at the dumb fat jokes that filled the first season of Mike & Molly. I'm still not sure what to do with the rampant nudity, which has featured mostly Dunham and not the traditionally "hotter" actresses, all daughters of famous people, who play her trio of friends, or that one completely unexpected sex scene in the sixth episode between Peter Scolari and Becky Ann Baker, the fiftysomething actors who play Hannah's professor parents, in the bathroom, in the buff.

Since my initial entry into the series was from the vantage point of the ninth episode, when Hannah and Marnie have that big fight at the end, I had little context for the blowout and just saw two spoiled brats hurling insults at each other. Viewing it again in the context of the entire first season up to that point, I realized something I hadn't seen before: They were making some valid points in that normal clunky twentysomething way. They're good friends to each other, but terrible ones, too. And they both spend way too much time overthinking everything and dwelling on themselves. (So many pots calling kettles that particular shade of black on this show.)

Hannah, though thoroughly appealing, treats people more like characters in the memoir she's constantly writing in her head than living breathing beings. And insecure Marnie spends all that time on her perch, looking down on the disappointing little people below, so that she can feel better about herself. That the besties only seem to want the guys they're with when the guys act like they don't want them is not only a reflection of the tendency of women to go after the unattainable bad boy but evidence of Hannah's and Marnie's extreme narcissism, too. Girls, and boys, are so like that.

Also indicative of the self-involvement of these ladies are the scenarios in which both Marnie and Shoshanna meet their first-season love interests. Both are high on drugs, and they bond with the guy after they're abandoned by their friends/babysitters (in Marnie's case, Hannah, and in Shoshanna's case, Jessa) for -- what else? -- a guy.

The moral of Girls' story (so far): At the end of the day -- and night -- you can only count on you. It's a depressing thought, but it makes that final finale shot of Hannah sitting alone on Coney Island, eating wedding cake, all the more perfect.
Post a Comment