Wednesday, December 12, 2012

City Girls for a New Generation

Girls is a witty, dirty, refreshingly raw new comedy from HBO. At 26, Lena Dunham, writer, director, executive producer, and creator of the show, leads the cast as Hannah Horvath, the show's barely likeable and unrelentingly relatable heroine. Centered on four young women as they struggle with issues of life and love in Brooklyn, the show has been subject to comparisons to Sex and the City since promos for the series first began airing. The shows have shared a network, if not a borough, and during its six-season run between 1998 and 2006, Sex and the City became a relationship anthem for millions of women of a certain age. But Girls is not Sex and the City. And while Hannah's first season claim, "I think I may be the voice of my generation" reflects the reaction that viewers of a certain demographic have had to the show, Dunham's creation trades its potential for more universal appeal in order to play out the truth of a smaller group of young people. The show ditches cute conclusions on friendships, careers, and love in favor of a jaded and, to some, distasteful portrayal of today's post-college reality.

What is it about Girls that has made it so alienating to our mothers, the same women who tuned in weekly for Carrie and the girls? For one, HBO has picked up the raunch across the board. Between Entourage and Game of Thrones alone, the number of bare breasts and sex acts of all kinds being depicted on the network has been climbing. Sure, we saw Samantha getting down and dirty again and again on Sex and the City, and things got weird even for Charlotte from time to time. The difference in Girls is that we see graphic, sometimes mysoginistic and borderline abusive sexual behavior, and the girl-to-girl, problem-solving dialogue dynamic we saw between the Manhattan-based girls is absent. Girls isn't necessarily condoning or promoting what's happening onscreen, but it is accepting that it happens, without much commentary. As viewers, we're not learning lessons, we're just watching. And many of us are relating.

Creator Lena Dunham
The fictional lives of the girls (and boys) of Girls ring true for every college student or recent grad viewer I've encountered. And yet the classic comparisons Sex and the City prompted (As one Girls character says of another in the first episode, "You know, you're funny because you're definitely a Carrie, with like, some Samantha aspects, and Charlotte hair.") don't quite apply here. None of us really want to be any of the girls on Girls. The women of Sex and the City were complex and made mistakes, of course, a fact to which the series owes its enduring success. But as the first season of Girls concluded, the realistically flawed and selfish main characters were not much closer to redemption. They are in the same destructive relationships, or ending them painfully, hurting each other in the process, and broke to boot. We're seeing a grittier world on the other side of the Brooklyn Bridge. Maybe that's because Dunham has lived the stories she's playing out. It's a show created, as some have noted, "for us, by us," rather than for all women, by a successful male TV vet going on forty, as was the case with Sex and the City's Darren Star. Surprisingly, Dunham's show seems to have more male viewership than Star's ever did, presumably because it's telling the tale of our twenties, one that's relatable across genders, if not across generations.
That's not to say none of our parents are tuning in to watch Girls. They certainly are -- but they're more likely to mistake the dark comedy as a portrayal of a few misfits, while those of us navigating life and love alongside Hannah and her friends can recognize our own truth when we see it, grit and all.

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