Last week HBO premiered the new series Girls, from the privileged and whiny mind of Lena Dunham. Thanks to the shows producer, comedy powerhouse Judd Apatow, there was considerable buzz surrounding it. As soon as it aired the criticism began: it was racist, pointless, whiny, and unfunny. Essentially, it didn’t live up to everyones high expectations.
What those expectations were, I’m not really sure. Girls is practically a carbon copy of Dunham’s breakout film Tiny Furniture, which she wrote, directed, and starred in. The story follows Aura, who has just returned home to New York from college with seemingly no applicable skill set for the real world. She lives with her mother as she tries to adjust, and as it turns out, life is hard. Nothing really happens for the next hour and twenty minutes and then somehow the film is resolved. I asked myself why? Why make this?
Girls follows Hannah Horvath (Dunham) who is a recent college graduate with an unpaid internship, receiving $1,100 a month from her parents to survive. The conflict arises when her parents visit New York and inform her that at twenty-five it’s finally time that she support herself. This is followed by twenty minutes of whining. Girls felt just like Tiny Furniture. Either you loved or hated the movie, so why were expectations for the television show so high?
Dunham is part of a new(ish) youth movement you often hear about on NPR concerning white and privileged college graduates who can’t accept the harsh realities of life. These are kids whose parents pay their cell phone bill, their water, their gas, their electricity, and even their rent, “Do you know what the economy is like right now?” Might as well be their catch phrase. White People Problems is another. This group is just one notch down the ladder from the twenty-eight year old college undergrad to afraid to leave the protective confines of the University.
WAPS’s (White and Privileged) are among the least sympathetic people currently gracing film and television screens. Their problems are so benign that it’s a challenge to get a majority of people to care. In turn they’ve been on the receiving end of much criticizing, telling them to grow up and deal with it. I’m a WAP and I owe a considerable amount to my parents who have helped me out greatly over the years. I’ve been lucky to have my wife keep me grounded for ten years with her own experiences which were the exact opposite of mine. I suffered from white people problems, my wife suffered from real problems.
Much of the show’s criticism seems to hint that the stories of WAP’s are unimportant. Shit, Wes Anderson has made a career out of it. The major difference is that his characters are constantly dealing with the pressures of living up to expectations amidst extraordinary circumstances. Even when they fail to reach the third dimension, at their emotional core anyone can relate to them. Girls inability to point a finger at themselves and have a sense of humor about white people problems is detrimental to the show. Were someone to step up and say “Yes I know we’re white and privileged, to you our problems may seem trite, but to us they are earth shattering.” There’s humor in that. They don’t have to be a parody of WAP’s, just a little wink to the camera now and then.
Despite everything I’ve said, I didn’t hate the show. I didn’t love the show either, it’s just not my cup of tea. I will applaud Dunham for managing to pack more plot and purpose into thirty minutes, than she’d previously done in twice that amount of time with Tiny Furniture. It had humorous moments, not hilarious but not completely unfunny. I also genuinely applaud the fact that these look like real people. Even the dork in your typical television show is freakishly attractive. While you’re not going to find anyone terrifyingly ugly here, they actually look like people I know or could know, and that is a real rarity and definitely applause worthy.
My biggest problem has to do with the characters who are like cardboard cutouts of people. I have no idea what these people believe in, what makes them angry, what gives them joy, what they want. Aside from feeling entitled, their just blah. They live from moment to moment, without any drives or desires. It makes everyone seem unlikeable because they always hover at about a three on the emotional scale. Certainly Breaking Bad has proven that the definition of likable is liquid, but you neither love or hate the characters in Girls, you feel nothing for them. Perhaps not so coincidentally it’s Hannah’s parents who have the most dimensions. Despite the shortest screen time, they run the gambit of emotions and by the end I feel mostly for them.
Nearly all the actors are recast straight out of Tiny Furniture, with just a few exceptions. Most of them have unique qualities that make them watchable. It’s Dunham who really falls flat, she’s the least capable actor in the bunch and I wonder if she shouldn’t have stuck to writing and directing and passed the acting off to a more capable actor who doesn’t whine through every line. Every line is delivered with such nonchalance that an emotional ten for her is a five for the rest of the world.
All that said we should give Girls a break. They’re just two episodes deep into a full season, there is a compelling conflict with Hannah suddenly forced to fend for herself. If given a chance they’ve got a place for these characters to go. Everyone could become more bearable and they might actually grow up a little. It makes sense that they might follow the trajectory of whiny WAP’s who actually become self aware and considerably less whiny.
The critics came down hard on the show and while much of the disapproval was deserved, some of it was overboard. Dunham has been attacked by more than a few for being racist. I just don’t get that. To criticize the lack of diversity in the shows casting is to criticize every movie or television show without ample ethnic diversity. Glee might be able to get away with their melting pot of a cast (if just barely) but most shows can’t. Clearly Dunham was comfortable writing the stories of white characters. Trust me, you don’t want to watch a twenty-five year old attempt to write roles for racially diverse characters when she’s not comfortable writing them. Take your frustration, which is justified, out on the studios and producers who continue to inundate us with the same people and stories over and over.
Much of Girls is pointless. I’m not sure who to root for or what anyone really wants, or why I should care. You could probably squeeze a decent story from this lemon, the question that begs to be asked is: wasn’t there a better story with more interesting characters out there? This is all my opinion of course. We can’t forget that Girls target audience is most likely other WAP’s. I don’t care about their meaningless struggles, you probably don’t care or sympathize with their meaningless struggles either. There is a growing number of white and entitled kids out there to whom this story does speak to. It’s not going to have the broad appeal that so much of HBO’s other programming has had, and that’s fine, as long as HBO is okay with that. They’re the one’s with the finger hovering over the little red button.
One episode of the show was enough for me. I like dimensional characters, not necessarily ones I have to like, but ones capable of expressing some interest in something with emotion, not just cardboard cutouts. Obviously there is an audience for this type of show out there, mostly WAP’s. My question is, would Hannah and her friends want to watch this show?