I have seen every episode of Girls, the HBO dramedy currently airing its second season. I have read many critical analyses of the show, both on informal blogs and in esteemed national publications. I have discussed the show far too much with interested parties.
I hate Girls.
When the show first began, it was hailed as a fresh, young addition to a slate of newly adventurous television shows like Breaking Bad, Mad Men, Game of Thrones and Boardwalk Empire. Its writer, star and sometime director, Lena Dunham, was both hailed and castigated from the get go. Admirers raised her up as the newest “voice of a generation” candidate, critics tore into her whitewashed idyll of spoiled, lazy young people trying to “make it” in New York City, calling out its lack of diversity and overly-earnest self-consciousness.
I never found it particularly controversial. The show follows a group of twenty-something women, each embodying a contemporary stereotype — the aspiring writer, the gorgeous but troubled hippy, the hot fashionista, the immature innocent — as they cope with romance, employment, body image and friendship.
The first few episodes intrigued me. It seemed that Dunham was onto something, if not quite there yet. The characters were believable, their dialogue street aware. Their relationships were as messed up as real world relationships often are, full of uncomfortable sex, anger and fear. The main character was not a stick thin supermodel. The typical sitcom sheen was conspicuously absent.
But as the show progressed, it became clear that the show was not going to make the leap from mildly entertaining and conversation generating to truly can’t miss television rife with piercing social commentary. Constant indulgence in cliché and bombast stripped away any sense of reality, as did the fact that all of the characters were living in nice apartments in New York City without jobs or (for the most part) parental support. In one episode, the main character, Hannah, is cut off by her parents and fears she will have to move. And yet, she never does.
Hey, I get it, it’s a TV show, it doesn’t have to be realistic. Unfortunately, Girls is plagued by far worse flaws. Principal among them is that none of the characters ever exhibit a grain of common sense. For ostensibly highly educated (Oberlin in Hannah’s case) people, the women continually make rash judgmental errors and are unabashedly contained in their own little bubble, seemingly oblivious to the outside world. Ignorance in the case of Homer Simpson is funny. The ignorant shallowness of Girls is not.
What do young women care about? According to Girls: sex, shopping, power, themselves. Sound familiar? Nothing new to add here. Except Girls portrays all of these desires as obsessive pursuits. Every type, and I mean every type, of sex is exhibited and much of it on screen (guess what? Over half of Girls’ viewers are male, 20 percent over the age of 50). Each of the characters is totally self obsessed, literally having conversations in which no one is listening to the others and rather all four are spouting monologues in a group setting at the same time. And, though the show makes a real effort to force the issue, I wouldn’t define any of the relationships as friendships. Friends don’t lie constantly, use each other, and trash each other out of earshot.
Where Entourage was a truly shallow show, it made sense as it was a story of Hollywood, that cardboard mecca of false promise. The only thing that held that show together (or came close) was the true bonds of friendship between the lead characters. Girls, for all its effort, has taken shallowness to an extreme, creating unlikable and unsuccessful characters who have no concept of what real struggle looks like.
Voice of a generation? I think not. Voice of the cultural moment (self obsessed, it’s always someone else’s fault, everything will work out for me, unfulfilling sexual indulgences)?