“Oh, Max. What do you do? Oh, I do nothing.” Kicking & Screaming
I can’t recall the last time a television series or film so directly and unabashedly pandered to a demographic of which I was a member.
Like, it was probably Mulan.
HBO’s new comedy, GIRLS,is produced by Judd Apatow, and written and directed by Lena Dunham, who also stars as the series’ protagonist, Hannah Horvath. The first episode of GIRLS is currently available on HBO’s YouTube channel. Boasting laugh-out-loud moments mixed with painful truth, GIRLS will be compared to Curb Your Enthusiasm, Louis C.K.’s Louie, and a plethora of other uncomfortably hilarious television shows. These comparisons are apt, though maybe a bit stunted.
Hannah is a 24-year-old English graduate who, in the cold open, is cut off from her parents’ financial support. Dunham and Jemima Kirke, who plays Hannah’s transient best friend Jessa Johansson, essentially reprise their roles from Dunham’s film Tiny Furniture. Allison Williams and Zosia Mamet round off the girls of, well, GIRLS. Much like in the film, Dunham’s character is somewhat aimless, with a year’s worth of thankless interning and four humour essays as the only product of her post-graduate life. I cannot relate to her in any way.*
*This is a lie.
With GIRLS and Tiny Furniture, Lena Dunham is clearly in that faction of nerds who could reenact scenes of Noah Baumbach’s Kicking & Screaming if prompted. (We perform at the Annex Wreckroom on Wednesdays.) It’s no wonder that Chris Eigeman, Baumbach’s and Whit Stillman’s leading man of the 1990s, has a cameo as Hannah’s internship supervisor. He accepts her resignation, removing all possibility for him to be a regular cast member. I found his presence here reassuring, however tragically brief. With GIRLS, Dunham is more interested in the often uncomfortably real yet stylized post-graduate, twenty-something existence depicted in the films of Baumbach and Stillman, the heyday of 1990s upper-middle-class, well-educated malaise, rather than that other late-90s, women-in-NYC thing.
Wherein I talk about the pink stilletto-wearing elephant in the room: Sex and the City
Before the Tumblrs are all aglow with gifs of this, I accept that GIRLS could be seen as reinterpretation of Sex and the City, but without the easy money and success that was often found and celebrated in the late 1990s. The context is familiar — four women figure out their love lives in New York City — and so are the broad strokes of the characters. There’s the English graduate protagonist (Hannah, Carrie); the ambitious best friend (Marnie, Miranda); the more worldly, nonchalant freedom child (Jessa, Samantha); and the naive, uptight waif (Shoshanna, Charlotte). After the first episode of GIRLS, we know very little about these characters, but it’s still enough for comparisons to be made.
Now, I’ve seen a handful of episodes and understand the gist of Sex and the City, but I (like the characters in GIRLS) largely missed that phenomena, and was pre-pubescent when it premiered. Most twenty-something girls discovered the show in their teenaged years and binged on DVD collections, downloading obscenely high expectations and catchphrases in bulk. To me, Sex and the City is dated, a relic, and based on her script, I believe Lena Dunham thinks much the same.
For better or worse, Dunham does hang the lampshade on the inevitable comparisons between her show and Sex and the City. Shoshanna, Jessa’s hyperactive cousin and roommate, blatantly points out the Sex and the City movie poster on her otherwise bare walls before she allows Jessa to even sit down. And of course, Shoshanna goes on and on about how she’s a “Carrie at heart” or some other nonsense. Jessa deadpans, “Oh, is that a show?”
This is where GIRLS attempts to distance itself from Sex and the City and the perceived image of women on television that Carrie Bradshaw and co. birthed. In her all-pink yoga wear, very much the product of borrowed Sex and the City “culture,” Shoshanna talks quickly, irreverently, and “liike” about nothing. We’re openly invited to mock Shoshanna — to hate her even — and throw our lot in with the sleepy, bohemian Jessa, and two girls eating cupcakes and shaving in a bathtub. Lena Dunham is screaming “This isn’t Sex and the City!” as loud as she can, but then, she sure goes out of her way to talk about it, doesn’t she?
Oh, and another thing:
- “Avert your eyes.” In Mickey Mouse pyjamas. Yes.
- Say Anything references are always appreciated.
- Everyone keeps walking in on each other in the bathroom! This is not acceptable behaviour, people.
- Chris Eigeman should be in the background of every scene playing the crossword and/or on Mescaline.
- The Totem of Chat was a nauseating bit of dialogue. I know you can do better, Dunham.
- “Oh my god, you’re so hip I could puke.” “You’re so fucking classy.” Shoshanna, I like your one-liners, but loathe your entire being. Way to go, spawn of David Mamet. (Yes, Zosia is the playwright’s daughter.) You did well tonight.
- Wouldn’t it be great if knowing Adobe Photoshop was a guarantee for employment?
- Hannah’s friend-with-benefits (actor, comparative literature major, carpenter, collector of bicycles, douchebag) was immediately hated by everyone, ever, the moment he opened the door to his apartment.
- The sex scene showed off Hannah’s really great boots!
- You say “I’m not really into eating this week,” and then you slag off Clueless? Where did these people come from? They should not be invited back to future dinner parties.
- I like the dynamic between Marnie (good influence on Hannah) and Jessa (bad influence), and their competition for Hannah’s “bestfriendship.”
- “Coffee’s for grown-ups,” Flaubert, and “Don’t look at me!” — all with her hand over her face in distress? Ms. Dunham, you’re precious.
- Biggest Laugh: “When I look at you, a Coldplay song plays in my heart.”