Hopefully, things have quieted down a bit in regards to Girls. No series is above criticism, and Girls is not a perfect show … there is plenty to criticize. But too often, what passed for criticism about the show came down to either “it’s not about me”, or the slight variant, “it’s not meant for me”. Both are understandable reactions, and the latter is one of the more valid reasons to skip a TV series or movie or book or whatever. We aren’t required to like everything, as my son told me when I talked about Chipotle burritos. But while stating “it’s not about me” may be an understandable reaction, it is just that, a reaction, not an analysis. To construct a critique of Girls around the statement “it’s not about me” is stupid and pointless. Yet there was a lot of that when the show debuted. I don’t see it as much anymore, which I suppose means those people quit watching.
A comedy succeeds to the extent it is funny, and Girls is often funny. I’m not big on modern comedies, though, and I probably wouldn’t stick with Girls if it wasn’t also more than funny. It is similar to shows like Curb Your Enthusiasm, where the humor comes largely from the socially inappropriate behavior of the asshole at the center of the action. But the underlying point of CYE is that, no matter how big a dick “Larry David” is, he is usually right in some fundamental way. That is, he can make you cringe with his idea of how to contest the behavior of a person who doesn’t clean up after their dog, but he is right that the person should have done their civic duty.
The nice thing about Girls is that it doesn’t bother to convince us that the characters are fundamentally “right”. They are fucked up in some unhealthy ways. But they are also deeper, more complete characters than the norm, because they are given the chance to be good and bad, to succeed and to fuck up, to be self-absorbed and a good friend. They are, in short, a lot like most of us, no matter that some see a bunch of early-20s white middle-class women and think “this show is not about me”. It’s a comedy about the human struggle to discover our selves, while also trying to avoid the narcissism such a struggle necessarily entails. And not always succeeding in the avoidance.
In Hannah Horvath, Lena Dunham has given us something remarkable. This is a character, much like Aura in Tiny Furniture, the film Dunham made before Girls, who is recognizably human, with an autobiographical subtext, played by Dunham herself, who also produces and writes and directs the show … Hannah “is” Lena, at least to the extent such bogus comparisons can be made. And Hannah not only isn’t perfect, she’s often insufferable, full of herself, buried in solipsism, prone to wallowing in self-pity. You’d think Dunham must hate herself, to give us a Hannah like this. Yet there is something uplifting about it all. It is clear that Dunham loves her characters, and also clear that she trusts the audience to accept these characters with all their flaws. We don’t excuse their behavior, but we become increasingly interested in them, and in the process, we develop fondness for them. We don’t hate Hannah, and once we realize that, we understand that Dunham doesn’t hate her, either.
So Girls is not the story of a talented young film maker whining about her miserable life, it’s the story of a woman who is too full of herself, in interesting ways. And that’s pretty universal, I suspect … as this article on Vulture makes clear, the audience for Girls is not just young women, but men over 50 (hi, there!), people who live somewhere other than New York City, even African-Americans and Latinos (whose underrepresentation on the show drew a good portion of the early-season ire).
Grade for Season One: A-.