“Girls” Makes Me Sad. And That Makes Me Old. Thank God.

Pretty much how I felt watching the first episode of "Girls."

So, I finally got around to watching the first episode of the new HBO show, Girls. You know the one. The one everyone’s been either passionately defending or ripping to shreds due to issues of race, gender, and class lately. I wanted to watch it, because lately it’s become more important to me to support female-helmed and female-created work. Yes, Judd Apatow is an Executive Producer, but this is Lena Dunham’s project as she’s not only the show’s creator, writer, and star, but also the director. The show also has a mostly female cast too, which is nice.

I’m not going to get into the show’s issues with race (it’s sadly accurate, as far as I’m concerned. I’ve met women like this in New York, and despite living in one of the most diverse cities in the world, I was often the darkest person many of them hung out with). I’m also not going to talk about the show’s issues with class, though it does come off as “rich girl whining” a lot of the time.

What I want to address is the way that the show addresses a generation. The thing of it is, it’s accurate. It’s spot-on. This is, indeed, what many 20-somethings are like. However, something being accurate doesn’t necessarily make it funny or entertaining. I was surprised that, though it’s a “half-hour comedy,” I only laughed once the whole episode. (“When I look at you both, a Coldplay song plays in my heart.”) The rest of the time, I alternated between sad, angry, and bored.

I hated Hannah (played by Dunham) immediately, and cringed at both her overwhelming sense of entitlement and her out and out stupidity (I’m sorry, but internships are generally for when you’re IN college. An internship TWO YEARS AFTER college with no other job?! File that under Poor Life Choices). She made me furious. However, Hannah’s entitlement has less to do with race and class and more to do with her age and the time in which she’s grown up. 20-somethings whose parents don’t support them have this sense of entitlement. 20-somethings who aren’t white have it, too. These days, you don’t have to be rich or white to feel like the world owes you something. In that sense, we’re living in the most egalitarian time ever, as there’s plenty of equal-opportunity entitlement to go around in the United States. But as much as I hated Hannah, I also hated her parents, because I knew that they were responsible for her being this way, and when Hannah calls them out on it (Hannah’s mom calls her spoiled, and Hannah correctly responds, “Well, whose fault is that?”) it was the first time I was really on her side.

Interwoven into my anger, were pockets of sadness, as I watched the lives of these 20-somethings unfold and felt sorry for them. Aren’t we supposed to look back on our 20s fondly? Enviously, even? Aren’t we supposed to wish we could go back? Well, if my 20-something life were anything like those on this show, I’d want to high-tail it out of my twenties as quickly as possible, because there’s no way I’d ever want to live like this. It’s amazing to me how, despite their huge senses of entitlement, these characters are so willing to accept the shitty circumstances of their shitty lives without thinking they deserve better. Hannah is in a fuck-buddy relationship with some guy (played by Adam Driver) who not only doesn’t seem to like her very much, but also doesn’t seem to even enjoy fucking her all that much. So, he’s neither a buddy, nor a good fuck. Their sex scene was just depressing. Like, it wasn’t even fun casual sex. It was perfunctory. Like, “I’m X years old. I should be having sex now. Doesn’t matter who with. Doesn’t matter if I enjoy it. This is what I should be doing now.” Ugh. Double cringe. Hannah also insults me as a writer. 🙂 I get the whole Calling Yourself a Writer Even Though You Haven’t Finished Much of Anything thing. I’ve totally been there. What bothered me was the fact that she’s writing a memoir. Because, apparently, the thing to do in the age of reality television and social media is to write a book about yourself. Because, at 24 (and a sheltered, entitled 24 at that) you’ve totally led a life worth reading about. Riiiiight.

Triple cringe.

Hannah’s best friend, Marnie (played by Allison Williams), admits that she doesn’t love her boyfriend and says she’s going to leave him, but when Hannah asks her about it later, she’s all “No I’m not!” I guess having someone at the ready to possibly pay rent overrides being in a bullshit relationship? There’s the “worldly” Jessa (played by Jemima Kirke), who is a total cliche and seems to revel in it, as if the lives of 20-somethings have become so meta that their very lives have to be appropriated from the lives of other characters they’ve seen on TV or in movies. And lastly, there’s Shoshanna (played by Zosia Mamet, who gets to do much better work in her role on Mad Men), whom I just wanted to shake like a rag doll every time she was on screen.

Watching these people exist just made me sad, because they’re hopeless even in their entitlement. One’s twenties are supposed to be all about hope and possibility and the world being your oyster. The characters on Girls seem to be limiting their own existences based on arbitrary criteria they pieced together from the internet. And this may be what 20-somethings do now. And this is what saddens me. When I graduated college, I immediately moved out of my parents’ apartment, because I wanted to be on my own. Despite their willingness to have me live with them until I got married (we’re Latino. It’s a thing.), citing every reason why I should (“You wouldn’t have to pay rent!” “Mommy would cook for you!” and the ever guilt-inducing “Don’t you love us anymore?”), I didn’t want to be a burden to them. I wanted to pay my own bills, provide for myself, make my way in the world on my own. It was a matter of pride. I would’ve been ashamed to rely on my parents if I didn’t have to. Please don’t take this the wrong way. One should never be too proud to ask for help if they really need it, and on occasion, even after I moved out on my own, I had to ask my parents for money here and there to get by. But they weren’t paying my rent. They weren’t buying my groceries. I was. And I was proud of that, even when times were hard, because I was living life on my own terms. Still am.

An interview with Lena Dunham made me feel a little better in that the show is knowingly depicting these characters this way. 25-year-old Dunham is consciously commenting on their attitudes and behavior, which gives me hope that not everyone in their mid-twenties is so clueless and self-involved. Girls is a well-written show that is sadly accurate, which makes it not entertaining to me. There is not one character on this show that I care to spend an extended amount of time with. Marnie comes the closest, but even she gives me trouble, and she’s not even the protagonist. I may watch another episode, I may not. It will take a lot to get me in the mood to watch more.

Does the fact that the point of view of women in their mid-twenties doesn’t resonate with me and I don’t find it funny mean that I’m officially old? Maybe. But I’m also grateful that I came of age at a time when paying one’s dues was a badge of honor, not something to try and find a shortcut around. I’m grateful that I had the drive to make my own way. I’m also grateful that I’m officially past the bullshit that comes with being in your twenties. When these ladies get a bit older, I’ll be happy to welcome them to the world of real womanhood, where sex is something you’re supposed to enjoy, you take pride in learning before doing, and you’re never afraid to ask for what you want and need – a sense of entitlement that is the product of years of experience and work rather than pop culture.

**BTW – I just realized that all the characters have the same first and last initial. Their names are Hannah Horvath, Marnie Michaels, Jessa Johansson, and Shoshanna Shapiro. Really?!

8 thoughts on ““Girls” Makes Me Sad. And That Makes Me Old. Thank God.

  1. broadsideblog says:

    I haven’t seen the show and am not terribly compelled to after reading this…or the other reviews of it. I had a blast in my 20s — on my own at 19, tons of men and inappropriate but FUN sex, adventures and excitement. I remember my 20s (in the 80s) vividly and with tremendous fondness, as we should.

    I’m appalled by any depiction of a young woman (especially) having crappy sex with someone who doesn’t even like her much. I like to think that people watching TV don’t look there for role models, but I wonder how many watch her and want to throw a chair through the screen at her passivity and self-hatred. Shriek.

    Now that you’re in LA, write something better, willya?

  2. Teresa says:

    So, my friend Alex couldn’t comment on WordPress for some reason, but he sent me a comment via email, which I’m posting here and will repsond to below, as I thought it was a great one.

    Without further ado, Alex Chancey:

    Great review! It’s the first one I’ve read that falls on the negative side that isn’t a complete bash of the show. What I find interesting is that Liz had the same reaction to the show but I really like it. And I think part of the reason I like it is for a lot of the reasons you listed about what you didn’t like.

    Like pretty much everyone else, I can’t help but think of Sex and the City when thinking of this show. But I think of it because, I only ever watched maybe two episodes of that show and found them all to be insufferable cliches that didn’t resemble anything close to any women I knew at the time, or know now. Girls, on the other hand, is much different. It pretty much states it in the first episode that it’s about the girls who watched Sex and the City, moved to New York and realized, “Oh shit. This isn’t Sex and the City.” The show knows it’s about an entitled generation and ultimately, I think Dunham is on your side, which is why Hannah is so entitled. If I thought for one second, Dunham was putting these characters on TV to exalt them, or ridicule them, the show would be a huge misfire. But I know these girls. You know these girls. On certain occasions, you’ve BEEN these girls. But I guess the difference is that SATC has characters viewers hope to become and Girls has characters viewers never wanted to be.

    It’s also fascinating to me that this show is getting such negative word of mouth among viewers (despite tons of critical acclaim), that there’s so much talk about how unlikeable and entitled the characters are, after eight seasons of Entourage. Eight! You can either blame it on the Judd Apatow TV curse or more likely, it’s that women as much as men are uncomfortable at women being unlikeable on TV despite how many unlikeable men there are as main characters. Critics have compared the show to Louie, which is a spot-on comparison, more because it’s auteur TV with the auteur in the lead role and really putting themselves out there. But there’s been no backlash about Louis CK spending every episode moping around fumbling through post-divorce parenthood. His TV character isn’t really that likable either but he is relatable. Hannah is too and in the same way. So what’s the difference?

    Overall, I think the show agrees with what you said to wrap up: “When these ladies get a bit older, I’ll be happy to welcome them to the world of real womanhood, where sex is something you’re supposed to enjoy, you take pride in learning before doing, and you’re never afraid to ask for what you want and need – a sense of entitlement that is the product of years of experience and work rather than pop culture.” I think Dunham is saying that as well. I think the purpose of Girls is to hold a mirror up and say, “What the fuck are you doing and why?” Maybe Dunham, still being in her 20s, doesn’t have the life experience under her belt but she seems to have the awareness that it is kind of sad.

    • Teresa says:

      I agree with a lot of what you’ve said. I know that Dunham is doing all of this on purpose, and I mention that in my review. That still doesn’t make it entertaining. Also, I never watched Entourage precisely BECAUSE it seemed like a show about a group of all-dude douchebags. Also why I couldn’t tolerate Eastbound and Down for more than one ep, because Kenny was unlikeable as all get-out. There are plenty of (male AND female) unlikeable characters that I love. Katniss Everdeen is one of them. She’s really not likeable at all – but because you know she cares about something more than just herself, you’re interested in following her and hope she turns out okay despite her cold exterior and the mistakes she makes with people. She’s unlikeable, but you can understand her. I think that’s the difference. Successful characters need to be understandable even if you hate them. It’s why it’s possible for there to be TV shows like Dexter where serial killers are protagonists. Meanwhile, I don’t like the girls on Girls, NOR do I understand them, because I wasn’t this entitled in my twenties. And I guess I’m at an age now where I’m less tolerant of seeing twenty-somethings doing stupid shit. Remember when Thirtysomething was a show? Remember how apparently that was totally just a novelty, because ever since then people have continued to love watching TV shows about the life-experiences of teenagers and twenty-somethings? *sigh* Seriously, before I even saw Girls, I saw a poster and was all “Great, yet ANOTHER show about 20-somethings “trying to make it in the city.””

      And here’s where Sex and the City excelled. It was about women in their thirties and forties. That’s what made that show special. Women in their twenties back when I was watching it LOVED that show, because it gave us comfort in the fact that we would and could be OK if we reached our 30s and 40s and our lives hadn’t reached a certain level of “perfect.” That women who were slightly older than us were STILL having trouble with relationships, but they were also living partial dream lives, and that happiness could be found in what they were doing as well as in each other. And they lived as if things were still possible, even at their ages. It was a show about hope. That show ALSO had a dearth of minority characters and was about rich white women. The difference was that it was a show about WOMEN not “GIRLS.” What you say here is absolutely correct: “But I guess the difference is that SATC has characters viewers hope to become and Girls has characters viewers never wanted to be.”

      The reason why you didn’t know women like the ones on SATC at the time was that 1) you didn’t know many “women.” 🙂 You knew “Girls,” like us. Because you were a “Boy,” and not yet a man. 2) You probably knew more women like that than you think, but in a professional context, and so you didn’t get to know them that well. Wasn’t one of your bosses a woman? The women on SATC reminded me in so many ways of a former boss of mine and every other white, rich, female authority figure I’ve had in my life, but that’s probably because (since we’re women and tend to chitter-chatter and tell each other everything), I got to know them better.

      Ultimately, the problem I see with Girls is that it doesn’t give us anything to root for. It gives us a sad situation AND a protagonist who did it to herself and has no redeeming qualities that I can see to make me believe that she even CARES to pull herself out of it, let alone that she COULD. And I know it’s just the pilot, but that’s all the more reason why it’s disappointing that that stuff ISN’T there. A good pilot is supposed to suck you in and make you care. This pilot was like a big Keep Out sign. I should believe in Hannah, but I don’t.

      • adamhunault says:

        I haven’t seen the show but three things occurred to me as I read this and *someone* is always telling me to be more sociable on the Internet.

        1) All the focus on characters being “likeable” is a little misplaced. An unlikeable character can still be compelling, and a likeable character can not be compelling. When an unlikeable character is not compelling, everyone always jumps to the fact they are unlikeable as a reason. That’s kind of a dangerous leap, because you may start to think you wouldn’t like stories about people you find unlikeable, and then you’re stuck just reading/watching stories about likeable people.

        2) A lot of times people find it intensely uncomfortable to watch things that remind them of parts of themselves they want to ignore. That might be why women in the generation this show is describing (you and Liz M.) don’t like watching this show while the critics and Alex love it.

        3) Connecting the first two points, if you don’t watch shows with characters you find unlikeable, you could be closing the door on introspection, as uncomfortable as it might be.

  3. Teresa says:

    @AdamHunault –

    1) I cited two examples of characters who are unlikeable but relatable anyway in my comment to Alex. I’ll add a third to that – Caprica. Very few characters on Caprica were actually likeable. In fact, many of them were detestable people – but I understood them from the pilot forward, because the writing was so specific that you knew exactly where all the characters and their detestable, annoying behavior was coming from. It can be done. It’s just not being done here. Even if a character is unlikeable, a good show will make us sympathize with them anyway. Likeable and sympathetic are two different things. One isn’t necessary for dramatic success, the other is.

    2) You might not want to admit how old you are, but I know how old I am. 🙂 The women in the generation the show is describing are not me and Liz M. We are a full ten years older than the women in this show’s demographic. Women in their 20s today are coming out of college and into the work force under entirely different circumstances. That’s part of the point of my post. There’s a generational difference that informs my response. While I find it admirable that Lena Dunham wants to explore that aspect of her generation, I don’t personally find it entertaining to watch. Maybe that makes me an old coot who’s telling the kids to get off her lawn. If so, that’s just the way it is.

    3) I always do. In fact, those are my favorite shows. I like to be challenged. However, I like those challenges to be done well. This isn’t to say that Lena Dunham isn’t hugely talented. She is. Perhaps this show was just never intended for someone like me. In any case, I’m more interested in what Dunham creates next. I’m always a bit suspicious of wunderkinds, and would prefer to see what she does with her talent when she has some more years under her belt, that’s all.

    • Adam says:

      You’re close enough to be counted in the age group. You keep trying to claim otherwise but the entitlement of young people has been a theme since the 1980s and this is just the latest variation on it. There is no particular difference between your age group and women 8 years younger than you.

      But I wasn’t trying to apply my comments to you (or Liz), only to share some general thoughts about the value of certain types of characters, and of certain types of stories which are important but lack mass appeal because they are uncomfortable to read/watch. I have no idea if “Girls” is this type of story because I haven’t seen it, as I said. These were just some general thoughts that were inspired by what you wrote.

      Wunderkinds are suspicious. They are generally PR creations. *Luminaries*, on the other hand…

      • Teresa says:

        Over 10 years is close enough? Um, OK. I don’t agree, but if you say so. I mean, while we’re obviously not different generations (I’m not yet old enough to have been a mother to any of these girls), we are a different crop, and 10 years can make a world very different.

        The entitlement thing goes all the way back to the “Me Generation” of the 1970s. I get it. What I was responding to was that their sense of “entitlement” doesn’t match their sense of what they actually expect from themselves and their lives. For example, I’m sure there’s entitlement in me – after all, I have the nerve to believe that I should be able to do a job that *gasp* makes me HAPPY. And that I should expect a certain amount of *gasp* FAIR TREATMENT from authority at my jobs, my parents, etc. And I get how that can be seen as abrasive and entitled by those older than us. What I was responding to was the fact that the characters on this show (and if it really is that “realistic,” then 20-somethings today) expect to have lives handed to them, but don’t expect to have to do anything for it, because they don’t see anything in themselves. That’s what made me sad. When I was young and entitled, I wanted the world to see how brilliant I was, and I set out to prove it. It seems like 20-somethings today want the world to see how brilliant they are without doing anything. Again, they see things like “paying dues” at a job as something that one needs to find a shortcut around, rather than as a means to an end.

  4. tara says:

    Girls left me uncomfortable and vaguely anxious. I was tempted to switch it off and not watch it past the pilot but then i paused. Why exactly was it provoking such a strong reaction in me, and mostly negative? The answer is that as a 20 something the situations portrayed on the show are very familiar ( either to me personally or someone i know). It highlights the grime, the self hate, the entitlement, the guilt and the pity we feel for ourselves and the rest of our 20 something friends. Usually these things are pushed to the background; We are in denial. However, Girls forces you to watch what we have been trying to avoid while going about our merry lives. This is why so many women are repelled by it. Not because its not relevant, but because its too relevant and realistic. Kudos to Lena Dunham.
    I was surprised by the people harping about the class/race issue. Girls doesn’t pretend to be an all inclusive kind of show. Frankly the hypocrisy is astounding, considering a lot of the same people are die hard Entourage fans. As a person of color, I am a bit disappointed that there is no one i can relate to racially. but i can still relate ( though i will deny this in public) a lot of things in the show.
    I agree with you when you say that Girls isn’t funny. It mostly isn’t. And that is coming from a 20 something as well.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s