I Get It Now...?
Girls Season 1 Episode 5 recap
I've been trying to figure out Girls for weeks. As the backlash turned to front-lash (sorry) and people who loved started to hate and people who hated found God and became acolytes, I still tried to understand what it was about Girls that was capturing so many imaginations.
Then I got it. And it's been in front of my face the whole time - and yours, too.
That hashtag. If you don't follow Girls on Twitter, I'm sure someone has retweeted it and you've seen it and shrugged. But it's one of the officially sanctioned hashtags of the show and I finally went... “Ok, right. They acknowledge that these things they're showing us are mistakes. Got it”.
But then if you accept that, you have to wonder whose eyes we're seeing the show through. Because Marnie and Hannah and Jessa (we will, as ever, leave Shoshanna aside for a second since she so rarely actually does anything, including audibly react to her roommate having sex in front of her) don't acknowledge that they're making mistakes. They think they're living their lives. That propositioning their bosses “for the story” is not a fundamentally stupid move that they'll instantly regret. That not seeing where a boyfriend lives for years is a reasonable way to behave in a relationship, even years before you begin to believe there's a problem with said relationship. That using your boss' lipstick while her husband watches, slavering, isn't something that makes you not only profoundly dumb, but kind of an asshole.
And this is the fundamental problem with the show.
I've said before that I believe Lena Dunham is approaching these girls with a sense of...if not irony, than tongue-in-cheek humour. Too many of the jokes poke fun at the girls (like Hannah and her then-boyfriend screeching over Scissor Sisters in school) telling us that she knows what we're seeing and laughing at. Which is great.
But we're supposed to relate to them, or experience them at least, if not like them. We're supposed to want to understand them. I feel like this is impossibly difficult if on the one hand we're being told how this is so authentic, but on the other hand, the creators of the show are laughing at their characters. Which is it? Are they exactly as they're shown to be, and this is life and f*ck you if you don't get it? Or are they ridiculous and rarefied and a tiny little bit embarrassing, and we smirk in recognition of who we once were, but know very well that we're not those people anymore? Which is it?
"Why does it have to be one or the other, Duana? Why can't it be both?"
In theory, it could be. Curb is both. It asks you to understand that the situations are, simultaneously, completely true to life but also obviously ridiculous. The difference, I think, is skill. There's an old trope “write what you know”. Precious few people are highly-paid comedy writers in LA, but somehow Larry David resonates. There are many, many more 20-somethings struggling with their lives while trying to transition to the city and the careers they dreamed of - but the show doesn't feel real. It's not getting down to the emotions of what it's really like, because who in Hannah's situation would really, truly ask for a writing critique when her friend has just been dumped?
I've always said the trouble with Girls starts with its title in that it never was nor will be a portrait of all girls. But the show thinks, I suspect, that it can be on some level. But if the girls really are making mistakes, we're being cheated out of them realizing that, and reacting to that. Since Hannah can quit her job with no compunction and Jessa sees no problem with sleeping with someone else's boyfriend, the characters have nowhere to go. It's just a list of things that happen to these women, without seeing any...yes, I'm going to say it...consequences. I'm not talking about punishment, I'm just talking about reaction. Because for some theoretically self-obsessed people, they sure as hell don't look at their lives with any kind of critical eye, or any outside eye, really.
This is true in life. It takes people many years to evolve, learn, and change. That's cool. It's not cool in television, where we need something to take away from the end of the episode besides “well, people make mistakes”. Because they're only mistakes if the fictional people realize they are.
Otherwise, they're just doing things for your amusement with no reaction or realizations. Those aren't characters, those are clowns. And the frustrating part of this is that, as I've said before, I do think there's some skill here. I appreciate that the guys on the show, whether you buy them or not, aren't all similar. I acknowledge that Dunham knows some of her characters are making ridiculous choices. But until the characters realize that, we're not watching real people, we're watching puppets. Which is less entertaining than you might think.