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Girls Talk

Like everyone on the planet (aka Twitter & Tumblr), I watched the Girls premier this past week. Except I watched it on HBO.com, not HBO proper, because, like the Girls, I live in New York and am poor as hell and cannot afford premium channels (which is why this is a reaction to the pilot, not the subsequent episodes, which I haven't watched because they're not free on the Internet). In fact, watching the show has made me think seriously, for the first time in a while, about my first year in New York, when I was my absolute poorest and couldn't afford to have TV in my apartment, period. GOD, that year was hard. Looking backward, I mean. When I was in it, it was my life--only drinking at happy hour because a four dollar beer was all I could afford, subsisting mainly on homemade quesadillas (one tortilla microwaved with some cheese in the middle), and walking twenty-five blocks to avoid running down my MetroCard. When Hannah, the main character of Girls played by Lena Dunham, says that she did the math and she thinks she can afford to live in New York three more days, seven if she skips lunch, I knew exactly what she meant because that's pretty much the exact same position I would've been in if I'd lost my job.

The exact same position I'd be in now if I lost my job, in fact, though it's been years since I first moved here and I am (ostensibly) somewhat more gainfully employed. My point is, I get it. I've been there--in a lot of ways, I'm still there. I know that the blogosphere is full of Feelings and Opinions about Girls--some people hate it, some people love it, some people are wondering what the BFD is, it's just a television show or something? I guess I'm in the latter camp. I don't hate it. I don't love it. I understand it, but I don't identify with it, necessarily. Let me tell you why.

Girls, despite the subway ads that make it look slicker and at the same time grittier than it is (below), is in a lot of ways a hipster, post-ironic response to the over-the-top glam of the Sex and the City franchise. (Although you could make the point that the early seasons of Sex and the City were far from glamorous; do you remember how many turtlenecks Miranda wore?!?! The nineties were dark days.) One of the characters (Shoshanna, played by Zosia Mamet) even overtly references the show, and has a poster from the movie hanging in her NoLiTa apartment. I guess Girls is supposed to be "real", but of course it's just as stylized as Sex and the City was, only in the opposite direction. Girls is frumpy as hell and not apologizing for it. It's also got a bald, unvarnished sexuality about it that is unmatched on television; some shows are explicit about sex, but they're still coy about it, try to fancy it up, something with which Girls doesn't even bother. The writing is on point (not boring, but not too jokey-jokey), the characters are funny and endearing...all good things.

In a lot of ways, Girls is an absolutely perfect portrayal of entitled, self-obsessed Millennial ennui, except for one thing--these characters are way too self-aware. I know these people. They're not precisely my people, because my people are a bit too old, born just a bit too early, but I'm a human in the world--I interact with people like the Girls all the time, and let me tell you something: they absolutely, 100% DO NOT SEE IT. That's part of what makes them so damn irritating, but also part of what makes it possible for them to continue living as they do. Hannah seems to get that everything that comes out of her mouth is ridiculous, that her friends with benefits relationship with her mostly disinterested douchey dude Adam is beneath her (beneath anyone, really) and destructive, that her writing is stalled, that her career is a non-starter, that her relationships are codependent...and yet? I guess that's what the series is supposed to be about, but honestly, I just couldn't buy that they were all so aware, both of their own flaws and the flaws of the others.

I think that might be what the haters find so annoying about the show. The characters are unapologetically sexual (good) and unglamorous (fine), but they're also unapologetically entitled, lazy, dismissive, and dependent, with no inclination or willingness to better themselves, which I found frustrating. Like, if you want to be a writer, WRITE. If you want a job, APPLY FOR SOME JOBS. What's so damn frustrating about New York is its collective indifference to suffering, and the fact that it's bulletproof to hard work. The challenges that come from living here actually come from practically killing yourself to better yourself and the fact that most of the time that's not enough. So when I see a bunch of characters sitting around bitching and moaning that their college education isn't enough, I'm like, that's not New York's hard knocks, that's just straight up inertia.

But anyway. That's because I live here. There's a lot of stuff I like about the show, and the pilot is definitely enough to make me want to keep watching, if I could. And I fully expect the characters to grow and deepen and change; sure, they're caricatures now, but we're all caricatures when you first meet us, aren't we? And I'm sure that Lena Dunham, who has achieved much in her young life (like, I don't know, producing, writing, directing and starring in her own television show on HBO), has some narrative and character goals that this pilot is only serving to set up. So I'm not worried.

But I have to be judgey. I'm a Miranda, after all.

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