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"Girls" Review: 18 Years Later And Reality Still Bites

By Joanna Robinson | TV | April 20, 2012 |

By Joanna Robinson | TV | April 20, 2012 |

Alright folks it’s taken me a week to write this review because, honestly, I couldn’t decide whether or not I liked the premiere episode of HBO’s much ballyhooed “Girls.” I won’t keep you in suspense. I liked it. I had to watch a few times to be sure, but, yeah, no I’m pretty sure I liked it. If you haven’t seen the show yet, HBO, in their infinite wisdom, has made the pilot episode available for free on the internet. You can watch it (until May 15th) at the bottom of this page. The show centers around four women in their early 20s living, loving and, oh yes, whining in New York City. It’s inevitable that Hannah (series creator Lena Dunham), Marnie (Allison Wiliiams), Jessa (Jemima Kirke) and Shoshanna (Zosia Mamet) would draw comparisons to Carrie, Samantha, Miranda and Charlotte. But Dunham’s cleverly written pilot addresses the girrrrrl power elephant in the room right off the bat (“You’re definitely a Carrie with some Charlotte aspects,” the naive, younger Shoshanna enthuses), deftly skewering any comparisons you, the viewer might attempt to make. Because really, gender, location and skin color aside, these four women have nothing in common with the polished, career driven 30-somethings of Candace Bushnell’s fairytale Manhattan.

The pilot opens with Hannah’s lovely-seeming Midwestern parents (the perfectly cast Peter Scolari and Becky Ann Baker) cutting off the financial support that has kept Hannah looking slightly slovenly and boho (“It costs a lot of money to look this cheap”) for the two years since she graduated college. Sure she has an (unpaid) internship and is working on her book (a memoir, natch), but the prospect of having to get a job sends Hannah into a tailspin of privileged white whining (“Do you know how crazy the economy is?”) that might lose some viewers and almost lost me. But, ultimately, whether or not I liked this show hinged on one crucial question. Do you think Dunham means for Hannah and her sisters in privilege to come off as wholly sympathetic? I really don’t think she does. Sure when scrawny hipster loser dudes are treating Hannah like sh*t, you’re supposed to cringe for her. And when Marnie confesses that her passive, dish rag of a boyfriend’s touch feels like a weird uncle, we can all chuckle with her. But when, in the pilot’s very best sequence, Dunham makes a final bid to get her parent’s support and her mother shrieks that they’re “getting played by a major f*cking player,” our sympathies are with the grown-ups in the room. And that’s why “Girls” succeeds for me where Dunham’s film Tiny Furniture failed. It’s a similar premise (privileged white girl acts put upon and shocked when asked to support herself) with an added layer of self-satire that didn’t come through in Dunham’s first attempt. Above all else, the show is realistic in a way few comedies (or even dramas) manage to be. You’ve got a lead actress who looks like she could have been your roommate in college, a set of girls who not only support each other (and share that no-boundaries intimacy that dormitory living breeds) but who also talk massive amounts of sh*t on each other. Sorry to burst your cosmo swilling bubble, that’s how real female friendship operates. “Girls” has more in common with “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” (also lovingly referenced in the pilot) than it does with “Sex and The City.” I trust that we’ll never see a Mr. Big, a forced pun or designer shoes in Dunham’s show. But just because you loved Carrie and her girls does not mean you won’t fall in love with Hannah and hers.

But, more pressing than a straight-forward review is my need to discuss the avalanche of backlash this show has received over the past week. First, let’s look at the accusation of privilege that’s been hurled at the young cast.

Oh, alright internet, bravo, well done. Really, “Artist Laurie Simmons’ Daughter”? How many of you (other than my mom’s next door neighbor…shut it, Mrs. Baumgarten) know who Laurie Simmons is? How many countless actors and actresses were born to privilege? Do you really think HBO was so bowled over by Dunham’s impressive credentials as heir to the Simmons family fortune that they bent over to give her a TV show?! Did they really refer to Judd Apatow as ADAM SANDLER’S OLD ROOMMATE?!? Ugh, I tell you what, hipsters, I liked “Girls” better when it was called Reality Bites and starred Jerry Stiller’s son. Think about it, who better to skewer the hypocrisies of white privilege than someone who was born and raised in it? Dunham’s upbringing is the exact reason why her show rings so true. Bite me with your nepotism angle, haters. Next?

Ahhh, race. We’re upset because this particular show about four young women is a depiction of four young white women. Um, well, to be perfectly honest here, I think that’s actually part of the damned point. Given that I was raised with the liberal guilt that comes hand in hand with white privilege, I’m appreciative of the increasingly colorblind casting that populates both network and cable television. And there’s a part of me that’s glad for the hue and cry that has accompanied the casting for “Girls” simply because it did not plague the “Sex And The City” cast 14 years ago. The conversation about race has progressed, and that’s great. But if Dunham is cleaving fairly close to her own life story with the show, then who’s to say this isn’t an accurate portrayal of her social circle? Is it accurate of all of New York City? Hell no. Of Oberlin college where Dunham went to school? Not really. But if it’s true to Dunham’s life, then what the f*ck ever. Go bother the milquetoasts over on “How I Met Your Mother.”

Finally, the body thing. As I mentioned earlier, Dunham is on the frump end of the spectrum when it comes to very telegenic TV actresses. Listen, at least she located her hairbrush somewhere between this show and Tiny Furniture. But one of my favorite things about that movie (and this show to be honest) is that yeah, homegirl has cellulite. At one point during the pilot she shame-eats a cupcake for breakfast. So the f*ck what? You’ve never had a cupcake for breakfast? Fuck you, Andrea Peyser of the NY Post. That “dimpled ugliness” comment is appalling. As I’ve mentioned over and over, this show is, above all else, a realistic look at a young woman’s life. She’s holding a mirror to herself and the rest of the nation as well. If you choose not to see your own ugliness (dimpled or otherwise) reflected there, well, that’s up to you.

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