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10/18/2013

Girls reviewed: Survivors of the 20th Century


One of the things I like to do whenever I start watching the first few episodes of a new TV series is to watch myself slowly getting attached. As long as I don't have a clue about who these new characters are, siding with them is like trying to find a dance routine to a song whose rhythm I haven't yet figured out.

There are a bunch of quirky shows out there these days, portraying even quirkier people, which makes it hard to get behind them, and to uncover the traces of their humanity.

The great thing about Girls is that the show found a quirky pitch to realistically portray what it is like to be a young woman, and painfully so. For me that is like hitting the bulls eye of quirk.

Although I don't always succeed in it, I always try to pinpoint the moment a story wins me over, whether it being a book, a film or a TV series. I consider it good practice to be aware of the moment I'm sold on something, and knee deep invested in characters. With Girls it only took two and a half episodes, which is pretty atypical compared to my usual slow-bonding habits.

Regardless of what you've heard about it, and albeit being referenced a couple of times, the show is nothing like Sex and the City, not even close to a "prequel" to the glamorous, occasionally funny but otherwise emotionally void series. In fact, Girls has as little to do with a "gay man's perspective on women" as speed metal does with chocolate. Girls is the show created, written, directed by and starring Lena Dunham, which is to say she carries a lot of weight. Maybe you've seen her around. She wrote and directed the indie drama Tiny Furniture, which may be considered an early remnant of what would later become Girls.




The show is about a group of twentysomethings living in the heart of New York, not exclusively girls, also the boys who surround them. Portraying the lives of young people, the series picks up on Generation Y's balancing act in regards to age, gender, job and vocation, and very successfully so.

Yes, it does get a little explicit and dirty at times, in the way you'd expect it from an HBO show. Nudity serves a purpose though, and every exposed body part leads to a new discovery about women, men, what they each have in common, and what it is that divides them.

Thus far each of the episodes reeks of personal experience, and while it is keenly observed and well written, the comedy comes from a dark place. It's rare to witness comedic dialogue that unerring without the writers having to aim for those quick puns.

The four main characters live in and share shitty little apartments, they struggle to survive each week at a time, getting by on badly paid jobs and unpaid internships. The pilot episode starts with Lena Dunham's character Hannah being cut off financially by her parents, and during the season we witness her struggles with the consequences of the umbilical cord being cut, financially as well as emotionally.




Talented leech that she is, she does find ways to survive, sponging off of her best friend Marnie for a little while. Marnie is the stuck-up type who strives to have a career. They're both friends with Shoshanna who lives in her own little world; she's the only one who hasn't graduated from college yet, and shares her place with wild child Jessa, who makes money as she goes, traveling around the world as an au pair and a nanny - obviously horrible choices for someone as irresponsible and flighty by nature - but she doesn't seem to realize it yet.

I don't exactly know why, but seeing the show made me think back to My So-Called Life, which was a teen series I loved when I was 17. I still like to revisit it from time to time, because it says something true about being a mid-nineties teenager.

Girls says something equally profound about the times that come thereafter, having outgrown the teenage phase post 2000, and being a blank slate in a world of adults and grown-up expectations.

The clip is taken from the infamous job interview scene and it exemplifies where the show hits the right notes. This is how Hannah blows a job interview, overstepping her boundaries, due to lack of experience. Well that, and cheekiness.




This is also what I like this series for - it finds non-judgmental ways to describe familiar feelings and scenarios, not from the perspective of someone who has long outgrown the phase and looks down upon these girls, and not from the perspective of someone in the middle of it either. Like a third eye, the point of view moves in and out, never siding too much with anyone.

Lena Dunham did find a unique way to tell her story - and who knows, she may really be the voice of her generation after all. Or - as she put it - at least a voice. Of a generation.