Finding a new TV show is a very tall order and I’m picky. I don’t mean to be. But If I’m going to invest time, emotion, and thought into a group of people throughout the course of 2, 3, 4, sometimes 5+ seasons I need to be able to connect with them. I want to worry about them when they are in trouble, laugh at their silly mishaps, and happy-cry when everything goes the way it should. Yes, I realize that a TV show is made up of more than just its characters, but if I can’t make a connection with somebody then it’s usually on to the next show. And let’s be honest, it’s fun to be picky. Where exactly will I find my next Roger Sterling, Stringer Bell or Annie Edison?
Maybe Girls? My friend Mike (who I consider a TV expert) highly recommended this show to me so I’m going to give it a try. Here is what I know going in. The show focuses on four 20-something woman living in New York City. It is a coming of age story starring, directed, produced and written by a lady named Lena Dunham and executive produced by Judd Apatow. (Creator of one of my all time favorites, Freaks and Geeks.) So already I think it could be a winner.
Let me start by saying that when the HBO logo flashes on the screen with that blast of static sound I get an instant charge. I’m ready! The show opens in a restaurant. A young woman is shoveling food into her face and look! Across from her is Becky Ann Baker, who played the mother from Freaks and Geeks! Back to the woman. She’s really shoveling. Her name is Hannah. I learn she has a job and she’s writing a book. As the scene plays out it is revealed she works as an unpaid intern. Her book is four essays of a memoir (she’s hoping to make it nine but she “has to live them first”) and her parents are still supporting her two years out of college. This scene is pretty funny and the acting is solid, I especially enjoyed the silent interactions between Baker and the father (Peter Scolari). What I don’t like is Hanna’s character. She is winy, spoiled and manipulative. When she learns that her parents are cutting her off financially she argues everything from, “Do you know how crazy the economy is?” to “My friend Sophie, her parents stopped supporting her, she had two abortions. Right in a row.” As she sinks her head in her hands and the music fades in it was hard for me to empathize. Maybe I’m not supposed to. This is an idea that I struggled with while watching the pilot.
To be honest, I had to watch it a second time to get over my dislike of the entitled and self-absorbed Hannah. I gave the show another shot after considering my opening paragraph. Roger Sterling and Stringer Bell are both entitled and self absorbed, so why do I have such a hard time with Hannah? I hope it has more to do with the fact that Roger and Stringer grew on me over time and not because they are men. Hence the second viewing.
The show and its characters grew on me the second time around. The performances are raw, understated, and at times bitingly hilarious. Rounding out the cast are Marnie (Allison Williams), Hannah’s straight-laced, protective roommate; Jessa (Jemima Kirke), the bohemian Brit; and the quirky, Sex and the City lovin’ Shoshanna (Zosia Mamet).The performances are so good that they are able to overcome dialogue that is at times contrived to represent Generation Y. Shoshanna`s speech about which Sex and the City character she is most like and Marnie`s explanation of how “texting is the lowest form of communication on the totem of chat” are both made bearable because of the earnest performances of the actresses. I wonder, though, how many people will be able to relate to four white woman in their 20’s, from upper to middle class families, trying to “make ends meet” in New York City?
There is much in Girls that works well. I especially enjoyed the interactions between Marnie and her overbearing boyfriend Charlie (Christopher Abbott). Besides being really funny, it was also refreshing to see exactly why the “nice guy” finishes last. Instead of blaming the female for not appreciating her mates doting and attentive nature, it provides a glimpse into how revolting that nature can be. As Charlie tries to coax Marnie’s retainer from her mouth into his bare hand he coos, “Do you have a present for me? Is that for me?”
The show and its actors are brave. That might seem like a broad cliché but I think it takes guts to introduce four female characters’ flaws first. We don’t always allow women on TV the luxury of making too many mistakes. I certainly didn’t on my first viewing. Although I didn’t find a character that I immediately connected with (Shoshanna came close but wasn’t given much to do in the pilot) contrary to my earlier statement I will keep watching. The writing is honest (most of the time), the performances are impressive, and the pilot showed glimpses that the show was more self aware then its characters.