I don’t want to freak you out, but I think that I may be the voice of my generation. Or at least a voice. Of a generation. – Hannah, Girls.
I am 24 years old, almost 3 years out of college, an aspiring writer and I live in New York City. In other words, I have a great deal in common with Hannah (Lena Dunham), the main character on the new HBO series Girls.
I’m not her exact twin (I’m pretty much financially independent, for one, and hopefully a little less entitled), but there’s enough similarity that I don’t find it particularly difficult to relate to Girls, to the feeling that you’re not really sure where you’re headed, or if you’re doing what you need to be doing to get to where you’re headed or where you want to be headed. After growing up hearing we could be anything and do anything, so long as we set our mind to it, we early-to-mid-twenty-somethings graduated from college at pretty much the worst possible time, and struck out into the world with, yes, a certain amount of entitlement. And the world didn’t exactly follow through for most of us. So maybe I went into Girls tonight with a bit of a bias, maybe to some extent I enjoyed it because I saw myself on the screen, but I don’t think that’s all there is to it.
Girls is funny. It’s really funny. But it’s not funny the way that 30 Rock or Community or New Girl or pretty much any other sitcom is funny. This show isn’t all cut-away gags and physical comedy (there is some physical comedy). This show is funny the way your friends are funny. Your especially sharp and insightful friends, but still–it’s funny the way people you actually know are funny.
It’s also a little tragic. Hannah’s broke. She’s not directionless–she knows she wants to be a memoirist, and she’s actually written about half of that memoir–but she’s not exactly together either. She’s financially dependent on parents that cut her off in the pilot’s opening scene, pursuing a relationship with a guy who won’t respond to a text message and barely offers her a seat in his apartment (“I wouldn’t take shit from my parents, they’re buffoons, but my grandma gives me $800 a month,” he says, and that pretty much tells you what you need to know), and she’s just quit/been fired from her internship because she lacks the special skills that would turn it into a paying job. Meanwhile her best friend and roommate, Marnie (Allison Williams), is dating the perfect guy, but she kind of can’t stand him, and their free-spirited friend Jessa (Jemima Kirke) has just returned pregnant from adventuring through Europe.
Lena Dunham, who is 25 and also the creator, writer and director of the show, is outstandingly fearless. She’s beautiful, but she doesn’t look like your typical TV star, and she frequently puts herself in front of the camera in less-than-flattering lights, whether that’s hanging naked out of a bathtub to eat a cupcake or wearing clothes that don’t quite fit. She’s been compared a lot to Louis C.K. and I’d say that’s apt, and not just for the level of creative control she has taken over the series (C.K. is the writer, director, star and, until recently, editor of Louie). Girls and Louie are both somewhat bleak and very funny, and they’re both informed by their setting (the fact that these series take place in New York is important), but they’re very different shows–Louie is essentially a series of vignettes, sliding up and down the scale of realism, about the life of a forty-something comedian and single dad, while Girls is (probably, at least from what I’ve seen so far) a bit more grounded, and centers around a group of friends who haven’t figured out how to be much of anything quite yet.
A lot of comparisons have also been drawn to another HBO series about four women in New York City. Girls is not Sex and the City for Millennials, but it couldn’t exist without Sex and the City, which, even for those of us who weren’t ever really fans, has played such a role in the girl-in-the-city culture that it can’t be ignored. Girls even acknowledges the debt with the character of Shoshanna (Zosia Mamet), who is barely introduced before she shares that she’s a Carrie, but sometimes the part of her that’s more of a Samantha comes out to play (and she tries to wear her “Miranda hat” at school). It’s not too difficult to imagine that one day the girls of Girls will be used as similar markers of personality.
And from what I’ve seen so far? Well, I’m a Hannah…with a bit of Shoshanna mixed in.