Crying, shouting at the screen, screaming in fear. These reactions are evidence of becoming totally immersed in a TV show. When a TV show can affect you so much that it moves you to tears, or any other visceral emotion, that must truly be the pinnacle of achievement. With HBO’s Girls, I find myself emoting so strongly towards the characters with complete and utter hatred, and I can’t work out if that is a good thing.
Girls, from writer and actor Lena Dunham, is a half hour HBO comedy which follows neurotic aspiring writer Hannah, played by Dunham, and her three female friends as they traverse the difficulties of life and relationships in New York City. Yes, it does have the ring of Sex and the City to it, but that show’s perceptive and overly self-aware discussions of the life, love and sex of thirty-somethings fearing onrushing middle age are instead replaced by perceptive and overly self-aware discussions of the life, love and sex of twenty-somethings fearing their new found adulthood.
The show is disgustingly hip and fresh, to use outdated terms to describe how modern the show is, from its warehouse parties and hipster boyfriends’ bands to its indie soundtrack. It’s a realistic representation of the modern day twenty-something fresh out of college or university trying to come to terms with life in the real world – the dialogue is spot on with the characters all neurotically obsessed with how their lives that may not be exactly what they hoped they would be, Lena Dunham builds some interesting characters with real depth, unlike the two-dimensional girls that populate most of the shows on television, and it’s muted cinematography and stand-out direction allow it to have moments of being one of the best new shows on TV. There are also, however, moments where all realism is left far, far behind, from Hannah propositioning her handsy boss and then threatening to sue him when he turns her down, to getting back with a boyfriend who didn’t know they were dating, who enjoys trying to get them to have anal sex and masturbating in front of her. These characters are not you or your friends. They’re similar and you may at first see some echoes of yourself that you can empathise with, but you’ll soon realise these are warped reflections that devolve quickly into exaggerated caricatures of some of our worst behaviour. The endless amount of conceited words out of their mouths have made me so mad, I’ve frequently shouted at the screen; dirty, despicable things that make me ashamed of myself.
It may be realistic to an extent – the fact is that we are all crazy, as people and as a society. We are all neurotic and slightly schizophrenic with our petty judgements, talking behind each other’s backs, bitching and moaning about other people – it’s what makes life bearable, so in that respect Girls is truly fantastic, maybe more accurate than anything that has been on TV. It has in some ways made me more animated than I can ever remember being while watching a TV show, but the characters often drift too far into moments of absurdity. Dunham takes Hannah too far into her narcissistic obsession with getting life experience to use for her writing, which means that when it comes to the monologues and the arguments and the emotionally charged character-defining moments, no matter how well written they are or how impeccably directed, I just don’t care. The characters are too far gone into batshit crazy for me to care about their revelations. They’ve stepped too far into It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia territory, where the characters are so disgusting, so reprehensible that we’re transfixed by what they’re going to do next. They are truly horrible human beings who only get worse, but what they don’t do is suddenly ask us to care about how their self-obsessions affect their romantic lives.
Maybe it’s because I’m a guy trying to watch a show called Girls, but at the end of the day, for all the shouting at the screen and how animated each episode makes me, I don’t want to watch the next season.