When I sat down to write this article, it only took ten minutes of web surfing for me to realize I was completely screwed: What can I say about HBO’s new series Girls that hasn’t already been said?
The new show from Tiny Furniture writer, director, and star Lena Dunham has been lauded, labeled, and lashed out at by every major publication. The series, about four 20-something girls trying to maintain jobs and relationships in New York City, has been called “bold,” “revolutionary,” and “self-aware” by the Huffington Post and the New York Times. The Hairpin, The Faster Times, and many other web sites have justifiably targeted it for its lack of diversity. Gawker, unsurprisingly, hated it, calling it “a television program about the children of wealthy famous people and shitty music and Facebook and how hard it is to know who you are.” Internet commenters—the kindest of all critics—claim that there’s gratuitous nudity and bathroom scenes, that the characters are unlikeable, and that, as Rckstr29 says, “They don’t have to be perfect, but they don’t have to be so awful and gross either!”
Still, you see, my real problem with critiquing this show is my own objectivity, because I am 100 percent their target audience: I loved almost every line and identified with it. As far as I’m concerned, Dunham is the voice of my generation—or at least the small world that I have had access to in my 21 years. Her writing is excellent, as is her acting. She is able to deliver an artful self-parody in a few lines and then, two lines later, say something casually amazing or spot-on hilarious. To her parents, when her character Hannah is reacting to being cut off: “I could be a drug addict—do you realize how lucky you are?”
I bought Hannah, but I also bought every other character. To name a few favorites: the weirdly over-loving boyfriend, Charlie, who says things like, “I just blew up a kiss on you.” The effortlessly perfect British cousin who wears ridiculously floppy hats and has “hauntingly beautiful” skin. The annoying guy at the party (played perfectly by the talented Alex Karpovsky from Tiny Furniture), who chastises you for thinking working at McDonald’s isn’t a fantastic career choice while making opium tea. The formerly doting and presently disillusioned parents. The boss who, when hearing you’re going to quit because an unpaid internship isn’t financially feasible, says, “That’s a shame, because I was just about to have you man our Twitter.” And, of course, most poignantly, the horrible guy you’re sleeping with, who wants to pursue woodworking because it’s “honest” and compliments you with gems like, “Well, you’re not that fat anymore.”
What Rckstr29 and the rest of the Inter- net don’t seem to understand is that of course these characters aren’t going to be likeable, because the people you meet as a 20-something in New York just aren’t that likeable. Our generation—or the fragment of it that it seems Dunham is representing—is pretty unlikeable, especially those of us who reside in New York. We’re entitled and unemployed, over-educated yet under-experienced, and, just like Hannah, most of us would take the $20 our parents left for the maid if push came to shove.
Of course, the Lena Dunham backlash was inevitable because of the massive hype that surrounded the release of this television series. All it took was a few posters, South by Southwest, and Judd Apatow’s name to have the media placing the fate of feminism, our generation, and racial equality in the entertainment industry all on her 25-year-old shoulders.
Yet these expectations aren’t even the most ludicrous ones. The main thread that ties together the criticisms leveled at Girls is every writer’s claim that it’s not an accurate representation of being a 20-something New York resident—that “this isn’t my life”—which is, quite plainly, ridiculous. No one person is capable of representing everybody, and what I’m confused about is why the media seems to think Dunham has to.
Yes, there absolutely should be more diversity in her show, no question—it is a huge, inexcusable oversight, especially for a television series that takes place in New York, which is one of the most multicultural and bizarre places on the planet. Yet in recognizing this error, we must also recognize that it would be systematically impossible for Dunham to create a television show that cohesively details the experiences of every 20-something-year-old woman who lives here. What Dunham is doing is what any artist tries to do: She is communicating her experience of the world, putting it out there for others to see and sometimes—but not always—identify with.
And there are literally hundreds of television shows that do exactly the same thing. Was anyone furious that Louis communicated the divorced life of only one specific kind of comedian? Did anyone get super pissed off that The Sopranos really only limited their sphere to the New Jersey mob? Lena Dunham is showing us what she knows—and what she knows is hilarious and exactly on point for many people. As Hannah says in the season premiere, she’s not claiming to be the voice of her generation—just a voice of her generation, and that voice is pretty entertaining. For some viewers, Girls may require an unwilling suspension of disbelief, and for others it’s going to be snot-out-of-the-nose on point—but I’m positive that either way, it’s worth watching.