The Problem With Girls

I have an opinion about the new HBO show Girls: it’s awful.

I watched the show’s pilot, and I wish the 25 minutes I spent watching would be the last seconds of my life I wasted on it. Yet, here I am writing about the unbearable nonsense spewed by a 25-year-old thrust up the generational totem pole by Judd Apatow.

Plenty of critics and people who visited Austin last month have been talking about this show. Opinions have been decidedly mixed but mostly positive. Alan Sepinwall liked it. Maybe, these people being professional television critics, they are smarter than I am.

As a 23-year-old Person in the Target Market, however, I do not get it. I’ve read the countless stories and reviews of the show that have come out over the last month. I digested a nice feature written by an Oberlin College graduate about an Oberlin College graduate and wanted to give it a chance. Despite a bad review or two, I was ready to give it a shot.

The nepotism involved in the show isn’t nearly as offensive as its execution. People who know people get jobs, both in Hollywood and at your local Subway. I’d imagine HBO pays a bit better, though.

I admit that Girls looks and acts differently than other shows currently on television. We seem to assume that’s a good thing. When ‘television’ comes to mind, we think bad reality shows and 24-hour network news. Also existing on television? Shows like Mad Men and Breaking Bad. Good television already exists. It’s okay to act like that sometimes, too.

Sometimes different is bad, like it is here.

I have plenty of criticisms for the show. But, here are the two big things I haven’t seen much ink on just yet:

1) Young writers have a terrible habit of making everyone older than them hopelessly stupid and out of touch. In every scene with ‘old people’ in it, the twenty-something is the smartest person in the room. Parents just don’t understand, man.

In the Girls pilot, Hannah’s parents argue about cutting her off financially and debate parenting styles while their daughter lays on the ground in an opium tea-induced haze. It’s supposed to be funny and ironic, but it’s as entertaining as two scarecrows staring at one another in the rain. Sure, Hannah’s worldview is absurd, but she has silly such parents! Don’t we all? It’s their fault when offspring just can’t find its way!

Lots of shows are out of touch in this regard. The daughter on American Horror Story was always brilliant and biting compared to her painfully conflicted parents, even when she was dead under the floorboards. This is because Ryan Murphy is essentially a 14-year-old girl.

This narrative works for some people, but I think it creates a movement that is so contrived it hurts the show’s value. You make the show’s emotional direction so obvious, it stays a one-way street forever.

I’ve always liked what Breaking Bad costume designer Kathleen Detoro said about creating characters. When designing outfits for the show, she said it was important to make every character your favorite, that way every decision is given equal weight. I think that’s why that show has such depth. Everything is there for a reason, and nothing is made of straw.

2) There are two minority characters that show up in the pilot. The first is a thin, Apple-using Asian girl. She was hired by the publishing company Hannah interns at because “she knows Photoshop.” In her only line, she tells the viewer she likes Luna Bars, Smart Water and Life Water. All at once.

The second is a loitering African American man who appears at the end of the episode and says to Hannah, unsolicited, “Why don’t you smile? Does your heart hurt? Oh girl when I look at you I just want to say Hello New York!”

The magical black man routine is nothing new. Maybe it was done intentionally, the way ironic people wear dumb t-shirts to be ironic. But in the pilot, this is the only true context given to the streets of New York City. Really? It’s such a tired stereotype, a cartoon on MTV made fun of it in 2003.

It’s only one episode of a show with a predominately white cast, which I suppose was kind of the point. Perhaps the pilot was so stuffed with details about the main characters that there was no time for ancillary development or background depth. That’s fair, but I think the racial shortcomings are symptomatic of the show’s flawed perspective.

Girls is so laser-focused on a particular brand of existence that there’s no room for anything outside of its own skull. If you’re not already there, it has little to offer you or I. That’s disappointing, to say the least. For Dunham to be compared to John Cheever at this point feels ridiculous.

Read The Enormous Radio on Sunday nights instead. It’s a better use of a half-hour.