“Girls” captures the comedy and drama of leaving college
Published: Saturday, May 5, 2012
Updated: Saturday, May 5, 2012 10:05
Wellesley women, meet “Girls,” HBO’s new half-hour comedy that follows four twenty-something friends as they try to make it in New York City. It’s a premise that seems overdone, but “Girls” manages to bring a quirky, fresh perspective.
“Girls” pays homage to shows like “Sex and the City,” as one character, Shoshanna, watches the show frequently and compares the people she meets to hybrids of its characters. But the women are really no more than fans of the show; they are nowhere near living the sort of posh New York lives made famous by HBO’s last half-hour comedy about four girls in the city.
A primary criticism of the show is its failure to boast a diverse cast. Its four main characters are white, so any points the show makes about women seem less universal and more specific to white women. The lead actresses are all daughters of successful people in the art and entertainment industry, and creator Lena Dunham is writing about the kind of life she knows.
The main character, Hannah Horvath, has a life that would be foreign to the women of “Sex and the City.” At age 24, she’s still working as an unpaid intern at a publishing house and seeing a boyfriend who is borderline abusive. Her life is hardly the dream that people imagine coming out of college, and it’s compounded by the irony of Hannah’s parents being college professors. Her roommate Marnie has a sympathetic boyfriend and a more promising job as gallery assistant, but remains nonetheless unsatisfied. Marnie’s entitlement and controlling behavior make her bored and restless, because nothing matches the picture she had of her New York lifestyle.
As is the case with most twentysomethings, none of the characters are particularly likable. In the first episode, Hannah’s parents have finally stopped giving her money now that she is two years out of college. Her repeated pleas for them to continue financing her, in the form of $1,100 a month for two years, make her seem spoiled and unaware. In a gynecologist’s office in another episode, she declares that maybe she would like to have AIDS so that her parents would stop pressuring her to find a job. Her innocent friend Shoshanna brings sweets from Dylan’s Candy Bar to help pass the time while they wait for a friend to have an abortion. In scenes like these, the characters come off as unfunny and out of touch.
But, interestingly, this absence of likeable main characters is not an obstacle for the show and actually works to make it more compelling. It’s funny and comforting to watch Hannah’s character flaws derail her personal and professional lives.
The men aren’t portrayed favorably either. Hannah’s boyfriend Adam hits her and makes comments about her weight. Conversely, Marnie’s boyfriend Charlie seems content to be her doormat, by holding her retainer in the morning and promising to be whoever she wants him to be. But while the men are disappointing, the women can find support in one another.
A number of the issues that “Girls” presents hit close to home for college students as the characters are only in their early- to mid-twenties. Their problems echo a lot of the concerns that many students have about life after graduation. For example, Hannah quits her unpaid internship when her boss refuses to move her up to a paid staff position after a year of working for the company. She and her boyfriend discuss the challenges of finding suitable careers with their English and Comparative Literature degrees. Another character complains about his high student debt. Mixed in with the comedy of this show are real references to the difficulties that young people face as they leave college and try to find good jobs in big cities.
It’s also a statement of the times. College is becoming less and less a guarantee of a stable job after graduation, especially for humanities majors—and that’s what Hannah and her friends are realizing. Hannah, for one, discovers that she can’t afford food and an apartment while working for no pay and penning her memoirs on the side.
Dunham, the creator, writer and producer of “Girls,” also stars as Hannah. It’s likely that much of Hannah’s desire to write a memoir stems from Dunham’s own experiences as a struggling screenwriter. But while Hannah might fall short of being, as she says, “the voice of [her] generation, or at least a voice of a generation,” Dunham very well could be. “Girls” tackles big issues facing young women from a raw, comical perspective.