Since Tiny Furniture has been streaming on Netflix, people have been abuzz about Lena Dunham’s new HBO series “Girls”, which finally aired last night. I don’t recall another show getting this quality amount of attention -- probably because this kind of shameless sincerity from a female is overdue for an audience that spends most of their time watching user-generated content from the people they know. An audience that has their own DSLR, showcases their own cinematic occasions on Flickr, and possesses an unfiltered voice on Twitter is subconsciously expecting a more honest world. The realities of the other shows which paraded the same print marketing propaganda, starring supposedly-shameless women like “Whitney” and “Don’t Trust the B---- in Apartment 23”, seem mind-numbingly outdated.
Lena Dunham’s success is therefore a tribute to our culture as it stands now: One Important Film + Zeitgeist-y Twitter Feed + self-imposed voice of a generation = Voice of the Generation. A generation of twenty-somethings inarguably dependent in one way or another on their parents. Lena plays Hannah, a character similar to Tiny Furniture's Aura, analogous to herself and more needy than most.
In the opening seen -- as in, “we've seen it a hundred times in the trailer” -- Hannah goes to dinner with her parents, played by “Freaks and Geeks’” Becky Ann Baker and the-other-Bosom-Buddy Peter Scolari. They break it to her they are cutting her off at the tender age of twenty-four. Outraged, she explains that they just don’t understand how lucky they are she is not on drugs or like a friend that had two abortions right in a row. To which her mother replies, “What does that have to do with anything?” A response that emphasizes how this conversation would make absolutely no sense on television only a short generation ago.
Hannah follows with a conversation with her boss, a publisher played by Chris Eigeman, where she demands to be paid at her internship and he promptly fires her on the spot. It’s hard to look at him in this scene without considering he’s a bitter, grown-up version of the über-pretentious Nick Smith he portrayed in Whit Stillman’s Metropolitan (1990). The over-educated, gloomy, tuxedo-sporting class sketched by Whit (a filmmaker who Lena claims to be inspired by) echoes in this pilot about white privileged kids and verifies post-Occupying that it will never truly exist again.
Marnie (played by Brian Williams daughter and singer, Allison Williams) and Hannah wake up in the same bed and remain at each other's side as Hannah bathes in the bathroom. I was happy to see this wasn’t just an unhealthy convention of my own co-dependent friends who share everything down to underwear, complete with self-inflicted boy troubles. Their bathroom session is interrupted by Charlie (Chris Abbot), the boyfriend Marnie has grown tired of, whose touch has started to feel like that of a "weird uncle."
Hannah, after suffering the humiliation of being fired at a place where she worked for free, shows up to seek approval from Adam (Adam Driver), a guy who won’t text her back, leave his sofa, use a condom or implement any foreplay unless that is what he is mistaking for his demeaning dirty talk. She bares her butt to him in the same downward dog position Lena did in Tiny Furniture, in a scene that could only be described by girls as tartingly (I swear my Jessa-like friend made that word up). There was much ado about this pitiful scene last night, and virtually none about the idealistic sex scenes on every other premium channel show, which is what makes “Girls” so important. Together Hannah and Marnie communicate a portrayal of how awkward and truly alienating sex is, slightly more savory than Rosemary’s Baby (1968).
Enter Hannah’s friend, Jessa, an artist returning from a stint in Europe (Jemima Kirke). She is virtually the same character she played in Tiny Furniture, who arrives in New York to stay with her cousin Shoshanna (Zosia Mamet). Shoshanna lays the foundation for this post-”Sex in the City” world by telling Jessa she is definitely the Carrie, but sometimes Samantha and with Charlotte hair. A well-known and humiliating standard observation women make regarding this “Girls” ancestor, but not wholly original to the show.
Women have been labeling their friends by their filmic counterpart long before even the Spice Girls, as recorded when Romy and Michelle scream at each other “I’M the Mary and YOU’RE the Rhoda!” To characterize these girls is probably more of a Now and Then (1995) cast making Hannah the Roberta, Jessa the Teeny, Shoshanna the obvious Chrissy, and Marnie the Samantha (Albertson), with all of them grabbing the remote to pause on the part where you see Devon Sawa’s junk. Reducing your friends to a character is something us gals did with every movie from Clueless (also 1995) down to ‘I’m the Noxeema, you’re the Vida” in To Wong Foo, Thanks For Everything, Julie Newmar (1995, what a great year!). Actually, that last one I’m not sure was universal. But these are precisely the things I will watch “Girls” to find out for myself.
The girls get together at Marnie’s dinner party, with Charlie and Alex Karpovsky (a character who’s name I don’t remember, because I have seen him play ‘this guy’ in every movie this year besides Codependent Lesbian Space Alien Seeks Same (2011)). Alex brings opium tea, which Hannah drinks to forget about her terrible, horrible, no-good very-bad day and because it tastes like ‘Twix’ -- but she heard wrong, it tastes like ‘twigs’ so she spits it up before drinking it again.
Jessa and Marnie then become the respective unqualified Devil and Angel on her shoulder giving her advice on her life. Jessa wins out, as Hannah decides to go to her parents' hotel room to convince them to provide her with a laughable $1100 a month and provides the four crumply beginning pages of her book to prove their investment. She tells them she if she's not the voice of our generation, then surely she's “A voice of A generation.” And as ridiculous as it sounds, the equation in the first paragraph of this article would prove her calculations on returning her parents’ investment to be exactly right.
Only now could this much ride on a thirty minute comedy by a twenty-five-year-old auteur, who frankly hasn’t done very much. My friends won’t continue to get to a TV set with HBO because the pilot episode was so good, but because it certainly will be once we see something other than all we have seen in the trailer. This is after they have already faded the sounds MGMT into Feist in one episode, or in TV-speak, once she GETS OFF THE FARM.
I personally will continue to watch because I’m a fan of Lena’s writing, those nuggets of insight similar to the best things my own friends say like, “Yet another day begins with me thinking about the smug face Mark Wahlberg makes while fingering Witherspoon on the roller coaster in Fear” - Lena Dunham, (@lenadunham) 11:16 AM - 31 Aug 11 via Twitter for iPhone (In light of this digital culture, http://www.easybib.com/ is going to have to include how to properly site a tweet).
Complaints about the show mostly focus on how it’s a bunch of white girls whining about white girl problems. Nobody seemed to feel so much revulsion towards the cast of “Gossip Girl,” or more importantly “Entourage.” Towards the end of the episode, Jessa casually confides to Marnie in the bathroom that she’s pregnant, a conversation essential to see as typical in a bathroom in this backwards political climate where the GOP pretends this it’s not happening all the time.
The backlash to the show reminds me of my college Women in Film class, where everyone ragged on Spike Lee for not representing women and gays in the same light that he brought African-American culture to the silver screen. I don’t see anyone making it Michael Bay’s responsibility. Lena is an upper-class white girl, with only white friends with a traditionally undesirable body and a humiliating sex life -- and that’s all we can expect from her, because she is just trying to tell you the truth.