I’ve had a week to ponder this, but I think I’m finally ready to articulate why I don’t like HBO’s new show GIRLS without resorting to “the creator is 25 years old and she’s exec producing a show on HBO about struggling writers, so gtfo,” which was my initial reaction. But I watched it. And I thought about it. And I internalized it. And… I was not impressed. Here’s why:
– Lena Dunham’s performance was monotone and flat. In my mind her acting is indistinguishable from her role as Hannah (in Girls), her role as Aura (in her feature debut Tiny Furniture) and Lena Dunham herself in interviews. Even Kristin Stewart manages to break a smile in her interviews, proving that she’s more than the one-trick pony we see in Twilight and that she is, at the very least, acting like she’s taking on the role of a character.
I know that’s probably the point, because both Girls and Tiny Furniture seem to belong to this new, hipster aesthetic of film and TV directed towards middle class post-grad white kids with liberal arts degrees in English or Communications or Film or Television. (I know I just described myself, but I am not loving the smugness perpetrated by the new aesthetic). This brings me to my second point:
– As a character, Hannah is a spoiled, unlikable, insecure, childish adult. This, arguably, makes her a very realistic character. But come on. If we watched TV for realism then Gossip Girl would have been cancelled after three episodes. What I’ve learned from my many, many years watching television is that you have to pick your flaws. Too few and you have a Mary Sue. Too many, and you have someone who uncomfortably reflects the flaws of your viewer back onto them. This is fine in a film, but if you want the audience to tune in week after week to watch a protagonist, you don’t want her to remind the audience how selfish they are, how spoiled they can be, how desperately they’re trying to stave off growing up.
In short: we’re supposed to want to root for Hannah. And I did, half-heartedly, until she asked her parents for $1,100 a month for two more years so she could finish her book. Let me do the math for you: in the pilot, Hannah is 24 years old, she’s been out of school for two years, during which time her parents have supported her 100%. Honestly? More power to Hannah and her parents. I’m in the same situation, except I’m a year younger and a year newer to post-grad life.
But Hannah had some steel ovaries to ask her parents to support her for two more years (until she’s effectively been out of college for as long as she’s spent in it), and then spin it like “but that’s, like, a sacrifice for me. Do you know how expensive Manhattan is?” instead of a) finding a 9-5 job or b) working at, GASP, McDonalds.
It was precisely at this point in the episode that I stopped liking Hannah as a human being, let alone actively rooting for her. This was exacerbated by the scene when she wakes up in her parents hotel room and her very first course of action is to try to order room service on their credit card.
The supporting characters were cutely flawed, and the acting was a lot more nuanced than the performance Dunham gave. Hannah’s best friend Marnie was kind of an up-tight bitch, but her love and support of Hannah made all her bad qualities fade in to the distance. Jessa was flighty, but the vulnerability she showed when she confided the news of her pregnancy in Marnie (who she hates), went a long way to establishing her as a real character, not just a World-Traveling Free Spirit.
Honestly, Hannah was the only thing I didn’t like about the show. I’m in the far minority, because GIRLS has received almost universal acclaim. Perhaps I expect too much wish-fulfillment from television. Perhaps I hate Hannah because deep in my heart I can relate to her body issues, her confusing attraction to assholes, the doubts she harbors about her ability to function as an adult in the 21st century. Because if there’s one thing we can all agree on, it’s that Hannah is not a positive person to relate to.
And yet, despite it all, I’ll be back tomorrow to watch episode two. Because I want to know what happens to Jessa and her pregnancy, I want to know whether Marnie decides to stay with the boyfriend she’s stopped loving and yes, I kind of want to know what happens to Hannah, even though I hate her as a character.
(This is not meant to bring down Lena Dunham as an artist, because her writing was very witty and clever, and she does deserve props for being able to pull off an HBO show at the age of 26.)