I don’t normally write reviews, but since I tend to write about women’s issues sometimes I felt compelled after seeing the highly anticipated “Girls“
HBO decided to green light a new program starring written and directed by a 25-year-old woman, Lena Dunham, called “Girls” I think that might be too much to expect from a 25-year-old, despite her exclusive and expensive education at St. Ann’s in New York and Oberlin. There is no substitute for life after all and most 25-year-old simply haven’t lived enough of it to fully understand its many complexities. Reviews of the show have been glowing to scathing, and several writers have gotten worked up over the awkward and depressing sex scene in the pilot.
It breaks my heart to say it, as I should be championing a show written and created by a woman especially one that produced and set in Brooklyn. However the show made my skin crawl. I don’t think I am its intended audience as I am nearly 15 years older than the main character. But I am a single woman struggling to make it in New York, why do I hate it so much? I guess because the lead character comes across as an entitled whiny brat completely dependent on her parent’s allowance. When her parents cut her off abruptly she flips out, quits her unpaid internship and ends up high on opium pod tea. Her roommate complains of a boyfriend that is “too nice” and her roommate’s visiting relative from England discovers she is pregnant.
I do not come from a privileged background not even close, so I guess it might be why I can’t relate to these characters. Not only is the creator, Lena Dunham from a certain level of privilege but one of her co-stars is the daughter of NBC reporter Brian Williams. So two privileged girls created their little slice of New York that only they might find interesting. I would love to see reviews of this show written by poor struggling New Yorkers, not well off reporters. I didn’t find these characters sympathetic at all. Dealing with real adversity actually makes people more interesting, and the obstacles these women are up against don’t seem that insurmountable. I don’t think the creator of this program has experienced much outside of her privileged sheltered upbringing. For example the roommate that complains about the boyfriend who is too nice, and has a proverbial vagina…comes across as completely unlikable. What does she expect? And how frequently is this really a problem for young women, especially in New York? I have heard tales of both men and women treating each other horribly, not being too sweet or too nice. Hook-ups, one night stands, sexually transmitted diseases and rude texts and emails are the norm, not overly dotting super committed boyfriends, especially at that young age. I know a lot of women much younger than myself and I don’t think any of them has the “boyfriend that is just too nice problem”. Not one in fact.
The apartment they live in looks to be in the Park Slope neighborhood of Brooklyn which is actually quite posh. Their place is huge and for the most part well furnished. The rent is unbelievably low at $2100 a month as it appears to have at least three bedrooms. The furniture is beat up, cheap and secondhand…but at least they have furniture. When I was just out of college in Chicago I slept on the floor because I couldn’t afford a bed, and I have met several New Yorkers who have little more than a mattress, yet these women have large and comfy queens with bed frames, matching bedspreads and cute little lamps, even framed art on the walls. The characters are also obsessed with the television series “Sex in the City“ which is to be expected as the whole endeavor appears to be some type of younger homage to the characters. I want to inform them that “Sex in the City” is more myth than reality as most single women in New York spend the majority of their time working, the rest alone. We can’t afford weekly brunches, constant lunches out, trips to the Hamptons and $400 shoes. And even the characters on “Sex in the City” saw themselves as fully flawed people, not as perpetual victims.
When the lead character quits her unpaid internship she protests about another intern who was then hired as a paid employee. Her boss responds that the former intern turned employee knows Photoshop. Most enterprising young women would then, try to learn Photoshop or other advanced software to better their chances in the highly competitive workplace. Instead the lead character wanders off defeated. As a person who taught myself numerous software programs and how to type after college, how to build a website, and various other office skills, I just felt like sitting down with this young woman and giving her a lecture on growing up. Then there is that sex scene that everyone is worked up about. The way her boyfriend treats her and their awkward sex scene is just flat-out depressing. He is disrespectful and cruel yet she doesn’t seem to notice and puts up with his poor behavior.
What drives this young woman? She is trying to publish her memoir, that is the memoir of a 25-year-old woman. Not a 25-year-old who got back from the Peace Corps, or volunteered with orphans in Africa, is a cancer survivor, traveled around the world, or is recovering from working as a street-walker or high paid escort. No, just a 25-year-old that went to a prestigious prep school, elitist college and worked as an unpaid intern. I can’t imagine no matter how skilled a writer that the fictional memoir would be all that interesting. I know we all think we are fascinating when we are 25 but we are really just pups waiting for life to knock us around a bit and make us into more complicated adults. Unless of course we are truly exceptional in our early twenties, but most of us aren’t. I think I might have more sympathy if she was writing a novel, historical fiction or even poetry something less self-obsessed.
Of course there are some issues that do face young adults are addressed in this show, overwhelming student debt, a poor job market, exploitative internships and complicated dating lives. But I can’t help but grabbing the lead character by both shoulders and say…
Try being a kid who couldn’t afford to even work at an unpaid internship because their parents couldn’t afford to subsidize them – then try to apply for jobs that require intern experience. Try having to suck it up and take any job, even jobs you don’t want but you know you need to pay your rent. Try living in a crappy neighborhood in a barely furnished hell hole with broken plumbing and spotty electricity. Try living next door to a drug dealer. Try living without health insurance for years because you simply can’t afford the coverage. Try being the kid with a high GPA from a state college who has to compete with graduates from Oberlin whose parents subsidize them. Try having your phone shut off or not being able to pay your rent because you are working but not making enough. Try living next to neighbors who can’t stop fighting morning, noon and night. Try almost getting mugged in your elevator or grabbed on the street.
Would a truly realistic portrayal of young artists trying to make it in New York be a watchable program? Perhaps? I don’t know. But let’s not create a fake harshness and call it compelling. When entitled wealthy young women make art, this is what we get. The day mommy and daddy finally cut you off, should be the first day of the rest of your life, not the end of it. If Dunham is the “voice of her generation” I shudder for our nation. If we have managed to produce a bunch of helpless, entitled whining self-obsessed dolts we really are in trouble. Eating cupcakes in the bathtub of a huge apartment in Park Slope is not struggling. Just stop by a trailer park in Missouri or a housing project in the Bronx if you want to see a real young woman fighting against the odds.
I really wanted to like this show, I really did…but I hated it. Here is a link to the pilot episode, maybe you will love it and if you do, it’s all good. We don’t have to agree upon everything, and again I don’t think I am the intended audience for the show. I am sure there are many 25-year-old women who would hate the brilliant, nuanced, dark and surreal dramatic/comedy about a divorced man in his early forties “Louie” which is one of my favorites. But then I am a 39-year-old divorcee who has been to hell and back, so “Louie” speaks to me in ways they would never understand.