25/01/2015

I Love Girls, But it's Just Not Realistic



Girls is one of my favorite TV shows. It's spontaneous, well-written and two episodes in a go is nowhere near enough - I wish it could just go on, like  one of those annoyingly long movies, but one that you actually want to watch. I find Lena Dunham to be one of the very few truly genius people that currently occupy our cultural landscape. Her book Not That Kind of Girl was clever, honest, irreverent and masterfully written.

Even so, I have a problem with the way this show is marketed. At the time of the hype for season one, I remember it being advertised as "the realistic version of Sex and the City" and yes, it does have some things in common with our favourite glamorous quartet - the show's about a writer chick and her three BFFs living in New York City. But the "realistic" part is, as far as I'm concerned, completely taken out of thin air.




The only realistic part of this show is that no one is skinny and glamorous. All the characters in Girls look like normal people. Except Jessa, who's played by the most beautiful actress I've ever seen. Her character is also impossibly chic, in her own boho-rebel way. But if you think about it, the characters of Sex and the City weren't supermodels either. Samantha and Charlotte were beautiful of course, but don't we all have a gorgeous friend? I do, and more than one. Miranda and Carrie were fairly average-looking. Carrie was incredibly stylish, of course, but there's nothing unrealistic about that (if you discount her wild spending on a journalist's meagre wages). The men in Sex and the City were very rarely perfect tens - they were all middle-aged and personally I found only Smith Jerrod to be above average, and Aiden to be really good-looking in a normal-guy way. Girls' Desi is, in my opinion, ten times hotter than Mr Big. But that's just my personal opinion.

The actors' physical appearances aside, there is nothing about Girls that makes it more realistic than, say, How I Met Your Mother, Big Bang Theory or yes, Sex and the City. And I am not referring to Hannah's weekend affair with Joshua, who was, in my mind, no more good-looking than Adam (I love Adam) and I find it completely plausible that he would find Hannah attractive.

What I mean is that, despite the show being marketed as "the real person's NYC perspective", these characters are all extremely privileged. Their parents pay for everything, including huge flats that they share with only their best friend and not five smelly strangers, amazing jobs just fall in their laps and they always have friends to call (or friends who just show up at their door!) when they're depressed. Guys are always interested in them and when they are bored they somehow can always afford to go to a club and get drunk. Realistic, my behind.

Hannah is, perhaps, the least realistic Girls character. The only thing about her that, I suppose, is meant to be authentic is that she's not skinny. I did applaud the plot in season one where she was cut off by her parents and had to work in a coffee house to pay her rent. Finally, I thought, a TV show that depicts the actual trials of a young writer, as opposed to one who can mysteriously afford new Manolos every two episodes. But then something happened. Out of nowhere Hannah got a book deal. Don't we all, at 24, as struggling writers. I don't think I was the only one annoyed at the ease with which that happened. Of course the deal falls through (realistic: check), but then she goes and gets a damn job at GQ. Where she does nothing but complain. Any other young writer given a chance to prove their worth in a national magazine would have been jumping for joy. But not Ms. Horvath, who, in a very entertaining scene, walks out on the Miranda-Priestley-move-over editor played rather flawlessly by Jenna Lyons, because she's creatively frustrated. Real writers deal with their creative frustrations by penning away into the night and slugging at a day job from Mon to Fri. Because, you know, we have rent. In the second episode of season four, Hannah moves to Iowa, where she can, as a grad student, afford a $800 flat. I couldn't pay 800€ rent until I had a full-time job, and even then I struggled. I'd love a TV portrayal of young people whose parents can't, or don't want to, pay for their every whim.

Adam, my hands-down favourite character on the show, is a "struggling" actor. Who gets a Broadway gig in season three and a national commercial in season four. Hello realism. But, I have to say, when Adam's unhappy about his acting career, he does come across as authentically frustrated, whereas Hannah's constant whining about her writing just seems entitled.

The female characters are almost impossibly stereotyped: perfect Marnie with her perfect boyfriend, who's way too perfect to admit she's attracted to not-so-perfect Ray. Shoshanna who's practically the poster girl for "virginal and inexperienced".  And my other favourite character on the show, the brilliant Jessa, who is also stereotyped in her own way: the flaky hippie with the enviable looks, jet-set life and big-shot boyfriends, who obviously has to be a bitch. Because people can't be both interesting and nice.

The element of bitchiness is much more central to the plot of Girls than it is to that of Sex and the City: on no other show in the history of television have I ever witnessed female characters fight this much. To put that into the ever-present "realistic" angle, I can't remember the last time I had a fight with a friend. Female friendships are not all as continuously catty and full of conflict as this show makes them out to be. Hannah's constant falling-outs with Marnie and, well, everyone feed a stereotype that says women are, generally, more frenemies than friends. Which I think we can all agree is bullshit.

Plus, well, I have never lived in NYC so I have no idea. But I find it hard to believe that absolutely everyone is a quirkily dressed hipster with a name like "Clementine" who does nothing but hang around "cool" warehouse parties any given night of the week, when they're not felt up by their boss and acting completely okay with it. And what the hell is a "jazz brunch" and what 20-somethings would actually go to one? Normal, Zara-wearing people going to a simple coffee house to have a regular freaking cappuccino is apparently untrendy. Frankly, I found Sex and the City's glitzy-glam portrayal of NYC more enticing and less pretentious.

After all these observations, it might be easy to think that I don't like Girls. That couldn't be more wrong, I repeat that I absolutely love this show: it's unusual, it's entertaining, the plotlines all have unexpected twists (Jessa getting married?) and it's brutally honest about certain things, like sex and job interviews. Some of the characters are very finely elaborated in a way that keeps me hooked, like Adam and Elijah. But I think Girls would benefit a lot from being advertised for what it is: a fiction show about trendy, privileged young people in New York. A hipster version of Gossip Girl, if you will.

If you want a somewhat realistic portrayal of female friends in NYC, take a look at 2 Broke Girls. Over-the-top and snort-out-loud hilarious, yes. But also in touch with the actual ups and downs of starting a business: a long, hard slug, no one getting a book deal, then things go well, then they crash. As they do in real life. The two unlikely best friends in 2 Broke Girls still work as waitresses, plus other jobs, while pursuing their dream. And one of the two main characters, Caroline, wore the same outfit all through season one, as a testament to her pennilessness. That's realistic for ya.


Picture from Pinterest

3 comments:

  1. avevo letto qualche articolo di girls, prima della sua messa in onda, e probabilmente mi ero creata aspettative che poi non ho visto nella serie e non sono mai arrivata in fondo ad un episodio! Invece 2broke girls l'ho trovato molto carino!

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  2. " A hipster version of Gossip Girl, if you will." Yes! A hipster and perhaps slightly more mature version of GG! I'm totally on the same page as you though. Nice, entertaining show, but to say it's about "real" people is just stupid.

    Nice read btw, as usual!

    xoxo

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  3. Hmm, interesting review :) On the other hand, I know more than one "struggling , penniless artist whose parents cash for 800€ apartments. But definitely, I understand where your frustration comes from. Regardless of who's paying the brunch bills, what I like of Girls (which has lots of ups and downs imho) is how well it captures tha feeling of struggling and constantly bouncing into walls that.You know, a 'random step in a series of random steps.
    I agree Jessa and Adam are Elijah are the more interesting, subtle charactere. More of them, please :)

    M

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