Keep it Reel: "Where the Girls are"

By Caroline Nelson ‘16Film Columnist

Along with the start of a new year, we have the start of a new season of “Girls,” HBO’s controversial hit series.

The first season of “Girls” made a big splash, sparking debates about diversity, privilege, women on television, and the current crop of unemployed twenty-somethings. This is because it mainly centers on the exploits of white, privileged women who complain about their “First World problems.”

Though unsuccessful at the Emmys, it cleaned up nicely at the Golden Globes, beating out such favorites as “Modern Family” and Julia Louis-Dreyfus for comedy show and lead actress respectively.

It also has the distinction of being one of the most polarizing programs on a network that consistently brings its viewers graphic violence, graphic sex, and more swearing than thought humanly possible.

HBO rather unwisely has been marketing the show as some kind of Generation Y manifesto, when really it is an often funny—and often rather nasty— examination of the titular foursome. In one trailer main character Hannah claims to be the voice of her generation; this led many people to believe that the show intends that to be taken literally. But I think that this misperception is indicative of the way people see the show. In the actual episode, Hannah’s grandiose statement about her writing is presented as a joke, symptomatic of her self-centeredness and delusions regarding her talent. In the same vein, the show is not just one that showcases privilege but also examines the kinds of people privilege creates.

The truth is that Hannah is better understood when compared to the violent male anti-heroes that populate her network, rather than the leads of “Sex and the City” or “Entourage.” Whereas those characters invite the viewer to identify with them and so become vicariously glamorous Manhattanites or movie stars, “Girls” shows you a group of very unsympathetic people and forces us to acknowledge our similarities with them. HBO is a network that thrives on making people uncomfortable, whether it be through staunchly realistic violence, unglamorous and unpleasant sex, constant profanity, or cynical takes on how society is run. On the surface “Girls” has little in common with shows like “The Sopranos” or “Deadwood,” as it lacks an epic scale or a high death toll. Part of this is because the focus is pretty microscopic: the four girls, a couple boyfriends, and an occasional parent or friend comprise the cast.

The other reason for the controversy is that “Girls” is allegedly a comedy. I say “allegedly” not because it isn’t funny (in fact, it’s very funny), but because the series is really more of a character study and because it is frequently either so realistic or the characters are so frustrating that you don’t feel like laughing. Like some of HBO’s other shows, “Girls” offers a naturalistic portrayal of the awkward and the disgusting and holds out the tantalizing prospect that its characters might grow and change.

The first few episodes of season two are heading in the right direction. Donald Glover showed up to provide some much needed reality checks and managed to overcome blatant tokenism by being more interesting than many of the regulars. Unfortunately, he has since disappeared. The dialogue is still funny and well observed, but the tone is becoming a little more uneven. All the leads are trying new things and still in the process of figuring themselves out. Because of this, I am still holding out hope for them and for the rest of this season.