In Defense of HBO’s Girls, and Why You Should Keep Watching
Did you watch the first episode of HBO’s Girls on Sunday (April 15)? If not, you’ve probably still heard of it, considering the waves of media attention paid towards 25-year-old Lena Dunham’s half-hour comedy about four girlfriends living in New York. While most of the anticipatory press was auspicious, hailing the show and Lena as groundbreaking, there has been a post-premiere backlash among critics.
Complaints range from the show being “boring” to insensitive towards non-white races, but the loudest anti-Girls remarks involve judgments of the characters. Girls introduces Hannah without painting a pretty picture. As we pointed out in our recap, we think she comes off as clueless about what growing up really means. She’s been spoiled by her loving parents, she hasn’t had a paying job yet, she doesn’t understand basic signals from the opposite sex, and she’s incredibly self-involved.
None of that offends us, personally. But Andrea Peyser at the NY Post, for example, called Hannah “a fat chick,” “desperate,” and didn’t like the sex scene because of Hannah’s “stomach fat.” Peyser is an extreme example of the kind of judgments Girls and its writer/director/star have gotten.
Other, more level-headed critics, thought that Hannah’s world and point of view weren’t anything like theirs. Some tore apart Hannah and her friends’ rosy world where parents pay for everything, nobody is anxiously looking for a job at McDonald’s, and the “lazy” characters have nothing better to do than talk about boys and whine about getting cut off from the parental paycheck.
If Girls were on a network, like NBC, these kinds of complaints would certainly be sound. But Girls is on at 10:30 p.m. on HBO, and does not have the obligation to appeal to a mass audience. The purpose of telling the stories on Girls is not to present the new, positive, perfectly relatable female role models for younger girls to look up to. Nor is this show written to represent “real life.” Girls is written about a very distinct girl and her friends. No one can argue that girls like her do not exist.
Think of Louis C.K. on Louie, Dexter, Breaking Bad’s Walter White, and Mad Men’s Don Draper. None of the creators of those shows believes that their central character is supposed to be the most likeable, nor are they supposed to be the kinds of guys you want to hang out with on Friday nights. They have faults, and with the exception of Don, they’re not exactly easy on the eyes (ahem, Andrea Peyser). Does their hazy moral outlook make them unappealing in ways? Yes. Do we watch them anyway? Definitely.
Jerry Seinfeld was panned almost immediately after the pilot of “The Seinfeld Chronicles” debuted. The nasally voice, the vaguely Jewish sense of humor, and the constant whining by the bald, stocky George were hardly universally appealing. But were they supposed to be? Of course not. And what would the landscape of television look like without Seinfeld?
We think the haters should probably wait until the second or third episodes to aim their fire. The reliable Kathryn Hahn and Book of Mormon star Andrew Rannells will guest star in the third episode, and who knows? You might be distracted by the funny new faces just long enough to stop focusing on Hannah’s stomach fat and actually enjoy yourself.
Catch the next episode of Girls on Sunday, April 22 at 10:30 p.m. ET/PT on HBO.