There’s a new show on HBO, have you heard about it? It’s called “GIRLS,” and, guess what? It’s about some girls. A group of 20-something Brooklyn transplants who are girls, to be specific. It’s about life, love, and fucking up in your 20s. GIRLS can relate to this, right?
The first episode of GIRLS is rather like mumblecore meets Sex & The City; the milieu is straight mumble-style, with young people speaking colloquially and inarticulately, wondering what to do with themselves, screwing the wrong people, and eating cupcakes in bathtubs (???). The S&TC influence is evident, not just because of the show’s cheeky references to it, but because it focuses on a group of girls in an aspirational urban locale. In both shows, New York is the place people move to in order to become who they want to be. And yet, despite the grandiosity of self-building I am implying takes place, GIRLS is entirely mundane and bedeviling in the details. It is the tale, like many realist novels before it, of the wayward bourgeois, whose stories “attach to money at the heart of the drama.” As many commenters have already covered, GIRLS has a forthrightness about money: its characters lack of it, their parents having it, their upper-middle class naivete about how hard it is to get.
I find the show startling if only because it is so humble in its aims; aren’t popular shows supposed to have stupendous costume design (Mad Men & Downton) or have stunning narrative archs (The Wire)? GIRLS, at this point and I am sure moving forward, will merely follow the minor triumphs and failures of its main BFF characters. A triumph in this show will probably include scoring a 30k job at a publishing house, finding a boyfriend who is nice, and/or severing oneself financially from one’s parents.
Refreshingly, I didn’t find the show particularly pandering in how it tried to capture this very specific milieu; unlike other films, television, and marketing strategies trying to capture this cultural moment, it did not proffer brands, musical taste, or broad life philosophy statements as proof of its authenticity (I’m thinking of Portlandia, Justin Long in the apple commercials, etc). The girls’ apartments are believably unremarkable, the “costume design” is not going overboard to prove the characters’ alternative lifestyles, and Jay-Z, beloved by basically everyone in our society, is the music in the background.
The one thing that does bother me, however, is the presumptuousness of the title. To call a show “girls” is so all-encompassing, one must consider it a manifesta, a declaration that this show is defining or taking part in the definition process of what GIRLS are. Certainly, some might argue that the show is called “GIRLS” in order to distinguish its characters from their adult contemporaries, WOMEN. Maybe calling the show “GIRLS” is a nod to the mundaneness and realism of the show, like when Flaubert called a book about Madame Bovary “Madame Bovary.” A frilly title wouldn’t have worked. But aside from those things, I believe the creator/producers thought that naming the show GIRLS would be some sort of revolutionary move. Maybe it is unusual to capture the life and travails of very typical white, middle class young women going about their business, but it really shouldn’t be. We only make art about women more exotic and more alienating when we harp on how rare it is. I would like to move forward, personally, into a future where it is not revolutionary to portray women. I want to live in a world where half of the shows are about GIRLS, but different kinds of girls–girls in space, girl crime-fighters, girly girls–but without a neon sign announcing that the art is, indeed, about girls. Maybe you don’t like my idea, but indifference to gender is what I think true progress entails.