I’m not a Millennial. And while I do think they sometimes get a bad rap with the “neurotic-self-entitlement” thing, I also know that it is sometimes a justified label. Millennials are a bit of an enigma to the older generations trying to capitalize on their hipness and multi-tasking lifestyle, and yes, they can come across as Coachella-loving-free-spirits who are conveniently represented in pop-culture by car commercials featuring road-trippers in vintage sunglasses. But other than making a Fun. song the background to their freewheeling lives, people from other generations don’t know much of what to do with them, beyond trying to sell them things that they really don’t want.
So HBO figured, instead of trying to figure out the essence of the Millennial, just hire a Millennial to do it for them… Enter the new HBO show, “Girls,” and writer, director, star Lena Dunham and pals.
I love Dunham, and loved her indie-hit, Tiny Furniture but I wasn’t planning on watching Girls at first. In looking at the early reviews there was a praise around it that seemed almost self-congratulatory by the reviewer for being able to relate to the hipness. The show seemed to bask in the glow of its own self-awareness, right along side the early reviewers. But then something interesting happened. In the days after the premiere, the tide turned. Granted, anything this trendy is leaving itself open to criticism when people all jump on the bandwagon (no surprise here that people want to be the one who doesn’t like what everyone else likes), and Girls made itself an easy target when people took a closer look. Whenever you have a show about entitled white girls living in NYC, and those characters are played by entitled actresses who are all spawn of parents with different levels of fame, you are kind of asking for it. Fair or not – you are asking for it.
So while I was not persuaded to see the show during the build up, the Schadenfreude-ing loving side of me watched it as soon as the tide turned. And guess what. I couldn’t totally relate, but I didn’t have to.
It’s been awhile since I’ve lived off my parents. It’s also been awhile since I lived on my own in New York (and by on my own, I again mean “off my parents” – but that should be implied by the fact that I lived in New York, right?). And I too have been cut off from their generosity before, and scoffed at the “unfairness of it all.” But what I didn’t have that Girls does is a sense of irony around that sense of entitlement that exists when mom and dad stop paying. At first you think Dunham is glorifying the unfairness, then you realize she sees this generation for what they are. They think they deserve the world (because their progressive pre-school teacher told them so), but she’s in on the joke, even when the characters aren’t. She doesn’t think they deserve it, but she knows they think they do.
The dialogue is smart, without being obnoxious in that “no way do you really talk like that, Dawson” kind of way. Some highlights? First off she calls her Internship a “job,” then when trying to justify continuing to live off her parents, Dunham’s character pleads with such misguided gems as “I could be a drug addict, do you know how lucky you are?” and ”I’m so close to the life that I want” and “I’m busy trying to become who I am.” Funny because they are exactly what I would expect to hear from someone in that position these days, in a world where people expect to be rewarded for doing what they should, and praised (and supported) for taking the luxurious path of “finding themselves.”
This age group is also responsible for growing up in a world where gender roles have been institutionally redefined, and Dunham doesn’t shy away from the malaise in relationships that has stemmed from these changes. She shows sexuality (and sex) as the awkward, raw thing it is. She also doesn’t shy away from the inevitable “it’s Sex And The City for the next generation!” comparisons - even though the only comparison is the fact that it centers on four girl-women, and it takes place in New York City. Dunham immediately addresses this in a tongue and cheek way, by throwing up a SATC poster on an apartment wall, and then with a character literally defining herself through the lens of the Sex characters, when she says, “I’m definitely a Carrie with some Samantha aspects and Charlotte hair” and “I’m a Carrie at heart but then sometimes Samantha comes out.” It’s a fun wink, while also deconstructing the insane need we all have to identify things that are new, by things that are readily familiar.
My one worry? Just like the other recent "coming of age in NY show," Don't Trust the B**** in Apt 23 – Girls spends most of the show being vacant in its portrayal of New York. One of the only redeeming factors of SATC was the use of New York as part of the love story (there was even an episode devoted to the love post 9/11) and that is lacking in Girls until the last scene (which I’m hoping is intentional). When Dunham leaves her parents' hotel and heads into the streets of New York for the first time during the 30 minutes, it’s the moment that she breaks out of the walls of the cozy Brooklyn-esque setting of claustrophobic cluttered apartments - and who knew the crowded streets of Manhattan could feel like a breathe of fresh air?
So why watch it? Because it’s a universal story of trying to find your way. It may not be an epic saga around coming of age during war, or during a depression, or in the after math of an assassination, but it is about trying to live in a world where everyday of your life you’ve been told that you matter, and then one day, you have to prove it. This show was directed by, and stars, a 25-year-old woman who is a NY native, and who is doing exactly that. Proving that she, and the generation she represents, matter.