Monday, June 18, 2012

TV TOPIC: The Final Verdict on HBO's "Girls"

Being 20something, trying to figure out how to make your mark on this world, how to be productive, and how not to disappoint your parents and, most of all, yourself is rather difficult. I realize that millions of people have done it before, and much like child birth, at this point, humanity should have it down to a science. But, much like child birth, you can plan everything from conception to c-section and at some point not even Siri will be able to accomodate every unpredictable outcome. That being said, I bet Lena Dunham never would've guessed that after she scored her own series on HBO, the webosphere would simultaneously applaud her for giving a voice to this generation of young women, and gut her for failing to depict every single type of young woman of this generation.
Every argument that could've possibly been made for and against this series has already been posted, liked, and retweeted. Some people have joined the white-people-can-only-write-about-white-problems camp and some have picked up torches and joined the white-people-always-neglect-to-include-minorities mob. And both have valid points. It's true. First rule of writing: Write what you know. Of course, an addendum to that rule is: If you don't know something, research it or hire someone who does. It's also true that most television shows clumsily include a minority to fill an obligatory quota, so they can avoid the famously publicized "Friends" gaffe of never having a black character until you are shamed into it. Honestly, if aliens were to destroy our species, then take inventory of our history via television to see what we were like, they'd probably think the world was 90% white and 10% non-white. Minorities are indeed grossly under-represented on television.

However, Dunham did not set out to create a series about the world or about New York or about race relations. She created a series about a struggling writer who is so intensely crippled by her insecurities that she doesn't believe in her talent, desperately clings to an emotionally abusive relationship, and pushes the only friend who loves her unconditionally further away with every episode. In order to tell this story, Dunham did not feel the need to include a sassy black friend or a kooky, heavily-accented Asian neighbor. She told A story. Just one.

I think what's most amusing about everyone's negative opinions about the series is that they read like producer notes, as if the viewer has any right to tell the writer what to write about. As if she were taking a poll on what the character should do next. It's just a story. If you don't like the story, then you don't watch the series. You don't get to change the show so that you can like it. If you're really that concerned about not seeing minorities on TV, watch shows with minorities in them so they can stop being cancelled, and show networks that you're interested in black culture.

The multi-hyphenate James Franco had a more testosterone-fueled complaint, heading up the why-are-men-so-poorly-depicted camp with a Huffington Post piece called "A Dude's Take on Girls." His main point was that all of the male characters were not properly fleshed out and were either assholes or wimps, which is an easy complaint to make about a series named "Girls." However, Franco made this complaint three-quarters of the way through the season and probably couldn't have predicted that Hannah's glorified fuckbuddy Adam would eventually get a personality (and a shirt) once he finally committed to her. He probably would've never predicted that in the end, Hannah would be painted the insensitive douchebag in the relationship and Adam would end up being the vulnerable victim. And surely, he would've never guessed that actually both couples would experience epic role reversals, as Marnie became obsessed with Charlie and Charlie became the unfaithful bad boy. My advice to Franco and viewers who agreed with him: Patience is a virtue. And character arcs are a given.

I, however, am of a different camp, the just-because-female-writers-are-having-a-good-run-this-year-doesn't-mean-everything-they-shit-out-is-gold camp. I know what you're thinking. It's what everyone thinks when they read that comment: Clearly, she's jealous. Yup. I am jealous. I'd love to write a series, a book, an article. Anything. I'm a writer. That's what I aspire to do. But as a writer, I hold other writers to a higher standard. It's not enough to entertain me. You have to prove that you deserved this big break, these accolades, this worship. And if you do, I'll jump on the bandwagon, but if you don't, I'll be damned if I'll let you think you do.

So after watching the entire season and thoroughly examining all of the characters, their arcs, the clever one-liners, and daring plot twists and turns, I've decided that it does deserve a place in the pantheon of female-generated and -geared fictional content. It is quite impressive how Dunham captures her people: 20something white girls who have absolutely no idea what they're doing. And it's most impressive because to be perfectly fucking honest, none of us know what we're doing regardless of how old or what race we are. We're all pretty much just winging it.

Getting a job is hard. Keeping a job can be harder. Coping with the fact that you have to keep the job you don't want in order to survive is excruciating. Getting a boyfriend is hard. Keeping a boyfriend is harder. Being unable to decide if you even want that particular guy is a totally exhausting mindfuck. And whether Franco would like to admit it or not, those male characters actually exist. Yeah, they suck, but that seems like more of a complaint he should log with his own gender and not her.
Now, at the risk of sounding like a producer, I will give one note: The finale seemed kind of slapped together as if the network told them to wrap it up. Shoshanna and Ray finally getting together after her crack-induced spazz attack that made her seem intriguing to Ray was perfectly logical. I mean, after you've seen a girl run around bottomless down the street, kick your ass, and then massage your groin in a "non-sexual" way, what's not to love? But Jessa's surprise wedding to a lame businessman slash mashup DJ who tried to initiate a threeway with her and Marnie was incredibly random. And explaining how they "fell in love" in the vows did not make it less random. Life may be abrupt and Jessa my be irresponsibly insane, but it was like if Carrie went from dating Alex to being married to Big with a 20-second giggly explanation. Marnie getting extremely wasted, rejecting Charlie's attempts at infidelity, and then trying to bang the officiator, a guy who it would be generous to say is "not in her league" was unbelievable. Yes, Marnie is attracted to wusses who crumble at her touch. No, a girl who looks like Marnie would never go after a guy who is three times her size, horizontally--unless he was rich. Let's be real. But the cherry on this Twilight Zone episode sundae has to be the final scene, when Hannah falls asleep on the train, gets her purse stolen, and ends up in Coney Island, where she plops down on the beach and eats leftover wedding cake. It's so pensive, so existential, so...not an ending. I get it. We'll find out if she gets Adam to forgive her or even attempts to rekindle her relationship with him next season, but why the fuck is she in Coney Island? Because it's pretty? Ok. Can we get back to the story please? Would it not have made more sense to have ended the episode with her writing, since her main gripe of the season is that she can't write a memoir if she hasn't lived. I think that was an eventful enough day to have written about. But instead of ending the season as a writer, she ends it as irresponsible and emotionally damaged as she started it, except now, she's on a beach.
I was never too obsessed with this series, not as obsessed as I am with "Shameless" or "New Girl," but I think what clinched it for me to tune in again next season was the fact that Adam evolved. I never noticed how incredibly awkward he was until he put his shirt on. Weird? Definitely. But socially awkward and insecure? Nope. The finale was the first I saw of that side of him and I want to see more. Not just because it's adorable, but because his point at the end was right. She lured him in, let him get comfortable, and once commitment started to loom on the horizon and she realized he was a romantic who believed in true love and fate, she recoiled and refused to expose herself to rejection. It's like she said: There's no one in the world who hates her more than she hates herself. She refuses to believe that anyone can love her as a lover or a friend. And maybe if the viewers stopped focusing on what color she is or how old she is they'd see that that's a problem we all have at some point. Dunham may not be the voice of this entire generation, but she is definitely one that should be heard.

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