SXSW 2012: HBO’s Girls Spotlights The Millennial Woman And Dares You Not To Laugh
By Alex Cranz
Confession time internet. I am a well-educated white chick who has been really fortunate in life and continues to work as an artist (of the written word). I’m in my twenties. I am a member of this new fangled “Millennial” generation. Once I nearly lived in New York to write for a major internet blog thing and looked at places to rent in Brooklyn (my current address reveals how that job adventure went). In short, I am the target audience of Girls, Lena Dunham’s follow-up to Tiny Furniture.
The trailers make it look like 20 something indie navel gazing. Kind of the better lady version of that MTV show I Just Want My Pants Back.
This is not the case. Girls is so much more than that. It’s clever, self-aware without being condescending, honest and smart. It’s a slice of life story about four pretty well off white chicks in New York. They’re not super well off. They have responsibilities and jobs and they can’t live the life of a Gossip Girl, but they also have parents who can help with the rent. There’s a support system in place. You know if things really hit the fan fiscally these women would have a way out.
Until Hannah (played by writer/director/producer Lena Dunham) is sat down at a fancy dinner and told by her parents that they will no longer support her. She’s in her mid-twenties and it’s time be financially solvent. She doesn’t take the news well. THere are tears. An incident with opium tea. Maybe some “time to forget about my jerk parents” sex involving positions reminiscent of a hog tie. But she doesn’t fall apart at the news. Descend into depression. The first season isn’t a chronicle of Hannah’s downfall from privilege.
Because she’s anchored by two very best friends. The gorgeous live in roommate she’s known forever and who regularly bathes with her and has a steady job and a boyfriend, and the fun friend who spends her time sleeping across the world before taking little breaks to get wasted with Hannah and encourage her to brazenly embrace her id. Dunham, Allison Williams and Jemima Kirke (as the respective bffs) are natural together. You get their dynamic and may have even lived in it yourself. They’re the usual female best friend roles but updated for all us self-obsessed Millennials. They’re also really, really, really funny. Part of that is because these women have great comedic timing, but most of it is due to Dunham’s scripts.
They screened the first three episodes for us at SXSW and she wrote and directed all three thirty minutes episodes. There’s a palpable naturalism to the way these women speak. It’s Dunham’s voice but filtered through these archetypes she employs. Think Kevin Smith…before he turned into an asshole. It is quintessentially indie and also the rare female voice.
And, again, very funny. As Hannah struggles with STDs and weird sex games and abortions you laugh. They find the humor in an abortion sequence without delving into darker territory. They manage to treat the situation honestly and humorously but never at the cost of the characters. While I wouldn’t hazard to say it is as groundbreaking as Maude or Grey’s Anatomy it doesn’t hit the afternoon special quality of many abortion stories portrayed on television. And they find the pathos in HPV. It’s not something flippant that you just take a pill for. For women it’s serious, cancerous business.
“I have pre-cancer,” the character wails and you wince in sympathy while snickering at her framing of the STD. As though it were as dangerous as a lump or a spot on an MRI. My generation is often labelled as “lazy” and “selfish” and Dunham isn’t afraid to show those worst aspects, but she also isn’t afraid to mock them.
“I wish I had HIV,” the same character says as the doctor swabs her vagina. She then ruminates on how easy life would be if she had some fatal flaw that allowed her a lifetime supply of “get out of jail free cards.” The doctor pauses in her swabbing and looks at the woman with contempt and pity and a little humor. She then explains to her exactly why her statement is so monumentally stupid.
Dunham gets her generation and invites you to laugh at it and empathize with it, and in the process she gives us another strong example of female friendship. Yes, internetz, every episode passes the Bechdel Test. Yes, they’re aware of the fact that, title not withstanding, they are not the voice of an entire generation. They’re just a couple of girls trying to forge a bit of happiness for themselves in a time and place where that isn’t easy to do.
- There’s some weird notes concerning homosexuality in the three episodes I saw but I don’t want to call it homophobia…at least not yet.
- Yes Judd Apatow produced the show. Between this and Bridesmaids it’s like Apatow really wants to move away from his reputation from mega male comedy. He’s doing a fine job.
- The screening was especially poignant for Dunham as it was a previous SXSW where Tiny Furniture was screened and became a mega indie hit.
- The supported cast is loaded with great character actors–and the lead from Book of Mormon!
- A big creative force behind the show is Dunham’s friend/mentor Jennifer Konner, who previously worked on Apatow’s Undeclared.