What I Watched Last Night: HBO “Girls”

After last week’s premiere of the highly promoted HBO show Girls, I was sure of two things: (1) that was 30 minutes of my life I’d never get back, and (2) if there had ever been a lead character less sympathetic than Lena Dunham’s Hannah Horvath, I couldn’t remember her.

Hannah is unhappy because she actually has to grow up
What? My parents aren't going to support me in perpetuity??

The show opened as she threw a right royal hissy fit because her parents decided to switch off the money tap after supporting her for the immediate prior two years since she graduated college. It ended WHEN SHE STOLE THE HOTEL MAID’S TIP! and in the middle was filled with her proving that despite all the analysis-y/therapy-y/Dr. Phil-y phrases tossed casually into Hannah’s conversations, her actual sense of self-awareness is somewhere between zero and zilch.

Did I mention she STOLE THE HOTEL MAID’S TIP??

I am not the target demographic for this show, let’s just put that out there right now. I’m 46 and I live in the buckle of the Bible Belt. When I was 24 (Hannah’s age), I was married with a 2-year-old and a new baby. This show wasn’t made for me. My children are in the target age range, however, and I definitely do not see them in any of these characters – which makes me feel smugly proud of the super awesome parenting skills I obviously have.

The Grown-Ass Woman in me wants to smack these Girls. (Metaphorically, of course. Violence is bad, kids!) During Sunday night’s episode I found myself feeling a smidge of sympathy for Marnie and Hannah because the sex they were having was just so God-awful bad, but then I realized they were at least partly responsible for the suckage and my sympathy evaporated. I can’t say that every sexual encounter I’ve had has been fireworks and confetti but I can promise you that I’ve never had bad sex and continually gone back for more. Marnie is in the turning-blue stage of a relationship that is slowly strangling to death but she doesn’t have the balls to call it quits and Hannah is – well, Hannah is deluded is what she is, bless her heart. It’s one thing to let a partner insult and disrespect you during sex because you enjoy being treated that way. (“Let’s play the quiet game”?? Are you fucking kidding me?) It’s another to allow it to happen because you’re desperate to hold his attention. Hannah”¦ honey”¦ Adam isn’t calling you or texting you (or Gchatting or Facebooking or IMing) because to him, you’re just a blow up doll with a heartbeat. Stop it! Gather the shreds of your self-respect and just stop!

Jessa, Hannah and Shoshanna enjoy some froyo with a side of stupid dating advice
Jessa, Hannah and Shoshanna enjoy some froyo with a side of stupid dating advice

Jessa, the third member of the quartet, has a British accent so she’s obviously more sophisticated and wiser than the other three – plus she can say “bugger off” so I like her best. At 22, Shoshanna is the youngest of the group and to her abject humiliation, is still a virgin. She also? has that annoying habit of speaking? in sentences that contain questions? even when they clearly aren’t questions? Thank God for mute buttons and subtitles.

I hate this show but in an Oh-God-I-hate-that-show-but-I-never-miss-an-episode kind of way. Have you seen it? Is Hannah the voice for your generation? Are you watching and if so, why are you watching? What do you see in it?

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MJ

48/DWF. "I don't entirely approve of some of the things I have done or am or have been. But I'm me. God knows, I'm me." Elizabeth Taylor

26 thoughts on “What I Watched Last Night: HBO “Girls””

  1. I only watched the first episode, and I didn’t hate it. I’m not the demo, either, and I don’t have any kids, but I am fortunate enough to spend a lot of time with smart, witty, 20-somethings around here.

    I, for one, certainly don’t think Hannah and her friends are indicative of an entire generation of women. If it makes our beloved Youngs feel any better, they tried to make Brett Easton “Talentless Hack” Ellis the voice of our generation. Hannah, and by extension Lena, is certainly a step up.

  2. I think you’re a little off-base in your assessment of Hannah’s sex life.  Do you know how many girls are going through that right now because a certain breed of contemporary guy has learned how to turn the sexual revolution on its head to use “liberal” young women for sex?  Dating doesn’t exist in urban areas anymore.  It’s not enough to just cultivate some self-respect.  There’s no moment at which you have enough self-respect for a worthwhile guy to magically fall out of the woodwork.  There aren’t enough guys who actually want girlfriends to go around.  It’s a real problem that girls in their twenties are dealing with.

    1. You’re right in that I don’t know what it’s like right now to date as a 20-something.  But I do believe that while we can’t control anyone else’s behavior, we can control our response to it.  Adam seems like exactly the kind of guy you describe but Hannah is enabling and encouraging his behavior by simply accepting it.  It will be interesting to see if the show deals with that at all or makes her desperation to hang onto him, despite the way he treats her, just the butt of jokes.

      FWIW, there are men (and women) like that in every generation and in every part of the country.  But there are good ones out there, too.  Even in the context of this show – Marnie’s boyfriend (his name escapes me at the moment) is the polar opposite of Adam, though he’s also a big Human Ball of Need.  Even the dinner-party guy from the first episode is a level above Adam.

  3. I’ve seen the first two episodes, and I’m still on the fence. But it’s only half an hour, so I’ll probably give it a couple more episodes before I decide. One thing I definitely like is that several of the girls are so unlikeable. It’s still a relatively new and rare thing to have unlikeable female characters be the focus of a show or movie, and have the audience be expected to sympathize with them at least a little bit.

    1. That is definitely a good point about it. Take this with a grain of salt because I haven’t actually watched the show, and what I’m about to say is conjecture based on the ads I saw for it, but my impression was that the women’s lack of likeability was mostly because they were given negative stereotypical “female” traits. They seemed more like caricatures of unlikeable women that age (my age!), along with caricatures of how women that age act, rather than genuine, flawed people.

      1. One thing the show actually gets right is having them be believably flawed, at least in my opinion. In the last episode, the main character is at a job interview and is being the most charming she’s been so far, and I said out loud, “hey, I kinda like Hannah right now.” Then she ruins it, and the interview, by making a truly terrible and tasteless joke insinuating that the guy interviewing her was a date rapist in college (I know, wtf?). I just gotta applaud the courage of a woman writing her character to be so awkward, at precisely the moment that everyone in the audience is starting to like her.

        I’ll have to ponder how much I think their other unlikeable traits are stereotypically female ones. No one is clumsy, so that’s a plus!

    2. I thought the second episode did a better job of making me sort of like the characters, even while aggressively facepalming about half the things they said. And I thought the way the abortion was handled was pretty hilarious, and captured a lot of the attitudes that surround it.

      I feel like this show is the sort of thing where you look back at some of the really stupid things you said/did/believed when you were younger and are mortified that you didn’t realize what an idiot you were. Every moment is like that, and I’ve only got a couple years on these characters. My hate for them is sort of condescending, but benevolent.

      1. What impressed me about the abortion thing was that they all came together for Jessa.  Marnie even set up “the party” and she doesn’t seem to much care for Jessa.

        The relationships between the four of them are, I think, the strongest part of the show.

  4. I’ve been watching because I am in the target demographic, and all my other friends in the target demographic have been emailing me that I “HAVE TO WATCH THIS SHOW.”

    I agree with everything you said – the characters are entitled and spoiled and seriously lacking in real-world skills. It’s a painful show to watch for people like me (who have been working unpaid internships for years to remain competitive in a career while also working second and third jobs at night to earn actual money). It’s not painful because we are “looking into an uncomfortable mirror” like so many reviews have postulated. It’s uncomfortable because I know that older generations think of me, and everyone in my position, as a Hannah. We are most assuredly NOT (just like your kids are not).

    Of course I know people who are Hannah, but I’m willing to bet that those people have existed since the beginning of human history. They were part of every “good old days” generation and will remain until the beginning of time. It makes me so angry to be grouped into this category of wasteful, irresponsible, entitled assholes when I have worked so hard and sacrificed so much to follow the dreams that my parents told me to have faith in.

    So “Girls” makes me mad if it’s being literal. And it makes me laugh if it’s poking fun at this false assumption about my generation, who has been screwed out of a future and branded with the scarlet letter of “E” for “entitled.”

      1. Oh, I can tell by the tone of your writing that you don’t! And I am so lucky because I’m surrounded by family (my parents especially) who really get it and don’t judge me and just keep giving me emotional support and never make me feel like a failure. I’m sure you do that for your kids, who are also undoubtedly struggling with employment and money and their own futures through no fault of their own.

        But then. Then I read horrible articles and comments and hear other people’s horrible parents and see shows where they don’t recognize how hard we have worked to get literally no money, and my heart just shrivels up into a little raisin of sadness and shame.

        The girls on Girls are ridiculous because they are ridiculous, not because they are part of a spoiled generation. You know that and I know that. It is just really hard to run into so many people who don’t know that while wondering every day how I’m going to scrape together enough money to eat three meals.

        I am an emotional wreck right now, can you tell?

    1. That’s what I want to know – is this meant to be satire?  Or is it meant to be literal and this character real and sympathetic?

      There’s a lot of potential there….potentially speaking.  Internships, for example.  Opportunity?  Exploitation?  Both?  Are they going to explore relationships – forming them, how attitudes and expectations change as you mature, etc. – or are they going to continue to be played in this kind of pathetic-I’ll-do-anything-if-you’ll-just-text-me-back way?  It’s demeaning.  As a woman, I’m offended both because of Hannah and I’m offended on her behalf.

      I know a lot of 20somethings because of my kids and I definitely know that this show is selling them short. What I want to know is, is there a purpose for that other than just getting a laugh and/or a groan.

      (Also, I’m really glad you posted!)

      1. Oh my god, I was SO hoping they would go into the internship debate. I can’t even talk about internships because they make me too mad. I’ve done 7. SEVEN. All unpaid. Like, completely unpaid, not even lunch or transport money. You have to work almost full time there and then almost full time at night and you give up your entire life and your relationships and family events and holidays and friendships…and what do you get? Only enough experience to move onto the next internship. You never get a job out of it. And you never get anything that will make someone actually want to pay you money. It’s infuriating. And I hope Girls goes into that rather than just letting it slide as something ridiculous and irresponsible that Hannah did for two years. Don’t they know that Hannah probably had no other choice?! Yes, she is entitled and spoiled. But the alternatives are either to have no life and two careers (one that pays and one that doesn’t), or to give up her dreams completely. It’s not so simple as just “internships are for spoiled rich kids.” ARGH. I am way too emotional about this subject.

        I love your phrasing, that 20-somethings are being sold short. I feel like that is exactly what is going on, not just on the show but in life in general. Where does that come from, when so many of us are working as hard as we can?

        I am really glad you responded!

  5. I’m also not the target demographic, and don’t get HBO, but, I’ll admit, I knew a girl who was very similar to what you described, and watching a show about how cringe-worthy and oblivious she was… I could kind of see the appeal. But if the show is mostly framed around the ‘girls’ and not about on how people outside of their bubble perceive them, then I think it’d get old quick to watch a show just because I felt better about myself for putting the characters on it down…even though I do it every week with Celebrity Apprentice…

    1. Part of the appeal right now is definitely the snark it generates for me but I also want to know what happens next.  Two episodes in I want to see Hannah tell Adam to fuck off because she finally sees him and them (using ‘them’ very loosely because there really is no “them”) and the situation for what it is.

      I’d like to know where Lena Dunham is taking this – am I supposed to want to smack these girls or am I supposed to be cheering for them?  Time will tell, I guess.

  6. I just can’t bring myself to watch this show, even though I have HBO. I actually am in the target demographic, for the most part, but the characters just seem so abhorrent that I can’t watch it. I do, however, enjoy reading criticism of it! I honestly think the whole show would just make me sad.

    1. I’m also the target demographic, and (from what little I’ve seen) I hate what it’s saying me and other women my age are like. I’m working hard in a field that may never give me a job no matter how hard I try, and I haven’t received outside financial support for about two years now, ever since I cut off contact with my parents because of their abusiveness. It’s hard knowing that if I get into a really bad spot, I might have to go back to them and beg for money. Which of course would once again put them in a position of power over my life.

      I mean, I know not everyone thinks twenty-something women are like this, but so many people are talking about this like it IS how we are. It pisses me off, for my own sake and for the sake of all the other young hardworking women I know!

    1. I started to say it’s like watching a train wreck but it’s not that bad. It’s more of a What? followed by Why did they do that? and a bit of  STOP IT! and a lot of  WTF?

      And, I’m strangely addicted.

       

       

  7. Hannah’s relationships make me sad. I guess I’m still watching Girls after two episodes because the women’s friendship is portrayed fairly well. Hannah seems like a caricature of the “trying to find yourself” mode some people are in their twenties, though she had a much larger safety net than a lot of people do post-college. In a way, she’s sort of strangely endearing because she’s an interesting conversationalist, and she keeps screwing up different aspects of her life, yet I keep hoping that she’ll learn something her two close friends who are gainfully employed and somewhat happy.

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