I don't watch much TV, but strangely I have watched most episodes of HBO's new series Girls. Of course, the show is produced by Judd Apatow, the man who gave me my first good acting job, playing a freak on the television show Freaks and Geeks, and my first great comedy role, Saul Silver in Pineapple Express, but that's not why I've been watching. I got pulled in at the beginning simply because it seemed to portray my world -- the one inhabited by struggling creative types in New York. I'm not saying I have to struggle to pay the rent like Lena Dunham's character, Hannah, but there was a point, right before Judd cast me in Freaks and Geeks, when my parents cut me off because I wanted to go to acting school instead of UCLA. I worked at McDonalds, and my first suggestion to Hannah would be this: get a fucking job. If you really want to have experiences to write about, go to work; and if you really want to be an artist, take responsibility for yourself and wait some tables. You might mature a little in the process.
That leads me to my other connection with these young women just out of college: I've spent the last five or six years in classes with people like them. I'm not making any judgments about my ex-classmates -- I'm sure many of them have plenty to say about an actor invading their M.F.A. bubbles -- but I will say that many of the movies and stories they produced in those programs featured storylines that would have fit right in on Girls.
But Lena Dunham has an advantage those graduate students don't. Hannah can be as big a loser as Lena wants because, in the end, Lena is anything but a loser: she is a writer-director-actor spearheading a show on HBO. No matter how many stupid things Hannah says to strangers, how embarrassing her sex scenes are, how awkward she is with adults, or how little writing she actually does, Lena will always shine through as the admirable creative force behind everything on the television screen (or, in my case, computer screen). Lena's character never has to write her book because the series is her book.
A young woman who does it all on a show that is on everyone's lips -- that sounds pretty great to me. Still, I'm aware that not everyone thinks it's great, that many people -- especially non-white women -- have said they feel unrepresented by the show, whose lead characters are all white. This is a pretty hot topic, and one I like to ask my female friends in New York about. On the graduate-school circuit, the answer I usually get is that it's a controversy over nothing: people just need something to write about on the Internet. I agree that Internet discussions about nothing are all too prevalent these days, but I also think that it's valid to ask what popular television shows say about us as a society. Supporters of the show usually say its lack of diversity reflects the social segregation of our country, and they have a point. Going to high school in Palo Alto, I definitely saw cliques form along racial lines. But the argument is harder to swallow when the subjects are educated twenty-somethings in New York City. Maybe I have a limited perspective, because the programs I was in were extremely diverse, but I've found that my friends and collaborators hail from a rich background of races and nationalities. I guess all I have to say about the topic is that, because TV is such a popular medium, HBO has a responsibility to represent its subjects accurately, especially when the network is selling a show as a representation of young New York. There's no obligation to be kaleidoscopic, but there is a difference between writing a short story or essay about a bunch of white people that only a handful of people will read and creating another show about white people that millions of people will watch, especially when you've chosen to set that show in one of the most culturally mixed cities in the world. (HBO says it doesn't tell its creators what to do with their shows, and Dunham has written at least one African-American character, played by Community star Donald Glover, into Season 2.)
I've read comments about Girls that said, in a nutshell, "I like the show, but I can't see me in the show." I feel the same way. The guys in the show are the biggest bunch of losers I've ever seen. There is a drip who gets dumped because he bores his girlfriend; a dad who hits on his babysitter; a bevy of wussy hipsters who are just grist for the insatiable lust of the too-cool girl with the British accent; and the king of them all, the shirtless dude who talks funny and hides his stomach all the time. I know this sorry representation of men is fair payback for the endless parade of airheaded women on the West Coast male counterpart to Girls, Entourage, which in turn was fair payback for the cast of male dorks on Sex in the City. (They seemed like dorks to me, at least, on the occasions when my ex-girlfriend tuned in while I happened to be around.)
I am fine watching a show about women dealing with men I would never want to be. I watched Steel Magnolias incessantly when I was in junior high school, and I can get off on female bonding. Done right, it's more interesting than male bonding. I'm also aware that I may be giving myself too much credit: for all I know, but for the grace of Judd Apatow I would be just like those struggling male idiots I see on the show. And of course it's often more entertaining to watch people be irresponsible and make mistakes than it is to watch them lead stable lives. And yes, Lena Dunham gives the female characters just as many flaws as the guys. But the twist is twofold: we get to hear the girls' insider conversations, so we side with them against the men, and Lena is the ultimate creator, so no matter what she puts the girls through, she is always in control. Her name is always at the end, where it says "Created by." They say living well is the best revenge, but sometimes writing well is even better.
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