There's a lot about Lena Dunham's award-winning show Girls that can make your skin crawl, if you are uncomfortable with:
As an actress, Dunham is unabashedly free with herself -- and as a writer and director, she's the same with the show's other characters. Watching her play ping pong, topless, in the Feb. 10 episode One Man's Trash was more heartbreakingly honest and real than any television I've seen in a long time. Girls works because of Dunham's raw and in-your-face depiction of her interpretation of being 24, single, broke and optimistic -- and even though, at 51 I'm far from the audience I imagine she's trying to reach, she reaches me nonetheless.
I remember how it felt to be like those girls. I remember the pull between the desire to be footloose and the deep, primal need for human connection. I remember the lonely weekends when I was waiting... for something. I remember the moments of pure joy with my girlfriends, when we all knew that we were gorgeous and hot and could rule the world. The heartbreaks, the humiliations, the perfect evenings, the first kisses -- who can forget that?
When I watch Girls I don't see my own daughter -- who at 23 is right in the thick of her own version of the show, though I try not to think too much about her life in that context. No, what I see when I watch Lena and the fabulous cast -- Allison Williams, Zosia Mamet, Jemma Kirke and the rest -- is myself, my youth, my moments. Lena Dunham may be writing about 20-somethings now, but she's reminding me of so much of my life and my experiences at that age -- not exactly the same, of course (what I would have given for a cell phone), but the essence of being at that time in life when anything, anything at all, was possible.
There are a lot of complaints about the show being self-indulgent, narrow in scope, and elitist -- only rich kids can live like that -- but that doesn't matter to me and I don't think it's true. What matters is Dunham's ability to get to the essence, in every episode, of some basic experience that I -- and I'm sure many others -- experienced during our 20's in the days of Duran Duran, shoulder pads and parachute pants. As she said in the Feb. 10 episode to the older, rich doctor she had a two-night stand with, during an emotional outburst that (of course) pushed him away: "I want what everyone wants, I want what they all want, I just want to be happy... I just want to feel it all."
I like revisiting my 20's with the girls on Girls. I don't care if I'm decades away from the audience the show is trying to reach -- it's reached me anyway. I have high hopes for Hannah and her friends -- that after they feel it all, they'll be happy.