Clearly on an emotional high from her Golden Globe wins, Lena Dunham, Creator/Writer/Director/Star of the HBO series Girls, recently gave an interview in which she dismissed criticism of her show as coming mostly from 58-year-old men who didn't understand -- and I'm paraphrasing and reading between the lines -- the show's new-generation originality and youthful exuberance.
That's odd considering that Vulture reported that the show's single largest audience, 22 percent, is "white dudes over 50." In fact, 56 percent of the show's audience is male. Some say it's because of the frequent nudity and graphic sex. That doesn't hurt. But the main reason to watch Girls is because the show obviously is struggling to be a voice of its generation, just as The Catcher in the Rye, Go Tell It on the Mountain, The Naked and the Dead, On the Road, Beloved, Generation X, The Joy Luck Club, Slaves of New York, Less Than Zero, and Bright Lights, Big City were voices of their generations.
Girls wants to tell us something important about twentysomething females of the 21st Century. And, as the elders of our society, we should always be listening to those new voices crying out.
But what are they telling us?
1. Their world is mostly white.
Last season the show was criticized for being too white. Watching a full season could leave a viewer snow blind. This season that white ghetto was breached by a black character who is introduced as some jungle fever lover, with just enough screen time to have sex and mutter a couple of lines about wanting more of a relationship. A black dildo would have sufficed and cost less.
I don't believe that people of color, sexual preference, or gender need to be shaken indiscriminately into every series like some sort of exotic seasoning. If the story calls for a black character, great. A story about a black neighborhood doesn't necessarily need white characters just to balance the racial profile. But this really seemed like an effort was made to add some color -- and it came across as forced.
2. They like to talk about (and sometimes engage in) sex.
It's like a checklist of being naughty: masturbation (check), sex during period (check), oral sex (check), anal sex (check), virginity (check), etc. The show is actually at its most engaging during these awkward, fumbling, and mostly embarrassing (for the characters) scenes. The characters talk boldly about sex, but their actions are often shy and unsatisfying. The contrast of the generation that's been taught that pretty much anything goes sexually trying to act cool while struggling with their vulnerabilities is generally fresh and original and insightful about this generation.
3. They're too self-conscious, too cutesy, and not that funny.
We're supposed to find these girls somehow charming because of their flawed characters. Their intense self-involvement is meant to be cute and it can be... at times. But not enough to overcome our impatience with their inability to have any personal insight. They're all educated but fatally ignorant.
This isn't all Girls fault. It's unfair to put so much of a burden on what is basically a standard sitcom. Some of the fault lies with the audience's desperation for a generational voice that they turn to a sitcom to express it rather than great literature. Filmmaker and short story writer (and Dunham fan) Miranda July is more accurately a voice of a generation adrift in the rough waters of Great Expectations and a Great Recession.
When it takes itself seriously is when it stumbles. I just wish it would express its seriousness by being funnier. Seinfeld made it a point to ridicule the characters' shallowness and self-involvement, raising it to a level of social commentary. And it was funny. Two other girl-centric shows that reached these same heights to be voices of a generation were My So-Called Life and Wonderfalls. Both funny, yet also insightful and original. Perhaps that's why they both only lasted one season before becoming cult hits. Girls, a safer more mousy voice, has already been renewed for a third season.
4. The guys are more interesting than the girls.
Adam, Hannah's (Lena Dunham) abrasive boyfriend, is a wonderful character whose quirkiness never diminished his depth of character. The episode in which he performs in the one-man show is brilliant. Charlie, Marnie's ex-boyfriend, is a complex mix of too stable and too nice. The fact that he's dumped by a girl who is actually more boring and shallow than she claims he is, makes for some excellent social commentary, although that seems like an accidental byproduct. Could it be that Dunham actually is better at writing guy characters than girl characters?
Girls' heart and mind is in the right place. It wants to be more than the sum of its familiar parts. And sometimes it is. Maybe this season its voice will be louder and clearer and have more to say. It's worth listening for.