Girls (not yet broads)

I first read about Lena Dunham in an article about her movie Tiny Furniture.

That was 2010.

Intrigued, but inherently lazy, it would take another year for me to actually see the movie…and that was only after being reminded about it from an article I read somewhere highlighting the show she was developing with Judd Apatow at HBO. A show about young girls living in Greenpoint, Brooklyn.

Apatow had produced some of my favorite shows like The Ben Stiller Show, The Larry Sanders Show and the underrated Jim Carey movie The Cable Guy. For me, Apatow’s pièce de résistance will always be Freaks and Geeks. A show that brilliantly captures teen angst at the dawn of the Regan era.

Oh, Freaks and Geeks also birthed the careers of Seth Rogen, James Franco, Jason Segal, Linda Caredllini, Busy Phillips and gave the brilliant Joe Flaherty and Becky Ann Baker a showcase (Baker reprises her all American mom role as Lena Dunham’s mother in Girls).

Tiny_furniture_posterRealizing that Dunham and Apatow were partnering, my interest was again piqued so I finally bit the bullet and found Dunham’s Tiny Furniture on Netflix.

Streamed it. Loved it.

Writing a film is a pretty big undertaking. Writing and directing a film is double the undertaking. Getting the money to write, direct and produce a feature length film is a serious Sisyphean task. To actually find a distributor, almost inconceivable. And to do all of that at 23/24, as old as Dunham was when Tiny Furniture was released? Incredible. Seriously, accomplishing that at any age is noteworthy.

I quickly became a member of Team Dunham.

In 2012, Girls debuted on HBO and received all sorts of accolades. There didn’t appear to be enough superlatives in the English language for critics to use for the show.

Deservedly, the show was that good.

I thought the first season was both intelligent and quirky, with great writing and performances. That first season of Girls really seemed to capture that mid-20’s Zeitgeist.

Even though I’m pretty far removed from the demographic of the show, there is a universality to the characters that transcends any generational gap.

It also helps that Girls is genuinely funny.

Despite being pretty bored during the second season, I still thought it was smarter than most shows. Inexplicably, I felt myself beginning to pull away from the characters. I was starting to find them not necessarily unlikable, but more annoying and bordering on despicable.

I’m not against unlikable characters, Seinfeld and It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia are two of my favorite shows and those characters literally could not be more horrible. Yet somehow in their surreal world, you always end up rooting for them and laughing at their idiocy.

Girls didn’t appear to be moving into the unlikable idiocy realm. I thought the second season found the show moving more towards the idea of The Real, “That which is authentic, the unchangeable truth in reference both to being/the Self and the external dimension of experience…”

reality-isBefore season three aired there was a kerfuffle with The Wrap TV Critic Tim Malloy, who dared question why Dunham was naked so much in the show. The producers, Apatow, Dunham and Jenni Konner did not take kindly to the question.

Now, to me, that’s a fair question from a television critic. If someone more ridiculous or unassociated with television had asked it, they would have been right to get pissy. But considering that the sole job of a television critic is to evaluate and examine TV shows, it seemed like a fair question.

I also happened to share Malloy’s feeling about the nudity. Not because I am against nudity. I’m not.
Not because I’m a prude. I’m not.
Not because I think her body is unattractive. I don’t think that at all. Personally, I think her boldness is brilliant, refreshing and beautiful and certainly one of the things that makes both Dunham and Girls unique.

However, Girls is a scripted show and not cinéma vérité so at times, I was left scratching my head as to the narrative point of the nudity. I get it, it reflects reality and the real way in which people interact with each other during sex and life, etc. But if the ultimate point is to reflect some semblance of reality, the nudity should be balanced with other “real” parts of life.

At times the nudity just seemed gratuitous and there for shock value because Dunham doesn’t have the typical Hollywood body.

The third season began and I didn’t notice as much nudity and what nudity there is, I find less jarring. Maybe there is in fact less or they’ve found a way to make it more fluid with the narrative. I believe it is the latter.

The most real and truly awkward episode so far is the seventh episode “Beach House” and doesn’t involve nudity at all. Intentional or not, its a watershed moment for the show.  Hanna wears a bikini the entire episode.

For the first time, you actually see that Hanna is uncomfortable with her body. It’s most noticeable when she encounters Elijah outside the market. We see Hanna fidgeting and folding her arms in front of her stomach. It’s one of the few times Hanna seems truly vulnerable. She has never been more naked in that show then she is at that moment.

Of course, that vulnerability doesn’t stick around and Hanna easily slips back into her narcissistic ways and  commits to wearing that bikini, despite what she may feel about herself or how others may feel.

The episode culminates with the fours girls finally revealing the truth about what they think of one another. It’s funnier, more awkward and more real than any other episode so far.

One of the things that makes the show work on so many levels is that the principle characters are surrounded by supporting characters that are both interesting and complex, which in turn make the Hanna, Marnie, Jessa and Shooshanna appear more dynamic. The main men of Girls, Adam Sackler (Adam Driver) and Ray Ploshansky (Alex Karpovsky) provide just enough testosterone to the show to balance out the estrogen.

Shot in Williamsburg and Greenpoint only adds to the reality of the show as does having a who’s who of New York actors, like Michael Imperoli, Gabby Hoffman, Patrick Wilson and Patti LuPone appear in cameos. Incidentally, Patti LuPone continues to surprise and amaze me at the scope of her talent. In her recent cameo she is nothing short of brilliant.

And for all the pluses that Girls has, and there are many, I fear this third season the show may be jumping the shark.

The show has prided itself on portraying a real sense of life for the modern mid-20’s girl. And they’ve done it very well, BUT:

  • Hanna’s narcissism has moved beyond funny and awkward to clinically diagnostic proportions. Asking her dead editors wife for the name of another editor…at his funeral? That wasn’t funny, It was downright boorish. Earlier, Adam had already ripped into her for her insensitivity. It just seemed like overkill.
  • grumpyI’m never quite sure what Marnie does or how she can afford to live alone. She’s had jobs, but I’m pretty sure working at Grumpy’s or Ray’s wouldn’t pay enough to live alone in NYC. Not that I NEED this explained in detail, this is television after all, but maybe just drop a hint how she can afford it. I understand how the rest of them can afford it, Hanna is/was subsidized, Shooshana is a student, Jessa is living off her divorce money, but Marnie? I don’t know, maybe I missed it.
  •  Jessa’s addiction issues seem less of an addiction and more just a series of epic self indulgent bad decisions. In other words, while a little extreme, still pretty typical behavior. The addiction storyline seems forced.
  • Hanna looses an eBook deal to get a regular book deal only to find out the eBook is still under contract to the original ePublisher, so it’s unpublishable? OK, that makes sense. But would someone who is that desperate to be a writer really give up on publishing her book that quickly?
  • Hanna gets a job at writing advertorial copy at GQ. How? That just seemed to appear. You don’t just “get” those jobs. Not in NYC anyway.
  • In the third episode, as Hanna is kicking out Adam’s sister, during the ensuing argument, Hanna intimates that she is paying $2100/month for rent. Which is actually an accurate rental price for an apartment like hers in Greenpoint. That’s real. HOWEVER, a few episodes later, when Hanna gets her first paycheck from GQ she says “I get this every week? This is A LOT more than my rent!” Presuming she is subsidizing Adam (a safe bet since we’ve never seen him wor), let’s break that down. Based on what she says, we can assume that she takes home at least $2100/wk? Based on that $2100, and figuring her in the 30% tax bracket, that would put her gross earnings in the neighborhood of $130K/yr, taking home about $100K. So a neophyte writer, creating advertorial content for a Conde’ Nast magazine, in a dying industry has a starting salary of 130K/yr? That is not real. That may seem like nit-picking BUT if the show is using the reality excuse for nudity and other parts of the show, this was a GLARING oversight.
  • The seemingly rudderless Adam, is now an actor? Did I miss his transition from woodworker/playwright to actor? So his first role, ever, is getting cast in a Broadway reprisal of George Bernard Shaw’s Major Barbara. REALLY? BROADWAY? I mean I guess it’s possible, but seems WILDLY improbable.

Look, it’s television, I get it. I know to expect disappointments and shows that leave questions unanswered. It’s also Dunham’s show to do with whatever way she wants. Louie CK does it with Louie all the time.

Some of the Girls earnestness and realism that initially roped me in, I fear, is starting to slip away. Adams recent acting gig and Hanna’s GQ story-lines have me afraid the show is moving into sitcom shtick. And that would be a real shame.

There is still plenty of time and talent to right the ship. And despite these hiccups, Girls continues to be one of the strongest shows on television. Period.

I’d just would hate to see Girls become Friends…with nudity.  It’s smarter than that.