I read about Girls before I ever watched it. The thing dominated the Internet before it ever became available to the eyes of the common people, and I soaked up all the sides of all the arguments that Girls sparked.
It’s hard to say why people chose this pilot to get all fired up about. I am not one of the people who claim that this show is so spectacular, so revolutionary, so generation-defining that the world simply had to take interest. The 26-year-old wunderkind Lena Dunham wrote something that is essentially a memoir in television show format. Her honesty is accosting and hilarious, but I wouldn’t call it a voice of a generation (as Hannah would say). I would call it her voice.
Strictly looking at the first episode, it’s important to say this because I did not come in as a blank slate. It’s like reading movie reviews before you go to see the movie–they always color your opinion. So did I sit down with the conception that Girls was going to have some similarities to Sex and the City? Yes. Are those similarities actually there? Absolutely.
Girls itself acknowledges its Sex and the City similarities by giving Shoshanna that little monologue. You have four white, privileged girls with very different (and archetypical) personalities. They are each their own stereotype, but viewing society through stereotypical fiction is not a crime. Fiction will typically build up walls around characters in the beginning simply to break them down. That’s an element of storytelling. It’s O.K. that Hannah is unbelievably self-centered, Marnie has a stick up her ass, and Jessa was pulled out of an Urban Outfitters catalog. The biggest problem I had with the pilot (and to some degree, the episodes that followed) was Shoshanna, who is such a cliche that I never get to see any actual personality. Her virginity defines her in a way that Jessa’s sexuality does not. It doesn’t help that she is given the fewest lines.
The actions of Hannah are extreme. The way she treats her parents–the way she approaches her life– makes her unlikeable. Dunham isn’t interested in making you like Hannah. She is interested in making Hannah real. These flaws exist in people, specifically in young, white girls, and putting them on television to explore their attitude is a hilarious look at a real part of our culture. Marnie (played by a brilliant Allison Williams), too, is high and mighty, doling out advice and criticism when she is borderline emotionally abusive to her boyfriend. But Marnie, as a character, is real. There are thousands like her–smart, driven girls who settle in the romantic department because its safe. Girls doesn’t make her a victim or a hero. It makes her a person–a girl, if you will.
As far as a pilot goes, Girls is true to itself. It is true to its characters and to its concept, and it does not water itself down for fear of alienating its audience. It was not action packed, it was not the funniest of the episodes to come. What impressed me most about the first episode of Girls was not its writing or its story, but its bravery. All shows grow into themselves. There is potential in that first episode–without gimmicks, without horrible exposition–that is hard to find on television.