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Posted at 03:22 PM ET, 04/16/2012

HBO’s ‘Girls’ is so zeitgeisty it hurts to watch


Awkward. (JOJO WHILDEN - HBO)
“I think that I may be the voice of my generation,” the protagonist of HBO’s “Girls” announces to her parents: “Or at least a voice. Of a generation.”

That — both the assertion itself, and the hedging — may well be the most Millennial thing ever said.

Describe “Girls,” the new Zeitgeisty Women’s Show from HBO in two words and those words are “uncomfortably familiar.” Uncomfortably gets top billing.

It is not so much the new “Sex and the City” as it is the anti-”Sex and the City.” Sure, it nods quickly at its predecessor, but they’re very different beasts. “Sex and the City,” for all its ballyhooed Women Talking Realistically About Sex, was glossy, aspirational television. The characters were Like You, but they got into predicaments you did not recognize and attended cocktail parties from which you would be turned away at the door. These were Escapist Tales of an Impossibly Glamorous Foursome, about whom the most realistic thing was the way they talked to each other.

Not so “Girls.” I could hardly stand it. The protagonist’s parents cut her off financially. She was working on a memoir that wasn’t going so well. She hooked up with ill-advised shirtless men.

People who expect to watch TV to escape are living in the wrong era.

I live to escape, and I watch television when I want to confront the harsh, awkward realities of life head-on.

Maybe it’s a millennial response to “Girls” to say, “It was too familiar. I disliked it.” “It was so true-to-life that I had to turn it off.” But really! You spend your days trying to avoid awkwardness. Then you turn on “Girls” and there it is, back with reinforcements.

I can’t imagine what you’d get out of the show if you weren’t a Millennial twenty-something struggling out of the damp blanket of parental oversupport. And if you were, why bother watching it on television?

It’s awful! If I want realism, life is sitting right there. Why would I watch something just as rife with awkwardness as my day-to-day existence, featuring people of normal attractiveness and problems that resemble my own? It’s like they think art is supposed to hold the mirror up to life. That is the last thing I want art to do. Who are all these three-dimensional female characters with problems that do not revolve around shoes? Don’t they realize they’re on television?

You don’t realize how common your experience is until someone else goes and makes an HBO series about it.

One of the undergirding principles of Millennial life is that we are all unique and special. That is why we all go to great effort to purchase Studiously Whimsical ensembles at unheard-of thrift stores and all wind up in functionally identical Variations on Sweaters-and-Opaque-Tights. In the effort to Say Something Different and Be Someone Unique, we all wind up looking and sounding about the same.

When “Girls” came bounding out of the firmament, it was heralded with an enthusiasm generally reserved for prophets and films by James Cameron. Then came the equally enthusiastic backlash. Now I think we’re in the backlash to the backlash — or possibly the backlash to the backlash to the backlash.

I felt about “Girls” the way I feel about most of the merchandise at Urban Outfitters: I would like to tell you that it does nothing for me, but I have three of those outfits at home. Come to think of it, the only thing I disliked about “Girls” was the first episode.

It’s comedy based on discomfort. Yet that’s where most critically acclaimed comedy is situated now, in that discomfiting space between characters who seem so impervious to suffering that you never worry about them and characters you care too much about to find their predicaments funny.

This show falls squarely under the umbrella of First-World Problems. These are the problems of people without real problems. You worry that you aren’t the voice of your generation but rather a voice of a generation. Your parents stopped paying for your dry cleaning. Your Klout score fell back into the low 50s. You wish there were a TV series about your life, but then Lena Dunham went ahead and nabbed it first.

They’re the kind of neatly capitalized problems you read about in magazines. “Is Facebook Making Us Lonelier?” “What Happened To Dating?” But the peculiar misery of people with nothing to be miserable about is real enough. The show is based on that ultimate First-World Problem — the realization that your problem is a first-world problem.

There are several reasons to watch anything on television. One is to escape. One is that it features Sarah Palin and you are contractually obligated to watch it for work. Yet another is that it replicates your own experience and, in doing so, transforms it. It becomes a touchstone. It’s zeitgeisty. It’s awkward. But I repeat myself.

Further reading...

Steuver: Girls smartly cracks Gen Y code

By  |  03:22 PM ET, 04/16/2012

 
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