How much do I love Girls? I love it so much. I swoon a little over the rather brilliant dialog. I adore the perfection of the cast and characters. It’s breezy, oh-this-old-thing aspect is so convincing that it leaves no doubt as to how much work and artistry is actually involved. It’s a bit like the old Dolly Parton quote that it takes a lot of money to look this cheap.
To be clear: I am not the demographic for Girls. If you want to locate my demographic imagine the weird wasteland that lay outside the house in the movie Beetljuice. Now picture Geena Davis and Alec Baldwin running in terror from the giant sand worm that roams this particular limbo. Now go ahead and replace the sand worm with that commercial about the woman who is portrayed as a stick figure of leaky pipes—you know the one where she goes to lunch, then rides an elevator, then walks down the street completely self-conscious because her entire urinary tract system is really just crappy plumping in a slumlord’s rental? Or try the commercial with the Cialis couple who spend their down time lounging outside in matching bathtubs while holding hands. (Fun Fact: When a friend of mine turned fifty, she asked her “landscaper”, a self-important, draw string pants-wearing, ah! India! feng shui gasbag if she could take a bath in the bathtub he had in his garden. So maybe there is a whole swath of middle-aged Americans with garden bathtubs that I was unaware of, though I suspect he had the tub in the garden for the same reason that we had an old claw foot tub in our yard when we bought our house: Because someone was too lazy or too cheap to haul its two-ton ass away. But, really, isn’t leaving your discarded bathtub on the lawn is really just one step from putting your car permanently on blocks.) Still not there? Then allow me to introduce Jamie Lee Curtis and her willingness to publicly announce her views on bowel evacuation. Really, toss in a Beano ad and I think all bases due south of your own personal border will be covered. In any case, it seems these are my people.
But the fact is that the emotional world of Girls is so sharp and true that it transcends age as it cuts to that elusive universal experience that is essential to art. The great thing about art is that it doesn’t just live in a single time zone or, to put it another way, the great thing about Girls is how much of it I recognize. It isn’t simply that these city girls and their adventures and sentimental educations recall my own city girl youth (that wouldn’t be art; that would be nostalgia) but that they depict a timelessness. You could probably find four young women in New York during World War II and one would be the girl who loves the man who loves her though she is no longer in love but is engaged to him anyway; the virgin; the glamor girl who is the resident free spirit; and the girl who is less definable because her primary quality is that of observer/writer/dreamer. Or, to take it back even further, the March sisters of Little Women comprise the pretty girl who finds love with the decent man (Meg), the adventurous, vaguely amoral girl trading on her pretty face (Amy), the saintly virgin (Beth), and Jo March, who is writing it all down.
So what else do I love? Hannah (“A voice of a generation”) who is involved with a guy who is all kinds of wrong with some aspects of all kinds of right thrown in, so what appears to be a questionable choice quietly becomes something less expected. The guy’s a terrific character, not to mention that the relationship is almost like a Rorschach in real time. In almost any other sitcom, Hannah would be limited to constant self-deprecation and irony, while the boyfriend would be less fundamentally strange. His actions and reactions would be tempered, as if his idiosyncrasies are no more than a persona he assumes; as if underneath all his sometimes difficult eccentricity is someone you could take home to mom. Dunham knows better. She understands that this character’s inner self isn’t less profane or selfish than we think—he is as he seems to be—but that along with the unvarnished sex and ego is tenderness. It’s an unexpected revelation when it comes, as is Hannah’s unexpected reaction. Their relationship, given what usually happens on shows like this, is realistic to the point of seeming almost radical.
Marnie is the responsible girl, self-supporting with the wonderful boyfriend. He’s the sweetheart who gives all the right gifts because he knows her that well and loves her that much; yet Marnie cannot admit that her love for him has lost its erotic charge and become familial. Even when she describes his touch as that “of a creepy uncle,” she’s still the Good Girl who can’t go back on her promise to love and cherish, unable can she admit that True Love just may have an expiration date after all.
Also radical is the nudity and the sex and the look of the actors—all of which play against the accepted (and expected) Hollywood-type. Not that the cast isn’t appealing by any standard, but the physical range is broader. In Girls, the writing and characterizations are the locus where we find attractiveness: no one is without his or her charms.
The best-party-of-your-life is the episode where everything shifts and deepens. Hannah moves beyond the tunnel-vision of how she is treated by her guy friend when she is forced to examine how she thinks of him (or doesn’t think of him). Marnie would rather whine and demand sympathy rather than acknowledge her own selfishness when it comes to the boy whose heart she just broke. Jessa’s cavalier attitude fails when she ends up in the emergency room with her employer who was jumped by two men that Jessa brazenly taunted. When she tells him, as thin consolation, that they can “still be friends,” he replies, now sadder and wiser himself, that they were never friends. It’s a sobering moment.
Shoshanna is the only one who isn’t made to face her flaws and is rewarded with the man who will finally relieve her of her virginity (her “biggest baggage”). That this cynical guy finds himself entranced by this sweet, slightly unconventional girl, is a terrific moment. It’s a sort of perfect illustration of how we fall for the least likely people in the space of an instant, when we weren’t even thinking about love at all. This is what makes Girls timeless. This is what makes it art.
And it’s so fucking funny.