Girls: Narcissism And The City

It hasn't evolved past bland self-importance and cartoonish stereotypes so why does everyone think it's so bloody amazing?
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It hasn't evolved past bland self-importance and cartoonish stereotypes so why does everyone think it's so bloody amazing?

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Regardless: Girls is a show about four Girls, three of which float around Hannah’s mental orbit. Hannah (who is the protagonist Girl, played by Lena Durham) is also the most entertaining Girl by some margin. One Girl (Jemima Kirke) is an artist, another Girl (Alison Williams) works in an art gallery and the fourth Girl (Zosia Mamet), who I know the least about, reminds me a bit of Hey! Arnold meets Sarah Silverman. She flirts between that line of the sexually liberated and the unashamedly nerdy. In fact at one point she suggests a dynamic life strategy - one night for emotionless, attachment-free sex; the next day an intense labour of her professional life. It’s a pursuit some of us hardly manage one of. Others/I manage neither. This is a philosophy which, like most comedies/dramas within this demographic, remains consistent throughout the whole show. I can’t say I’m surprised. Such introspection and narcissism is packaged and sold for millions.

Admittedly I’d only seen a couple of episodes before these two and they’re sketchy memories at best. In one the ‘artist’ was having an argument with her rich, older boyfriend in a way artists are demanded of them – smashing things and calling her own work derivative like a crap Frenchman. In another the pretty brunette ,who was shagging another artist was unaware of his pending and completely, astonishing lack of commitment. Hardly original stuff - this is pathos through themes that I think Hollyoaks probably addressed several times...if you substitute flaky artist with local fruit juice entrepreneur. In between these plotlines there were regular episodes of sporadic self-reflection (mainly about the previous themes) involving social awkwardness meeting unknowingly cool that only New Yorkers seem to permeate.  It’s apparently ‘Real’.  Although I find that adjective to be an awkward one – one girl’s realness, is another girl’s ‘tidy your fucking room you blithering twats.’ Not everything has to be some abstract soliloquy of fuckwittery at the behest of verbal foreplay - the world does not work like these people assume, if it did, we’d all be sprung out on a lawn like dead bumblebees whilst society collapsed around us. They’d probably enjoy that though, it would make a double-spread for their Integrated Zine-Cast.

I found it all a bit contrived if I’m honest - so many plot devices are effectively stacked upon one another to enable Lena Durham to brain fart all over the screen. This isn’t a bad thing. She’s an interesting monologist. I wouldn’t kick her out of bed if she brain farted. She does have a fantastic ability to turn any scenario or conversation onto herself and invite audiences into a fantastic but largely inconclusive declamation – I would say that’s probably the Girls’ characters most prescient aspect of the ‘20something dynamism’ (male and female.) The pure unbridled joy of an opinion nobody asked for. Like I’m giving you right now. That and Adam’s (the boyfriend, we’ll come to later) complete lack of enthusiasm at the hand of being emotionally molested by her friends whilst having a burrito – they to-and-fro between two topics, the pretty ones’ ex and Hannah’s impending career success, yes, a pattern is emerging.

This might sound like I’m cynically hacking away at it but this is exactly what makes it an enjoyable form of entertainment. It’s an exaggerated exchange of ideas between 21st century women, growing up in a knowing yet confusing environment – it’s just this is used to stick it to topics which have been gone over countless times, but in a smart fashion. You see it happen every day on twitter. It’s just here Lena managed to capture it on paper, then onto screen, and ultimately the big screen if rumours are to be believed. It captures a generation and a conversation we’re all a part of, it’s just been done by and absorbed by an educated and media savvy fraction of modern young peoples.

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The problem is it often sinks into a parody. I sat there, Pringles on auto-pilot, assuming such a groundbreaking series wouldn’t verge into a feverish collection of nouveau-Brooklynite-fused clichés...and no longer had a Pringle collapsed onto my chin, there was a scene in a fucking drug-rehab centre...where the ‘addict/artist’ friend (played by another British-American-Brit-Atlanticist-Anglo-US-based London/LA actor) uses her sexual knowingness to help emancipate another closeted female addict with a display of generous cunnilingus – all to compensate for the fact she was being so awfully belligerent in the sharing session due to her longstanding Daddy issues. Breath (through the nose in this case). Really? I mean, come on? It’s like the Coming of Age-Drama equivalent to an Action hero having to fight whilst balancing on a form of moving public transport.

The main male role, Adam – (aside from Richard E. Grant who makes a rather pointless cameo, in which I think he’s still playing Withnail by way of methadone) – seems to show Hannah up as completely impervious to his sociopathic and misanthropic ways. For a feminist role model (of a very certain colour), she largely leaves him unchallenged – he just freestyles his social incapacity that Hannah seems to encourage. That said, the cafe scene with Adam’s ex was gold. I recommend anyone to track it down for a brilliant example of living in a large City which is never quite large enough.

I found little difference in these opening two episodes than I did in the limited few I remember from before. The backlash against it started a while ago, so I’m late to this party (rarely even invited). But still - the characters, their environment, their outlook on life – it hasn’t evolved past crap sex, volatile relationships, careers in the Arts (strangely art imitating life, in this case), excruciating self-importance masked as modern self-reflection and an expulsion of verbal diarrhoea that no one asked for and no one wants to clean up. And their rooms are still a tip. But that’s fine, it’s entertainment and anyway – as Jessica suggests to her drug-therapy group:

“You can’t make things that mean nothing mean something.”

Quite, Jessica.  Quite.

I do prefer it to that one about women and shoes living in the City though.

Follow Adam on Twitter, @therumpdiary