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Wednesday, 21 of October of 2020

Girls – “Pilot”

“Then I am busy. Trying to become who I am.”


Nick was fully prepared to do a post about Girls. Noel was going to do a post about Girls for a Facebook group a number of academics on Twitter started (wait, why is it on Facebook then?). They decided to pool their thoughts into this conversation about Girls. So, yes, two guys are now going to discuss Girls. What could possibly go wrong with this arrangement?

(We wanted to ask Karen or Kelly to join us, but our hands were tied and it just wasn’t possible. If we get a second season, we definitely want to include one of them. Maybe both if the aforementioned hand-tier is cool with it. But it may have to wait until season 3.)

I don’t know about you, but I’ve been kind of dreading Girls in the same way I started to dread Game of Thrones last year. The hype’s been immense, and we both know how well I respond to HBO-related hype.

But I kind of don’t know what to do with this show. It’s a pilot so hard to completely judge, but at the same time I feel like pilots, especially from a channel like HBO, tend to generally reflect the aim of the show as a whole, so maybe judging completely is okay? In any case, I think we’ll start with a core reaction to the program: I kind of dislike myself for liking the show. It has the talky patter stuff I respond to (though I feel like it tries too hard sometimes), but the privilege that underlies these lives (Hannah’s refusal to work at McDonald’s being the prime example of this) makes me a little nauseated. Privilege is at the core of many a fictional program, drama and comedy alike, but I think the aesthetics of this show and the narrative concerns over money bring this to the forefront in ways that, say, Revenge or Community don’t. And that could explain why this concern has appeared in a number of criticisms of the episode.

What did you think?

I dreaded it, too, because I dread anything that has this level of hype. The hyperbole that surrounded the show made me ill. Talk of how it was essentially a gamechanger. Discussion of how it was a Sex in the City that made sense for a younger audience. Heck, they even poked fun at “being a Carrie” during the episode. I just expected more.

I’m not sure what I expected more of, though. To be shocked, to find the pronouncements by 24-year olds to be revelatory, to even find a skewed perspective heretofore unrepresented by out-of-touch media establishments? What I feel like I got was a single-cam 2 Broke Girls with more leeway in the partial nudity department.

The difference between discussions of privilege and entitlement between most shows and this one are the endearing qualities of unlikable characters in the other shows. Even though they’re awful, there has to be something to like about those characters deep down. And I can’t think of anyone I saw in that episode (maybe Allison Williams) who I didn’t want to see run down by a truck. Hannah was awful and offered nothing. Her plight has no value for her to suffer and maybe it would’ve made me feel for her more if showed me a reason that getting this writing thing off the ground is a good idea. Our only indication that it’s worth the trouble is through the mumbling from her parents. Her friends are no better. When the British girl said that she was pregnant, I almost laughed (“Ha ha! Jackass!”).

Why would I want to watch a show where I just want bad things to happen to every person all the time? It’s like if someone made a show featuring Pete Campbell, Pierce Hawthorne, and Dale from The Walking Dead. Why would I want to watch a show about a collection of people that irritate me?

Do you feel like there’s some growth potential in this show or we just watching to hope Allison Williams has her dad’s comedic chops?

I liked Marnie (Allison Williams) well enough, but that’s largely because I’m that kind of motherly/semi-pragmatic type with my friends, so her I get. The rest of the cast of girls, as presented here, remain generally unlikeable in all sorts of ways.

But I’m not sure that’s reason not to watch. Shows are grounded in unlikeable characters all the time, and we find value in that. But it does make it harder to get into the show when there’s a lack of a supporting cast to attach one’s self to as well, that forces us to deal just with these group of women and no one else.

There isn’t anything bold about offering up flawed characters, but I think that we have a collection of flawed (white) women that offers something at least a little bold (albeit on a premium cable channel, in which case, I wonder if it is that bold…).

I think one of my challenges with the show is how very specific it is to this type of a group. This could be a gender issue as I respond to other forms of this sort of aimless and educated coming-of-age story (see: Baumbach, Noah (and Chris Eigeman’s cameo seems like a sly acknowledgement of that)), but struggle a bit to find a way in here.

You mention of 2BG is amusing, and I like the idea of a crossover moment when the cast of girls end up in the diner. Oh, what would Oleg say?

Speaking of gender roles, what say you about the men that inhabit this world?

I really want to say I feel like the men in this world are caricatures. There’s the clingy boyfriend that feels the way to make a relationship work is to make her happy at the expense of himself to the point where there’s nothing left for her to care about. There’s the polar-opposite of him in the guy who is so detached that he side-steps any sort of emotional land mine and soldiers through awkward sex. And then there’s the guy who cooked up the weak opium who’s less of a person and more of a stand-up comedian dealing with hecklers.

Digger was more of a means to an end: he’s the embodiment of a consequence to limply-dealt assertion.

I want to say these are caricatures but it’s hard to say with a pilot. I feel like pilots deal with non-essential characters by making them stock archetypes and all of the men of the show feel like they can be dropped at a moment’s notice. There’s nothing essentially wrong with that but it might be too soon to judge whether these guys are going to be as nuanced as the ladies (hopefully) will become.

And I’m with you that unlikable characters are featured on shows all the time and I watch those shows without thinking they detriment the program. I just feel like there’s a heart to those characters or a heart to the show that can draw me back in when those characters wreak havoc. Maybe this show lacks a heart I can identify with and that very well may be that this is a very specific kind of group, these Brooklyn ladies of a certain age who aspire to “make it” without having to necessarily work for it.

Is this show supposed to be a farce and we’re troubling it by trying to identify with these characters?

And don’t forget the father, who might as well have been the doddering old man in a farce-slash-comedy of manners. And, indeed, I think none of the men that we see are even remotely likable, and the one that seems vaguely sensible (the one with the cooked-up opium) is disliked by the group for pointing out the ease of which they have it. No one else mentions they have debt, and it seems that the fact that he has debt is just another sign of how he doesn’t belong in this group.

Marnie’s boyfriend feels like an obvious send-up of the Michael Cera type, and why that type wouldn’t be desirable as a partner, which is perhaps the most biting bit of relationship humor the episode offers. On the other hand, he isn’t a bad person either. He’s as poorly emotionally-developed as they are, and they judge him harshly for it.

I think we’re onto something as we talk about the lack of a heart, which may boil down more to a lack of universality. I’m not suggesting that the show have a wider scope beyond this set of friends (though the title certainly implies it was going to), but the dynamics of this world (so rooted in notions of privilege) may be too specific to this group that anyone not a part of it may feel very isolated from it.

This idea of a farce, however, may be the best away to tackle the show. And farces aren’t outside of the relam of HBO, but, like with Bored to Death, I feel like it doesn’t build in to big comedic moments, in counter point to Curb, which is an expertly-executed farce. The comedic climax of the pilot here is spurred on by opium tea only introduced in the previous scene. And while it’s kind of funny, it’s only funny because of the situation, not because the joke was completely earned.

I don’t think the show completely lacks heart, however. I do think Hannah’s awkward sex with the actor/woodworker/slimeball isn’t specific to these dynamics but this point in life in general. I mean, hell, I’ve been told to shut up during sex before, and that could be why that scene registered a bit for me.

And now with that admission, I’m going to let you have the last word. Are you going to keep watching, or are you done? What would you like to see the show do, based on this pilot? I’m probably done with it, but that’s because I don’t have HBO and am not watching shows via extra legal means now.

With so many one-dimensional female characters populating the television landscape, I don’t mind a cast of male characters that are just as simple and/or disposable. But I do think that if we have to define which lens to best view this show (if we’re supposed to see it as a farce or not), it means the show failed in establishing its tone. And that might be the greater crime that has inspired so much backlash or, in order to avoid slamming a show with promise, made people reserve judgement. Folks aren’t sure what to do with this.

I’m going to stay on for a couple of episodes and see if they work out the kinks. Even though the numerous trailers HBO put out to market Girls don’t contain many jokes that slay me, I’m hoping there’re some hidden kernels that will develop the heart of this show, whether it goes the way of something like a lighter version of How to Make It In America or something more akin to Curb.

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