What do you get when you cross a group of mid-twenties, female New Yorkers and Lena Dunham’s real life experiences? That’s right, the comedy-drama Girls, starring Lena Dunham, herself, as the main character, Hannah Horvath.
Girls is an American television series created by Lena Dunham, that premiered on HBO on April 15, 2012. The show centres around an aspiring writer, Hannah, and her three friends, Jessa, Shoshanna and Marnie, “who are as messed up as [Hannah] is” (Sheffield, 2012 pg. 32). Hannah gets a shock when her parents visit Brooklyn from Michigan to announce that they will no longer financially support her. She is left to her own devices where she must navigate her twenties alongside her closest friends.
Classed under ‘comedy-drama’, Girls provides audiences with just that, comedy and drama. Lena Dunham, a comedian herself, takes the audience on a comedic journey showing us the typical humiliations, disasters and rare triumphs of the four women. The show has been heralded as “frank and fearless” for it’s “gritty and straightforward approach to taboo topics like abortion, its naturalistic and frank take on sex scenes and the importance of female friendship the show celebrates” (Daalmans 2013, pg. 359). This ‘up-front’ approach is typical of HBO quality drama, known for seeking “discomfort” (Fuller and Driscoll 2015, pg. 258) and exploring “contemporary anxieties” (Johnson 2005, pg. 61).
However, the show adopts an interesting approach on women by suggesting that the girls are all “self-evolved, self-entitled and… unable to define themselves without male influence” (Daalmans 2013, pg. 359). There is a “notion that these women’s sense of self-definition only comes through their relationships with a man”. This provokes a sense of disconnect for women, especially as the show attempts to represent women aged in their 20’s. What is also surprising is that Lena Dunham herself is extremely successful, yet she is portrayed as a character who lacks self-direction. Overall, the show is deficient of the millennial, successful and multi-cultural women, especially in a time period when society is pushing for equality and a positive representation of women.
In saying this, HBO’s Sex and the City is quite similar, in that it explores “sexual content… and the importance of sexual expression to its females” (Fuller and Driscoll 2015, pg. 259) so it is no different to Girls. Evidently, Girls follows a similar storyline to Sex and the City featuring four central female characters who are concerned with their sex lives. Girls has been critiqued for its similarity with Sex and the City, albeit the obvious shift in time periods where the show encompasses ideas that are relevant to the time in which it was created.
However, “Girls includes in depth sexual stories that Sex and the City would “never canvass, entwined with different stories about aspiration and identity, including the looming possibility of complete life failure” (ibid.). Whereas in Sex and the City, the women were not as concerned about complete life failure. Girls seems to make a clear comment on the way women approach their sex lives within today’s society and suggests that women are more open to talking about it. It also makes a comment on the fact that there is potentially more pressure today, to be a ‘successful woman’, signified by the women in Girls feeling as if they will fail, compared to the time of Sex and the City.
Girls has also caused a lot of controversy due to its lack of racial diversity. The show’s characters are all white, middle-class females living in the highly multiracial New York City. Hadley Freeman (2014) states that “when it transpired that there were almost no people of colour in the first series of the show, critics cried racism in a way that no one ever did about the similarly New York-based and Sex and the City” (ibid.). This leads to the fact that “New York is much more segregated” than people think; Dunham is making a comment on what needs to change. It is also impossible for Dunham to “represent all life experiences of everyone in her generation”, as she doesn’t have an everyman’s “view of the world” (ibid.).
But despite the criticisms that come with the show, we must herald this “fresh” and “ground-breaking” (Daalmans 2013, pg. 359) programme that seems to be a part of the revival of successful female-lead shows. The show provides a reflection for many women in their 20-somethings especially within today’s society.
Sheffield, R. (2012), Girls! Girls! Girls!. Rolling Stone, p.32.
Daalmans, S. (2013). ‘I’m Busy Trying to Become Who I Am: Self-entitlement and the city in HBO’s Girls’, Feminist Media Studies, 13(2), pp. 359-362.
Fuller, S. and Driscoll, C. (2015). ‘HBO’s Girls: gender, generation, and quality television’, Continuum, 29(2), pp. 253-262.
Johnson, C. (2005). ‘Quality/Cult Television: The X-Files and Television History’, The Contemporary Television Series, pp. 57–71.
Dunham, L., Dunham, L., Williams, A. and Kirke, J. (2015). Girls (TV Series 2012– ). [online] IMDb. Available at: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1723816/ [Accessed 22 Oct. 2015].
Freeman, H. (2014). Not That Kind of Girl review – Lena Dunham exposes all, again. [online] the Guardian. Available at: http://www.theguardian.com/books/2014/sep/30/not-that-kind-of-girl-lena-dunham-review-memoir [Accessed 22 Oct. 2015].