Or, just to clarify, why I like Lena Dunham’s award-winning TV show Girls. Girls is the antidote to Sex and the City that we all needed. It is a triumph of realism over contrived sitcom conventions. It is groundbreaking. It is full of sex, but it is rarely sexy. Love it or hate it, here are my four reasons for adoring this show:
The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly
Sure, Girls has glassy-eyed, heart-wrenchingly beautiful Marnie and her ‘on-and-off’ boyfriend David Gandy (okay, he isn’t David Gandy. But he might as well be). Not to mention my personal favourite, the gorgeous hippie-hipster Jessa. There are also some very picturesque scenes as well, like the idyllic seaside fairground (New York’s answer to Brighton) where a robbed Hannah eats from tinfoil.
But for the most part, Girls is fixated upon the ugly truth. Many scenes take place in a series of dingy interiors, from neanderthal Adam’s sex dungeon, to the toilets of the grungy warehouse where Hannah and her ex-beau/gay best friend/flatmate Elijah snort their first cocaine.
This is a breath of fresh air, particularly in American sitcoms. For so many years, we have watched the cast of Gossip Girl cry into their caviar. These programmes lose their emotional impact because, especially in England, it is absolutely implausible for someone to feel melancholy as they stroll down a Californian beach. What Lena Dunham presents is a world where the audience can actually feel pathos for the characters, reminiscent of wallowing in a bomb site student room or learning a hurtful piece of news in the hell of an underground nightclub.
No One Turns Up With A Guitar Outside Someone’s House
There is a television convention called the ‘Serenade Your Lover’ trope. Whether or not you have come across the term before, you will be familiar with it.
A good example is in 10 Things I Hate About You, lovely Heath Ledger prances around the sports stadium singing Can’t Take My Eyes Off Of You, all the while perfectly in tune, handsome, debonair, and rather cheeky with it too.
Or- a reference which is a little more old school- there is the ‘so bad it’s good’ karaoke scene in My Best Friend’s Wedding, where Diaz’s tone-deaf character serenades her fiancé.
Girls, however, was unwilling to commit to either extreme. Marnie- who, five minutes before decided that she was an aspiring singer- decides to serenade her ex-boyfriend at his company’s office party…as a self-professed ‘treat’. It is not good, and it is not bad…it is simply awkward. To give the girl credit, she does manage to stay in tune. But the choice of song is terrible, to start with- Kanye does not lend himself to a slow piano-accompanied serenade. Her interpretative dancing, complete an amalgamation of self-conscious ‘gangsta’-style hand moves and royal waves, is frankly bizarre. And her nervous, hurried ‘crowd chat’ beforehand doesn’t help.
Most significant, I think, is how, whilst Ledger and Diaz are met with applause, Marnie is rejected by the people around her. It’s that nightmare come true, where you stand naked in public and get responded to with jeering laughter; that nightmare which Dunham is prepared to present in all its uneasiness. She gets a few patronising smiles, and a bit of ‘save me’ swaying from the general public. But the addressee- her ex- is stoney faced throughout, occasionally muttering ‘don’t…’ and ‘she’s still going’, in disbelief. Ultimately, they still end up shagging after it. But not before we experience this beautifully conducted piece of alienating-because-it-is-true humiliation.
There Is No Cheesy Theme Tune
Theme tunes are great. I’ll Be There For You, for instance, is forever associated in my head with a warm, fuzzy sense of friendship, youth and camaraderie (exactly what I watch Friends for, come to think of it.) Then there was the BBC kids programme that I used to watch with my brother. I would be helpless to remember any of the plots, but that theme tune always stuck in my head…’Everyone knows that Badger loves MASHED POTATO…Bodger and Badger, Bodger and Badger…la la la la la’. Really good stuff.
Having said this, I think the magic of Girls is that it doesn’t have a theme tune. Have you never found it a little jarring to hear an upbeat theme tune blasting out when it seems inappropriate? I felt this when I watched the first episode of the cancer storyline in Sex and the City, where the episode ends with the character of Samantha revealing her diagnosis to her best friend Miranda. It is very melancholy.. But then, five seconds later, we are hit with the ending credits and…’dada dada, dadada’. Now, if you haven’t heard the Sex and the City theme tune yet, then you should check it out. It’s great. But it is not universally applicable to any theme- no music is- and sometimes it is a very strange follow-up to the episodes. I have known producers to try and resolve this problem by omitting the theme tune from the end of certain episodes of their show. But this just seems ridiculous. Like a big ‘cry now’ sign, just to reinforce that the viewing audience is supposed to respond in a unanimously mournful way.
Furthermore, to return to Friends for a moment, how strange it seems to see the unrelentingly sarcastic Chandler dancing around like a lunatic? Or clean freak Monica just hopping into that- rather unhygienic, no doubt- fountain? It is all good fun seeing the character take part in a musical chorus line. But often opening sequences like this often make a parody of the show itself, and undermine its very precepts.
Lena, on the other hand, is committed to her realism. The only thing we get in the opening sequence of her episodes is a helpful reminder of how much they all messed up last week. Consequently, we are thrown back into the plot line. Hannah is still struggling with O.C.D. Shoshana is still unable to tell her boyfriend she cheated. And Jessa…well, Jessa is still missing. No one had time to dance around a fountain this week, in any case.
I Love Lena
It is well-known to any Girls fan that Lena Dunham, is running something of a one-woman-show as the star, director, producer and writer of the programme. Putting the virtues of the show aside for a moment, this is absolutely phenomenal. In an age where, unbelievably, only 5% of Hollywood directors are female, 26-year old Dunham is an inspirational anomaly.
If you haven’t yet had a chance to watch any interviews with Lena Dunham, you really should. She comes across as very sweet, much more confident and put together than her on-screen character (not unsurprisingly). There are hints of Hannah, of course, but arguably the better qualities: her talkativeness and her intensity. There is, in my view, a misguided sense that for woman to succeed they need to be a placid, intensely logical ice-woman (think Anna Wintour portrayed by Meryl Streep in The Devil Wears Prada). So, just like Girls provides an antidote to the glamorous Sex and the City idea of a sitcom, Lena Dunham provides an antidote to this ‘power woman’ notion. Like her show, she is intensely real. She is warm, and happily imperfect. She is also the next big thing.