7 Reasons You May Think Girls Is Bad, And Why You’re Wrong

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Good on HBO for pushing Girls into the forefront of topical culture discussions. It’s quite a clever publicity tactic: get everyone weighing in on your Sunday night show, from James Franco to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (seriously), and then all of a sudden it seems like everyone is talking about it, and your ratings soar. Even better is if there’s backlash and controversy, so that not having an opinion on the show is a sign of really being out of the loop. Whether or not you like it, you have to at this point be aware of Girls. Right now it’s probably the most talked about television show, although Enlightened is starting to enter more and more conversations.

The cultural significance of the show isn’t what those critical of the show are arguing against, although it’s likely that this is what they’re reacting to, thinking it doesn’t deserve this status as one of the most well-regarded shows on TV today. The backlash is pointed and harsh. There’s a real resentment behind the objections people have to the show, often though not always with a misogynistic tinge. It’s not good enough to be lukewarm about Girls; it is to be either adored or despised. I happen to be of the opinion that a lot of people hate the show for reasons that are utterly asinine. Not only that, they’re usually reasons that are filled with hypocrisy, applying a standard to Lena Dunham that is rarely or never applied to other showrunners and artists.

I’ve compiled a list of 7 different things I hear from people who think the Girls is the worst show ever. They’re all horsecrap, obviously, and I’ll try to explain why that is, and why the show is actually one of the best TV has to offer right now.

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1) Lena Dunham is ugly.

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Honestly, this is the one I hear the most. It’s the most prevalent criticism from meatheaded dudes who apparently think that all of entertainment should be designed to cater to their tiny penises. The sad thing is that most entertainment actually is designed for this, and so for their entire lives these bros have been spoiled as hell. So there’s two things people don’t like about Lena Dunham: one is that they find her unattractive, and the second, which compounds the first, is that she rather frequently gets naked on the show.

So firstly, refusing to give the show a chance because you’re not attracted to the lead female is the height of male-centric stupidity. It’s a benchmark that only serves to limit your palette. You’ll simply miss out on great TV and movies because of smallmindedness. Imagine if women or gay dudes just dismissed any show that has a male lead that is not Brad Pitt or Bradley Cooper. Louie would not exist. Kevin James would certainly have no career (not saying that would be a bad thing). Forget about Larry David and his way-too-hot-for-him wife on his show. But that’s neither here nor there.

Just because Dunham doesn’t fit your image of hot doesn’t mean she shouldn’t let herself be seen nude; in fact, it makes it more important, and effing brave, for her to do this. The point of sex and nudity in the show is not for it to be sexy or to arouse you, you perv. It’s to be a realistic depiction of, often, the awkwardness that accompanies actual, real life sex. There’s terrific observation and statements being made here, but you miss out if you’re just focusing on your disappointment with her tits. It’s also usually done for comedic effect, like lots of frontal male nudity is of late. I’m just saying, we’ve all seen Jason Segel’s dick, so Lena Dunham’s body should not shock anybody.

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2) It tries too hard to be a “voice of its generation.”

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This is one thing that irked me about Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s column on Girls. He seems to think this desperation to speak for a generation is “obvious.” I think what’s obvious is that he doesn’t seem to know how to read cinematic language, or at the very least, irony. Hannah’s statement in the first episode that she thinks she could be the voice of her generation, which she then modifies as just a voice of a generation, is intended to sound narcissistic. It’s supposed to be funny. We are supposed to laugh at her. We’re not meant to take this as Lena Dunham speaking for herself. The fact that she puts Hannah in this position and has her say this is a testament to Dunham’s own awareness of the narcissism that goes into any artist’s work, which is both essential to producing anything but also a source of external annoyance.

All the show hopes to be is a voice, which is all any show hopes to be, right? Every show, book, movie, song, or, ahem, Huffington Post column that gets made within a given generation is a voice of that generation. It can’t help it. That’s kind of the point. So Girls is no different in this respect. The fact that it’s made with such a strong, unique voice scares people a little bit. But like Louie, which is probably the show that Girls compares best to, it’s meant to just reflect the wills and whims of its creator. People don’t jump on Louis CK for sticking to his own singular vision on his show. His show could easily be called “Comedians.” That doesn’t mean it’s the voice of his generation of comedians. Maybe the entire problem comes down to the title. That brings me to the next criticism.

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3) It doesn’t actually reflect the 21st century “girl” experience.

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Another thing people say that I don’t even understand. How do you represent 51% of population in a single show, with a limited number of characters and stories? This is an impossible responsibility to put on someone, and not one that Dunham has put upon herself to be sure. It’s the distinction between “a” and “the” again, relating to voicing a generation: it’s a show about girls, not the show about girls. It does not and can’t be relatable to every young woman who watches it, no more than a young man or old person could relate to it.

But in offering specific depictions of specific characters, drawing from Dunham’s own specific experiences and observations, it’s able to get at some little things that are universal, for girls, for girls and guys, for people young and old, maybe even for Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. This is all you can ask for from art, that it reflects some truth about some human experience. That it doesn’t depict your experience perfectly is a ridiculous benchmark to apply to a TV show. Entourage depicted friendship in an interesting way even though very few of us can relate to the life of having a friend skyrocket to the peak of Hollywood stardom.

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4) The characters are annoying, whiny, privileged and boring.

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I mean, I’ll grant that they are a few of these things, but I’m not sure how it necessarily follows that this is a weakness. Much gets made of the “flawed” character, as though this quality is inherently good and interesting, and I don’t subscribe to this philosophy. I wasn’t able to get into The Mindy Project because while Mindy Kaling touted her protagonist as “flawed,” I couldn’t find enough redeeming qualities about any other characters or stories that made these flaws interesting or keenly observed. So I understand that people might hear Girls characters described as “flawed” and think that’s supposed to mean that makes them good. I don’t agree with this.

However, I also don’t agree with the idea that characters have to be likeable, or even relatable, to be interesting. Tony Soprano isn’t exactly a likeable or relatable dude, but he is a fascinating character. That’s an extreme example, and many other shows make characters interesting in more realistic and subtle ways. The characters in Girls remind me of friends who become your friends for good reasons initially but are often the source of irritation and frustration. Or they remind me of people who come from privilege but then have to endure the struggles many of us have had to deal with for some time. This isn’t a criticism but an observation, and one that can be handled with awareness and embarrassment, and that’s the way I find Girls handles it. This isn’t a show that would argue against being labeled as full of “first world probems,” but it still is a fascinating take on upper middle class angst, not unlike someone like Kurt Cobain might express. Dunham and company just do this with more irony and humor.

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5) It reeks of nepotism!

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People trot out this line because they think it effectively diminishes the talent of the cast and of Dunham herself, but of course they’re completely dumb for thinking this. The one newcomer that this label has the best show at being applied to, even though she’s disproven these claims with her excellent and nuanced performance, is Alison Williams, the daughter of NBC News Anchor Brian Williams. Then there’s the daughter of playwright David Mamet, Zosia, who is absolutely outstanding not only in this, but in previous work on United States of Tara and Mad Men. She has cred. Then there’s Dunham, who people cite as coming from fame, even though her parents are essentially obscure artists, a painter and a photographer.

And of course, it’s true that people don’t make these same claims about other actors and filmmmakers working today because they’re not publicized by people seeking any information they can use to discredit them. Duncan Jones, director of Moon and Source Code isn’t dismissed for coming from fame and not having actual talent despite being the son of David Bowie. Jason Reitman’s work on Juno and Up in the Air isn’t diminished just because his dad directed Ghostbusters and numerous other films. So this is yet another criticism people make of Lena Dunham and Girls that simply does not stand up to the slightest bit of scrutiny from a serious person.

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6) It’s racist!

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Here is a criticism I think is important, but doesn’t mean Girls, specifically, is a bad show. Pointing out the lack of representation in Dunham’s show is good so that it’s in her consciousness, but ultimately, she is making a show that is drawn from her own experiences, and trying to insert a token character into the specific world she comes from is not the solution to a legitimate objection to lack of diverse representation in TV and movies in general. The solution isn’t to make works so broad so that everyone is represented. The solution is to make works that are specific so that everyone is represented broadly.

What I mean is that the lack of, for example, a black character in Girls isn’t bad per se, but the existence of a predominantly white ensemble in the midst of so many other predominantly white ensemble programs is problematic. There needs to be more productions featuring other racially-dominated casts, and mixed casts. It’s a broad problem that gets unfairly tossed at a show that people are targeting anyway, probably because they see it as a smart show and this is something it may have legitimately overlooked. It’s not something people will throw at How I Met Your Mother, though.

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7) The guys in the show are more interesting than the girls.

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Again, I’m not sure how this point, even if it were true which I would dispute, serves as a criticism. If anything, it’s a strength, that as is so often the case in excellent shows and movies, the supporting players are as strong or even stronger than those featured more heavily. The fact that characters like Ray and Adam are fully rounded and realized people is one of the show’s great strengths. This is where Girls diverts from a show like Louie, which is basically all about one guy, and how he sees things. Here, we don’t get that singular character perspective, but we gain all these interesting individuals who we are constantly learning more about and being surprised by. Also, that male viewers respond to the male characters more than the girls is predictable. But maybe extend that level of interest to the females in the show (I’m looking at you, Kareem!) and you’ll find yourself rewarded. They’re every bit as layered and complicated and fascinating and hilarious.

The complaints leveled against Girls range from the serious to the unserious. There are some qualms people have that I think are mostly fair, even though I disagree. Tastes are not meant to be uniform. What grinds my gears is when people apply one standard to one show and then another completely unachievable standard to another that seems purely based upon who is behind the show’s creation. This I cannot and will not abide. Ignore and dismiss the show as much as you please; you’ll be the one missing the fun. Try to argue that it’s bad for spurious reasons though, and you’re going to have to prepare yourself to be called out.

In conclusion, Lena Dunham is a babe.

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  • Gem Seddon

    Eloquently argued and well written piece, Darren. For saying I couldn’t get through one episode of Girls, you’ve made me reconsider and I may revisit it. I am in the camp of “Lena Dunham’s attractiveness has got bugger all to do with it, her onscreen personalities just irritate me.”

  • Mep

    How about with number 3 it’s not that the “girls” are not interesting but rather entirely unsympathetic Every single one of the girls on the show highlights myths about annoying young women and says “yeah that’s true”. They are crazy, or selfish, or self absorbed, or so naive it’s painful. In a world where “girls” are desperately trying to break down the walls of what people assume about them this show just highlights that and doesn’t do so in a negative light.

    You are supposed to agree with them all being HORRID friends to one another. You are supposed to find their “craziness” quirky and cute. Yeah the lead star is attractive which makes her self loathing something like Zoey on New Girl. Yes the girls are interesting but interesting in the same way a train wreck is. My problem is nothing you listed my problem is so called “female friendly” shows just highlighting sexist ideals of women. It’s no different than Sex in the City in a new package. It makes women look bad but you are supposed to believe it’s a realistic image of young women. Everything they say reminds me of Carrie (again from Sex) saying I am not the typical female than acting like the worst example of what men say all their exs are like.

    I liked the first few episodes of the show but the longer it goes on the more these girls just fall in line with everything that is wrong. They are sex obsessed, image obsessed, shallow, vapid, people that couldn’t care less about each other. Want to know why men say “yeah my ex was fucking crazy” because these girls are fucking crazy. I am a girl the same age as them trying to be a writer and make it in a lot of the same ways as them and if I met anyone like any of these girls I would be disgusted by their behavior.

    That’s the problem, interesting does not = good