By Caitlin Gardner
If this past decade has taught us anything about television, it is that there is a growing disconnect between what shows Internet users want to talk about versus what shows the general public actually watches. Lena Dunham’s Girls opened to modest ratings on HBO but largely earned good reviews.
As creator, director and star, Dunham has caused an internet-based firestorm with her show that stretches from the lack of cast diversity to the self-satirizing portrayal of upper-middle-class privilege and sparked a debate over whether or not a show can be compelling when you find the characters largely despicable.
What really stuck out in a lot of Internet forums is homogeneity of the cast, as the show features four female twenty-somethings in New York City—Greenpoint, Brooklyn to be exact—without even a sight of ethnic Poles that make up a considerable portion of the Greenpoint population. Through the first three episodes, the show hardly strays from these four characters or introduces any auxiliary characters of color.
Diversity in television has always been an issue, but considering several television shows set in New York, from Friends to Sex & the City to Seinfeld and How I Met Your Mother, were and are just as homogeneous as Girls and have much larger viewership and fan bases, I wonder why this show is getting singled out over the others. Is it because it is so new or that it has a young show-runner? It’s hard to say, but there should be more discussion and creation pushing for more diversity in television.
I do think this show is funny and in many instances find it relatable, in the most embarrassing circumstances. The first few episodes focus on Hannah (Dunham), financially cut-off by her parents and in a troublesome sexual relationship with an often shirtless slacker, who is not really her boyfriend and may have given her an STD. Hannah loses her unpaid internship after demanding to be paid.
We should feel bad for Hannah, but she is equally responsible for her mess given that she continues the relationship, makes politically incorrect jokes that bomb her job interviews and refuses to work at McDonalds, even if it would give her a solid check to pay rent. Dunham makes Hannah odious, frumpy and lacking in self-awareness even when her friends on the show throw it back in her face.
Most people had no tolerance for these characters after the first episode, especially Hannah, but this is the point. Generation-Y is shown with all its blemishes and warts as a large subset of it enters the work force…or not. You are not supposed to like these characters, but rather realize you know these girls or find it relatable—not in a good way, but in a reflective “I can’t believe I did that” kind of way.
The show’s producer, Judd Apatow, definitely knew what he was getting into returning to TV with another show about middle-class awkwardness of a certain age, but Girls is clearly in Lena Dunham’s voice.
And with that, this is either a love it or hate it show.