Grace Dent on TV: Girls, Sky Atlantic
When I watch Girls, I want to shake them hard and shout "bloody grow up"
Saturday 01 February 2014
I tuned into series 3 of Girls mainly to see if Hannah had worked out that cheap silk-effect playsuits in sludge colours worn with bare legs did not suit her. She had not. Or if Marnie had figured out that the key to winning that art curator job she thought she was entitled to would require her to work hard in the art world. Not just shag someone in the art world while enjoying a 12-month ride on the Boo-Hoo-Me Bus as her last job didn’t quite work out. I tuned into series three to see if the girls – well, actually they’re women, they’re 25 years old – had wised up to that faux-hippie energy leech Jessa.
Had they noticed she floats around the world, on someone’s money, burning bridges with friendship groups, but always finding some mug impressed enough by her Brit wildchild schtick to shoulder her VD-scares and accompany her on abortion day trips? Jessa offers nothing in return for anyone else’s problems except “Chicken Soup for the Arduously Bo-ho Soul” platitudes delivered with her eyes rolled back in her head like aloof boiled eggs. Had the girls noticed this yet? No, they had not.
I tuned in to series three of Girls to see if Adam was still crippled by his new-found love and respect for Hannah despite their relationship beginning with months of Hannah appearing at his flat uninvited to be degraded sexually by him before nagging the man for an inkling of compassion or warmth that Adam didn’t, couldn’t and wouldn’t pretend to feel, then letting herself out until next time. Who knew continuous no-strings anal could lead to love?
I tuned into series three of Girls to see if Shoshanna, had, like, moved on from, her character quirk of saying everything rapid-fire, like, that goes through her mind with no editing for clarity or relevance but, like, really, really quickly and then anxiously trailing off into something candid and inappropriate like, that time when she was six years old and her mom, y’know, got her a Barbie house and she took down her pants and urinated in the bathroom, oh God, why is she saying this, forget she said this, why did she say that?
One of the greatest and most skilful things about Lena Dunham – and she is a phenomenal talent – is that this entire cast of anti-heroes, by season three, are still so very watchable. Dunham is beautifully knowing about the perils and double-binds for today’s young women. Likewise, she knows exactly what makes the Nineties generation infuriating to their elders.
Girls, I suggest, is the story of children told through the eyes of grown-ups and not the other way round. From the outset of episode one, we see New Yorker Hannah begging an extended allowance from her parents to “follow a dream” as an author. Her parents point out that she could take a non-creative job, pay her own way, and write in her spare time. Hannah is outraged. Girls is a tale of a female generation in 2014 who have been told they can achieve anything their hearts desire, but have trouble getting round to update a blog.
It is a story of the jarring reality of female friendships, eschewing the syrupy Sex and the City idea of joined-at-the-hip chums who laugh and lunch six days out of seven and instead spying on a loyalty-lite and self-absorbed bunch who, during series two, rarely meet at all. Dunham paints her character’s sloth, indolence and naivety with glorious grim detail.
In series two, an entire episode revolved around Hannah jamming a cotton bud so far into her ear canal she is hospitalised, while simultaneously skiving from an e-book deadline that she has spent the advance from and has neither the talent nor the gumption to sit down and write. Hannah’s bathroom is so filthy that when she and Jessa shared a bath in series two – which Jessa snotted in – for me, the sight of the built-up feg gathering around the soap dish still evokes post-traumatic stress.
I cannot speak for how viewers aged twenty-something feel when watching Hannah’s world – empathic, represented, insulted, inspired? – but it’s no accident that as an older woman I watch with the growing fractious need to shake them hard – Marnie especially – and shout “Bloody grow up”. Obviously, I’d buy her a drink afterwards. Probably three at least. And tell her that she isn’t really in love with Charlie, she is in love with the memory of the safety of when they were college sweethearts.
I would remind her that she dumped him with the clarity and confidence of the fact that the spark had died. And that this heartbreak is in fact her mourning a section of her life that has passed – and all things must pass as nothing is permanent. And I would point out that she is using the heartbreak as a distraction from working hard to find another inroad into being an art curator.
Obviously, she wouldn’t listen to a single pissing word of this, as Shoshanna might be there helping her choose a vintage Alice band with panda ears for her next Edie-Brickell-covers-session Skype broadcast. That’s the problem with girls today, I’d fume, they’re not prepared to listen. Then I’d get on with Dettol anti-bacterial floor wiping her bathroom.
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