‘Girls’: The Bizarro ‘Seinfeld’ (Opinion)

'Girls': The Bizarro 'Seinfeld' (Opinion)

The HBO series can be fascinating in how it depicts darkness, but is it insightful about that darkness?

For all the noise, “Girls” is just a new-fashioned romance. At least, that’s the case right now.

“Crazy, Stupid, Love” would easily have worked as an alternate title.

Sunday’s season finale turned everything the show has laid out for two years into a 21st-century version of a Jane Austen novel – which surely is enough for some people, but is just another reason for the show to generate such diverse opinion – as it no doubt will come Emmy season.

“Girls” is kind of fascinating in how it depicts darkness, but not particularly insightful about that darkness. Its achievement is in not shying away, as my colleague AJ Marechal pointed out last week, but it still leaves me unsatisfied because I already know people are weird and that life can be really depressing and full of false starts and lost progress. And that right or wrong, whether someone loves you or not can mean everything.

As brutally honest as the show can be, the show still has too many moments that are phony and spends too much time discovering the obvious – namely, that life is hard. To back that up, ask yourself this: Did any character on the show in season two learn anything, other than a confirmation of whom they like or don’t like? The show’s statement is that ultimately, everything these people do, they do for love – which again, is more of a point of view than a revelation about our world.

There’s no growth on “Girls” – not yet, anyway. In this respect, despite all the comparisons to “Sex and the City,” it’s really more like “Seinfeld” (complete with Adam, whose apartment-centric life and ability to live on his own terms in New York make him seem like he trained at Kramerica Industries). It’s a hijinx show about dating. And that’s fine – that can even be great under the right circumstances. At a minimum, it sure can be entertaining and provide great conversation fodder despite its low viewership. But until it shows a path for these characters to reach a new level that isn’t dependent on love or being loved, a hijinx dating show is all “Girls” is, and it shouldn’t get credit for being more. It’s the pretense that it has more insight to offer than a “Seinfeld,” that it demands to be taken more seriously, that hits me sideways.

“Seinfeld,” erroneously characterized as a show about nothing, told us at least as much about life as “Girls” does. It just chose to do so without the pain. “Girls” chooses to do it the opposite way. To each their own. A controversial scene like last week’s bedroom collision between Adam and Natalia creates a discussion but contributes little to that discussion.

Despite the bombastically swooning music capping Sunday’s events, I do think “Girls” at least allows for the possibility that we’re not supposed be swept away by these romances the way the characters are. At least, I can hope so. Above all, Lena Dunham’s Hannah is deeply soul-sick, independent of whatever physical and mental illness she faces, and I say that with sympathy. If the show can show a path toward truly dealing with that soul-sickness that isn’t dependent on love,  that will be something.

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  1. Jon Weisman says:

    I made that fix and one other, but I’m not sure what else you’re talking about – dropped words in particular.

  2. scottlong says:

    Great description of the show, but then your viewpoint comes from a place that is not that different than mine. We are not 20 somethings from New York. I’m sure if you fit that specific demo it’s a groundbreaking show. I’ve watched a few and just realize that it’s not for me. I relate about as much to Lena and her crew as I do to swamp people or the Honey Boo Boo family.

    • Jon Weisman says:

      Hey Scott. I can recognize how this show has more meaning to twentysomethings, but I don’t think I have to be in the demo of the characters to appreciate a good show. My life bears little resemblance to Breaking Bad or Louie or any number of good shows.

  3. Jon Weisman says:

    I don’t think I’m missing your essential point – I stated pretty openly that it’s trying to be honest about the challenges the characters face. What I think is debatable is to what end. To entertain and to create discussion, yes. To provide insight … not so much. And what’s disappointing about Girls is rather than deal with the problems that Hannah, Marnie and Jessa have, they simply paired two of them off with guys and tabled the third. That’s a show that to me has ambitions it can’t quite reach. Doesn’t mean it’s a bad show, but I think it’s okay to lament an opportunity missed.

    Perhaps there is a plan for season three or beyond to deal with that stuff, I don’t know.

    I’d also disagree heartily with the notion that “they don’t have long monologues about their feelings” – those actually happen all the time. In fact, Marnie, Charlie and Hannah (in her voicemail) all had one in last night’s episode alone.

    Finally, we can debate what a nice bow is, but the music and Adam carrying Hannah in her arms would seem to qualify.

  4. Jessica says:

    Yeah, I’m with Karanuck for the most part. I have had a LOT of problems with “Girls” this season as you and your better half both know, but I don’t think it troubles me that these twentysomethings don’t learn very much. I am only now learning things about myself and making better decisions because of that new insight right now, today, at 44. I repeated behaviors that were (and are) self-destructive for decades, so I really don’t have an issue with that aspect. I also think that Shosh and Marnie have made changes in their own behaviors so it isn’t like all four of them are trapped in amber and paralyzed. I have a lot more problems with the self-indulgent, “I-can-do-anything”-ism that Lena Dunham is exhibiting. I didn’t need to see her nipples, I didn’t buy her three-day sex and EVOO bacchanal with the doctor, and I don’t want or need to see Hannah descend into some kind of mental breakdown that involves ear pus and splinters in her buttocks. My twenties were a lot like hers, I had a lot of the same issues and I see a lot of myself in her, but I have to draw the line at punctured eardrums.

  5. karanuck says:

    I think a lot of people are missing the one essential point about this show: it is trying to depict real life decisions about girls. And let me tell you, as a girl, we are pretty messed up. Sometimes we make terrible decisions, sometimes those decisions make no sense, or lead us nowhere, or take us backward. I believe this season started out with each of the characters getting what they wanted (or what they thought they wanted) which were all superficial or temporary fixes to deeper problems. But a lot of times that is what girls do (well people in general really). Throughout the season each character’s life unraveled, albeit some more than others, and by the end, did the show wrap it up in a nice bow? Not really. But for now, each character is getting what they think they want. And I am sure in season 3 it will unravel again. And while you say that none of the characters are progressing, sometimes you don’t. Sometimes girls make the same choices over and over again (I know plenty of them) and don’t really understand why it never works out they way they thought it would. Sex and City may have been a show where the women talked about real issues, but they didn’t really live it. Girls lives it. They don’t have long monologues about their feelings or whats going on because the audience already knows. They don’t try and say this is how a girl should live or what she should choose, they show you what many girls would do in that situation, regardless of what the audience expects. This show is trying to be as real as it can without being boring. But sometimes life is dull, or feels like it is going nowhere. Sometimes it gets dark and you don’t really learn anything grand, other than not to let yourself get that deep into the darkness again. This show isn’t a “lean on me girlfriend” show, it’s 4 friends and their lives. Sometimes girls don’t want their girlfriends, sometimes they want a boy. And that’s your season finale.

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