Friday, April 20, 2012

Review of Girls

I was excited to see that there was a new show on HBO about a subject I’m very interested in. I mean, what are the odds that a corporation with tons of clout would throw millions of dollars behind something that is one of my top 2 or 3 interests in the world? Out of all the possible topics in existence, they chose one of mine—I feel like a crocheter would feel if they made a show called Yarn.
I know almost nothing about the show’s creator, Lena Dunham. I essentially know one thing: her name is Lena Dunham. She does have a movie that I’ve never seen called Tiny Furniture. It’s part of the Criterion Collection, so that’s impressive. I’ll get around to it eventually.
The show is thankfully not a bait-and-switch; it appears to actually be about girls. (Imagine the crocheter’s dismay if Yarn was just a bunch of interconnected vignettes and long, rambling stories.) The show focuses on 3 or 4 or 5 of them, but they’ve only established really basic character traits thus far and haven’t differentiated themselves in my mind yet. One of them, Zosia Mamet (yes, the daughter of the great playwright), is given about 35 seconds of screen time. That’s one of the things that’s too bad: the show’s only a half hour long. It feels like it just zooms by too quickly.
The lead girl character is played by Lena Dunham, who is also the creator, writer, director, executive producer, and I believe the caterer and key grip. She plays an aspiring writer in NYC whose parents are cutting off the funds she’s been depending on from them. It’s unclear whether the whole show is going to be about her trying to survive in NYC on little money; I can see the parents just deciding to start sending her money again in episode 3 or something.
Chris Eigeman’s in it too, which is awesome because he’s awesome. But like Zosia, he’s in it for maybe a minute. And it’s weird too because he plays Dunham’s boss, and at the end of the scene he fires her. So I don’t know if he’s going to be around anymore.
There’re some good lines, like Dunham to her parents: “I could be a drug addict. Do you realize how lucky you are?”
I think basically it’s going to become a coming-of-age tale. This was made clear when Dunham went over to her sorta-boyfriend’s place and they have sex. They’re either not all that into each other or maybe they are and just really blasé about it on the surface. Anyway, they start fooling around and he goes out of the room and she calls out, “Will you get a condom?” and he goes “I’ll consider it” and there’s a moment when she isn’t sure if he’s serious and that’s quickly followed by a tiny moment of exasperation at not knowing whether he's getting one or not. This seems to be a classic indication that someone on the brink of maturity (they’re all in their mid-20s, I think) has had it with youthful irony and is ready to move beyond it. But it’s got an interesting spin to it, I think.
Irony is different from what it was 10 years ago. I’m in a perfect position to explain this (I’ll be 28 next month). Ten years ago, “young people” were sarcastic and ironic and sardonic and all that stuff. But they used irony in a way that made it eminently clear what they really meant. (Well, not to their parents, but to their peers at least.) They usually just meant the exact opposite of what they said and irony was employed mainly just to look cool. These days irony is used in a way that it’s not clear to anyone what is meant by the ironist. Like you see teenagers wearing Angry Birds shirts now. I posit that ten years ago, that was a different ironic statement than it is today. Like, today, it might mean they like Angry Birds, or that it’s just some shirt to them, no big deal. Ten years ago, you couldn’t wear an Angry Birds shirt (or whatever was pervading pop culture at the time, you know what I mean. I know Angry Birds didn’t exist ten years ago) and simply pretend it was just some shirt you were wearing. It had to be this statement about how cool you were.
Another example is that I was in line for a bagel the other day and the guy in front of me—who was in his thirties—ordered a sesame bagel with chive cream cheese because, quote, “That would be the best thing in the world” and he said it in a voice that clearly indicated to us all that it would actually not be the best thing in the world. And it really crystallized things for me. The way this guy used irony, in that nudge-nudge-wink-wink way, totally exposed this guy as a dinosaur because nobody uses it that way anymore, or only really lame or old people do. This guy was trying to be cool, because that’s how you were cool back in the ‘90s, but all he was really communicating was “I’m lame and old.”
Sure, people still use irony these days to mean the exact opposite of what they say. But they don’t do it to be cool, it’s just how they talk. I think Girls is actually exposing this paradigm shift in irony that everyone over 29 isn’t even aware happened. And that’s what might make the show interesting, to see these girls trying to navigate the ironic waters these days. The old problem was “How do I not use irony and still be cool because that is the only way to appear cool?” The new problem is “How do I not use irony and still communicate with people because everyone uses it all the time, not to seem cool but as an actual form of communication?” There are spiritual, linguistic, and existential implications to this question. Pretty deep stuff, actually.
Not bad for a half-hour show on HBO.

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