Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Review: Girls [TV]

Directed by Lena Dunham. Episode, "I Get Ideas." 2013.

I'm sick again, and you know what that means: television. I have to admit I did not intend to watch HBO's critic fave Girls, rather I was watching a documentary on WWII when I sat on the remote and flashed the channel to HBO. Well, why not?

I have no recollection of the first thirteen minutes of the show except for some desperately scrawled profanity on my pad. At that point, things got interesting.

Title character Hannah is dating a republican and after much pestering he reads one of her essays. . . and doesn't like it. She can't quite accept this and the problem quickly shifts from her essay to his social political views, which he refuses to discuss. He starts to explain that she doesn't really understand him and when, after their argument, she asks him if he still wants to have sex and he turns her down, we sense he is right. We star to see that Hannah understands neither her boyfriend nor even what she likes about him. Still, it is not Hannah's inability to understand others which seems to form the crux of the show, but her lack of self-understanding.

Indeed it is rather shocking to see such ignorance on display, to hear someone speak with a vocabulary of cliches such a litany of excuses, rationalizations, and diversions. Yet Hannah's delusions do not generate any concrete reactions to her. We don't feel pity because she deserves what she gets, we don't experience fear because her woes seem so easy to fix. Nor does Hannah possess any great charm or quality, like literature's great rogues from Richard III to Alex Delarge, to sweep us off our feet. Hannah is someone you simply want to get it together or go away. Yet she doesn't and in contrast just meanders around engaging in circular conversations which reinforce her self-deception.

An example is also of the most amusing scenes precedes Hannah's breakup when she discusses her boyfriend with a girlfriend. Her friend responds with the advice that as long as their "rising signs are compatible," "the sex is decent," and that he "supports you creatively," all will be well. She adds that republicans and democrats are equally bad and even Bill Clinton ruined our economy by repealing the Glass-Steagall Act. I'm not sure what amused me more, Hannah's befuddled reaction to her friend's apparent erudition or that someone whose intellectual progenitors are Paul Krugman and Miss Cleo is the most informed person on the screen. Humor aside, I felt a tad bad for Hannah here: if only she had a wiser friend.

Unfortunately, the B-stories about her friends don't stand up well on their own, although they do shed more unflattering light on Hannah. Her gay male friend is worried about telling Hannah that he might be straight because she's self-centered enough to ask why he isn't attracted to her. Hannah's other girlfriend gets a job as a hostess and Hannah refuses to admit she couldn't have gotten she same job because she's not pretty or congenial enough. That Hannah's many flaws all center around her lack of self-understanding is significant, but there needs to be a glimmer of recognition or at least a denouement to the plot. As it happens, we may say of this episode what Hannah's boyfriend says of her essay, "Nothing happens. It's just a bunch of stuf that occurs to you."

No conservative could have written a finale more full of liberal stereotypes. An old boyfriend visits Hannah during the night and when he refuses to leave, she responds by calling, albeit hanging up on, 911 services. The police show up anyway and proceed to bring in both the boyfriend to file a report and her for and a previous charge of public urination.

Overall, there's some but not much to recommend Girls. The writers nail the urban hipsterese dialect, an authentic but frustrating touch. Isn't listening to navel-gazing twenty-somethings tiresome enough? The plotting is amateurish and the writers need to work on establishing tone, purpose, and a sense of motion through an economy of dialogue. They also need to integrate the peripheral characters either into the main plot or into an independent B-plot. Of course, I'm judging based on this episode alone, so that might not be a pattern.

There's been much talk about the talent of creator-writer-director Lena Dunham and indeed one wonders whether the unlikeable Hannah Horvath is a work of creation or exhibition. Either way, Girls is the television equivalent of Tracey Emin's My Bed and my reaction is much the same: in the absence not just of purpose but of craft, one can but reply: it's ugly, so what?

Undoubtedly fans of the show will counter, "That's the point." And I shall reply, "Indeed." and wish them well down the existentialist rabbit hole.


  1. Hello N. Vertucci! I have been reading your blog for quite some time now and it appears as though, I have lost some interest due to the lack of information I have of you, the essayist! The absence of detail of the author makes it very difficult for me to make a connection to your writings. Therefore, I am requesting for you to discuss your everyday life and your thoughts throughout your day. I feel as though this would create some what of a bond between myself and you. I would like this very much and for the sake of my enjoyment, I beseech you to write of this!

    - Joseph T.

  2. First thank you for your long readership, Joseph! You know I really hadn't considered talking much about myself, mostly because I don't think anyone would be interested apart from the ideas. I never thought it could make a gulf between me and our most excellent readers.

    Toward a rectification and unification I shall endeavor to be more forthcoming with such details and prepare a special post soon! Many thanks for asking: it's a request both thoughtful and kindly.

    Of course thanks for reading despite the mystery surrounding us, and please do comment again!