A decade ago this week, you could almost hear the collective eye-roll as HBO aired its latest female-fronted dramedy about four young women trying to find each other in New York City, both personally and professionally. Among them a writer, a sexual libertine and an uptight gallery owner.
o anyone who had spent the previous decades following Carrie Bradshaw across Manhattan, the premise of girl sounded more than a little familiar.
Certainly, the show seemed keenly aware of their ancestor. In an exchange of words between Shoshanna (Zosia Mamet) and Jessa (Jemima Kirke), Shoshanna refers to an expression shared by millions of women over the past two decades.
“You’re definitely a Carrie, with some Samantha aspects and Charlotte hair. That’s such a really good combination. I think I’m definitely a Carrie at heart, but sometimes…sometimes Samantha kind of comes out. And then when I’m at school I definitely try to put my Miranda hat on.”
But Lena Dunham’s inspired millennial creation almost immediately shrugged off all notions of Sex & The City and became a massive cultural moment for HBO. It may have traveled comfortably in the jet stream of a number of similar shows, but make no mistake, girl was very contemporary and all the more groundbreaking for it.
“The show responded really directly to that moment of desperation for relatively affluent white women after the recession, who didn’t have access to the careers and lives they hoped for,” says Jorie Lagerway, associate professor of television studies and director of film studies the UCD.
“The misery of that time [2010s] was almost the opposite of sex & the cityand yet you can’t really understand it girl without sex & the city. It is so deliberately a contrast to that and offers a new version of femininity for young white women.”
Created, written, occasionally directed and starring Dunham, then 25, girl primarily focused on aspiring writer Hannah Horvath, who famously aspired to be “the voice of a generation or a voice of a generation”.
Dunham had already demonstrated an ear for social commentary in the hit Mumblecore film tiny furnitureand since Judd Apatow was executive producer, interest in girl was really testy by the time the show aired.
Together with her friends Jessa, Shoshanna and Marnie (Allison Williams), Hannah eke out a precarious life in Brooklyn’s Greenpoint neighborhood after being financially cut off from her parents.
video of the day
It was also about keeping her troubled relationship with emotionally unavailable Adam (Adam Driver) on her toes. When Hannah is tested for an STD, her gynecologist sighs, “You couldn’t pay me enough to be 24 again.” Horvath replies, “Well, they don’t pay me at all.”
girl‘ Sex scenes were particularly seismic. “[There were] Issues of consent and the way women become a kind of accomplice to their own oppression [sexual] situations as they try to adapt,” says Meredith Nash, Associate Editor of Reading of Lena Dunham’s Girls: Feminism Postfeminism, Authenticity and Gendered Performance in Contemporary Television.
“The characters were often deeply uncomfortable with what was unfolding in real time and didn’t have the space to contemplate what that meant. And it wasn’t really talked about back then.”
Abortions, bad sex, internships, broken friendships – the millennial experience has been laid bare in all its gory, unfiltered glory. Rolling Stone asked, can anyone touch girl “for its sheer cringe power?”. Other outlets thought it was a televised milestone: “Will girl become the ultimate show for women?” The guard wanted to know.
Where other female-centric shows celebrated female friendship, girl showed female friends for what they are: complex, shapeshifting, imperfect, occasionally cruel.
“There was definitely a feeling that when everyone’s unhappy, there’s only room for one person to be successful, so you probably have to tear each other down,” says Lagerwey.
Dunham perfectly captured the narcissism, superficiality, and naivety of a certain breed of white, middle-class, straight woman—perhaps a little too well. Pretty soon, criticisms of inclusivity and representation began to haunt the series, and Dunham in particular.
“Because there was only one version of New York womanhood in the ’20s on television, [Dunham] was made responsible for representing everything,” says Lagerwey. “Dunham presented herself as a progressive voice publicly, in person and on the show, and people would call her out and say, ‘Well, you’re not progressive enough.’ But there’s a limit to what a show can do.”
In terms of representation, Dunham’s very normal, tattooed nude body became something of a visual earthquake in 2012 before the body positivity movement grew into the behemoth it is today.
“Lena Dunham’s body wasn’t your typical one [type] They’re used to watching it on TV and I think people were very exposed to it, although a lot of people said they were ready for more realistic portrayals of women’s bodies,” says Nash. “People just had no precedent for the position she was in. Even now, her body is the focus of everything around her.”
Regarding televisual bloodlines, a number of shows have been commissioned Girl ‘ Wake, which could safely be called stylistic successors, are among them Russian doll, fleasack, chewing gum, Unsure, search party and master of nothing.
That was the authenticity of Girl ‘ shallow, shallow, and unlikable characters that left the female stars struggling to shake off their screen roles in the show’s wake. Dunham, in particular, faced much ignominy as many associated her solipsistic character with the creator.
“She had so many expectations of her,” says Nash. “The show drew criticism from people who hadn’t even seen the show and the Twitter discourse surrounding them girl was something we had never seen before. It was a fight Lena Dunham never properly navigated.”
When vanity fair pointed out this week Girl ‘ Male actors, including Driver, Andrew Rannells and Christopher Abbott, managed to continue acting out their stints girl into even bigger acting roles. Allison Williams, on the other hand, has only made two films since then girl ended in 2017, with another scheduled to be released next year.
A decade after Hannah Horvath was separated from her parents, what might future generations think of this very millennial comedy?
“I think young people have a lot more opportunities to engage with issues about sex or the body,” says Nash. “Where shows how girl or sex & the city really shaped our thinking about what’s happening in pop culture, I think for young people they don’t need a TV show like girl them to reflect on their own experiences. Gen Z is such a demanding audience considering what they grew up doing compared to what we did.”
When asked about a planned reboot earlier this year after it was reported that she had been in “informal discussions” with HBO, Dunham said: “We all know it’s not time yet. I want it to happen at a moment when the characters’ lives have really changed.”
There’s an audience waiting to see what kind of women these are girl eventually became.
https://www.independent.ie/entertainment/television/girls-10-years-on-it-was-a-battle-lena-dunham-could-never-navigate-correctly-41555108.html Girls 10 years later: ‘It was a fight Lena Dunham could never properly navigate’