Before Girls ever aired it was getting the kind of press most shows can’t even pay for. The early reports set the series up as the unbiased glimpse into the hipster culture and Lena Dunham as the new voice of the generation. Of course, given the setting and focus on a quartet of girlfriends, there were many comparisons drawn to Sex and the City. But, these early reviewers were quick to point out the vast differences between the two shows. Girls is quirky! It’s realistic! They’re so much younger! The sex is so much more awkward!
But, since the show has aired the reviews have been mixed, to say the least. Given the build up Girls received it was inevitable that backlash would soon follow and the common complaints are hard to argue with. Yes, there is a distinct lack of diversity in the cast. Yes, Hannah is completely selfish and not altogether likeable. Yes, it sucks critics decided these irresponsible, shallow, entitled girls best represent our generation and it sucks even more that they’re a little right. I think the real reason people are so upset is that they feel they were lied to by the pre-reviews, but the lie that’s getting overlooked is that Girls and Sex and the City are telling a different story. The only thing differentiating Girls from Sex and the City is time frame and age.
Take a show about a writer who revels in dating emotionally unavailable men and her three friends; the responsible, ambitious one who treats really sweet men like shit, the sexually adventuress one with no thought or care about consequences and the sweet naïve one just looking for love (not sure which show I’m talking about? It doesn’t really matter), and you’re bound to find something that will speak to a certain generation, the only difference is which generation its speaking to.
Sex and the City focuses on women in their mid to late thirties, at the apex of their careers, while the girls in Girls have barely started their adult lives. And all other differences can be drawn back to that. The Sex and the City ladies were more polished, stable and put together, well you probably would be too if you had job security and a substantial shoe budget. The sex on Girls is awkward and tough to watch, well (from what I hear) women don’t reach their sexual peak until their thirties, it takes time to learn what you like and who you like to give it to you and the road to that discovery is bound to be a little bumpy. And yes, the Girls are self obsessed and entitled, as is the nature of most 20-somethings. And still, didn’t the ladies of Sex and the City spend an inordinate amount of time discussing themselves, too? It’s right there in the title; these are girls, not ladies, not women, not yet.
Does this mean that someday Hannah will start pounding cosmos and move on to wealthier douche bags to date? Well, lets look at what we know about Ms. Bradshaw in her twenties, she had very little money and still choose magazines over dinner (irresponsible) and she got pregnant by some stranger who worked at The Saloon (sexually irresponsible). Even in her thirties, Carrie proves she has very little fiscal sense, choosing clothing and shoes over, say, rent. Is that kind of frivolous disregard for responsibility all that different from Hannah’s inability to find a job?
In an episode from the second season of Sex and the City (“Twenty-Something Girls vs. Thirty-Something Women”), Carrie befriends a 25 year-old fan obsessed with writing a memoir (*cough* Hannah *cough*), which leads her to the conclusion, “The biggest threat twenty-something girls posed…was to themselves. Annoying, yes. Dangerous, no. They were simply our youthful doppelgangers” (S2E17).
I don’t expect anyone to stop bashing Girls, it is the new national pastime after all, but it’s hard to argue that Dunham hasn’t tapped into a narrative that speaks to a generation. It already has, she’s simply showing it to us from a different vantage point. So no, maybe she’s not the voice of the generation, but she is a voice of a generation.
– Devin Mainville