Dunham as Hannah.
After watching the first three episodes of “Girls,” which premieres Sunday night on HBO, I’ve decided that it is a savior. For one, it is smarter and more original than the usual clichéd sitcoms and involves far less screaming than your average reality show. But it also sheds more light than any show of its kind ever has on so many of the issues that define my technology-addicted generation — our obsessive texting, our allergy to plan-making, our constant sharing, our hesitancy to commit to anything. This is why I want my parents to watch the series.
A number of superficial moments in the show that serve as a kind of “look, we get it” wink, showing me that it knows how to speak my language. In one scene, Allison Williams’ character explains the hierarchy of communication intimacy: “Facebook, then email, then Gchat, then text, then phone, then in person.” It’s spot-on, totally. And there’s the part where Lena Dunham’s character learns she is not suitable for a job because unlike the other intern, she does not know Photoshop.
My parents are by no means Luddites, nor are they out of touch with what’s hip. They have iPads and know how to text. They do most of their work on computers. (My Mom even recently became acquainted with the world of Gchat, but that’s a topic for another time.) They watch “Weeds” and know about Nicki Minaj. They have dabbled in our pop culture and tried our technologies, but they (fairly) don’t entirely understand the somewhat bizarre ways we use — and mold our lives — around them. They don’t understand how we communicate constantly but refuse to make definitive plans. They don’t get why we sometimes ignore them but also rely on them. They don’t get how difficult it can be to date and socialize as an urban twentysomething as a result. “Girls” is better at addressing that in a way they might understand than I ever could.
But I don’t really need my parents to understand why a boy sending me a Facebook message is so wildly different than his sending me a text. I can talk about that stuff with my parents. I’d be comfortable explaining it, whether they’d truly understand or not. In fact, that’s the kind of stuff I’d readily explain to my parents, because it would mean avoiding talking about other, ickier issues. Real issues.
It’s “Girls’” subtler moments that so effectively explore some of those issues we struggle to talk about or have a hard time explaining – but ones we need to discuss nonetheless. And one of “Girls”’ most subtle strengths is that it doesn’t apologize for broaching these issues. Quite the opposite, in fact. Many scenes in “Girls” made me uncomfortable, because they hit eerily close to home.
In the first episode, there’s a scene in which Dunham’s character, Hannah, finds out her parents are going to cut her off financially. “One final push,” as they put it. The scene touches on a significant issue, but what I found more interesting, and telling, is the way Hannah reacts when her parents follow up about getting together the next day. Hannah decides she doesn’t want to see them. “I have work, and then I have a dinner thing, and then I am busy—trying to become who I am,” she says. No matter that ultimately, “work” involves getting fired, which is followed by her spontaneously calling a guy because she’s “near his apartment” and stopping by to have sex with him. At the end of it all, she ends up being hours late for the “dinner thing.” After the “dinner thing,” she appears, stoned, in her parents’ hotel room. The sequence of events is believable, but what’s more telling is the way the whole sequence illustrates the way we hesitate to make anything reminiscent of defined plans — and both hugely resist our parents, while also hugely depending on them.
In high school, and over the summers I lived at home during college, and during the months I lived at home after graduating, my parents routinely asked what my plans were for any given night or weekend. It wasn’t because they were concerned I’d be spending my time somewhere age-inappropriate, or that I’d stay out too late — they were genuinely interested, and confused by the fact that I rarely planned much in advance. We resist committing to plans, because they are so easily made and changed by our crippling addiction to being in constant communication.
On the one hand, Hannah wants to ditch her parents – she wants them to leave her alone. So she goes off, living what her mother calls “her groovy lifestyle.” But at the end of the night, she comes crawling and distraught into her parents’ hotel room. The incredible ease with which we can communicate with our parents makes it all that much easier to rely on them. It is hard, if not impossible, to cut ties.
There are other things, too, in “Girls” that do a good job illustrating the oddities of our weird little generation. There’s a scene in which Hannah and her roommate fall asleep together that I think illustrates our dislike and fear of being alone. There’s the bit where the same two girls take a shower together, one naked, one covered in a towel. We’re all comfortable sharing differing degrees of ourselves online and elsewhere, but most of us are at least open enough that sharing a shower seems hardly a big deal. And there’s also the fact that Hannah’s eating a cupcake in that shower scene. We see no problem with multitasking, even if it’s a kind of multitasking that makes almost no sense.
Is “Girls,” as Hannah would put it, “the voice of our generation”? Some will probably say no, because unlike “Catcher in the Rye” or “On The Road” or your “voice of a generation” of choice, “Girls” doesn’t make big pronouncements. It observes little things, and notes them in passing, as we might in a tweet or text. Like me, “Girls” doesn’t really want to make any definitive plans until it has to.