Lena Dunham turns 28 today and already has three seasons (32 episodes) of Girls under her belt. For all the various backlashes the show has received, it is – as Hannah Horvath says – ‘if not the voice of my generation… at least a voice of a generation’. From the simple opening ‘GIRLS’ flashing up in a different colour scheme every episode, the four unlikeable main characters gave us a no-holds-barred look at the ‘totem of communication’, bad sex, toxic friendships and more bad sex. On paper it sounds a lot like Carrie Bradshaw & co. Similar to Sex and the City, it’s also not entirely realistic, and over here we partly watch it, too, to escape to the hyper-cool and also somehow slightly-lame world of New York.
But the advent of Girls gave the SATC model an updating it needed. Whether we admit it or not, the generation of English girls I belong to learned most of what we know about sex from imported television – first Friends and then illicit viewings of Sex and the City. I find it reassuring that the next generation has this to throw into the mix. The utter awkwardness of the Girl’s encounters is painful, hilarious and brutally honest.
Girls is not all about sex. The simultaneous vulnerability and ‘unsmotability’ of these girls is where their strength lies. It is no different from the rest of HBO’s stock in its embrace and development of the – usually male – anti-hero (see Brett Martin’s ‘Difficult Men’ for a brilliant analysis of this). Where Miranda, Carrie, Samantha and Charlotte meet up for cocktails in $500 shoes, Hannah and Marnie have rows in greying pyjamas and retainers. They are selfish, unsuccessful, and above all brilliantly funny. The male characters, too, are far from one-dimensional, but it’s the women that drive the show.
Girls is self-conscious of its history, and of so much else. In the first episode Shoshana, meta-media-spokesperson says ‘I’m definitely a Carrie at heart but – sometimes – a bit of Samantha comes out, and at school I definitely try to put on my Miranda hat.’ Jessa is nonplussed. She has her own frame of reference:
Tell them that Picasso did it. Rappers that were poor and sold their tapes in the street did it. It’s what Elvis did, it’s what Mick Jagger did, it’s what my step-brother did. They all stuck to their guns.
I watched the first season in a binge during my last week of first year and now I’ve graduated (and interning) I’m re-watching fondly. The girls, Shoshana aside, perhaps, haven’t progressed hugely in three years. But the show, still trying to see a metaphor in everything while mocking those who do, has given us a way to talk about flailing friendships and self-destructing relationships in a way that hasn’t been done before. Lena Dunham’s success is serious inspiration for my generation of not-the-ladies.