As discourse concerning women often goes in this country, every person who saw the Girls pilot last week felt the need to stick in their two cents, qualified or not -- present company included. Some interesting thoughts about its intense white privilege were expressed. Some flawed and pointless arguments consisting of misogyny pretending to be critical analysis were made (since when is nepotism new in Hollywood? What do the actresses having famous parents have to do with the integrity of the on-screen characters? Why doesn't anyone ever mention Zosia Mamet's mom, actress Lindsay Crouse? Since when does being the daughter of Bad Company's drummer matter to anyone?). One writer of the show even made the poor decision to joke about the criticism of the whiteness of the show, totally missing the mark, while Judd Apatow himself claims that those who write bad reviews of Girls are doing it "just out of boredom" and pageviews because "who wants to read only good reviews?" Apatow seems to be enjoying the backlash, at least, and doesn't mind that the series isn't representative of non-privileged women, explaining: "That's the point of it, really. It's supposed to be a comedy about women in New York who are really smart, but their lives are a mess. They know they should be doing great things, but they don't know what it is, and they have kind of a feeling of self-entitlement about it. That's the joke of the show."
"Joke" is an interesting choice of words; there are many cringe-worthy moments in both the pilot episode and (to a lesser degree) last night's "Vagina Panic" where Girls wastes excellent opportunities to be remotely self-aware. But alongside those, there are hilarious lines of dialogue, awkward tension and true-to-life comedic sequences that made me laugh out loud. Those are the jokes. Being white-washed and self-centered? Less funny.
While I still don't quite identify with these characters and don't think that anyone who found them pretentious and irritating before will suddenly warm up to them now, the second episode was a step up from the pilot in many ways. Let's take a look at the good, the bad and the just plain funny.
Whoa -- an episode of television primarily set in an abortion clinic? And there's not some horrible guilt-inducing character or message getting shoved down our throats? Even if Jessa skipped her abortion party and ended up getting her period while fooling around with a stranger at a bar, Girls successfully made a trip to a women's health center funny in the realistic and uncomfortable way that it actually is.
Likewise, we saw Hannah realize that all of her preaching about safe sex and her lack of sympathy toward women who accidentally get pregnant was in vain, and that getting knocked up is a little more complicated than she realized. Similarly, the conversation between Marnie and Charlie about the "right" way to have and enjoy sex touched on how complicated it is when you conflate emotional and physical relationships. And then there's the hate-reading of Shoshanna's dumb relationship advice book. The beauty within all three of these conversations was how difficult of a time our characters had of trying to explain what bothered them about their sexual politics. There is so much institutionalized misogyny in modern rhetoric that sometimes we just know we hate something but can't quite explain why, and feel frustration from the tangled, partly true but extremely off-base arguments that just plain piss us off. Jessa's reaction to Shoshanna reading about how "good" guys don't have sex from behind, but instead look you in the eye during sex, was my favorite exasperated young feminist moment of the episode:Jessa: "What if I want to focus on something else? What if I want to feel like I have udders? This woman doesn't care about what I want."
Hannah: "Okay. But here's my question: Who are 'The Ladies?'"
Shoshanna: "Obvi, we're The Ladies."
Jessa: "I'm not The Ladies."
Jessa: "I don't want women telling other women what to do, or how to do it, or when to do it. Every time I have sex, it's my choice. And if I wanted to go on some dates, I would. But I don't, because they're for lesbians."
Like Jessa, Girls is grappling with what it means to be a sexually liberated young woman. What it knows for sure is that the status quo is unsatisfying -- especially when Shoshanna being a "virgin" in her early 20s is just as horrifying as Hannah getting an STD screening. No matter what a young woman's choices are, she faces the possibility of social stigma.
Fortunately, we didn't quite reach the "Eating a Cupcake in the Bathtub" level of obnoxiousness we saw in the pilot -- though I was worried at the very sight of a Tasti D-Lite.
What bothered me the most was Marnie's on-the-nose misguided, "Adam cannot do that to you. He can't. He's not allowed. He's not your boyfriend." It was an interesting line about objectification and the double standard of what women in relationships will tolerate, but to me, all it was missing was Hannah breaking the fourth wall Porky Pig- style and blurting, "Th-th-th-that's all folks!" (Same goes for Marnie's, "She's about to get an abortion; it's about the most traumatic that could happen to a women," but to a slightly less grating degree.)
Taking away the politics, here are just some great moments in sitcom writing:
Making a Casual Reference to Last Night's Freaky Role-Playing
Hannah: "Don't you remember? I'm a dirty little whore going home to my parents covered in come?"
Charlie, in his "gross guy" voice: "You want these fuckin' nuts in your mouth?"
Marnie: "No, I don't want to suck on your nuts."
Charlie: "Oh come on!"
Marnie: "Have you seen your nuts? Ew."
Charlie: "Like, I know you're joking, but that's not funny to be like 'Ew!'"
"Stuff that gets up around the side of condoms."
Inappropriate Interview Language
Hannah's failed attempt at breaking into the working world with Cobble Hill resident (as a Williamsburg/Greenpoint resident, I may have also described that neighborhood as "Like, grown-up Brooklyn" before) and guest star Mike Birbiglia, which was going so well before that one teeny tiny date-rape joke.
Possibly the Best and Most Horrifyingly Accurate Joke About Menstruation Ever Heard on Television
Hannah: "I never know when I'm going to get my period, and it's always a surprise, and that's why all my underwear is covered with weird stains."
Regretful Word Choice
Shoshanna: "Hey, a little bird told me that you are getting an STD test -- fun!"
Hannah: "Do you really think that sounds like a lot of fun?"
Shoshanna: "I mean, like, just that you get to have sex and then have a test about it..."
AIDS and Gentrification
Shoshanna: "It's really like not that hard to contract, either, though, like, haven't you seen Rent?"
Marnie: "Please, I've seen it like 12 times. It's basically why I moved to New York."
Bringing It Back Down to Earth
Hannah: "Maybe I actually am not scared of AIDS. Maybe I thought I was scared of AIDS and what I really am is... wanting AIDS."
Horrified Doctor: "That is an incredibly silly thing to say. You don't want AIDS. Do you know that every 35 minutes, a woman is newly diagnosed with HIV? And a third of those women are under the age of 30? And many of them will die of AIDS."
Summing It Up
Horrified Doctor: "Is that painful?"
Hannah: "Yeah, but only in the way it's supposed to be."
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