So I tried watching the supposedly generation defining US sitcom Girls tonight, when it had its German TV premiere. And yes, I know you shouldn’t judge any foreign TV show, particularly not one that’s supposed to be a comedy, on the basis of a German dubbed version alone. However, my interest in Girls is so non-existent that I simply can’t be bothered to procure an undubbed version.
In fact, as I said to a friend tonight, the only reason I tuned in for the German TV premier of Girls at all tonight was that I could snark about how bad it is on the Internet. Because snarking about highly acclaimed US TV shows, particularly HBO shows, on the Internet is fun. Of course, occasionally you also run across a show that’s actually good. For example, I initially started watching Game of Thrones mainly to make fun of it (after all, I didn’t even like the books), expecting to last maybe one or two episodes before giving up in disgust. However, to my infinite surprise, I found myself enjoying Game of Thrones a whole lot.
As for Girls, I find I cannot snark about that show either. Not because it’s actually good, for it isn’t. It’s dreadful. However, Girls is a rare type of dreadful, a show so awful you can’t even snark about it. Because there’s nothing to snark about there. Not that my friend (who wasn’t planning on snarking about the show on the Internet, but still was curious what all the uproar was about) and I didn’t try. We snarked about the outfits of the actresses. “Why does her blouse have a tomato print?” – “Are those vintage curtains?” – “Where can you buy clothes so ugly?” – “Was the costumer blind?” – “If that’s what’s fashionable in New York today, I hope we’ll be spared that trend.” But it wasn’t the sort of joyful snarking that a truly good bad movie/TV show generates (like that Shark Tornado film everybody and his brother is talking about today). It was more along the lines of “I can’t believe this shit got made and that we’re watching it.”
After maybe fifteen minutes or so of enduring Girls, we looked at each other and said, “Is there a point to this?” Then we switched over to watch the umpteenth rerun of an NCIS episode we’ve both seen at least twice before. During the ad breaks, we switched over to Girls to see if it got better. It didn’t.
It’s not that I don’t have any sympathy for the basic set-up. “Young women in the big city” is a theme that has been around in the popular media for more than a hundred years now (and yet gets treated like it’s a brand-new idea every time around – it’s totally new cause they get HPV instead of tuberculosis) and I’ve liked several reiterations of that theme over the years. And spending years after graduation drifting from between limited time jobs and unpaid internships with no prospect of anything resembling steady employment let alone a career – I know plenty of people in that situation. It is a huge problem and one that deserves to be addressed in the popular media. Frank talk about abortion, STDs, the occasional awkwardness of sex – hey, I like Misfits, so I should be all over this.
But even though the basic premise sounds like it could be good, if not exactly original, the execution is just… blah. It’s not even like one of those failed sitcoms with laugh tracks accompanying every unfunny wannbe joke and grimacing actors saying lines so corny you feel sorry for them. With those shows, you can at least see what the creators were trying to accomplish, even if it doesn’t work. But Girls is just a bunch of very average looking young women in ill-fitting clothes sitting around in drab surroundings and talking about STDs, abortions, workplace harrassment and sex (occasionally, they even have sex, joyless unpleasant HBO sex), as if all those things were incredibly daring and shocking. Only that it’s not daring or shocking at all. Nor is it funny. Girls is like a very bad, very earnest student film and leaves you with only one question “What is the point?”
Honestly, even with buzzworthy TV shows that I absolutely hated, I can usually tell why they appeal to others. I may not like Breaking Bad or The Wire or the new Battlestar Galactica or 24 or Revenge or The Walking Dead or Once Upon a Time or Homeland, but with those I can at least see why someone else might like them. With Girls I’ve got nothing. I honestly have no idea why this show got so much buzz that it seemed for a while as if every second article in the entertainment sections of US newspapers and magazines was about Girls. And there was a lot of buzz. The New York Times ran at least five different articles, columns and reviews about Girls (plus one article that criticised the show for getting the facts about HPV wrong). The Atlantic ran at least four articles, including one by Ta Nehisi Coates about the lack of racial diversity in the show. Slate had a roundtable of critics for every episode. The New Yorker and the New York Review of Books both profiled Girls creator/star Lena Dunham. The New Yorker also ran a column about what Girls says about the state of sexuality in America. And this is only what I was able to dig up with a cursory internet search. There was more, much more. Just for comparison, here are two German reviews from Der Stern and the Stuttgarter Zeitung. Like many German reviews of US shows that arrive here with lots of buzz, the reviewers dutifully regurgitate everything their US colleagues have already said about the show in question, though you often get the feeling that the reviewers don’t really get the appeal either, but are scared to admit it, after all “This program is important and relevant – The Americans said so.”
Honestly, skimming those columns and reviews I’d have expected something that was at least halfway interesting or infuriating, something that is worthy of all the buzz, even if I don’t personally care for it. But Girls was just dull. Is talking about genital warts and bad sex fantasies really so shocking in the US in 2013? Never mind that British shows like Misfits or The Fades or Skins or Torchwood did it all before and better and funnier and sometimes even with superpowers or ghosts or Weevils thrown into the mix. Maybe all of those critics and columnists praising girls are trying to cozy up to the famous parents of Lena Dunham and Zosia Mamet (whom I actually liked as Peggy’s lesbian pal in Mad Men) by praising the televisional efforts of their daughters to high heavens. At the moment, this is the only explanation that makes sense to me.
It’s not that I wouldn’t welcome a good TV show (or a film or a book – and no, what is called “New Adult” these days does not count) about young people in the big city acting and talking like young people really do, a show that’s funny and frank and honest about relationships, sex and the general messiness of life. I would welcome it, particularly because the Brits, who occasionally managed to produce something that comes close, have become ever more mired in the vapid nostalgia of Downton Abbey and Call the Midwife. I would welcome it because it might motivate me to finally finish my own magnum epos about young people in the big city trying to deal with life, work and relationships.
So yes, we need a good TV show (or film or book) showing the lives of twenty- and thirtysomethings as they are. However, Girls is not that show. It’s not even close.