Girls premiered on Sunday night, and looking over the comments running beneath my highly positive review of it, I noticed that a lot of them are… highly negative. Typical comments on EW.com: “None of the characters are really likable”; “boring and depressing”; “talk about the media over-hyping something”; “this is the problem with this generation”…
Now, I get it that a lot of people, especially on a Sunday night heading into the workweek, want some escapism from their TV, not a reminder that the economy is in bad shape and that a generation of young people is finding it very difficult to locate jobs, let alone locate their adult identities. And these elements were front-and-center in the Girls premiere. Star-creator-director-writer Lena Dunham also didn’t hold the audience’s collective hand and say, via boffo jokes and an occasional scene of merriment, “See, these are likable characters you’re going to come to love.” Basically, it was up to you to figure out when Dunham was critiquing the behavior of her creations, when she was siding with their struggles, and when she was just, you know, telling a story, making art.
I wonder, however, whether the initial reaction to Girls, combined with the traffic jam of programming on Sunday night, is going to prove a problem for this series going forward. First, there’s the scheduling: HBO’s big draw on Sunday night is Game of Thrones, whose lofty sword-and-nudity fun-and-fantasy quotient is not really compatible as a lead-in for Girls’ down ‘n’ dirty realism style. (It may help a bit when, next Sunday, HBO premieres Julia Louis-Dreyfus’ Veep as the bridge show between GoT and Girls.)
But more significantly, Girls is up against the last half hour of Mad Men on AMC, and both shows vie for a similar, we-dig-the-subtle, not-all-characters-have-to-be-likable audience, an audience that may have sampled Girls this week and decided that it would rather watch Mad Men in real time next week. And that’s not as significant for ratings as much as it is for the pop-culture impact Girls has to make to survive. Like a lot of cable shows, the perception that you must watch this or that show to be in on what people are going to be talking about the next morning is crucial. Mad Men’s audience is small compared to most network dramas, but its internet water-cooler impact is huge. Girls needs to build that kind of enthusiasm, or at least interest.
I’m rooting for Girls, obviously. A lot of the anti-Girls sentiment revolves around the general feeling that Hannah and various of her friends should just “get a job” and stop leeching off their parents. Since this can be evidence of a generational complaint/animosity, I’ll volunteer that, as someone of an age to be a Hannah-parent rather than someone of Hannah’s generation, I nevertheless found the dilemmas and poignancy of what Dunham’s characters are living through to be tremendously interesting, and admired the humor that was teased out of these situations. The series is grappling with Hannah’s sense of entitlement (that feeling that she deserves to be funded by her parents and that McDonalds, named specifically last night, is not entertained as an employment option – a bravely unsympathetic position to put your lead characters in), and her intense self-consciousness about her body image, all of which is ultimately as close to a code of idealism as someone like Hannah can muster.
Of course, I expect that next week’s episode, in which the topic of abortion is raised in a manner that, once again, suggests how original Girls is, is going to be off-putting to a lot of viewers. I hope you’ll watch it, in addition to Mad Men, Game of Thrones, Veep, The Good Wife, and everything else on your Sunday night schedule, because Girls deserves to thrive.