Cowan Palace: Girls Talk

Ashley Cowan takes a moment away from the theatre scene to talk about HBO’s Girls.

As you may know by now, I’m a theatre lover. I like it way more than just a friend. But before we move on with this relationship, there’s probably something you guys should know about me. I have a weakness for television. Bad reality shows are a guilty pleasure and funny, well-written shows showcasing lots of lady talent are a guilt-free indulgence. So when one of my best friends gifted me season one of HBO’s new hit show: Girls, I was intrigued. A program with the reputation of harsh reality portrayals and written, directed, produced, and starring Lena Dunham? Yes! Besides, I too spent my early twenties living in Brooklyn during the aftermath of Sex and the City (shadows of cosmopolitans and fabulous shoes were everywhere) and was curious to see her version of it.

So without knowing a great deal about the show, my sister and I (along with our boyfriends) watched season one in its entirety on New Year’s Day (don’t judge, we were still developing resolutions).  And upon first viewing, I liked it. I guess I was hoping to feel a little more passionate about it instead of some neutral responses but again, I liked it. We all did. We laughed, we cringed, and we grew invested. There was a sense of authenticity and brutal honesty that I appreciated. I had known girls just like the ones portrayed in the show while I lived in New York (and other cities). And while I found the leads to be unsympathetic on occasion that’s often how I react to those types of people in real life as well.

And clearly, I’m not the only one thinking about Girls lately. The show recently picked itself up two coveted Golden Globes earning both praise and heated remarks from the public. After reading through a few articles (and more interestingly, the comments attached to them) there seem to be a lot of thoughts regarding Ms. Dunham’s creation. For starters, many believe the show is racist because of its lack of cast diversity. It seems to be completely dedicated to first world white people problems with whiny personalities.

I understand some of the backlash. I do. It’s unfortunate that in one of the most diverse cities of the world there isn’t much of an opportunity to venture outside the upper middle class white bubble. When asked about it, Lena said it had been “an accident” and something she hoped to work on if the show continued. While I do feel like these “accidents” can be observed as a sad reflection of our time, I also think it’s important to note that this particular story is told through the perspective of a small group who may live in a more closeted space than expected. But the soul of the show comes from a real place. The four leading ladies are all the daughters of well-known established parents. They had the opportunity to grow up in a more privileged setting and first experienced the world in this capacity. It’s my hope that as the show progresses, perhaps that world can expand to explore some additional characters who can cover some of the beautiful diversity of New York City as a natural instinct rather than to correct an accident.  There’s plenty of room to allow the show and her characters to evolve a bit more.

On top of that criticism, there seems to be an even greater amount of talk about the show’s awkward tendencies (like the plethora of long, uncomfortable sex scenes) and Lena’s unapologetic behavior to showcase her very average body. Which for the record, I think is awesome. It’s refreshing. For some reason though, people are very hung up on this deliberate choice to incorporate a “normal” woman’s nude body. And folks can be cruel. Many comments were targeted at bashing her physicality and angrily pointing out her less than perfect frame. I felt like we were all back inside the cruel walls of a middle school cafeteria. But can I just say, had it been an average man who had decided to strip before the camera, we wouldn’t be reacting like this. We would have laughed and moved along. And I’m thankful that Dunham is strong enough to stand up to the waves of harsh words because I’m hopeful it’ll help shift the tides entertainment expectations regarding nudity and humor.

Further concerning gender roles, however, there also seems to be a lot of complaints that Girls constantly depicts and criticizes men who are too weak, too sensitive and too effeminate or porn obsessed douchebags who call the shots. Again, it’s not always a flattering or hopeful interpretation of the male population but I have to admit it’s truthful. Not everyone is like that but sure, there are fellas like that out there and there are ladies who help define them. Again, setting these flaws aside though, this storyline happens to revolve around a particular set of people and within that small select group lives a, at times, brutally honest, image. But it’s important to remember that the show doesn’t represent everyone. It hasn’t taken on that responsibility. And within all the shortcomings, Hannah (played by Lena Dunham) seems to embody a great number of them.

Hannah declares herself the voice of our generation in a drug-inspired rant to her parents who have just decided to cut her off from their financial support during episode one and though Lena later claimed she intended it as a joke, she’s not far from the truth. As a generation, some of us are indeed a little lost, messy, and misguided. Personally, I find the best thing about the show has been talking about it. It’s flawed, sure, but we’re acknowledging it and reacting, processing, and having discussions. For me, that’s where the strength is. I’m thankful that Lena is attempting to explore some boundaries while making me laugh. The pressure to truly be “the voice of a generation” may be a bit unrealistic and unfair for this grittier Sex and the City group but I look forward to seeing how the next season unfolds. In between all the great theatre out there, of course.

What do you think? I’d love to hear your reactions Girls and if you think the show promotes a certain image of our generation. Come join the Girls Talk conversation!

Ashley Cowan is a writer, director, actress, and general theater maker in the Bay Area. She’s got lots of stuff to say, most of it pretty entertaining, so follow her here at https://twitter.com/AshCows.

2 comments on “Cowan Palace: Girls Talk

  1. I’m probably the only one who has not seen this show, but that’s mainly the result of the polarised reactions people have had to it. I’m surrounded by people who consider it the best thing since sliced bread AND people who seem to feel that it’s televised cancer.

    Not having seen the show, I am… indifferent.

  2. Still, it’s nice to read this blog, which is the humble perspective of a fan rather than “WHAT?! You don’t watch it? What is wrong with you?”

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