Four girls, one city, what could be so different after all?
As it turns out, a lot.
If you haven’t figured it out yet, I’m talking about HBO’s constantly compared, fanatically loved, female-voiced television hits of the past two decades: today’s Girls and yesterday’s Sex and the City. To be fair, there are a huge amount of similarities between the two shows. Carrie Bradshaw is a writer, Hannah Horvath is a writer. Both shows are about modern, independent women. Sex is key. But despite the superficial likenesses of it all, Girls gives us one thing that Sex and the City doesn’t: it’s real. And that, in and of itself, is a big, big deal.
True, there are some plot faults, like the fact that Hannah Horvath gets to live in her two bedroom Greenpoint apartment with no steady income, and Jessa never has to face a background check. But still, no one has a walk-in closet, fulfilling job or any shortage of self-depreciation. And the
men (scratch that) boys these girls date! Well, they aren’t what one would call the most successful bunch in the lot. Not to say they aren’t sweet, but we’re not seeing any executive business men and world-traveling carpenters. Even the real estate of the shows makes a point: Sex and the City is Manhattan, Girls is Brooklyn.
Simply put: Sex and the City is who we want to be, but Girls is who we are. A Cosmopolitan versus a shot of tequila. A pair of Manolo Blahniks versus a generic pair of flats.
Perhaps Lena Dunham states it close to perfectly in the show’s pilot episode. High on opiates, or whatever: “I think I might be the voice of my generation. Or at least a voice. Of a generation.” Sex and the City may be what we flip on when we’re sipping on wine and it’s a Friday night, but Girls is what we come crawling back to after a shitty Monday morning and a pay-cut. We can banter with Carrie Bradshaw, but we can tell our truths to Hannah Horvath, and she’ll tell us hers.
So let’s get to it.
It’s refreshing not to have a perfect protagonist
From day one Carrie Bradshaw is an established writer with her own weekly column. Hannah has quit at least three jobs in the first three seasons. She has OCD, a way of annoying her friends by always relating every situation back to herself, and if we’re being honest, she could lose a few. (I’m not hating, the fact that Hannah isn’t a size zero is part of what makes her so damn enjoyable). She’s got a lot of things to work on, and despite the fact that she is actually talented, she still has a lot of places to go. She’s us before we pretend to be anything we’re not, and she’s us before we get to where we want to be.
One of Sex and the City’s biggest downfalls was that every single problem had to do with a man: cheating, STDs, pregnancy, etc. Girls basically covers all that in the first few episodes, leaving room for everything else to get some screen time as the series develops. Drugs, careers, education, homosexuality, family, rehab, just to name a few. This is part of what makes Girls a true “girl-power” show; it’s not driven solely by men. Lena Dunham makes it a prevalent point that girls have other things to worry about, and that’s rare to see on television.
Come on, you knew I was headed here. Both Sex and the City and Girls are filled with it, but the displays of affection are completely different experiences. Sex and the City makes sex look the way it does in a romantic comedy, i.e., lovely. Girls shows it as a vulnerable situation that can be awkward and pale (props to Lena Dunham for having no shame in her body). Not to say that it isn’t lovely, but, well, it really isn’t. It is what it is, and that’s sex, one body banging against another.
The bottom line
Girls may be in the same landscape as Sex and the City, but it navigates it oh-so differently. Carrie Bradshaw is perhaps who I think I am, but Hannah Horvath is who I really am, and Girls is making that okay. Watching the Sex and the City clan gracefully jog around Central Park (even after a Marlboro Light!) makes me want to put on my pink Nike top and do it too, but when it comes down to it, I’m not going to look and feel like Carrie Bradshaw. I’m going to be Hannah Horvath. I’m going stop after only a few blocks, panting and sweating, and I’m going to tell my boyfriend that “endorphins don’t work on me.” And that’s life. Real life.