So you probably haven’t heard, but there’s a machine you can buy that makes pictures in your home. This machine streams organized lights and sounds called “television shows.” If you care enough about these things you might want me to tell you about my fancy little secret called “prohibitively-priced premium cable.” Here is an insider tip: if you are willing to spend a bunch of money (whatever you’re thinking, double it) then you can have access to this special thing. When you use a television with prohibitively-priced premium cable, all of the “television shows” are completely replaced with these things called “a critically-acclaimed cultural phenomenon.”
Sorry if this is confusing. I know I just took all this time to painstakingly explained television to you, but now I’m about to blow your mind: the most popular and efficient producer of critically-acclaimed phenomena is not TV. It’s HBO.
This will come as a complete shock, but HBO has a new critically-acclaimed phenomenon called GIRLS. Please do not be overwhelmed by the fact that you have absolutely no idea what I’m talking about and have never heard a single thing about this show. GIRLS is a program about four young women — three of whom recently graduated from college and the fourth is still matriculating — and their lives as transplants in New York City. This critically-acclaimed cultural phenomenon is set in North Brooklyn, specifically a neighborhood called “Greenpoint,” which is known for its Superfund site, electroplating industry, and Nuit Blanche festival.
Don’t beat yourself up for not having read a single item about GIRLS until this one. There’s only been one season so far. Not that you would have any way of knowing this, but Season Two premieres this Sunday. Given it’s one season and extremely low-profile it is easy to see how the general public, television critics, and the other members of the media have totally overlooked it.
Something interesting, that even the few people who are aware of the show may not realize, is the star of the show is also the creator and head writer. Little-known fact: she also wrote and starred in a movie called Tiny Furniture. Her name is Lena Dunham (it’s pronounced “done um”). Believe it or not, she is of no relation to the hilarious comedian ventriloquist Jeff Dunham or my neighbor who works at RiteAid, Ashley Dunham. However, I’m sure if she works hard enough and believes in herself, she will be ALMOST as successful as both of them.
Since nobody really knows almost anything about GIRLS, especially not you, dear internet reader, it was difficult finding people to interview for their reactions to the show. I scrounged around and after about a year, I managed to discover a few people who had seen it. Specifically, I wanted to talk to people who were statistically similar to the four main characters: young women who are in their twenties, are attending or did attend college, and will live, live, or have lived in North Brooklyn. Below are some highlights from our conversations.
1. Do you remember when you first heard about HBO’s GIRLS?
“Hmm.. Not really, I think either a friend told me, or I saw something about it online, if a friend told me it probably went something like, ‘OMG you have to watch this show GIRLS it’s soooo true.’ I really can’t remember for sure though.” – Mia, 21
“I had seen ads for it, but didn’t really think much about it or know what it was supposed to be about. The first time I remember hearing about it was after one of my coworkers watched Tiny Furniture; she told me that she liked the movie and that she was looking forward to seeing GIRLS. I heard that it was supposed to be the ‘hipster Sex and the City.’” – Zara, 27
“I was visiting a friend, with other girl friends from NY, who had just moved from NY to Denver and it was premiering while we were all out there. I learned from a few of them.” – Megan, 26
“I think I heard someone talking about a new show that they said was like a new Sex and the City. I saw a lot of different articles about the show before I first watched it. Mostly they weren’t negative because there was nothing to really say about it yet. I remember one talking about how according to this show, a “girl” is a rich pretty white person because there weren’t any other races depicted on the show. Then there was another article saying that they shouldn’t have to have a token minority in the show because we’re past that, so I thought that was kind of interesting. My friends weren’t really talking about it until we started watching it together.” – Kat, 21
“I saw a buttload of articles online about it. I know it sounds dumb, but that immediately turned me off.” – Jen, 29
“Yeah, I was reading OK Magazine — because that’s the kind of crap I read — and it was talking about Brian William’s daughter [Allison Williams] being in a new show on HBO.” – Emily, 26
“Yeah, I heard people talking about it. Or I heard that Judd Apatow was working with Lena Dunham and I had actually recently seen Tiny Furniture so I knew who she was and was curious. I heard a lot about the show, but I didn’t really pay a lot of attention to it. There was also a band called Girls, like a dance-y type band, so I thought maybe people were talking about that, but then I saw the ads and put two and two together.” – Sabrina, 29
2. Have you ever seen the movie Tiny Furniture?
“Yes, also I saw Lincoln and the guy from GIRLS is in it.” – Sabrina
“No.” – Mia, Megan
“Yeah, it was ok. I didn’t form much of an emotional attachment to the main character or sympathize with her much.” – Zara
“No, but in the articles I read it talked about how that movie was Lena Durnham’s most famous project.” – Kat
“Yes, I liked it. I don’t always like independent movies because they skew toward depressing subject matter. However, despite the fact that this was not an uplifting movie — it was funny and sort of fun to watch.” – Jen
“No, but I saw they added it to Netflix and I was like ‘oh what’s that about’? Then I watched an old episode of Dawson’s Creek.” – Emily
3. Have you ever seen GIRLS?
“Yes, because a friend told me about it, making it sound like it would be pretty relatable and entertaining. I’ve watched the entire first season, usually with my other girl friends.” – Mia
“Yes, I’ve seen all of season one. I initially watched it out of curiosity and kept watching it because I think it’s funny.” – Zara
“Yes, I watched the first episode of the first season with my friends (as per above), and a few other parts of shows I caught here and there, but didn’t actually watch the whole first season.” – Megan
“Yeah, I watched it over the course of a couple weeks, but not on TV.” –Sabrina
“Yes, I thought it sounded like a show I would like, so I watched the first season. ” – Kat
“No. Then, after many months, yes I watched, but only because my girlfriend really wanted to watch it. I was against it because, maybe this is just me, but the hype had reached this insane level. It felt like it was being shoved down my throat, not necessarily by the representatives of the show but by the internet as some kind of weird being.” – Jen
“No, well actually, I saw one episode of it at my sister’s apartment right before Christmas.” – Emily
4. What did you expect from the show?
“I expected it to be funnier, it was kind of dark and depressing at times, it was really awkward sometimes too, especially some of the sex scenes. As the season went on, I think it got a better balance of funny/serious, but it was kind of weird at first. I also expected it to be really relatable to my life, when it really wasn’t. I mean, aside from being female and roughly the same age, and having been to New York City a bunch of times throughout my life, their lifestyles didn’t really resonate with mine.” – Mia
“After hearing that it was supposed to be the ‘hipster Sex and the City,’ I expected the characters to be more artsy, more like “creative-types” with specific goals they were pursuing. I expected there to be more skinny jeans and asymmetrical hair-cuts… let’s say Rent meets Sex and the City meets Portlandia. The only character that would fit that mold is probably Adam, Hannah’s odd love interest who is an actor/carpenter.” – Zara
“I expected, from the reviews I read the day it premiered, [for] it to be real-er, and funny. It was a little bit of both. [The] awkwardness, and broke-ness were pretty real — although exaggerated — which made it funny. It was a little more complain-ey that I’d imagined.” – Megan
“I didn’t know what I expected really, after everyone said a million different things about it. I could understand why people were saying it was interesting, or shocking, because even from the first episode it definitely broke the mold. ” – Kat
“I thought it had potential. I was excited that it was set in New York, and Brooklyn specifically, and that it was written by a woman.” – Sabrina
“Honestly, I expected it to be annoying. I was and am annoyed by the show. However, I definitely think the writers and actors are talented; I will watch other things they do. Many of the personalities and situations portrayed are irritating to me and I, personally, do not find them funny. It’s a matter of taste.” – Jen
“I expected it to be like Sex and the City-ish. I didn’t really know what it was about, so I didn’t really care. [I thought it would be] kind of like Gossip Girl or Sex and the City because it was called GIRLS and based in New York City and I didn’t know anything else about it.” – Emily
5. Have you ever lived in North Brooklyn?
“I moved to NYC after college in the summer of 2008 and lived in a sublet apartment in Manhattan with a few people I knew who had gone to music school in the city. Their lease was up shortly after I moved in, and we then found a place to move in Bushwick. My roommates had a lot of friends there; kids in their early 20s were moving to Bushwick because Manhattan and Williamsburg were too expensive. The rent was cheap and the L train into the East Village was convenient (when there wasn’t construction).” – Zara
“Yes, if you consider Bed-Stuy and Bushwick north. First was a sublet to get my foot into NYC, and the second in Bed-Stuy was cheap, a big place, and 30 min commute to work.” – Megan
“No, [and I won’t] unless I get a job.” – Kat
“Yeah, I lived in Bushwick. I moved there in 2004 and people called it ‘East Williamsburg.’ I had been living with my sister in a tiny apt. in the West Village and she was interested in living in a loft and I went along with it. I also thought anything but the little apartment we were living it would be a nice change.” – Sabrina
“I guess I ‘lived’ in Bushwick when I dated someone for years who lived there, but that doesn’t really count. I lived in other parts of Brooklyn for years and definitely “experienced” many North Brooklyn neighborhoods.” – Jen
“No, it feels like Brooklyn is so trendy now and that’s where everyone my age lives.” – Emily
6. Would you say GIRLS accurately represents any aspect of North Brooklyn?
“I’m not completely familiar with the area but when I think of Brooklyn I think of hipsters, so I guess?” – Mia
“Perhaps the Bushwick warehouse party featured in one GIRLS episode is an accurate portrayal in the sense that based on my experience there are interesting parties in Bushwick. Other than that, I don’t think that GIRLS incorporates north Brooklyn as an element that is central to the show or accurately portrays it, though I’ve never lived in Greenpoint (where Hannah lives).” – Zara
“I think to some extent. I think a good amount of people who now live in Williamsburg and Greenpoint have come from privileged backgrounds. I don’t necessarily think that’s a bad thing, but I think that’s pretty accurate with transplants in general in New York City.” – Sabrina
“Honestly, I don’t think I watched enough episodes to be able to say. The one party scene, where afterwards she falls off the handlebars of the guy’s bike, seemed accurate to the Bushwick/East Williamsburg party-scene.” – Megan
7. Do you think there is a work of art, or literature, that more accurately depicts North Brooklyn?
I think a show like Portlandia does a good job describing (and making fun of) some of the trends and behavioral patterns that are common in hip neighborhoods that draw young people. Sketches on that show could easily be set in north Brooklyn. – Zara
“Not really. In Gossip Girl they make the guy from Brooklyn a writer and more thoughtful than all the other prep school kids. The show implies he has more depth as a person because he is from Brooklyn and not as wealthy as them. I think that generally everyone stereotypes Brooklyn in these ways — with words like “hipster,” “laidback-vibe,” and “creative-types.” There’s nothing wrong with it. I would live there. Parts of it are artsy and whatever, but so are parts of Manhattan and many other places.” – Emily
8. Do you identify with any of the characters or situations on the show GIRLS?
“Again, not really, but if I had to choose I guess Hannah because of her weird relationship with Adam reminds me of a weird relationship I was in, where the dude was really into the idea of being in a relationship, and I wasn’t, and then I was, and he wasn’t, so we ended things — so I guess in that situation I’m more ‘an Adam’?” – Mia
“I’m having trouble thinking of characters that I identify with…” – Zara
“I suppose a little bit of each, but not one specifically.” – Megan
“I think Hannah’s struggles are common to pretty much anyone just out of college. I can identify with the confusion she feels over finding a job, and wondering whether or not what she is doing is the right path for her. I can also relate to the girls in terms of their relationships with their friends. I think the show depicts relationships between females pretty well, and I know that I do a lot of the same things/ hang out in the same ways that these girls do.” – Kat
“Hell no. I could never afford to just dick around at an “internship,” my parents are generous but they would and could never pay my rent, and if I didn’t pay my half of the rent my roommate would boot me out. Also, I am queer. My sexuality of course doesn’t prevent me from identifying with all different kinds of people; I identify with tons of straight characters like Liz Lemon, Ron Swanson, and Lion-o the Thundercat. However, so much of the first season of the show is viewed from the perspective of a straight woman hung up on a dude and I don’t identify with being hung up on a dude. Wait, forget all this; I identify with Charlie because I got dumped like that once.” – Jen
“No. Just no.” – Emily
“Yeah probably, I can kind of relate to Hannah coming to Brooklyn right out of college and sort of not knowing what to do. Sort of trying to find herself in this huge city. I definitely shared that. Yeah that just reminds me of how it was for me. She’s a lot clumsier than I am and makes a lot more mistakes and has poor judgment sometimes — and I don’t relate to that. However, I can relate to this show much more than — I just could never relate to Sex and the City. Also, I was just reading an interview today with Carrie Brownstein and she mentioned GIRLS and Louie as her favorite shows and I thought that was cool. Do you know who Carrie Brownstein is?” – Sabrina
9. How did you watch GIRLS?
“Friend’s house, she gets HBO on demand.” – Mia
“I watched it on a free TV site which shall remain nameless.” – Zara
“HBO subscription when I did watch it.” – Megan
“Usually watched it on HBO at my house, but also stream it online.” – Kat
“My friend gave me her HBO GO login and password. I pay it forward with my Netflix subscriptions.” – Jen
“At my sister’s apartment.” – Emily
10. Is there a voice of your generation?
“If there is a voice of our generation, I haven’t heard it yet.” – Mia
“I do think that generations can have voices. I would define a ‘voice of a generation’ as someone who’s able to communicate things that a majority of people of a certain demographic are thinking or feeling, a collective experience. The examples that come to mind are Bob Dylan as the voice of twenty-somethings in the 1960s, or Jack Kerouac as the voice of the Beat Generation.
I don’t know that my generation has a voice per say (I am 27). I’m not certain it’s Lena Dunham, though she is a voice… of a generation.” – Zara
“No voice yet, too soon to pick, plus there’s too many Kanye’s and Hannah’s claiming to be voices of a generation. It gets overwhelming.” – Megan
“I think it’s a little bold to call one person the “voice of a generation.” I think that many people can represent a generation (look at all the bands from the 60s, etc.), but I don’t think that one person can do that job. So, yeah, generations definitely have voices, people who are loved, people who stand for some of the values that define that age.
As for if Lena Dunham is the voice of our generation (which is what I assume this question is getting at), I’d say definitely not. I think she made a funny, awesome show that I LOVE to watch, but I don’t think it defines our generation. I don’t even think her goal was to try and make a statement with all of the open conversation, sex scenes, and nontraditional “girl” images, but rather she just wrote a show about stuff she sees in life, and how some girls interact, and it turned out to be terribly entertaining! It’s dangerous to put too much weight onto one thing, especially a television show.” – Kat
“If you were to ask me ten years ago I would have said Ani DiFranco, but she also doesn’t come from our generation. Does the voice of a generation have to come from it? Yeah, I personally don’t think there is a single voice of our generation. James Franco? Just kidding.” – Sabrina
“I think there can be a voice of a generation. Or there could have been. But now, with Facebook and Twitter and all that crap, everybody thinks that they’re the voice that everyone else wants to hear or read about.” – Emily