No, this is not an out-of-the-blue declaration of a sudden switch of my sexual preferences. Nor am I about to extol the virtues of the fairer sex in comparison to men. I am talking about Girls, the US TV series that arrived last year and has already had many written inches devoted to its themes of sex and nudity.
For those who aren’t entirely au fait with Girls: it follows the lives of four women, all of whom are aged 21 to 25. The central character is Hannah, who is played by Lena Dunham (who also writes and directs the series). Naturally, the main topics of interest are the love lives of the main protagonists, and these are more often than not displayed with overtly realistic sex scenes.
It was only a couple of months ago that I first watched the pilot episode of Girls, and I was immediately hooked. Here are the main reasons why:
- Unlike the majority of glossy American TV shows (Gossip Girl, Sex & the City etc.), where no one wears the same outfit twice and everyone has perfect faces and figures, Girls has a simple reality to it. Hannah is a bit overweight and isn’t that much of a looker; characters are shown with greasy hair and bad skin; and their clothes aren’t dripping with designer labels.
- These are normal people with all of the problems that normal people encounter, thus making the story lines much easier to relate to. Who hasn’t had an awkward encounter with an ex, or fallen out with a close friend over something seemingly trivial, or had a spat with their parents over money? We can put ourselves in all of these situations, unlike the ridiculous plots found in Gossip Girl et al (long-lost father back from the dead who then tries to kill his son etc etc).
- How refreshing to see something about young 20-somethings that’s written by a young 20-something, complete with the difficulties that most young 20-somethings go through. Money, rent, relationships, finding a job that you like, having to do jobs that you hate, friendships evolving in the post-college environment. Lena Dunham has been through all of this, and as a result the stories played out in Girls feel much more personal and delicate than they would do if penned by some high-ranking Hollywood writer who has to dredge around memories that happened more than 10 years ago.
- Anyone who has watched Sex and the City will know that, for the most part, the sex scenes are ridiculous (cough, Samantha, cough). Most films tend to go with subtle lighting and artistic angles, with a soundtrack suggesting intense emotion and the fact that this act goes way beyond something purely physical. This is not the case with Girls. Here, sex is shown as it really is: a bit awkward, sometimes embarrassing, definitely not all that nice to look at. No soft porn to be seen, no theatrical music, very little in the way of stylised moaning. At last! Also, due to some very close-up shots, we’re able to see that some of the time the Girls gals aren’t enjoying themselves at all and would much rather roll over and go to sleep. Now what’s more realistic than that?
- Each character is distinctly flawed in one way or another. Hannah is completely self-absorbed yet unwilling to let anyone help her. Marnie has an outer sheen of perfection but is actually a selfish mess. Jessa concentrates so hard on emitting an air of I-don’t-give-a-shit-about-anything cool that she alienates most people. And Shoshanna is irritating and has anxiety issues. Once again, this is the most realistic portrayal of a group of friends that I’ve ever seen on TV. When one girl falls out with another, there isn’t a massive hate campaign where minions are used to orchestrate humiliation and suffering. There’s just an argument, a few slammed doors, and then two people ignoring each other and pretending to get along in front of their friends. Normal life!
So the overriding theme here is one of reality vs fairytale, life vs glossy magazine. Whilst ten years ago young 20-somethings would have had lunch conversations based around which character they were in Sex and the City, I like to think that those kinds of chats aren’t needed when it comes to Girls. Why? Because we are every character in one way or another. For example: I have Hannah’s desire to become a published writer, and her need to put a hold on finding ‘the dream job’ due to financial difficulties; I have Jessa’s ability to separate sex from emotion; I have Marnie’s ability to be downright bitchy at times; and I have some of Shoshanna’s neurotic behaviour. Someone I know has Hannah’s inability to stop talking when she should just shut up, Marnie’s thing when it comes to talented male artists, Jessa’s inability to stay in one place for very long, and Shoshanna’s crazy hair styles. Who could ever say they were Carrie and Charlotte and Miranda and Samantha?
Girls has just finished its second series, and I get the feeling that Lena Dunham is only just warming up. Long may this visual gem continue!