The appropriate response to Girls, a television program about two sets of high school outcasts—the "freaks," who wear army fatigues and smoke cigarettes, and the "geeks," who like Monty Python—is to hold your children close and promise them you'll be home more. But today is Biggie Smalls' birthday, and Gotye's too, so here is a recap.
The only take on Girls that matters is Paul Westerberg's, who sang in 1982:
I ain't ashamed
What are we doing here, really? This television show exists. It's like 27.5 minutes long. There are thousands like it. Some people watch it, some don't. Have you ever seen an episode of Big Bang Theory? Me neither.
But its launch was attended by a well-organized barrage of publicity announcing it as a new kind of television program, a generational shift, the work of an auteur. As though commercial television had been criminally ignoring the priorities and concerns of 23-to-28-year old female Fleet Foxes listeners all these years. As though the priorities and concerns of the aforementioned Fleet Foxes listeners had some sort of intrinsic value that demanded attention. As though seeing your reflection in a television screen is an entitlement (a controversial notion!). As though being represented on a television screen is a form of deliverance.
And then there was the audacity of privilege. The uncanny, seemingly borderline deliberate selection of the barely matriculated children of wealthy and powerful people to populate the show onscreen and behind the scenes. While adult critics cheered them on.
And in the end it was a dumb TV show, like all TV shows. Absurd dialogue. Retrograde, cliched notions of sexual politics dressed up as transgressive and raw. And most of all, these snotty, entitled kids and their problems.
So it was fun to mock. The character played by Laurie Simmons' daughter is insufferable, petulant, self-absorbed, and incapable of engaging emotionally without swathing herself in an ironic gauze. But unlike Brian Williams' daughter, who couldn't fingerbang herself out of a wet paper bag, Laurie Simmons' daughter is a gifted comic actress. She plays an asshole well, like Chevy Chase. And there are so many asshole moments: Her whiny response to being cut off from her parents, her clumsy and inexplicable attempt to fuck her boss, her theft of $20 from a hotel maid. But all those asshole moments were sandwiched in between Hey Girl!s and solitary dances to inspirationally shitty songs and swelling music and all manner of signifiers that the audience is intended to like these characters.
Maybe it is. Who knows? But what I have learned is this: with the exception of a bunch of preposterous and stupid scenes, Girls would be a pretty good TV show, as TV shows go, if it were created by adults with the specific aim of satirizing its characters. I would have no quarrel with it. Even if it were created by privileged twentysomethings with the specific aim of satirizing its characters.
Initially, the point of the show seemed to me to be to valorize the inconsequential trials and travails of this entitled cohort. To portray with unearned sympathy and false depth what it feels like to "want to be a writer" or have a boyfriend who's too nice. And one of its more annoying flaws has been the attempt to inoculate itself against criticism by giving voice to characters who mock Laurie Simmons' daughter's pretense, or to her own self-doubt, just as it is excusing and minimizing that pretense. Laurie Simmons' daughter would ostentatiously announce her intent to write a memoir while meekly acknowledging the profound self-regard such an ambition entails for someone in her early 20s. She was trying to have it both ways.
But last night's episode has convinced me that she really only wants it one way. She wants you to think she's an asshole.
The character played by Laurie Simmons' daughter is going home to East Lansing, Mich., to celebrate her parents' 30th anniversary. This is interesting inasmuch as Laurie Simmons' daughter is most certainly not from East Lansing, Mich. She grew up in New York City. And it shows. Is this idealized Midwestern upbringing for her alter ego a bid to buy some authenticity? Some real roots?
From the moment Laurie Simmons' daughter sets foot in Michigan, Girls becomes a postgraduate Freaks and Geeks with iPhone bleeps. She packs with a trashbag; her overbearing parents shower her with praise on arrival simply for existing. They offer her some food, overbearingly. "I'm not hungry," she says. "I said I wasn't hungry. You don't know about me."
As soon as they fall asleep she raids the fridge, binge-style.
Laurie Simmons' daughter meets some high school classmates. "You went to East Lansing High," says a pharmacist.
"Yeah I did. You?"
"Class of '06."
"Yeah, Eric, I remember."
Class of '06! Class of '06.
Laurie Simmons' daughter mentions to everyone that she meets that she lives in New York City now, and that she is "writing" a book. After each time she tells someone this, she waits a beat, expecting them to praise her, or express interest or envy. Nobody does. Her face registers this.
She sits in her parents' Volvo and sings a Jewel song from 1998.
The pharmacist asks her on a date. They go to a pizza parlor, then to a benefit for a classmate of Laurie Simmons' daughter's who has gone missing at a resort, Natalee Holloway-style. Laurie Simmons' daughter doesn't seem to care about her missing classmate.
Everyone in East Lansing is earnest and nice and unconcerned with urban things. Laurie Simmons' daughter, who is ostensibly from East Lansing, comes across as arrogant and dismissive and smug. Before her date, she recites to herself in the mirror, "You are from New York, therefore you are just naturally interesting."
At the benefit, a high school friend of Laurie Simmons' daughter gives a dance performance. She had previously told Laurie Simmons' daughter that she intended to move to Los Angeles to dance professionally. "That like was very cheesy," Laurie Simmons' daughter tells her date. "And nobody's telling her. She's going to got to L.A. and like live in some shitty apartment and feel like scared and sad and lonely and weird all the time." This is obviously intended to double as a description of Laurie Simmons' daughter's life.
She goes home with the pharmacist. She tries to stick her finger in his asshole, for no reason. He objects. She asks him if she is "tight like a baby." She is a ruined girl.
Cut to Laurie Simmons' daughter's parents fucking in the shower. Her father, played by Peter Scolari from Bosom Buddies, which premiered six years before Laurie Simmons' daughter was born, falls over. He has thrown out his back. He is naked. You get a good look at his penis, if you are interested.
Laurie Simmons' daughter comes home. She sees her naked father, on the floor, writhing in pain. "He's concussed," says her mother. Laurie Simmons' daughter sees his penis.
They get him in bed.
Laurie Simmons' daughter's mother asks how here night was. It was fine, says Laurie Simmons' daughter.
"Was there not enough fire burning under his ass for you, but he'll do for the day?" says her mother. Weird thing to say to your daughter.
"He'll do for the day," says Laurie Simmons' daughter.
Then the angry woodworking actor calls. He misses her. "I saw your name earlier on the phone and I was like, Where the fuck is that girl? I wish she was here right now."
Watch this space for next week's recap of Girls.
Image by Jim Cooke