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How to Make it in America

It’s become apparent that HBO very much wants to be in the young people business. After the gradual decay of its former golden child (in all the demos that matter), Entourage, and the almost immediate disillusionment with How to Make It in America, the unabashed doppleganger featuring NY grit instead of LA sheen and fashion instead of Hollywood, HBO has decided that maybe the Y chromosomes were to blame in their relentless pursuit of a youthful aesthetic. They’ve now seen it fit to give Girls a shot, purposefully remain in the New York state of mind, and let creator Lena Dunham run wild in a world of privileged 20-somethings caught somewhere between college and adulthood, between full parental support and almost inevitable support groups for social dysfunction.

On the surface, what Girls does differently than many of its predecessors is thoughtfully explore clichés of the real world (which for a long time TV has purported to be based on despite little to no evidence, just largely misleading titles like The Real World) more subtly, critically, and for the humor therein. Where How to Make it may have been painfully self indulgent in it’s depiction and idolization of the overexposed subcultures of big city America, Girls shuns the h-word of the times and subverts the underlying lifestyles and attitudes that make putting a camera on young folk a perennially attractive idea no matter the decade, the trope, or the pigeonhole.

The familiar cards are quickly laid on the table—worthless English degrees and crummy internships and dickish boyfriends and money from your parents and aimless adolescent anxieties. But don’t worry. Lena Dunham and the series itself is in on the joke, so we all get to laugh.

Girls features young women playing into tropes and archetypes for the desired comedic effect, but supposedly still depicting young women earnestly. So just as viewers may feel that they can relate to or understand the characters—an aspiring writer, a restless girlfriend, an over-the-top bohemian, a girl that’s fairly indistinguishable from the rest (I really can’t remember who she is but Wikipedia says there are four ::shrug::)—the portrayal of women in this series should provide both fans and critics alike with some pause in regards to gender. The girls of the show don’t function as an overtly strong statement on femininity in our culture. It’s not quite Carrie Bradshaw in the late-90s, challenging our preconceptions of what women should or should not do on television. It’s not a TV version of the 1939 classic film The Women, which brought women to the forefront of storytelling by removing literally all males from before the camera (why pretend? I only saw the 2008 remake with Meg Ryan and Annette Benning, but the point stands.) These Girls aren’t even The Powerpuff Girls, failing to ever showcase the figurative or literal feminine super-strength that tears down our prejudices and even hints at girls plainly being cooler than stupid ole boys.

But the series doesn’t have to be any of that. We shouldn’t still need it to. But as clever as the show positions itself to be, it doesn’t seem to actually offer anything particularly clever, if anything at all. The reality of it all is that spoiled white girls running around Greenpoint, Brooklyn dazed and confused and armed with both snark and liberal arts degrees is fine, but understandably unfulfilling for a broad audience. That audience may not appreciate, as Gawker’s John Cook puts it, “a television program about the children of wealthy famous people and shitty music and Facebook and how hard it is to know who you are and Thought Catalog and sexually transmitted diseases and the exhaustion of ceaselessly dramatizing your own life while posing as someone who understands the fundamental emptiness and narcissism of that very self-dramatization.” But that’s apparently not Girls concern. Those that wish to indulged in the possibly post-“hipster” or “meta-feminist” revisionist view of adulthood in the “real” world (these quotations connote things, I promise) or simply listen to some Feist and await for boobs and shout outs to your local PBR dispensary, boy do I gotta show for you!

In other news:

  • Best Friends Forever was pulled off NBC’s schedule as an overdue act of fairness to die-hard Perfect Couples fans. via Vulture
  • Fringe got renewed for a fifth and final season. Prediction: Astrid and Walter have been having sex all along. via TVbytheNumbers
  • 30 Rock, Community, and Parks and Recreation on Thursday reminded us what television can do to your funny bone, and a second dose of Donald Glover ain’t too shabby either. Coccyx via Grantland
  • New HBO comedy Veep is much better than Girls but Brian William’s daughter is hotter than Elaine Benes, so I picked the Brooklyn yawn to write about instead of the funny Murphy BrownWest Wing love child. I’m ashamed.

…and that may not be such a bad thing for fans.

The premise of a blue collar white man driven to prostitution by the recession, perhaps not surprisingly to most, doesn’t seem to write itself like it used to in 2009 when Hung first premiered. Without speculating too much on how or when the shark was jumped by Ray Drecker (played by Thomas Jane) and his sizable penis, it has long been common wisdom that the show wasn’t ‘as good as it’s first season,’ the season with all the hype and promise and emphatic conversations with friends about what they’re missing out on. The season before dick jokes became stale. The season when a teacher as a whore sounded as fresh and entertaining as a housewife as a drug dealer, except not really.

First season hype has doomed each one of these failed HBO experiments. Bored to Death received rave reviews from the sort of critics and friends alike that make a series more unapproachable than attractive. The merit of Jason Schwartzman, Ted Danson, and Zach Galifianakis going on detective adventures throughout New York City is undeniable. The praise the show received early in its run seems to assume that there were actually people who would attempt to deny it; as if there were those that enjoyed these three guys’ style of comedy, were liberally educated, NPR listeners with Rushmore on their Netflix queues, but for some reason were on the fence about Bored to Death. The series simply wasn’t built to manufacture new viewers – the American education system and cultural polarization wouldn’t allow it. But if not for the unwieldy hype, the series may have been able to keep its unique sort of ratings points.

How to Make it in America relied on a younger more easily herded demo to thrive on the network. The buzz around this show often contained the words “new Entourage.” But that was more of a design goal than an accurate assessment. Then there was the “hipster” claim, and it became clear that the show was chasing ghosts, and would forever be too many steps behind its own constructed visage. (HBO decided it’d take more than a year to air the second season of a show reimagining the  young people’s New York of last decade.)

The reason the cancellation of these shows may prove to be beneficial for their fans is simple: They get to keep the hype. Cancellation in 2012 isn’t cancellation as we’ve known in the past. These shows aren’t actually going anywhere. Three seasons of both Bored to Death and Hung and two seasons of How to Make it in America, can still provide their respective fans with a fluid and cohesive encapsulation of what they enjoyed (or thought they enjoyed), without any significant adjustments or alterations that often make a long-running show seem unfamiliar towards the end. Each show can even be scrutinized with the questions of what could’ve and should’ve been, never yielding the answers that would undoubtedly ruin the magic. Everyone now gets to digest the shows at their own pace, without ratings based-hype, but rather gravitating towards the shows that are consistent with their character. (Maybe put Bored to Death on your cue behind Twin Peaks. Maybe find a Hung torrent one bored summer.) Television is yours to keep now. So when a show with just one joke, merely the allure of familiar faces, simply a momentarily trendy look to flaunt, gets the axe, don’t worry. There’s nothing wrong with any of those things. And you still get to hold on tightly to them.