Lunchtable TV Talk – Girls: No friendship is static

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I recently read an article asking whether women being friends on TV is done right. It used HBO’s much talked-about Girls as an example and contrasted it against the “I would kill for you” friendship portrayed in one of TV’s best and most unusual comedies, Broad City. The writer argues that representations of female friendship are important and as such asks whether the characterization in Girls can be counted among representative examples.

You get no arguments from me that Girls does not make female friendship look appealing, and one could argue that the girls whose lives play out in the show are not friends. This discounts the idea that there are different and always changing dynamics in friendship that include widely swinging moods and various ebbs and flows. And different kinds of friends – fair weather friends, dyed-in-the-wool Ilana and Abbi types and everything in between. Regardless of the type of friendship, the friendship is not less real just because it does not examine and display the best of female friendship. Sometimes it is human nature unfolding at its worst and takes a sideline to individuals’ ambitions. Sometimes women friends, even the best of them, don’t tell each other everything (all kinds of reasons for this – even best friends can get very jealous and envious and a friend might like to head that off before it happens; maybe the friend feels ashamed or private about some things and can’t share with anyone – or can only share with those NOT closest to her). Like it or not, female friendship can be complicated and nasty business – just as much as it can be beautiful and life-affirming.

We have seen life-affirming in the aforementioned Ilana and Abbi in Broad City, from Leslie and Ann in Parks and Recreation and even to some degree from Jules and Ellie in Cougar Town. But not every representation is going to be the same.

Beyond this, I don’t believe it is the responsibility of any TV show to singlehandedly take on any issue. Girls does not need to be the defining source on friendship, on sex, on life in the city in your 20s any more than anyone would want or expect Modern Family to be the defining reference on gay marriage. Bottom line: we might want and even expect more from those representations that do make it to TV, but it is not ultimately their responsibility, creative or otherwise, to deliver what we want or take the moral or cultural high ground. Or even necessarily to be realistic.

With all of this said, I would argue that Girls, as the worst, whiniest, most entitled, horrible set of characters I have seen in years, is a truer representation of friendship falling apart, friends growing apart. Once-close friends drift all the time. The author of the aforementioned Indiewire piece writes that the girls in Girls don’t seem to like each other much, especially compared to earlier seasons when they seemed to genuinely care. But that is true in a group as well. Real rifts create real dislike. Hannah is annoying. I don’t see why all of them do not dislike her. Jessa is an addict and a sociopath who gets off on stirring up trouble and drama, so you can see why people would be drawn to her but then repelled. Shoshanna is annoying as hell, but sometimes you can see her faults and vulnerabilities and see how she could be adopted into the circle of friends, but at the same time she says cruel and uncalled-for things (wrapping it in a blanket of “honesty”). The Indiewire writer cites a time when Shoshanna says she “never even liked Marnie” as if that also illustrates the falsehood of these friendships. But we have all been part of a group of friends and been forced to spend time with the friends of friends – some of whom we did not much like. We did it to preserve harmony, stay in the good graces of the friends who are closest to us.

It happens – all these things happen. Especially in that period right after the late teens and in early adulthood. People start to identify their own interests and paths. They find their own footing. Of course they will not always remain close. The tendency in Girls is a common one – when other factors in your life change, you try to cling to the familiar things. New friends and interests take over, but you still seek the comfort of friendships that meant something at really intense times in your young life. But it does not have to be forever, and the more the characters let go of the past, the truer and deeper their later friendships will be and the truer they will be to themselves (the people they have developed into).

Girls is a perfect playing out of the death of the adolescent close friendship. Despite this symbolic death, it also does not mean that the actual friendship will die. It can be a lot more like an animal that sheds its skin and starts again – but then, even if the two people in the friendship are the same people, their experiences and what they bring to the friendship will be different. I can see that happening with the women in girls. No friendship is static.

The show does not, as some argue, misrepresent female friendship. It is about how very different people handle disintegration and moving on to new experience and paths.

Otherwise, Girls uses music perhaps more effectively than any other show on TV at the moment. I love that part of it. Otherwise I don’t love anything else and have find each season increasingly difficult to watch. It’s polarizing and difficult – not what I would call entertainment – but I can’t stop watching and usually recommend it to others as well.

Why I Changed My Mind: Amy Schumer

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My change of heart in this case was not so much changing my mind about Amy Schumer herself or her comedy because, frankly, I had never really heard of her or her work. My instant dislike stemmed from the endless advertisements for her Comedy Central show, Inside Amy Schumer, which appeared constantly in every single commercial break while streaming The Daily Show and The Colbert Report online. Is it Ms Schumer’s fault that 1. the ad nauseam ad campaign was overkill and turned people (namely me) off before they could even give her show a chance and 2. the ads Comedy Central makes for its stable of shows feature the most obnoxious bits and bobs, making the shows appear annoying and unwatchable, also before potential viewers could give them a chance? No. I had the same problem with another of the overkill ad campaigns propelled like an enemy sortie at the unsuspecting target when Comedy Central promoted the brilliant Broad City in exactly the same fashion. Granted ads are ads – they are so short that they can’t reflect a whole lot of the intelligent humor and depth that give these shows their cachet. But can’t the ads and those who make them dream up some way to make their shows seem less one-dimensional?

I thought Broad City looked dumb but gave it a chance – but Inside Amy Schumer got the shortest straw. I saw the ads, which made her look like a self-absorbed, vapid, sex-obsessed idiot playing stereotypes for laughs, and I immediately thought she and the show were anything but groundbreaking and inventive. Turns out, though, that while Schumer has written some skits in which she plays a self-absorbed, vapid, sex-obsessed (to a mad degree) character, her comedy swims in thrashingly funny but incisive commentary – deeply feminist, hypocrisy-poking/exposing, hyperbolic, sarcastic. I’ve been gasping and then laughing my way through both seasons of the show. It’s sometimes shocking in its sudden lack of political correctness (as most of the best comedy is), painful in its mix of humor – swinging between self-absorption and self-deprecation, much of it quite topical (see the skit about the combat video game in which the female video game character suffers and reports an assault and is faced by a screen reading “Character Assassination Complete”; not only is the idea behind the video game reminiscent of the recent controversies about sexual assault in the military with the reaction of the guy friend with whom Amy’s character is playing video games, telling her, “You obviously did something wrong – maybe you just shouldn’t play” a further level of commentary ) and most of it universal (see the “Stolen Years” jewelry collection ad, the ISP customer service freakout session skit, the superfluous nature of enormous penises bit in her standup act, all the skits about groups of female friends being competitively self-deprecating … and pretty much every skit and standup bit in the show)…

A handful of things were extra fabulous: Josh Charles’s appearance on an episode just after his shocking departure from The Good Wife – Schumer and Charles make glorious fun of the pomposity of Aaron Sorkin’s The Newsroom, which was absolutely necessary.

An offhand reference to the Operation Smile charity (which my company works with and sends volunteers to). Mentioning jokingly that TMZ maybe thought she was Paula Deen (which might not have made me spit my coffee out – in laughter – if I had not been lambasting Paula Deen a whole lot lately with my Firewall – check out Paula Deen “oiling up a bird” and deep-frying it with her Aunt Peggy, who has a very “Derek-esque“, vacant smile going on here).

Some of the over-the-top, possibly over-the-line humor – the “We’ve all been a little raped”/”grey area of rape” bit, the “AIDS/dealbreaker/gluten allergy” date – a bit gasp-worthy, then laugh-worthy and then thought-provoking. How many times have we all been on a date or in a situation where someone tells us something really uncomfortable and offered us an “out” but we still sit there, awkward, convincing ourselves that we’re okay with something that is really not okay with us or that makes us tongue-tied to the extent that, as Schumer blurts out, “I don’t know what I’m saying.” You might be able to say something eloquent and articulate and thoughtful if you’re not blindsided – but unprepared, how do you not stumble? “Is that a dealbreaker for you?”

“No, it’s great!”

Amy Schumer is a smart woman holding a mirror up to herself, to all of us, to society – willing to (like most good comedians) be vulnerable, embarrassed and embarrassing.

Pleased to have made her acquaintance.

No One Owns Your Ugly

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No, no one owns your ugly. Just you. We all have the capacity to be ugly people – and I mean ugly on the inside and in how we behave. Yesterday I quite insistently wrote that I hate listening to English people speak (unless they are using the word “dirty”), which is just a broad and ugly generalization. I had one, maybe two, specific people in mind – and my fussiness had nothing to do with their being English. Mostly it was because they whine all the time (or whinge as the English say). I have loads of lovely English friends who span the whole of England, including the varied and fascinating array of regional accents. So, yeah, I am just trying to sweep up that bit of ugly and deliver a half-assed apology. Even if there is no one to apologize to since this is just my platform for aimless rambling.

Friendship
When it comes to friendship or feeling – who is the glue? I have often described myself as the glue that holds friendships and groups of friends together. I discussed this with my brother recently – this strange sense of feeling that he and I have always had that we needed to continue making efforts when it was not really in our best interest; this sense that people do not care – even if they are or have been among your best friends – when you just fall out of their life. They don’t mind that you keep making the effort with them but if you didn’t the friendship would probably just die. And they would not mind that either. I used to be this way too – loyal, attentive and in pursuit (although I know this sounds a bit stalker-like) to a fault. Until I realized I was wasting my time. It is just another exercise in holding on to things from the past – and there is enough stuff, and are enough people, in the present to deal with. Like most things, there is a constant need to remind oneself to be in the present, the present, the present.

Friendship: TV Debate – Broad City v Girls
Considering friendship as it is portrayed on TV, I watched the most recent season of Girls on HBO. I cannot explain why I watch this show because there is absolutely nothing likeable about it. Many critics have written about the characters and how the show is somehow “realistic” even if the characters are not likeable. Creator/writer Lena Dunham gets a lot of press for creating this realistically unpleasant world in which she and her girlfriends live as well as for her penchant for on-screen nudity and willingness to show off a lot of her less-than-perfect physique. She is lovely and gifted with more talent than I can describe; more power to her. I don’t have a problem with any of this.

My problem with Girls, perhaps – and this may only reflect my wish to believe that people are not as selfish as they appear on TV – is that the characters are so painfully self-involved and totally, thoroughly up their own asses in terms of selfishness and disregard for the feelings, accomplishments, achievements, failures, insecurities and problems of others. The only character in this show who seems to have any sense of a compass in terms of how he feels about and treats others is Ray, and he is not particularly likeable either. Not that people need to be likeable (particularly on TV, where, if I face reality, most of the most memorable characters are the biggest dicks in existence from whom no one would take the kind of shit they dish out). Ray, too, is fallible – but then, aren’t we all?

Friendship, in my book, is not friendship when rendered and lived the way the friendships in Girls are. These girls are brutal to each other, they use each other, they say things to each other that no caring people would ever say. They are unsupportive and have really selfish fights. I might expect some of this behavior from adolescent, hormonal girls – but from women in their early 20s? Not so much. If a collective of women has this many problems with each other, are so hopelessly different, cannot put themselves in each other’s shoes, would rarely, if ever, go to bat for one another, delight SO MUCH in taking cracks at these “friends” when the others are not around (and the list goes on), how – oh, how – do we imagine that these girls are friends?

In some ways, yes, it’s a problem – I watch and think it’s horrible, awful and unrealistic. Critics and fans alike set the internet on fire talking about how “unrealistic” it was when Dunham’s character seduced (and rapidly destroyed a casual relationship with) a character played by Patrick Wilson last season. Such a “bedding” might not happen every minute of every day, but it is not unrealistic.

But women who decide to put up with the kind of abuse and backhanding from supposed friends that the women of Girls take episode after episode? That’s unrealistic! Maybe because these women are all insecure and troubled and selfish, they somehow can only survive and attract/maintain friendships with people who are equally shallow and self-absorbed, almost a theatre of “I can give as good as I get” of selfishness and casual cruelty. I started to wonder whether it was a reflection of how young women really are or whether it was a generational thing. Or whether this was all exaggerated because it’s a TV show. Is it possible, I thought, that young women (on TV) cannot reflect some of the genuine selfishness of youth while also still displaying genuine care and loyalty for their friends?

And that’s when I saw Broad City. I had been inundated and annoyed by ads for the Comedy Central show Broad City for weeks (these always appear between segments of The Daily Show when you watch it online). The ads really did not inspire me to watch the show – it looked a bit crass and frankly annoying like a lot of Comedy Central content. Then one Saturday afternoon I decided to give it a try. Apart from finding it quite funny, if vulgar, I found the two main characters, Ilana and Abbi, far more relatable in some ways (albeit exaggerated versions of relatable) than their Girls contemporaries – most of all because their friendship was so strong. It was obvious why these two were friends, why they turned to each other and were there for each other through thick and thin, supportive but not above the occasional poking fun at each other – not because they are spiteful, entitled assholes (as the characters in Girls feel like) but because they just know each other that well and enjoy the good-natured ribbing.

Now I am sad that Broad City’s first season is over, but endlessly relieved to see Hannah and co from Girls done with their third season. Certainly it says more about me and what I think friendship is – or what TV should be – than it does about the quality of either show. (And it does not say much in my defense that I keep watching stuff I really don’t like. I can’t help myself. What would I complain about otherwise? How could I maintain a robust hate list? I don’t have a monopoly on it, but I have to keep myself ugly somehow; I own my ugly, after all.)

I finally found someone uglier than you, A.M.” – Olli

Pretty (Ugly Before)” – Elliot Smith