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.