At a point in the first episode of HBO’s Girls (which debuts tomorrow night at 10:30/9:30c), Lena Dunham’s Hannah suggests that she might be “the voice of [her] generation.”
It’s a clichéd statement, albeit one that Lena Dunham’s age and rapid rise to success within the entertainment industry have foregrounded within the discourse surrounding Girls. However, it’s also a statement that the show itself treats as a cliché, given the fact that Hannah is under the influence of drugs when she says it (and immediately realizes how pretentious it sounds even in her altered state). If her dream of being a writer is anything within the world of Girls, it’s a pipe dream, an idea that sustains her psychologically even as it does nothing for her financially.
I wouldn’t say that the show is about this, however. In fact, I’m not sure I’m comfortable saying what the show is about. While the show’s title suggests a broad investigation of young women, the universality it implies is undercut by the show’s reluctance to draw larger conclusions from these stories. It’s possible for cultural commentators to suggest this stands in for the experience of twenty-something white women living in New York City, but I’m not sure that the show itself ever makes the argument this is the experience for all of those women (or for all women in general).
In other words, Girls is a show about pretentious people, but I don’t find it particularly pretentious. Granted, HBO’s (successful) efforts to promote the show as a cultural touchstone have an air of pretension, but there is something very natural about the show itself that I found disarmed those larger expectations. Girls is a show based around situations more than “issues,” an incredibly isolated portrait of four young women at a very specific time, in a very specific place, and within a compelling televisual framework. Lena Dunham may not be the voice of a generation, but she’s a capable writer and director who has crafted a nuanced comic portrait of the drama of, if not everyday life, than a set of everyday lives, well worth watching.
“Chuck vs. the Fake Name”
March 1st, 2010
Reviewing Chuck isn’t quite as fun anymore.
That pains me to write, in a lot of ways, but there’s something about the show right now which has made the past few episodes seem particularly difficult to sit down and discuss. I’d love to say that it’s just residual effects of the Chuckpocalypse, so that I could blame that particular group of fans for my struggles, but I don’t think that’s all it is.
There is something about the show that’s missing right now, something that has little to do with Chuck/Hannah or Sarah/Shaw or any of the relationship drama that some seem so concerned about. And I don’t even think my problem has to do with character consistency, like the complaints that Chuck and Sarah are acting differently than they have in the past. I think the show has earned our patience on the former front, and in terms of the latter I think that it’s unrealistic to believe that these characters wouldn’t occasionally bottle up their feelings in a way that’s destructive in the long term but easier in the short term.
Rather, I think my problem has to do with the fact that this season has fingerprints all over it, too purposefully designed to drive the show to a particular point instead of allowing it to get there on its own. “Chuck vs. the Fake Name” has some nice comic moments, and sells its emotional side fairly well, but it’s one of many episodes this season that end up a bit anvil-like in terms of explaining the season’s central themes, while proving too subtle when it comes to actually justifying those themes from a plot or character point of view.
“Chuck vs. the Mask”
February 8th, 2010
I was pretty down on “Chuck vs. the Nacho Sampler,” and I was in the minority on that one: many called it one of the best episodes of the season, and I’ll admit that I just don’t see it. I had a day to sit on the episode, which meant that my concerns festered overnight, but I do think that it failed to really capture the show at its strongest, losing a lot of its momentum by keeping Chuck and Hannah apart, and by sidelining Shaw in an effort to keep things moving. The Manoosh story was solid, but it seemed like it wasn’t saying anything new, and the story seemed to be actively delaying the inevitable (with Hannah) rather than integrating her into the stand-alone story.
And based on some early responses, I might be alone yet again in much preferring “Chuck vs. the Mask” to last week’s episode. While it wades into dangerous waters with its engagement with romantic entanglements, it uses that drama to its advantage, and crafts a story that sells some pretty important transition points as the show heads into an Olympics hiatus. The episode is a bit insulated, and it resolves one of its potential long term story threads a bit too quickly, but it’s all extremely well executed, and continues a string of good episodes that gives me plenty of creative faith in the show heading into the post-Olympics episodes.
“Chuck vs. the Nacho Sampler”
February 1st, 2010
We like to talk a lot these days about shows in which the creators take control of their own destiny: Lost, for example, decided it was going to end the show at a certain point, and it gave them a clear goal to work towards, leading to some great dramatic television. It’s one thing to laud a show for making the right creative decisions in the moment, writing good plots and the like, but it’s another when they make decisions that affect the show as a whole in a way that helps steer the ship as they sail onwards.
“Chuck vs. the Nacho Sampler,” while a somewhat weak episode in many ways, signals the start of the period where Chris Fedak and Josh Schwartz are making a move to take control of their destiny. While the story of Chuck stepping further into the world of being a spy, in the process reflecting back on his own experience as an asset in his earliest days with the agency, is a bit on-the-nose thematically speaking, the episode lays the groundwork for the show’s biggest secret to be revealed.
Whether they actually go through with it is a completely different question, but the setup is under way, and it raises some questions of how the show plans on ending its third season, and whether the show will have the narrative drive to move onto a fourth.
“Chuck vs. First Class”
January 25th, 2009
One of the things that Chuck has always been good at is effectively telling the same stories without actually, you know, telling the same stories.
The show has always been about a hapless spy who oscillates between, to quote Daniel Shaw, “Bond and a Jerry Lewis Movie,” and whether or not Chuck is capable of handling himself has always been a point of tension. And yet after slightly more than two seasons, I still enjoy that dynamic, and feel as if the show has maintained the charm of Chuck’s incompetence without feeling as if he has made no progress. While Chuck has grown progressively more competent with time, including with his recent developments made possibly via the Intersect 2.0, his response has more or less been the same, and it’s allowed the character to grow without fundamentally changing.
So when “Chuck vs. First Class” starts with Shaw announcing that Chuck would be going on his first solo mission, I had to wonder whether the show was interested in upending the balance of these efforts, and whether Chuck’s success (since we knew he’d be successful) would lead to a newfound self-confidence or even cockiness.
However, the episode manages to offer a series of events that are absolutely familiar and yet which surround emotions and responses that reflect a growing emotional complexity in Chuck that shows maturity without taking away what makes the show work so well.