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.