Over the past few weeks, I’ve seen a few blog posts that ask readers to choose which Girls character they most closely resemble. I’m not sure anyone really thinks of herself as “a Hannah” or “a Marnie” (or at least, I hope they don’t) but enough people have answered polls like this one to give me pause.
In writing about this much talked about TV show, one thing that’s always struck me about it is the characters’ specificity. Also: their many flaws, which I’ll get to later. The characters do not represent, as Hannah says when she’s on drugs, “a voice of a generation,” but a collection of weirdos who chose each other from a limited pool of options in college and are now attempting to relate to one another and the world, with zany results! They are not, like Sex and the City before it, generalized archetypes that it’s easy to project one’s own personality traits onto. We’re supposed to think it’s silly when Shoshanna asks Jessa which SATC character she is, and it is, but it makes a lot more sense than figuring out which Girls character one is.
This does not, however, mean we can’t identify with certain elements of the characters or things that happen on the show. On the contrary, I think it makes us identify more strongly with the elements we do recognize. It’s one thing for me to identify with Carrie Bradshaw for the vague reason that we’re both writers. It’s another entirely for me to identify with Hannah Horvath because I, too, have had a guy start masturbating while I was trying to break up with him. Okay, fuck it, I’m totally a Hannah.
Just kidding! There are plenty of other things about Hannah I do not identify with at all, because she’s a fictional character who is not me. And while some of the characters’ traits might make them “unlikable,” this makes it easier for the show to go to the fucked up places that constitute good (i.e. dark) comedy. By the end of SATC, the ladies were basically aspirational avatars for the viewer, so it was much harder to put them in morally compromising situations. Freedom to humiliate the characters on Girls or have them do terrible things can only lead to a better, more entertaining, television show, and it has. Maybe one of them will even die! Funeral episodes can be great comedic canvasses.
I don’t think Sex and the City made me laugh once, but Girls makes me laugh every fucking time. And it’s not because I want any of the characters to come to life and be my BFF. To quote Jesse David Fox at Splitsider:
In a recent interview Girls co-showrunner Jenni Konner, paraphrasing Neil Labute: “People are always asking me who to like in this show, and I’m like, ‘Like your friends. This is a show.’” Flawed characters are funny and compelling. Furthermore, they allow you to have it both ways: they have the most room to grow and it’s entertaining to see them falter. Watching a guy on rolling skates try to make it up the hill is more fun then watching a guy standing on a hill and Girls did an amazing job this season putting molehills in front of Hannah and letting her make mountains out of them.
Image Credit: HBO.com