For Women in Their 20s, HBO’s Girls Is Reality-Check TV

The millennials take Manhattan: Sex and the City without the orgasms.

I love girls. I also love Girls. The two are not mutually exclusive, at least so far. Massively hyped before its April 15th launch, HBO’s estrogen-rich comedy had been dubbed Sex and the City for twentysomethings, and its creator Lena Dunham anointed the voice of her generation.

No pressure.

Then came the backlash. How could a comedy set in New York have an all-white cast? Why would anyone care about four privileged brats whose vacuous lives include depressing, emotionless sex?

Both sides were right. Both sides were wrong.

Admittedly, Girls‘ premise is derivative: a quartet of female friends in New York City explore sex, adulthood and the meaning of life, in no particular order. Think Sex and the City: The Gen Y Years. Even the characters are equivalent.

Dunham’s Hannah, a neurotic writer, is Carrie, minus the wardrobe and orgasms. Marnie (Allison Williams), Hannah’s roommate and best friend, is Miranda. She has a serious job and a serious boyfriend, neither of which she likes.

Jessa (Jemima Kirke), an unapologetically promiscuous Brit, is Samantha. She returns to New York to move in with her cousin, Shoshanna (Zosia Mamet), an NYU student and manic virgin. We’ll call her Charlotte because Charlotte’s the only one left.

That’s where the comparisons end. Unlike the Sex and the City‘s quartet, Girls‘ girls struggle to make the rent. (In the pilot, Hannah’s parents, both university professors, drop her from the payroll and she freaks.) Their apartments are not glamorous. They are all, to varying degrees, overeducated underachievers.

Sexually, the differences are more dramatic. While Carrie & Company are not always fulfilled emotionally, they take seriously their own sexual satisfaction. Even with boyfriends/boy toys who don’t make the grade romantically, the gals make sure not to get left behind in the sack. Good for them.

For the Girls, however, sexual encounters are bothersome and devoid of emotion. Hannah’s fuck buddy, for lack of a better term, Adam (Adam Diver), is the very definition of the narcissistic lover: selfish, self-absorbed, utterly oblivious to the effects of his debasing fantasies.

The saddest part is that Hannah, under the delusion that Adam cares about her, continues to reach out to him. Equally sad is watching her roomie engage in perfunctory sex with her boyfriend, who adores her. She can’t stand to have him touch her, she confides to Hannah.

So why do I love this show? Because it hits twentysomethings where they live, with bracing realism and candor.

As for sex, there’s a reason it’s called “hooking up” by that generation. Sex without entanglement, without heavy emotion, is preferable to rushing into a relationship that inevitably fails, they argue. From a boy’s point of view, I get it. From a girl’s, not so much.

Many women in their 20s are not yet secure enough in their sexuality to demand an equal-opportunity happy ending. So they convince themselves, at least for the short term, that hooking up is as good at it gets. Even if it’s bad sex, it fills the void until the real deal comes along, in their thinking.

As for the economy, Girls is spot-on about millennials who must inhabit the under-employed netherworld between college graduation and a career. When Hannah, an unpaid intern at a magazine for a year, tells her boss she needs to be paid, he says he’s sorry to lose her.

Girls is not terribly funny. In fact, it is more drama than comedy. That is of no importance to me. If I want funny, I’ll watch Modern Family on ABC. For now, I’m all about Girls, no matter how HBO chooses to label it.