Originally published on HelloGiggles.
Many friends have joked with me about how they too like to see their lives as a TV show, but I don’t think they understand the level of detail with which I run mine: chopping years up into television seasons, with promising premieres and explosive finales; crafting complex storylines involving slightly altered versions of the people around me that, while more dramatic, try to match the emotional tone of whatever we’re going through at the moment; I imagine Deadline reports on the casting of everyone I meet (as guest stars, recurring characters, etc.; a classmate who befriends me has been promoted from a guest spot to series regular; someone exits my life and I’m asked to comment on the many rumors about the on-set fight that caused me to fire them). I even like to dream up exciting promos, and give interviews in which I take all the credit for how just great last Sunday’s episode was. If only I’d put pen to paper earlier.
I’ve been quick to say that I was born both with chronic asthma and an undying love for television, which is why it’s weird to declare Girls the first show where I could sense the author’s presence; so acutely feel that an actual person had carefully written every step taken onscreen, and every line of dialogue delivered — barring improvisation and other actorly work. It’s also factually false for I had, by that time, long been tormented by the likes of Ryan Murphy and Shonda Rhimes, but I guess I likened that more to a master operating his puppets; this little new show, this was craft. Every detail was so thoroughly measured, every action planned and revealing.
A series that earned its stripes depicting millennial life in gritty and unadulterated fashion, I wouldn’t say it has taught me how to live. That’s hyperbolic even for someone with the nearest thing to a personal creed being the wise teachings of Glee. It hasn’t prevented me from doing stupid things and getting in my own way, but it has made it easier to reconcile with the consequences the morning after. It’s made mistakes worth celebrating. It’s made it cool to embrace them, which has turned into an indispensable tool for survival, as they inevitably pile up.
Lena Dunham’s vehicle rendered the occasional stumble not only acceptable, but profitable — bridging the gap between my inner show-running and the real craft. It provided a language I understood, drawing the Venn diagram of good television and lousy reality and leaving you staring at a perfect circle. But it’s not like I’ve just learned about the inherent worth of bad decisions, bad relationships, bad sex — harnessed to make art or to polish up a person. (I own five Taylor Swift records — I know those things are useful.) It’s not so much about bringing those painful, everyday situations to the screen, as it is about bringing the screen to them — turning them cinematic, special. Valuable in form as well as in content.
Girls resembles my ideal version of life: still grim in content but stylized in form, with some truly earned dramatic heights but an air of comedic absurdity surrounding the whole thing at all times. When I’m on the floor crying over brought-upon miseries and take to drowning in self-pity, I like being able to appreciate the narrative richness of the scene, the sudden influx of emotional currency, but also to find comfort in how ridiculous it is — I did it again! I messed up in the exact same way I always do! When will I ever change? Because, I have to admit, that stuff is funny.
Far from shying away from it, this show thrives on self-deprecation and self-sabotage. It’s also a neat safe space where being a self-centered mess can be compelling — where people aren’t quite there yet; where the middle section matters. Where it’s okay to be on a journey — one that can be enjoyed, even if it’s mostly painful.
I don’t love Girls or its characters because that’s what I want my life to look like — I would love to dwell in Greenpoint, but most of Hannah’s and Marnie’s blemishes feel already way too personal — but because, if it’s okay for them to be [insert long string of insults lobbed by bitter Internet troll in his late twenties before his third daily masturbatory break], then it’s okay for me to be that too.
Not to take away from legitimate grievances, but if this were a dystopian novel where social groups arrange themselves in alt-punk bands, Girls’ harshest critics might call themselves the Maturity Police. I get very self-conscious about my own emotional development and life skills whenever Hannah gets promised eternal damnation for what would only constitute a minor offense in my eyes, at best. I’m not at all “together”. Is that monstrous? Tired and clichéd though it may sound, it’s good to feel understood.
No piece of media has captured the way I experience the world this accurately, as well as what happens with that information once it reaches my brain — which doesn’t say great things about me, considering how maligned these people are in the collective psyche, but whatever– and no piece of media has made me this passionate about capturing it back.
When I was a Grey’s Anatomy-crazed pre-teen, I decided I was in love with medicine; years later, turns out that maybe I just liked television and well-told stories. Girls deemed this quandary a non-issue: doing away with the artifice, blending art and life almost seamlessly. Though most likely a very poor and unsustainable coping mechanism, I’ve learned that if I love the former, I can like the latter. At least as long as I have enough witty one-liners to take out an entire army, the show that my eyes are recording doesn’t always have to be exhaustingly somber, even when the rest of the script seems to be.
I resent the saying that, in life, we get to write our own story, because that’s only true to a certain extent — works great on motivational posters, though. There are infinite variables we have no control over, and we only hold the strings to one puppet. But you can still tell it, however mortifying, however shameful; however messy or boring or uneventful or private. It’s only yours to relate, and it can be all you have. And when you tell your own story, everything can be an adventure — everything can be important, and worthwhile. Anything can be everything.
With its lack of dragons and rogue Cold War spies, Girls’ greatest talent might be the ease with which it elevates ordinary emotions far beyond their otherwise unnoteworthy sources, leaving our rawest, most basic instincts to rest atop the clouds — refusing our modesty and assuring us that yes, that’s where they belong. It’s unapologetic and shameless about the experience of being an individual who feels stuff. It’s confident in a way we all wish we could be.
So it is that this gentle truth-teller of a show has been holding my hand for the last six years, guiding me through both my and its characters’ mistakes. Guiding me through my twenties, in a way, which makes it pretty upsetting that I am watching it end at the tender age of twenty. I’m just getting started, and yet I feel like I’ve spent a decade erring vicariously through these people, stumbling when they did; their fictional sorrows paralleling my real ones, like the characters in my head do my friends’ and family’s. Still, I’m none the wiser, only more terrified of what lies ahead, this time unaccompanied by the ever-obnoxious Brooklyn gang. But now I’ll have done this before, so bring on round two.