And yet, as much as we may feel that we are part of the story, we aren’t. We may identify with Ms. Dunham’s characters, we may even have a friend who has her email address, but most of us don’t know her and probably never will. It’s like looking at the Manhattan skyline from an apartment in Bushwick. You’re basically there, but out-of-towners still think you live in Jersey.
This not-quite-inclusion is why I can’t watch an episode without pointing out to anyone who will listen that that brownstone couldn’t possibly be in Greenpoint. It’s not that I really care whether Girls takes liberties with the geography of Brooklyn, I just need you to know that I know they’re doing it. We use our Girls connections and insider knowledge to assert ownership over a show that we secretly think we should have been paid for anyway.
Girls Also feels personal because there’s so much it gets right. When so many shows about city-dwelling post-collegiate adults miss the mark (see: CBS’s 2 Broke Girls and FOX’s New Girl), Ms. Dunham’s vehicle is at least a realistic representation of what it’s like to be young in New York in 2013, and that’s because the material is culled from real life.
Or so I’ve been told. (An acquaintance assured me that she had it on good authority that Ms. Dunham doesn’t like to drink, and this is why no one on the show is ever drunk and crying.)
But just as the urbanites of the ’90s didn’t know they hated low-talkers until Seinfeld told them so, we had no way to express how fun and simultaneously idiotic warehouse parties could be until Ms. Dunham nailed it in season one. Which perhaps explains why so many people feel let down by the show’s almost total lack of racial diversity. To see a show get your life so right but not see yourself represented would be maddening. As Ali Davis, a Fort Greene-dwelling fashion editor, told The Observer, “I know the show should have black people, because I’m black and I’m in that world.”
(Ms. Davis also confided that one of her classmates from journalism school used to live with series regular Audrey Gelman.)
Another reason people bring Girls into conversation is that it’s easy. Talking about the show has very few barriers to entry. You don’t have to like it, since disliking Girls is actually a respected contrarian position, whereas disliking Louie is not allowed and would never be admitted to.
One reporter I know, who lives on the Upper East Side, gave up on the show after the first season but still sends around a Facebook pictures of himself and Allison Williams from when they were in college together at Yale. He’d do fine in a Girls conversation, because the show’s plot points are only an entrée into discussion, and talking about Girls quickly turns into talking about racism, nepotism, body image, bad sex, good sex, degrading sex, sexy sex and sexism.
The bonus is that the show’s unflinching depiction of normal-looking people having sex means that a casual conversation about TV can quickly turn into a casual conversation about other people’s sex lives, which is the (usually unrealized) goal of all conversation.
The only time it’s really not a good idea to talk about Girls is when you’re with people who don’t live in New York, since there’s nothing like someone with no Girls almost-connections to make your Girls almost-connections look stupid. The problem is that they act like your experiences of watching the show are equal, as though you’re just a fan instead of someone whose roommate grew up with Audrey Gelman (true story!). Being just “a fan” would mean acknowledging that the relationship between ourselves and Girls is necessarily hierarchical. And while we may watch every episode and spend an inordinate amount of time defending it to strangers, we’re not fans of Girls. We’re more like friends, or at least friends of a friend.