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In Defense of HBO's Girls

It feels like we've had this conversation before. An offbeat comedy about an offbeat girl with mismatched friends debuts and proves instantly divisive, particularly among its target audience of hip tastemakers. But whereas New Girl detractors were proven wrong in a hurry (one season in and it's still one of the most original, esoteric, and affecting sitcoms on network television), history seems to be repeating itself with HBO's similarly titled, but actually very different, Girls. The pilot may not have debuted to blockbuster ratings, but you wouldn't know that from the groundswell of media attention that's accompanied the project since producer Judd Apatow first announced his involvement. And whether it's a badge of honor or an unfair scarlet letter, the resultant backlash has been swift and brutal. So why does a show as demonstrably original (and, in my opinion, terrific) garner negative buzz when something like the massively successful (and hacky) 2 Broke Girls was mostly spared at the outset?

In all the sniping about how entitled its characters are and how hipsters are awful and whether the actresses involved come from privileged backgrounds, people are losing sight of two things: 1. Girls is a comedy. It's observational, it's critical, and it's told from the perspective of a distinctive young woman who has no interest in being like anyone else on TV. 2. Girls is a small show and it wears its influences on its sleeve. In the pilot one character (played by David Mamet's daughter, in case you're into prejudgment) talks about her unabashed love of Sex and the City, and it's assumed that the comparison is meant to be ironic. But that would be a mistake: An entire generation of young women (including, presumably, the ones involved here) were influenced by Sex and the City and it's the character who's never heard of it who comes off worse. In openly acknowledging its forebears, Girls merely refers to the elephant in the room, as if to say, "We will never be as big as that, and that's okay." In other words, the tone is modest and reverential while still poking fun at SATC superfans. Which, come on. We all know at least one.

Girls has also been compared to the '90s work of director Whit Stillman, whose Metropolitan and Last Days of Disco helped invent a subgenre of Manhattan youth stories. So the presence of actor Chris Eigeman (star of many of Stillman's films and guest-star of, yes, Sex and the City) is not a coincidence. It's like writer/director/star Lena Dunham has taken the wind out of armchair critics' comparisons by beating them to it. In her previous work, the indie cult hit Tiny Furniture, a particularly neurotic and nebbishy character actually reads a Woody Allen book on camera. I'm telling you: Nothing looks worse than making fun of a self-deprecator. Dunham isn't trying to impress us with these references, she's admitting where she's coming from before she shows us just where she's going.

Dunham's protagonist Hannah is nowhere near as bright-eyed and naif Zooey Deschanel's Jess, but she similarly views life through a very specific comedic prism, and that's perhaps a reason why people may be fighting an instinctual urge to reject this show: It's comedy from an unusual woman's point of view. Feminist blog Jezebel seemed to find fault with the fact that Girls' realism is too often subverted by its often broad sense of humor, but I think they have it backwards. This is supposed to be a comedy with shades of realism, not the other way around. That Dunham can pack a half-hour with such funny dialogue AND make it spring from the mouths of realistic characters is doubly impressive. In a particularly over-the-top (with awkwardness) sex scene, Hannah can't quite keep herself from laughing at her partner's awful audacity. The joke of what he's doing is as broad as possible, but we're right there with Hannah, feeling mortified and vulnerable, as any normal person would. And the humor is never lost: Girls believes that all our most appalling moments can always be salvaged by a good joke. What's more real than that?

Perhaps the main reason why Girls' detractors haven't learned from the knee-jerk (and I'll say it: slightly misogynist) negative reaction to New Girl is that people urgently want to label an unknown quantity as soon as they possibly can, to relegate it to the over-crowded storage bins of our short-term memories. Anti-New Girl hysteria died down as more episodes proved what early adopters noticed right away: The show was special and only just getting started. The same should prove the case with Girls, whose pilot only hints at the ups and downs to come. For every criticism lobbed at Dunham's show, an answer could very well materialize any time. Maybe Girls agrees with your assessment of entitled youth. Maybe Girls agrees that hipsters are worth taking down a peg. And maybe, just maybe, we should be happy that we live in a world where Girls exists at all. As Gawker's Rich Juzwiak once wrote about the weird backlash to the movie Precious: "I do wonder what would have made these people happy... Not telling this character's story?" Ultimately Dunham is telling a story from her own heart for people who can relate. I may not be the twenty-something female progeny of New York hoi polloi, but I still find Girls incredibly relatable and honest and real. I'm glad it's here.

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I love Girls, it's one of the best comedy on cable. I hated Sex & The City, I thought that SEX was unfunny & cruel too men. While Girls is for everyone to enjoy. I highly Recommend GIRLS, try one for yourself.
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This show just does nothing for me. I also don't care for New Girl. I was excited because I enjoy Zooey in most of her previous work but it's just a bland premise with 3, to me at least, unlikable male leads.
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You don't know good TV...
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I'd give more creedence to the Jezebel blog entry if the writer knew the meaning of "hunker down". I LOL'd at the image of a rich, cosmopolitan hipster on top of a wobbly table, squatting down on spaghetti 'like there was no tomorrow' and making squishy noises.
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I've never watched New Girl, somehow never appealed to me the story of a hot smoking girl posing as the droky type living with 3 really good looking guys pretending that everything's cool with each other whilst trying all of them to get it on with her; like I said, I never watched, but that's what the premise of the show says to me. I pass.

Never watched Sex and the City, I guess I was too young to be into a show with 40 something year old women pretending to be 30 and acting like if they were in their 20's; later on life I learned that it was my destiny NOT to watch it, because, my now husband has an irrational hatred for S J Parker, so I knew that if I was into it, we would have had irrational fights over why he hates her and why I love her, much like the ones we have about Ricky Gervais or Graham Norton, so, thank you life.



I liked Girls, A LOT, we all have friends like that, is refreshing to tune into a show where everybody looks real, acts real anf feels like real ppl; it made me laugh to think about my friends in college and remember how all of us once felt that we were the voice of our generation, even thoug the only ones that heard us were our friends or family, and then totally forgot about it 30 mins later. I will stick around and give it all the chances it needs before judging, but so far I like the way it's heading.
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My issue is that I liked it, but I didn't think it was funny at all... so as a comedy I guess it sucked, but as a dramedy type thing it works well for me.
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I admit I haven't watched Girls yet (I plan on doing so) but here is my take on the show and the reaction to it. The fact that there is a divide in people's opinion probably means its doing something right. The shows with "unilateral" appeal tend to be ones that are built on broad stroke situations and characters (comedy, drama take your pick). They show the world and people in exactly the way that we stereotype or expect the world to be. They are safe, comforting and self-confirming. While that doesn't mean that they can't be engaging and entertaining shows, they fail to challenge the viewer. Shows that receive divided reaction tend to be shows that show a different (extreme or subtle) portrayal of people and the situations they find themselves in. Again, that doesn't mean that they are inherently more funny or engaging. What it does mean is that it is attempting to show a different way to look at the world. And I think that in of itself is worthwhile. So while I may end of not liking the show, I at least can see the merit in allowing this type of show to exist.
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I haven't even watched the show and I'm in love with this. This is what I'm ALWAYS saying. If people think a show is based around hipsters, or some other personality-minority, then it's instantly branded 'pretentious'. It's silly for trying to base a show around such silly characters...but why is that? I saw the trailer, I know people like this. What's so wrong about basing a show around this girl? Most of us know this girl. Maybe from a distance, but we do. We've seen her. She's a person. Maybe not the most likeable or charming, but why should TV be based around purely loveable characters? That's not what Breaking Bad is doing and LOOK AT IT. Again, ain't seen the show, only a trailer, so perhaps by opinion counts for nothing, but people need to chill. If you can base a show around a family of aliens, you can base one around a hipster.
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Hold up, they're complaining that the actors come from privelaged backgrounds? Now, I haven't read much of this article so far, just the first two paragraphs, and I may be missing something major, and when I continue in a minute I might have to say 'OOOOH, I see, I get it now.' But at this very second it sounds like people are complaining about actors acting. Which is ridiculous.
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my thoughts exactly!
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I'm not a fan of the show and even I think that argument is pointless and ridiculous.
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Just how long did it take New Girl fans to get into the show? I stuck with it for 7 or 8 episodes and, aside from the odd humurous moment, found it rather dull and predictable. Does it get better after I stopped watching? Should I give it another try?
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Some say the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.
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On the same page. I stopped earlier, although less because I found it unenjoyable - I thought it was a perfectly charming, funny show, very few flaws considering how new it was - but I guess I thought 'Where could this go?' A lot of sitcoms do that to me. Community proved it could literally go anywhere. Happy Endings proved it might not go very far, but it would sure as hell make you believe, without a doubt, that it had been to the moon and back. I was still waiting for New Girl to prove it could go beyond 'sitcom' standards, four or five or six people and their romantic entanglements and friendships and complications...to be fair, I gave up in or around episode four, so I didn't give it a whole lot of time to prove it could do more than that, or that it could at least do it in a new, interesting and fun way.

So I too want to know if it's worth catching up on.
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I didn't completely dislike it is just that I didn't feel like I was watching anything I hadn't seen before on many other sitcoms.
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I personally think New Girl is worth catching up on...though I guess I'd have to go back a bit to decide when it really began to gel for me. I didn't hate it at the beginning, but I also didn't immediately love it. Now I watch most episodes multiple times.



The show is definitely more traditional than Community and Happy Endings with regard to sitcom tropes. It doesn't really do the meta thing or the breaking-the-fourth-wall thing or the movie spoof thing or the rapid-fire cultural references thing. But it DOES have relatable characters who make me laugh as they experience relatable situations. The guys have evolved, Cece's role on the show has evolved, Jess is adorkable or whatever but she still seems like real person. Yeah, everything's "heightened" for TV. But all told, I feel like I'm watching a group of real friends who support each other and who also give each other plenty of sh*t. They make me laugh, and I totally repeat lines from the show later on...which for me puts New Girl ahead of a lot of other comedies on TV right now.



And for the record, I love both Community and Happy Endings. It's perfectly acceptable to enjoy those shows and also like New Girl...you don't have to pledge allegiance to one camp or the other. Give New Girl another shot, if for no other reason than to watch last week's episode, "Normal." It was so good, I think I'm going to go watch it again right now...
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Haha, I didn't necessarily expect New Girl to do a zombie episode. What makes Community special is it's ability to be both unrealistic and realistic at the same time. Somehow, it bridges that gap. Whereas Happy Endings - and I haven't watched it as religiously, so maybe I'm wrong - seems more of a 'we'll base it all in one place but make our characters unrealistic'...each show has different charms. So I guess what I wanted from New Girl wasn't for it to be like Community or Happy Endings, more for it to become a little something more than 'This week Jess is a adorable as she...', you know? Still really liked it, episodes played out very well...I just needed to know that it elevated beyond focusing on Jess, and I think you just gave me my answer, even though I didn't pose the question in the right way at all...so thanks haha :-)
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Thank you! :-)
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haha happy to be of service! New Girl obviously has its ups and downs just like any other show, but it has definitely moved beyond Jess and her Adorkable Problem of the Week. Very excited that you will reconsider it!
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No. It's still pretty boring. I only watch because... I got nothing better to watch.
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Excellent essay, Price. (but essays don't usually save shows like this ...)



i feel like these characters could be from any generation, not just hipsters. I think the backlash comes from the fact that nobody likes to think their generation has this level of superficiality and naivete...when we are young we point fingers at others, not ourselves, that's why it takes a decade before you realize how lame your own generation was in many ways..usually the clothes and the haircuts but often more than that. One connects every generation is that 20 somethings are not self-reflective, they feel superior to previous generations, and they are extremely naive and superficial about both the present and future.



I found the first episode to be borderline genius in how it was able to simultaneously take the characters seriously while exposing their naivete and superficiality.



Not sure the show--any show--could do this successfully for 13 episodes. But I will tune in to find out. The series will either be great or impossible to watch--look forward to your 4 episode review.

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The whining.....my ears are still bleeding!
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I don't see how the description " the backlash has been swift and brutal" is accurate. After I learned about the existence of this show only a short while ago, I waded through several early reviews and comments about the show on-line. While the method admittedly doesn't live up to scientific standards, I feel that I got some kind of a fair picture of what critics feel about the show. And the reception has clearly been on the up-side. Yes, there has been a few thumbs down, some of the reviews could even be described as brutal. But overall, I feel the critics have been positive about the show. Of course, I don't know what the actual viewers felt about it, since I didn't submerge myself in the blogosphere and the 140 character guillotine that is Twitter.

However, based on the small number of negative reviews both from critics and general viewers, it looks like those who don't like the show seem to be the type who love to hate. Nothing is ever good enough for them, every show has to be watched through a pair of grey glasses. They love to give everything a negative spin. Give them quirky, atypical characters, they say the characters are boring, bland and trying too hard to be edgy. Give them fun, upbeat characters, they say the characters are one-dimensional and predictable. They try their hardest to find something that doesn't fit their narrow view of what comedy is supposed to be.

I can of course fully understand that this show isn't for everyone. Some people clearly require comedy that is more clear cut. But it is weird how they fail to see that the show has a different approach. There are many TV shows and films which I might not be the biggest fan of, but which still I truly appreciate because of their obvious brilliance. The same goes for Girls. Will I continue watching it? I don't know, I already have way too much to watch. But personally I really did appreciate it, as I appreciate all similar shows that strive to create different kind of humour. Any comedy that tries to avoid the traditional way of delivering jokes smack in your face like a shovel, gets points from me. Many say they didn't laugh once during the episode. I laughed several times, internally. There are different kinds of comedies, and this one isn't the laugh out loud kind. It's more of a tickle-your-brain-to-make it-giggle type. It makes you think while realizing the absurdity of a moment. But as you said Price, the emphasis is still on "comedy". The insights the show is trying to deliver about the inner lives of the characters are not supposed to be revolutionary material. It's a comedy! "Observational", yes, "critical", yes, but most of all a comedy. This show reminds me of Enlightened. Laura Dern's character is also not the most likeable person. She is flawed and the story is minimalistic, many call it flat out boring. But that kind of non-traditional comedy setting is excellent for creating unique entertainment.
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Really. "Girls" made you laugh internally? I can imagine a situation. A comedian is presenting his act in front of a silent audience. He taps at the microphone, "hello, is this thing on?", sighs and then thinks, "gosh I just hope the audience is laughing internally..." Laughing internally. LOL That made me laugh externally.
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I actually enjoyed this pilot quite a lot. I never thought I'd be interested in a tv show called 'girls'.
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Why doesn't TV.com publish a backlash article too, not just the "backlash to the backlash"? This way we, viewers, can have access to BOTH points of view, not just one side of the backlash issue?
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this is the jezebel story: http://jezebel.com/5902415/with-all-the-focus-on-being-real-girls-forgot-to-be-human?utm_campaign=socialflow_jezebel_facebook&utm_source=jezebel_facebook&utm_medium=socialflow
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Thanks. That helps a lot. However, since Price's article sole purpose is to defend something, I feel like it belongs more in a point & coun terpoint section. I wish tv.com had that.



The Jezebel article is clear, insightful and direct to the point. It makes a lot of sense to me. Price's, on the other hand, is more elaborate and well written. However, when you have to make such an intellectual effort to explain why something is funny and you should laugh, I feel there's a problem with the joke.
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"However, when you have to make such an intellectual effort to explain why something is funny and you should laugh, I feel there's a problem with the joke."



Yeah, I'd say that's about perfectly said.
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I believe the entitlement feeling is actually a funny, ironic, broad way of showing how today's youth is parent-dependent. I'm a 26 year-old, getting a master's degree and living with mom and dad. I don't relate to the ungratefulness, but I totally relate to the dependence. If my parents did to me what hers did to her, I'd be completely lost and royally fucked.
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But you must be working hard on your master's, you're building a career and a future, (and your parents seem to recognize that), but that doesn't seem to be the case with the show's protagonist. Basically there's no comparison.
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i loved the show. I was one of those shows where dint feel embarrassed watching a weird sex scene. Ii was very funny and i loved all the characters... :) hope it continues :)
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I only watched 15 minutes of this show so all I can give is a first impression; maybe the show only presents its charm after that, however that was imo the most boring quarter hour I spent in a long time.

A girl gets cut off and stuggles with the job, her friend has a nice boyfriend with whom she has an "on and off" relationship and a new girl comes to town which was missed and hated.

We have seen all of that countless times before and I suppose that would be alright(in regard as to how many "boy meets girl"/"guy wants revenge" movies are out there) but not one character stood out in any way or presented least bit of charm(to me). Then there was the shower scene, witch was probably supposed to keep us watching....really? with those girls?

It was boring, ugly and uneventful.

As I said before, I didn't watch the whole episode but I was ready to give it an shot, I was kinda hoping the girls have the same dynamic as Community or OTH or New Girl for that matter, but I never got repelled so fast since "the legend of aang"(Mnights catastrophe that is)

I don't mind if people like the show, just the opposite. I enjoy shows that give you a look in their ... community :)... and if there is a possibility that this is like it... well someone present it to me. Because I don't see it.
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I thought the show was very funny. Not rolling on the floor-pee-in-your-pants funny but funny nonetheless.

The opening scene in the restaurant was great as was the scene with her parents in the hotel rooom. Some great comedy (when she woke up in the empty hotel room and try to order roomservice right away. her 'bf' talking about how he gets $800 from his grandma so he doesn't have to be a slave to anyone)
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face it. HBO needs to bring back How To Make It In America.
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Totally agree with you Price. No reason for such a strong reaction to 30 minutes of television. I found it engaging, fresh, and real. We need more stories like this on television, and less of the same old stale formulas.
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I think the main problem is that "Girls" isn't as funny as "New Girl". And though "Girls" is more realistic and has a calmer tone, that doesn't make it a better tv show. "New Girl" found a great stride with it's wackiness and has a cultivated a good relationship between the characters. "Girls" feels like it is uncomfortable in it's own skin, trying to be an observation and a comedy but it failed at meshing them together. And unlike a show like "The Office" or "Peep Show", the fact that all the characters are terrible people doesn't add to the comedy. And I don't quite see what the show is trying to portray other than Lena Dunham's hipster story, and that's fine in it's own right, but if it's also trying to be a comedy, the bottom line is: It needs to be funny.
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I love you for citing Jezebel! And I liked Girls, it was realistic and funny in a hanging out with your friends, talkin sh*t kind of way. Haters gonna hate, but I'm gonna keep on watching!
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Price, I think you hit the nail on the head when you said that Dunham "is telling a story from her own heart for people who can relate." A lot of people seem to be upset because they wanted the show to be more than it is. It's not a flagship show. It's not trying to be the voice of all feminists, 20 somethings, or hipsters. It's just a show about a girl, her friends, and their experiences in their world. There were a lot of things I couldn't relate to, but there were some that I could, and it generally felt real to me. It's not designed to appeal to a mass audience, so it probably won't. At the end of the day, I'd rather watch a show created by someone from the heart than a show designed by committee for mass appeal. It always shows through. Maybe that makes me kind of a hipster.
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not funny. not drama. not memorable. weird aftertaste. although, it was good to see that Peter Scolari is still with us.
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I didn't hate it, I simply didn't like it. It was funny sometimes and ironic. But in my opinion it was too realistic. I can go out with my girl-friends and make the same conversation, cope with the same problems (without all the irony maybe). I like to evade with a tv-show. Of course it has to be believable (or better coherent), and maybe I like show so realistic when they describe realities that are far from my point of view. But this one it's too similar to my actual life. So...boring :)
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I'm sorry Price, you lost me at New Girl being anything but the horrid utterly forgettably lame show that it actually is.



I watched the pilot and I agree with your assertion that it is kind of like New Girl. Only in that instead of Zooey and three forgettable characters. Every single character on this show is completely forgettable.



Now it might be because in the last decade of my being in academics I have run across either with friends, tutees, and others I have instructed, advised or just came across by sheer happenstance, that I have run across in some way shape or form each and every one of these characters. And I mean down to the specifics. Girl who thinks she is wise beyond her years despite Her dearth of life experience. Who gained weight and controlled her own body by "getting tattoos" ( replaceing being a cutter, probably too edgy for even HBO). But she thinks she is a voice of her generation despite having nothing in common with the majority of her generation who actually have to strive and work for a living.



You have the friend of the girl who is so unhappy inher relationship because he is so nice and caring. I have known both of those two and can easily predict the story and comedy of what they will go through.



You have the whimsical world traveler that because she spent a month or two in various countries she is an expert in all the world. Until she, insert unhappy experience. Pregnant, Std, caught with drugs, etc. and now has to deal with reality.



The hyper eager to please girl that we really didn't find anything about aside from her obsession with sex and he city. Which really just says it all, doesn't it.



The the guys. The actor type that is completely selfish and narcissistic despite not having any reason to be so. Who if he stopped and tried to think for a minute he would see for all his supposed whit and confidence he is just an asshat living off grandma. But he won't he will prey on women like our protagonist that shockingly has even less self esteem than he does.



The only guy I even remotely like is the dbag with the opium tea, who says the only realistic thing of the show in that he has 50k in student loan debt and the whole lot is basically a bunch of sniveling little whiners.



Now it might be because of all this, that I find myself incapable of enjoying this show. But it isn't just that. As I asserted in the beginning they are all completely forgettable. The only thing I really find that is comical is that they all seem to think they are special and different. When really you could throw a rock and hit about a few dozen people in Brooklyn with the same exact story.

It didnt bother me that they are hipsters as I thought it would. It bothers me more that Apatow is asking me for a half hour of my time to watch these shiftless lay about whiners.



Now watching these morons adjust to the real world might be funny in a these people completely deserve to be tossed around by reality, kind of way. But that would only be great if they were the least bit interesting even in a negative aspect. But they aren't even that.



This was an introduction to these people and failed to provide any redeeming feature in the whole lot. I will give it one more shot. But I doubt it will be something that will change my opinion.
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i didnt like it cuz it was eye bleedingly boring
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You're right about one thing, this show definitely needs defending.



It just isn't good.



I find it depressing that if people don't like the show those that want to defend it automatically call the negative reaction "slightly misogynist"...Please. While it's true, that I don't like any of the 4 female main characters (yet), the worst character on the show (BY FAR) is the slimy, no-redeeming-qualities Adam. I mean...ugh...he's either the greatest actor on the planet (if he's not actually like that) or he's the worst person on the planet (if he's just playing it naturally) I can't decide, and unless I start sympathizing with more characters in a damn hurry, I'll never find out because I can't take many more episodes of a show where there is no one to root for. No one.



It's also interesting to me that you bring up 2 Broke Girls. It's definitely an awful show...it's overly stereotypical and as you said "hacky"...but you know what I still watch it, why? Because Max and Caroline are great together. I buy their friendship, they're actually nice. They work so great together that I can root for them to get their lame cupcake business started. I could spot it in the first episode. I have none of that on Girls.



You say "people are losing sight of two things: 1. Girls is a comedy" ...no...I don't think I am, you're losing sight of the fact that being a comedy means the audience has to laugh. I, for one, didn't. Not even ironically like I'm sure they wanted.
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I agree. It was a great episode! I'm looking forward to the next episode :)
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