There’s no use denying that Sex and the City represented a new frontier for women in pop culture. I’m talking about the early days of the show, before we all eventually wanted to disown it when it became a bloated, ghastly caricature of itself. But at first, before the movies and Baryshnikov and Abu Dhabi, Sex and the City was a show unafraid to be about flawed, single women being friends and discussing sex. Of course we’d had Golden Girls and Designing Women and Friends and The Mary Tyler Moore Show. Sex and the City wasn’t the first, but it was the first on HBO…which means it was the first show allowing these women to be raunchy.
That just felt new, you know? And not new because it was edgy; new because the looser constraints of cable allowed Carrie and company to talk the way my friends and I actually talk. We have filthy mouths. When we’re alone, we don’t censor ourselves. We’re not cute about it. We’re just honest and funny and often gross. We talk about our periods at least as often as we talk about our boyfriends. That’s just the way it is. And Sex and the City got that.
But more than the dirty talk, Sex and the City belied the idea that a strong woman character had to be perfect. I mean honestly, can you think of a bigger fuck-up than Carrie Bradshaw? That woman made a contemptible choice at every given opportunity. But she was real and she was believable; she was our protagonist! She was a nuanced female character that wasn’t some paragon to womanly virtue. I don’t know any women who are.
The show’s a little older than I am, so by the time I reached the age of the characters in the first season, I already understood that while the friendships and screw-ups in Sex and the City represented my real friendships and screw-ups, nothing else on the show resembled my life in the slightest. I was broke. I have never been fabulous. I’m not particularly noticeable to the fellas. Sex and the City is a glossy, unreal world that was far more charming before the recession hit. It’s hard to watch even the best, earliest episodes of that show now and not feel disdain at the wayward spending of those glamorous ladies.
That’s not the case in Girls. Lena Dunham’s HBO series (executive produced by Judd Apatow and Jenni Konner) is about real humans. Messy, poor, gross, hilarious, screwed up humans. But from the very first episode, the references to Sex and the City are wonderfully overt. This show isn’t afraid to embrace its pioneering roots. Dunham is Hannah, an unmotivated “writer” sleeping with a guy who treats her like shit. Allison Williams is her best friend Marnie, sort of uptight, endlessly professional and solely responsible for keeping Hannah’s wacky business in check. Jemima Kirke is their friend Jessa, proudly promiscuous and palpably sexy. And Zosia Mamet (yes, MAMET) is Jessa’s cousin – whose name escapes me and isn’t yet listed on IMDB – a total square and regrettable virgin. When Mamet’s character meets the intimidating Jessa, she immediately points to the Sex and the City poster on her wall. “Do you like my poster? I love that show. It’s why I moved to New York City. Which character are you? Sometimes I think I’m like Carrie but with giggle a little Samantha thrown in!” This is within the first ten minutes of the pilot, mind you. I love it.
As easily categorizable as these characters are from the onset (boom: we have our Carrie, our Miranda, our Samantha and our Charlotte), that’s just part of the joke. These women (not girls) are sometimes heightened to a comic degree, but far more often made beautifully complex and surprising. Mamet’s character is dying to lose her virginity. She’s mortified that she hasn’t had sex yet. Hannah is a total schlub. Marnie is bored to death by her loving boyfriend and just wants to get laid by someone who knows how. Jessa is a pothead, a child of the world and totally insufferable in the most fun way possible.
They’re real, and their beautifully silly friendship is real. The stuff they talk about is real, be it from the heart or the uterus. I watched the first three episodes of Girls at SXSW and each one is painfully, insanely, laugh out loud funny. It’s mortifying and scary and brave. It’s messy and gross. It’s a lot like being in your twenties.
Girls premieres April 15th at 10:30/9:30c on HBO, and Sarah and I are going to start TV Talking it, so tune in!