A Black Man’s Take on HBO’s “Girls”

A Black Man’s Take on HBO’s “Girls”


I have a confession to make. I was a huge Ally McBeal fan in the first season. I used to justify my viewing by pointing out that I was a poor grad student and basic cable was the only entertainment I could afford.

But then I started sneaking in episodes of Suddenly Susan, and I would somehow find myself at home on Thursdays just long enough to catch Will and Grace, and finally I just gave up and admitted I had a standing date with Carrie, Miranda, Charlotte and Samantha on Sunday nights.

I have a private addiction to single White girl comedy-dramas – I know I need help, I know I need to break the cycle and for years I thought I’d never break free. That was until the last two Sundays, when I watched HBO’s new series “Girls” and realized that show was a 22 minute 12 step-program that stopped my addiction cold turkey.

Now, I recognize that I am not the target audience for most of what Hollywood produces for the small screen. Even though I’m a single Black male Gen Xer with a PhD, I know UPN’s Kevin Hill was written for single White girls … not me. The last time a network actively pursued my eyeballs for anything other than sports ended when The Wire went off the air in 08’.

However, I like many other writers and pundits was sucked into the excitement of Lena Dunham’s new HBO dramedy series “Girls” which was supposed to be a witty millennial take on four White Girls finding themselves in New York. I’ve been quietly watching the blogosphere for the active political and social commentary associated with the show and while we’re only two episodes in to “Girls” the narrative has already hit part 3 of the Tim Tebow Popularity Arc, and unfortunately I’m here to provide part 4. What’s the Tim Tebow arc? It’s the four step process by which any new show, person, movie, diet or book goes through in our hyper-fast new media cycle.

1.)    New Athlete/Show/Book/Diet comes on the scene exciting everyone

2.)    Mainstream overhypes the Show/Person/Movie/Diet ignoring obvious flaws and crediting it with being groundbreaking way to fast

3.)    Backlash occurs as non-mainstream folks point out the obvious flaws and get annoyed with the blind hype of the mainstream

4.)    Eventually everyone realizes (As they did with Tebow and they might with Girls) that for all of the over-hype and the backlash to the over-hype that the actual product wasn’t very good to begin with

We’ve already seen parts 1.and 2.) with “Girls” Lena Dunham already being lauded as the voice of a new generation (because you know that young White girls with money NEVER get a voice in pop culture), she is fast tracked to a series on HBO and even more people fawn all over her new show like it’s the second coming of Sex and the City with a little bit of Freaks and Geeks thrown in.

Part 3.) started right after the first episode premiered as Jezebel and Racialicious, and various news outlets pointed out the show’s lack of diversity, the arrogance of the writers and producers and the glaring Hollywood discrimination that allows shows like Girls to get fast-tracked when equally or more successful minority cast programs still languish on YouTube. I wanted to wait until the second episode of the show before throwing myself in with groups 2.) or 3.) and it turns out instead that I’m down with number 4.

The problem with “Girls” is that it’s not very good. It’s not funny. It’s not dramatic. It’s doesn’t have the makings of appointment television.

I expected “Girls” to be funny from the trailers, but the show is actually just tepid and dull. While quality shows like Louie on FX showcase the hilarity of mundane life, “Girls” seems to wallow in short term shame and awkwardness that may give you a chuckle but you forget about it by the next scene. I get it, it’s bold to show non-attractive 20 something White women having graphic unsatisfying sex, is that all you got? The drama is even worse; the main characters don’t seem to be particularly close to each other for any reason other than being too self-absorbed to make new friends. I know this show is dipped, battered and deep fried in “White Girl Problems” but that doesn’t justify 26 minutes of maudlin monologues topped off by stealing tips from a housekeeper because your parents won’t give you $1,100 a month to support your writing career.

I don’t expect to be in Hollywood’s target audience for a show called “Girls” that is exclusively about 20-something White women and their privilege. But as a man whose private addiction to similar shows over the years led him to plop down and watch two episodes of this dreck I can promise you that skipping this show won’t make you the odd woman out at the water cooler. Hollywood, I can tolerate not being in your target audience, I can even occasionally accept you ignoring me in stories or casting, but the least you could do is entertain me. And “Girls” can’t even do that.

DR. JASON JOHNSONPolitic365 Chief Political Correspondent, is a professor of Political Science at Hiram College in Ohio and author of the book Political Consultants and Campaigns: One Day to Sell. You can read more at www.drjasonjohnson.com or follow him on Twitter @Drjasonjohnson


  1. Every well thought out analysis. I haven't seen the show, but based on what you wrote, as an African-American female, it looks like I don't need to! 🙂

  2. Dr. J: it's not that bad a show. Just watched the pilot and got a good laugh out of it. You can't fit any black girls in this show anyway since white girls wouldn't know how to handle their issues.

    • I tried Mugen, I really did. But it just wasn't funny or even dramatic for me. I couldn't laugh WITH or even AT this quartet of "GIRLS" I just found myself waiting for something interesting to happen….And then being disappointed. Honestly I find tokenism worse than absence. While neither is a preferable option, I'd rather have no black people on a show, than ramhorn some token character into the mix that makes no sense. Maybe it'll get better, but right now, I'm on part 6 of the 12 step program and I think I'm going to make it all the way through.

  3. not sure why anybody thought is was going to be good. just even after watching the trailers. their life is played out on media 24/7 already. what's new? what dpi we really learn new about the "new America".

    • Oh,come-on all the men watch to see what the body`s would look like….
      We are just nasty and HBO Illustrate this for profit……lol…on us.

  4. Dr. J- I find it most hilarious that you're a professor of political science at a university. As an analyst of sorts to the ebbs of flow of our society, it seems odd to me that you don't even entertain the counterargument to your own. Yes, sure, you didn't think the show was funny, witty, dramatic, etc. You also make it clear that you don't approve of the show's lack of diversity. Congratulations- you pointed out features that YOU deem to be flaws, from YOUR own point of view!

    Tell me, do you teach your political science students that Politics is a game of fair turn taking? That the best candidate is the one that fairly represents all the people of the Republic (…), their opinions, their wishes, and that said politician makes every effort to honor each and every citizen? If your answer is yes, then I bow to your nativity (read: stupidity) and grant you your freedom of speech. If you answer is no however, then perhaps an honest dialog can be had.

    I think your criticism of the show hits on exactly the shows genius. Sure, YOU don't think it's funny and YOU don't think it fairly represents the melange of vegetables that make up our so-called "salad bowl" of a nation. However, does the show, in any way claim to be PC? Does Durham, at any point, claim to be the voice of everyone (she actually MOCKS what she's doing in the pilot…'A voice, of A generation')? For that matter, our entire generation? I think not. Unfortunately, your aptly named Tebow Arc is cyclical; it creates the problem it aims to analyze. Much like what you, yourself did. It attaches notions of fame and generality to something, claiming for it it's mass appeal. The thing is, neither Tebow nor Durham sought this kind of notoriety. I'm sure the athlete did covet himself a stud at one time or another, and yes, much is to be said about his alleged virginity- but so what, he's still good at football, right? Was that not the initial vehicle to his fame?

    Your argument claims that for something to be good, it must be great…for all. As a political scientist you must know that that is fubar. The show is what it is. It's meant for 20-somethings recent graduates, trying to make it on their own (albeit with the help of their mommies and daddies), figuring out both sexual and friendly relationships in both complicated and platonic ways. It is very relateable to some, and to those who understand the angle of it's meaning, it's wonderful. To those who don't, change the damn channel.

    In my opinion, it would've been fair of you to point out the lack of diversity in the show, the fact that it's humor is very specifically directed, and say that for a company like HBO to produce such a jarring, daring, and bleak show is out of their character and that perhaps it's better suited for say…wait, no, it's HBO for heavens sake!

    Just because you have a deep, dark secret of enjoying single White girl comedy-dramas, as you say, does not make you an expert. Perhaps rather than deem the show utterly destined to fail because it does not adhere to your standards of "White girl comedy-dramas", you could simply state your criticisms, and then maybe acquiesce yourself to the fact that MANY people DO love the show. Thus, there has to be something there, something to hold on to, and that maybe the issue is, is that your just a little sad your not apart of the club. Not because the show doesn't represent "you", but because it doesn't aim to. Durham claims to know nothing about those she doesn't represent…and for that, home girl earns MAJOR kudos. That's what makes it real- relateable, honest, funny…to those who understand.

    There are a million other things "playing fair" on TV these days…I think Dancing with the Stars probably covers those bases for you.

    I still can't believe you're a professor….