Monday, March 11, 2013
GIRLS and "likeability"
PEOPLE WHO HATE GIRLS are missing the point. Hannah (Lena Dunham) and her friends are supposed to be many things — vulnerable, arrogant, ambitious, delusional about the way their clothes fit — but likable isn't one of them. If you want likable, don't watch Louie or Curb Your Enthusiasm or Seinfeld or any other great complicated-antihero comedies, many of which were created by people who play whinier versions of themselves and none of which have earned half the hate that's been firehosed at Dunham, who created Girls.
I think she’s missing the point.
First off let me say, that this is not a post debating GIRLS. Many of you love it; many of you hate it – enjoy or loathe to your heart’s content.
My issue is her contention that non-fans of the show only respond to likable characters, which she seems to define as nice, sympathetic.
Being nice is not what makes a character likeable. Being interesting, compelling, relatable, and in the case of comedy – funny is what people respond to.
They can infuriate you, they can confound you, they can annoy you, but there’s something about them that keeps you glued to the screen. Clearly, it’s subjective, but I’m sure that many people who don’t like the GIRLS girls do like Larry David and Jerry Seinfeld.
I will say this: networks do try to steer writers towards making their characters nice. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gotten the network note, “Gee, we don’t like her when she does that.” And when you argue that the point of comedy is conflict and characters need flaws to be funny that rarely sways them.
But now that HBO and others have pushed the envelope – specifically to do shows networks WOULDN’T do – networks are relaxing their stance (somewhat). I still think we’re a few years away from seeing a BREAKING BAD-type series on ABC following THE MIDDLE. (Can you imagine back in the day when TOUCHED BY AN ANGEL was on CBS what the reaction would have been had Vince Gilligan pitched them BREAKING BAD? Yikes!)
To me Ms. Maerz’s argument is somewhat condescending. It suggests that people who respond to GIRLS are too unsophisticated to appreciate “complicated” characters (to use her word). No. A large part of the audience just doesn’t find the quirks in Lena’s ladies interesting enough to follow, much less care. Period.
So why is this? Why are some complex characters compelling and others off-putting? Writing certainly but I believe a huge factor is casting. Anyone other than Shelley Long and America might have hated Diane Chambers, despite the brilliant writing by the Charles Brothers. I’m guessing Harvey Keitel as Michael Scott and THE OFFICE would not still be on the air. Could it be – and I’m just asking (before you bombard the comments section) – that someone other than Lena Dunham playing Hannah might prompt the haters to like her more? Or any of the girls for that matter?
When Carl Reiner created THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW it was originally called HEAD OF THE FAMILY and a pilot was shot starring Carl Reiner as Rob Petrie. It tanked. He was smart enough to swallow his pride and replace himself with Dick Van Dyke. Here’s the interesting thing about Lena Dunham for me. I’ll be honest. I don’t like her character on GIRLS. But I love her in real life.
Later in the article, Ms. Maerz goes on to say:
People who hate Girls also think it's narcissistic. But it actually encourages us to take a hard look at some unflattering personalities and understand where they're coming from.
That’s fine but if we don’t enjoy the characters why would we watch? Your message may be a good one but if it’s not getting through then what’s the point? Narcissistic characters are great comic foils. Just think of Frasier, and Diane, and every character Charlie Sheen plays, and everyone on SEINFELD. We’ve already gotten that message.
Hannah (Lena Dunham) and her friends are supposed to be many things — vulnerable, arrogant, ambitious, delusional about the way their clothes fit — but likable isn't one of them.
Actually likeable is ALL of them.