I find it hard to talk specifics about Girls because it really hits home in terms of character and content. I am, to put it as Shoshanna would, “the ladies”. I am 100% the targeted audience for HBO’s comedy-drama that follows the lives of four twenty-somethings as they attempt to find their place in downtown New York.
Even before watching the show for the first time (earlier this year) I knew I would like it. Described to me by one of my best friends as “Sex and the City but for people like us“. And it is. I see a great deal of myself in Hannah; her values, her outlook, her dreams – it hits so close to home it’s scary.
This is no coincidence. The creation of Girls has been highly curated. Well thought out and planned to the most minute detail, as is the style of QTV, it contains multiple intertextual references. It draws heavily from it’s highly successful predecessor, Sex and the City (SATC), that ran throughout the nineties and noughties. Girls is SATC reinvented, for a new generation, with new issues to face and new desires to chase.
The Pilot episode of Girls does not fail to recognise this, and the way in which it does succeeds in paying hommage to to SATC, as depicted in the clip below. Intertextual references are used frequently throughout Girls. They create a framework for a broader understanding of the text and how it functions in relation to other prominent media texts. Author/Director/Actress/All-Around-Inspirational Lena Dunham has very cleverly created a text that taps into it’s target audience and their understanding and knowledge of broader media texts.
This extract is a great example because it references SATC whilst also suggesting that although a knowledge of SATC is not inherent to understanding Girls, it is key to contextualising it and thus comprehending the text in the broader media landscape (the way HBO intends QTV to be received).
This scene is key to understanding the way Quality TV works with audiences knowledge to build detail into the narrative and character arcs. The SATC film poster features prominantly on Shoshanna’s wall, however when it is directly referred to in the dialogue no shot, no close-up, of the poster is shown on screen. This assumes that the audience already have an understanding of SATC; what it is and what it looks like. It assumes the audience to be intelligent, well read (in terms of TV) and able to draw on separate texts to build on the viewing experience. Once Shoshanna brings up the poster, and continues by describing how she perceives herself in terms of the traits of the SATC girls, it sticks at the forefront of the viewers mind as a framework to base further judgements of character on (whilst Hannah is no Carrie, they do still have a great deal in common; both aspiring writers wanting to succeed in New York. Continually mystified by the city, they are out to enjoy life with their best friends).
Jessa’s non-existant knowledge of the show (and the fact that she does not have a Facebook account) is a shock to Shoshanna and becomes a joke to the audience. She is made to look and feel out of place here because she is not in touch with popular culture and technology, something that the audience of Girls would take as a necessity for living in the twenty-first century.
A great deal of what Girls sets up is built around a knowledge of SATC. Both as a development on the framework and episodic structure and as a contrast to everything that SATC is about. Girls is everything that SATC is, but at the same time it is everything that SATC is not.
The structure and characters of SATC work to strengthen our understanding of Girls by directly contrasting it through image, values and characters and at other times playing on what SATC built in terms of structure and themes. Both centre around 4 women trying to find their way in New York City. As Lewis (in Kaklamanidou & Tally) writes, “Sex and the City’s representations of independent women who have been sexually free but romantically disenchanted provide a frame through which Girls could be understood” (2014, p176). Much of the shows structure, and wider appeal, is drawn from the way the women in SATC are so very different to the women of Girls. Whilst Carrie was more concerned with her next pair of shoes, Hannah is worried about paying rent. Girls manages to paint a very realistic picture of the time and does not attempt to romanticise the lead women. As in SATC, they are still obviously flawed; egotistical and self-absorbed the majority of the drama is brought about by their own actions, as in SATC.
HBO’s Girls: Questions of Genre, Politics and Millennial Angst, Kaklamanidou & Tally