Basketball Hall of Famer Kareem Abdul-Jabbar just published a review of the HBO series “Girls.”
And he might be the coolest 65-year-old ever. His review touches on race, sex, name drops “My So Called Life” and says filmmaker and artist Miranda July may be a more accurate “voice of a generation adrift.”
Seriously? Abdul-Jabbar knows who Miranda July is? And “My So Called Life”? Even if someone else wrote his review you have to give him props for stamping his name on it. I had to scroll up in the middle of his review to confirm that it was indeed Abdul-Jabbar, the NBA Hall of Famer, who was referencing a 1994 TV show about a 15-year-old white girl that only ran for one season.
Abdul-Jabbar was named a cultural ambassador last year by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. The goal of his position is to talk “with young people on the importance of education, social and racial tolerance, cultural understanding, and using sports as a means of empowerment,” according to the state department.
And that’s what he does in his review published in the Huffington Post yesterday, Abdul-Jabbar looks at “Girls” and deconstructs what his generation is learning from “Girls.”
In fact, 56 percent of the show’s audience is male. Some say it’s because of the frequent nudity and graphic sex. That doesn’t hurt. But the main reason to watch Girls is because the show obviously is struggling to be a voice of its generation, just as The Catcher in the Rye, Go Tell It on the Mountain, The Naked and the Dead, On the Road, Beloved, Generation X, The Joy Luck Club, Slaves of New York, Less Than Zero, and Bright Lights, Big City were voices of their generations.
Last season the show was criticized for being too white. Watching a full season could leave a viewer snow blind. This season that white ghetto was breached by a black character who is introduced as some jungle fever lover, with just enough screen time to have sex and mutter a couple of lines about wanting more of a relationship. A black dildo would have sufficed and cost less.
I don’t believe that people of color, sexual preference, or gender need to be shaken indiscriminately into every series like some sort of exotic seasoning. If the story calls for a black character, great. A story about a black neighborhood doesn’t necessarily need white characters just to balance the racial profile. But this really seemed like an effort was made to add some color — and it came across as forced.
(More props to him for avoiding the term “minority” and going with “people of color.”)
We’re supposed to find these girls somehow charming because of their flawed characters. Their intense self-involvement is meant to be cute and it can be… at times. But not enough to overcome our impatience with their inability to have any personal insight. They’re all educated but fatally ignorant.
This isn’t all Girls fault. It’s unfair to put so much of a burden on what is basically a standard sitcom. Some of the fault lies with the audience’s desperation for a generational voice that they turn to a sitcom to express it rather than great literature. Filmmaker and short story writer (and Dunham fan) Miranda July is more accurately a voice of a generation adrift in the rough waters of Great Expectations and a Great Recession.When it takes itself seriously is when it stumbles. I just wish it would express its seriousness by being funnier. Seinfeld made it a point to ridicule the characters’ shallowness and self-involvement, raising it to a level of social commentary. And it was funny. Two other girl-centric shows that reached these same heights to be voices of a generation were My So-Called Life and Wonderfalls. Both funny, yet also insightful and original. Perhaps that’s why they both only lasted one season before becoming cult hits. Girls, a safer more mousy voice, has already been renewed for a third season.
Abdul-Jabbar’s last point could be the most hurtful for Dunham. He argues the male characters in “Girls” are in fact more interesting than the lead female characters. He closes his piece by asking: “Could it be that Dunham actually is better at writing guy characters than girl characters?”