When we first met Girls' antihero Hannah Horvath back in mid-April, she halfheartedly proclaimed herself the voice of her generation... seconds before backtracking, and reinstituting herself with the title, "a voice of a generation." It was a tongue-in-cheek self-inflicted jab written and delivered by the series' omni-hyphenate Lena Dunham, but it has turned out to be bizarrely accurate. Girls does speak to people. Just not necessarily the people you might expect.
According to a Nielsen ratings data publicized via Vulture, the majority of people tuning in to watch HBO's first season dramedy are not actually the 24-year-old New York-based young women depicted on the series: They're older. And Midwestern-er. And, most of all, male-er.
It turns out that Girls' biggest fan bases lie above the age of 50, live in areas like Providence, Kansas City, Cincinnati, and Charlotte, and are distinctly rich in Y-chromosomes. The first two factors can be explained easily. Let's start with age: Girls airs on HBO — a network that costs money, which is something that, generally, adults have more of than their youthful counterparts.
Futhermore, the series airs on Sunday nights at 10:30 PM. While most well-adjusted baby boomers are settled into bed at this time, looking for a quick burst of entertainment before popping on the reliable sedative of Jay Leno, you wouldn't be hard pressed to find any number of twentysomethings exploring the crevasses of crack-heavy parties in Bushwick at half past 10 on any given Sunday. The location is another no-brainer. Providence, Kansas City, Cincinnati, Charlotte — all big cities, though not huge cities. They are locales that can understand and relate to the toils of the urban lifestyle depicted on Girls, but are not similar enough to be put off or annoyed by the program's self-deprecating attitude about the Big Apple, or its denizens' problems. It's a demeanor that has been taking a lot of heat. But the real question is: Why is a show written by, about, and ostensibly for girls being gobbled up primarily by guys? A possible answer exists in the way women have been treated in and beyond the artistic media for decades. Nay, forever. When you create a female character for television, a movie, a novel, or what have you, you're saying something about women. This isn't always intended, and it shouldn't necessarily be the case, but it is. And that's because women have been objectified, just like every other group that isn't white straight Christian males (and I'm not bashing white straight Christian males — some of my best friends are white straight Christian males). Restricting the conversation to TV, every female or ethnic minority character you may have seen on the small screen has been put there as a reflection of his or her demographic. At first, this was done by the powers that be, to maintain an air of superiority attached to the controlling class. But then, thanks to outbreaks in progressive thinking, it was done to combat this. Once female and ethnic voices became prominent in television, they placed characters on television representing their strengths and flavors. Take a fairly recent example: Sex and the City, a show that is referenced frequently on Girls. It's not for everyone, and certainly not flawless in its endeavors, but it was undeniably an empowering show for female identities. People likened themselves to the characters on the program, because they led enviable lives. Not financially realistic lives, but, you know. They were colorful, determined, and likable. What's more, they thrived off their impervious bond. But the girls on Girls... they're ambivalent. They're listless. They're flaky, manipulative, entitled, malleable, and not exactly the kind of people you'd be shocked to see cut ties with one another, even especially for a particularly superficial reason. They're not great people. But they're people. And that alone is why Girls is so unpopular and so important. To reiterate, every female character on TV (at least every major female character) is, whether we like it or not, some kind of statement about women. A woman's gender is branded so rigidly upon her to the point where a show called Girls is even possible. A show called Guys could mean anything, because the essence of being a guy is unequivocally unrestrictive. When society thinks about a male, it doesn't install limits. Despicably, the same is not the case for women. But we are lucky enough to live in a time where this is the definitive. Because of society's installation of limits, there is active demolition of these limits. There are shows like Sex and the City, artists like Tina Fey, movies like Bridesmaids. There are people and forces aching to show what else women can be and do. And then there's Girls, which launches this to an exceptional level. Girls is, ironically, hardly a statement about gender at all. It's a statement about humanity. Lena Dunham isn't out to accomplish the same things that her predecessors have; in Girls, the enemy of these young women isn't the oppressive world around them. It's themselves. The girls aren't the heroes here, nor should they be. They're not the subservients or the bad guys, as some of the unfortunate examples of our culture's past mentalities. They're not the divine conquerors or the heroes, as some of the necessary responses to aforesaid mentalities express. A girl on TV shouldn't have to speak for all girls, on TV or off. Dunham's show appreciates this; unfortunately, this makes Girls, just like its characters, its own worst enemy. The show is ahead of its time. People are still willing to believe that one girl means all girls. Men and women alike look at a TV show depicting a female and think of her as a representation. And any woman who watches Girls like this can't possibly like it. The characters on Girls are not admirable. They are terrific and interesting individual characters, but they are not someone you'd want representing your gender. That is why it's easier for males to watch and enjoy the program. You pick up on more when you have the luxury of looking at something objectively, and of separating yourself from something. Believe me, if there was such a strong albeit negative depiction of four Jewish Internet writers on television, I'd need someone to spell out to me just how progressive a show it was. So it's not that guys "get it" and girls don't. It's the fact that it's hard to believe that some women could watch this program and take its depiction none-too-desirable human beings personally. And of course, there are men who watch the show without getting the point, either. Those who fit that bill most likely feel the same way about the program that females do. And those men who do watch it, don't get it, and still like it, well... they're just douches. Girls is a pioneer of the ongoing plight of a female character to stand alone as a female character, and not a characterization of females. It might be hard to believe that a show like this could exist on TV alongside things like 2 Broke Girls (which calls gender- and ethnic-stereotypes its bread and butter) or Work It (which we won't dignify with a real parenthetical). As such, its female viewership might dwindle. But if this happens, Dunham's show won't be the only victim. The show can't be restricted to tired 50-year-olds in Cincinnati. Dunham is indeed a voice of a generation: One that hasn't come along yet. We might still be plagued by the existence of restriction and objectification, but Dunham is opening the door for an end to that. And as long as we can get past the idea that Hannah, Marnie, Jessa, and Shoshanna might not be worthy of our admiration, we'll realize that they are, indeed, worthy of our attention. Girls [Image Credit: HBO] More: 'Girls': Love At First Sight Why the Massive 'Girls' Backlash? HBO Renews 'Girls' and 'Veep' for Season 2
Even the most ardent fans of American Idol always have two criticisms of the reality series: It doesn’t showcase enough contemporary music — focusing on irrelevant disco hits over current songs that could actually help an artist share his or her personal style with audiences — and it favors insipid talk and lengthy ads over actual singing. (Heck, even the entire theater at CBS Television City is an advertisement.) But on Wednesday night, the series aimed to rectify its problems, offering up more music and a theme, Now and Then, that allowed contestants a wide variety of tunes to choose from.
Unfortunately, that turned out to be an idea more flawed than a season 9 judges’ panel. Though we were “treated” to a whopping 14 musical numbers, each performance would have fared better with 30 additional seconds to allow each singer to grow into their songs. And the contemporary offerings hardly helped our crop of contestants — though they had what I presume to be a much larger catalogue of music to choose from than normal, most opted to take on the past decade’s most overheard artists: Lady Gaga, Alicia Keys, and (sigh) Adele. I’ve actually grown more tired of telling reality show contestants to leave Adele alone than I’ve gotten grown of hearing reality show contestants butcher “Rolling In the Deep.” Instead, I found myself zoning out during the course of the show, wondering how in the world Christina Ricci would ever grow up to be Rosie O’Donnell.
In fact, with the exception of two solid performers, the only highlight of the evening proved to be Ryan Seacrest, channeling his dearly departed American idol, Dick Clark, via a respectable sense of somber professionalism. Out of any tribute that hit the Web today following the American Bandstand host’s death, Ryan Seacrest’s was truly the most touching, and the most fitting for his rockin’ mentor. Said Seacrest at the top of the show: “I know that he’s in a better place, saying, hey, let’s get on with the show, okay? You got it, boss.”
So instead of teasing Idol for its increasingly ridiculous opening montages — I’m pretty sure I wrote “What we call the beginning is often the end” in a junior high school poetry paper — let’s too channel Clark and get on with the show. Who is facing Thursday night’s Judges’ Save-causing double elimination? And who has Idol decided must. Be. In. The. Final. Two? I’m not sure, but every time I see a Coke can, I get a little dizzy and find myself dialing for Joshua and Jessica. Onto the performances!
NEXT: “No One” should sing “Let’s Get It On” but Marvin Gaye. They’re So Then
The struggling contestant broke two the two cardinal rules of American Idol: Never fight against judge criticism — especially if you’re already fighting an attitude reputation — and never, ever sing Marvin Gaye’s “Let’s Get It On” unless you hilariously dedicate the performance to your parents for our creepy enjoyment. (Here’s looking at you, season six’s Jared Cotter.)
But broke the rules Elise did — and it’s likely she’ll pay dearly for it. Because, frankly, the contestant didn’t deserve the praise she’d hoped for when it came to her covers of “Let’s Get It On” and Alicia Keys’ “No One.” She was disconnected during the latter song, which was only made worse by a ridiculous fan that must have gotten lost on its way back from a Beyoncé photo shoot. And “Let’s Get It On” was hardly better — admittedly, Elise’s growl fit well with the most powerful verses of the tune, but the song delivered by anyone other than Gaye is so corny, it might as well get its own palace in Iowa. (Midwest represent!) Plus, as much as I can sympathize with Elise’s dog’s ailing health (and as much as I can think it’s despicable for J. Lo to essentially tell Elise to sing as if her dog died), it’s never a good idea to play the Gokey card on American Idol. So I suppose Elise broke three cardinal Idol rules.
If I may, however, pull a Paula: Elise, who typically looks like she fell into a 6-year-old’s macaroni picture, did look lovely tonight. And now, since Idol went multi-generational tonight, I give you my Idol superfan mother’s opinion of Elise’s performances.
Critiques from My Mom: [On “No One”]: “It was good, but it’s not a song you can do a lot with. Why can’t the judges say that about about Colton, that he sang his little tushy off? His tushy is smaller!”
It’s official: Idol isn’t taking any chances when it comes to Hollie. It’s clear the judges and producers want her gone faster than you can say “What did Hollie just say?” How will they accomplish her ouster? 1) By making sure she sealed the dreaded No. 1 performance slot, hoping that viewers will pull a Memento and only remember Jessica and Joshua Sammy Jenkins. And 2) By making sure the judges deliver thin praise of her performances so not to inspire any sympathy votes that might have kept her on the show this long.
Of course, in my eyes, Hollie was handed a suitcase the minute she announced she would be singing “Rolling in the Deep,” despite the fact that she probably delivered the most solid Adele cover on Idol since Elise sang “One and Only.” Because that’s Hollie’s main problem: She lacks even one single ounce of creativity. Just see her second song choice, Dusty Springfield’s “Son of a Preacher Man,” a tune so obvious, even I sing karaoke versions of it at karaoke.
Still, though the eternally passionless Hollie has about as much soul as a communion wafer, the judges claimed they loved her. Steven called her, of course, “beautiful,” Randy said her “Rolling in the Deep” was “close to perfect,” Jennifer said simply, “I’m so happy,” and the Liverpool Football Club said something about tea and crumpets and cultural stereotypes. Of course, I might be too eager to see Hollie exit Idol — recent weeks have proved she has adoring fans, and I might just be getting impatient about not being able to use my “Hollie Go-Lightly-Away” headline. Thursday, friends. Thursday?
Critiques from (An Indecisive) Mom: I just don’t like her. I just don’t. Like. Her. It was her best performances. Karaoke.
NEXT: We “Got It Bad” for Phillip… and Creepy Violin Stalker. They’re So Now
Following his lackluster turn last week, I was fully expecting Phillip to begin going all Jason Castro on us. He appeared as though he was tired of the grind, tired of the senseless critiques, and tired of having to fight goddamn Tommy Hilfiger about his shades of gray. But Phillip is just like his kidney stones: He comes and goes, but when he is present, he tears up his music from the inside out. And it’s painful how good he really is. His performance last night of Usher’s “U Got It Bad” was the most creative and downloadable cover to hit Idol since Kris Allen’s “Heartless,” leading the crowd at CBS Television City to begin cheering before the song was even over. And it encouraged the judges to give a shocking non-Joshua standing ovation, a sight as rare as word of the day toilet paper in Randy Jackson’s house.
And Phillip proved he was on a streak with his second performance, a wonderfully chill version of Wilson Pickett’s “In the Midnight Hour.” The number was so groove-worthy, you could forgive Phillip for his guitar-less turkey walk and pronunciation that made you wonder why someone would be inside a midnight owl, whatever that is. Phillip could easily make a living reminding girls of that cute, mysterious coffeehouse singer they fawned over in college but regretted not asking for his number. Girls, you know his number now — and I’m guessing your fingers killed after dialing for the dude.
Critiques From My Mom (a documented Cougar for Cook ): “I would go buy music by him because I think he’s got a different kind of voice. I want to listen to him. No cougars. I don’t look at him in that way.”
You guys, I’ll admit: I’ve been rushing through this recap in order to talk about Skylar. Why? Well, first off, the young country singer proved she could soon be a young country star with awesome — if a bit imperfect — covers of Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way” and Marvin Gaye’s “I Heard It Through the Grapevine” that made me wonder why I had made fun of my father’s country addiction all these years. (Dad, I finally get it.)
But mostly because Skylar wasn’t the only star of the evening. You know exactly who I’m talking about: CVS. That’s Creepy Violin Stalker. You saw him — lurking behind Skylar during both her performances, keeping enough distance so she wouldn’t feel his presence creeping up the back of her neck. Part of me wonders if we were simply watching Bill Hader performance art, but all of me is hoping someone makes a CVS GIF very, very soon. I know I’ve critiqued Idol for going overusing its gospel choirs, but, please, listen to me Idol: CVS needs to be as much a part of Idol as awkward group performances and terrible stage sets. Speaking of, if your AT&T service went down during Skylar’s performance of “I Heard It Through the Grapevine,” that’s because her backdrop stole all the telephone poles in a 100-mile radius.
Critiques From My Mom: Really good. I’m not pithy with my comments, but I thought she was really good. But it was hard to focus on how good she was because of that disturbing leprechaun guy.
NEXT: I “Believe” that gospel choir has GOT to be retired. We’ll Stick With Them For Now
Following her flirtation with going home, and following her “dramatic” judges’ save, you’d think Jessica would tear up the stage with as much aggression as Marc Anthony watching J. Lo’s latest music video. Instead, it seems Jessica was missing her patented passion. Perhaps she was exhausted after an emotional week. Or perhaps the Idol machine — remember, our contestants did have to perform two songs this week — simply has worn the young teenager out. But she failed to slam-dunk Alicia Keys “Fallin’” and Otis Redding’s “Try a Little Tenderness” like she had “I Will Always Love You” and even last week’s sublime “Stuttering.”
First off: “Fallin’”? Really Jessica? Season one called — it wants its song back. And secondly, she attacked the intense “Try a Little Tenderness” with the tenderness of a (pitchy) kitten finding a string. Sure, it was adorable, but Redding takes you to church with his hit. We needed to see Jessica’s inner lion — or BeBe Chez, if you will. What we saw instead was a scared 16-year-old girl inexplicably wearing an Indiana Jones plotline around her neck.
Critiques From My Mom: “I’m not on the Jessica love train. That was the boring of nothing.”
It’s shocking how underwhelming Colton was Wednesday night, especially since he’s the only Idol contestant of the season that sounds completely radio-ready, with no need of vocal coaching or finessing. But for both his performances tonight, he was very much in need of a mentor — his low notes during Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance” were as abysmal as his angsty vampire-meets-Basketball Diaries wardrobe. Though Randy felt the entire spectacle felt like a professional Colton Dixon concert, it’s a performance I could have seen for free in a terrible loft in Bushwick, cheap warm beer in hand.
His performance of Earth, Wind, and Fire’s “September” was far more creative, but still failed to completely blow me over. And the judges were hardly impressed as well: Randy even asked Colton for the impossible by saying he had hoped he would flip a Lil Wayne song during a 1970s soul night. Still, Colton does deserve some bonus points for telling Ryan, “I plan on expanding my box every week.” Oh, Colton, don’t make Michael Scott say it.
Critiques From My Mom: [During “Bad Romance”] “The jury is still out. There were parts that were really good. The low notes you could throw in the garbage.”
Remember what I said about Idol’s cardinal rules? There is, in fact, a fourth one to not break: Do not sing any crowning Idol song. Of course, this is obvious advice when it comes to tortuous tunes like “No Boundaries.” But it also applies to charmingly inspiring — but unavoidably cheesy — songs like Kelly Clarkson’s “A Moment Like This” and Fantasia’s “I Believe.” And it’s especially difficult to recreate the magic of the latter, which probably has the distinction of being the best Idol crowning song in 11 seasons. Not only because it’s quite simply the most listenable tune, but because Fantasia owned that song.
So as much as Lakisha Jones and Syesha Mercado might have tried in season six and season seven, respectively, their covers of “I Believe” were about as magical as Harry Potter with a broken wand. As was Joshua’s version Wednesday night. Yes, it was vocal perfection, but Joshua’s tired eyes — not to mention that tired choir — couldn’t quite sell his beliefs. Instead, the contestant appeared exhausted, unpolished, and bored. Not that the judges cared — once again, Joshua received a standing ovation, proving that he could simply grace the stage, sing Rebecca Black’s “Friday,” remind Steven he cast his daughter in a music video about strippers, and request a group screening of Gigli, and still get a standing ovation.
He got one again for the just-as-lackluster “A Change Is Gonna Come,” a song that graces the Idol stage more often than a maintenance man cleaning the judges’ slobber off Joshua’s shoes. (The song has been performed by Adam Lambert, Lily Scott, and, even this year, Johnny Keyser.) But the show isn’t only putting Joshua on a pedestal via standing ovations — the beginning of “A Change Is Gonna Come” saw Joshua figuratively walking on water, thanks to a trickily placed backdrop behind him. Look, I respect Joshua’s vocal talents, and think he’s perhaps one of the best gospel contestants to ever appear on Idol. But criticism is constructive — if the judges ever want to see him grow, they’ll need to begin offering him some sound advice. (Why not switch things up, Joshua? Show us how contemporary you can truly be by ditching the gospel choir !) They should at least have told him to leave the vest in Pulp Fiction’s wardrobe closet where it belonged.
Critiques From My Mom: [Shrug. Sigh.]
Now I’d like to hear from you, readers: Did you find Now and Then to be as unimpressive as I did? Are you surprised Randy could confuse Marvin Gaye and Al Green? Has the show simply raided the Fox prop closet for all its stage sets? (Floating umbrellas?) Are you too impressed with Ryan Seacrest’s classiness? And are we poised for a shocking double elimination Thursday?
Follow Kate on Twitter @HWKateWard
Image Credit: Fox
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