A voice of a generation? 'Girls' might be on to something . . .

Sat, Oct 27, 2012, 01:00

TV REVIEW:THE GREAT THING about Girls (Sky Atlantic, Monday) finally starting on this side of the Atlantic is that it put a stop to those conversations where someone would say in a pitying sort of way, “Oh, really? You haven’t seen Girls?”, as if I had all the TV savvy of someone up a boreen in Ballygobackwards wondering why the telly was blank.

No. Just because the HBO-made comedy, which aired in the US in April, has had acres of newsprint raving about its zeitgeisty ability to capture the experience of urban twentysomethings, I didn’t feel the urge to do a spot of illegal downloading – which isn’t being high-horsey: more of a “why bother?”

But back to Girls. It’s great. It feels authentic, the dialogue is like an overheard conversation and the acting is deadpan: it’s more like a cool indie movie than a cable-TV series. Its star, writer and director, 26-year-old Lena Dunham, is extraordinary, oversharing about her life on an epic scale to create the drama. Also, she has to be the least vain person on TV: she’s not telly-standard stick insect and she’s naked a lot.

The first two episodes were shown back to back, with episode 1 introducing the characters, all middle-class graduates in their early 20s, wildly self-absorbed, working in New York as unpaid interns on the fringes of publishing and art but still living off their parents.

The crisis for wannabe writer Hannah (Dunham) is that her parents are cutting off her funds and she’ll have to get a paying job. High on opium, she makes her case to them, her unfinished manuscript in hand. “I think I might be the voice of my generation, or at least a voice of a generation.”

Her three friends are types – the controlling one, the hippy one, the naive one – and together they make up a quartet we’ve seen before, but this isn’t Sex and the City’s younger sister; no one could have accused that silly series of being as real, unflinching or representative.

Episode 2 was about one of the women having an abortion. Girls is categorised as comedy, a genre in which it has won awards, but I couldn’t find the laughs, though with writing this strong a permanent wry smile is probably good enough. I did grimace more than once at how pathetically grateful Hannah is for any affection from her porno-educated “sort of” boyfriend. All the sex in Girls – and there’s a lot of it – is horrible and deeply exploitative of the women.

THE HISTORICswitchover from analogue to digital made it a big week for TV – so the timing of TV50: What’s Happening to Television? (RTÉ One, Monday), a well-made, informed, cover-all-the-bases documentary, was a bit of a party pooper, given that several contributors were so downbeat about the future of TV that they should have been wearing black armbands.

Miriam O’Callaghan, its presenter, talked to commentators whose opinions ranged from “TV has a future” to “TV is dead”. The media maven Cindy Gallop summed up the feeling of many: “I see an industry that’s dying; the business model is broken.”

Balancing this is the present reality that people still love TV, it’s still the premier entertainment medium and we watch it in our millions, especially when there are big live events, such as a GAA final or the Eurovision.

The big challenge isn’t just audience fragmentation – so many stations, so little time – but that we’re as likely to be watching on our phones or tablets, and even when we’re beached up on the sofa staring at the box we’re more than likely doing something else too – web surfing, texting, whatever.

The sobering bottom line repeated by several people is that good TV costs money, and how can you fund programmes if consumers, particularly the YouTube generation and downloaders, expect to get everything for free? Anyone who works in the media or follows trends won’t be too surprised by anything in the film, though many will have been amazed to hear O’Callaghan say that each episode of RTÉ’s drama Raw costs €600,000 and that the documentary we were watching cost €120,000.

However, when TV3’s chief executive, David McRedmond, took her on a tour of that station’s set-up – one large studio in use almost every minute of the day and with a set for the station’s many live chat shows wedged into each corner – he showed how some content can be made on a shoestring.

The summing-up of the documentary was jarring, though: with O’Callaghan making a case for the licence fee, it felt more like an RTÉ prebudget submission than a broad overview of an industry.

IN THE FIRSTsimulcast for BBC Northern Ireland and UTV, The Magic Box (Tuesday) marked the switchover to digital – it’s an all-island thing – with a jolly studio programme presented by Eamonn Holmes.

It was intercut with clips from the archives, interviews and sketches, including an amusing one from the local Hole in the Wall Gang comedy troupe, satirising the idea that in the North the availability of TV stations is loaded with cultural and political significance. The republican couple were at the desk in “the BBC-occupied six counties centre” in Belfast, complaining that they’d now be getting all the UK channels and that it was “British cultural imperialism”, followed by the Uncle Andy character, a unionist, bitterly complaining that now he’d be getting “RTÉ, TV3 and TGyacketymcgerryadamspeaky”.

THE FOLLOWINGday in Dublin Miriam O’Callaghan switched off the analogue signal with the click of a mouse – nothing too dramatic. RTÉ went for a more public-service, funereal approach, with speeches from a brightly lit studio. Mary Kennedy, a real trouper in these live programmes, tried to be upbeat, while Minister for Communications Pat Rabbitte and the chairman of the RTÉ Authority, Tom Savage, stared with grim determination at their autocues and gave mesmerisingly boring speeches.

Kennedy reminisced about how as a child she had “to tweak the rabbit’s ears to get a good reception”. “Mary, you can tweak my ears any time,” said the Minister, channelling Benny Hill.

The next time Kennedy was on her feet she quipped: “The Minister’s name is spelled with two Bs and two Ts in case there’s any confusion as to what I was up to as a child.”

Get stuck into . . .In Family Guys? What Sitcoms Say About America (BBC Two, today at 10pm), the historian Tim Stanley interviews television writers and uses The Simpsons, Modern Family and the rest to show that the best guide to the US is its TV comedy.

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