SeinGIRLS: Are Jerry and Lena's comedies comparable?
Who's saying what
What If People Spoke About Seinfeld The Way They Spoke About Girls? That was Mike Trapp’s question when he published this article on College Humour. In his controversial essay, Trapp turns the relentless Girls backlash on its head, drawing parallels between Jerry Seinfeld’s eponymous sitcom and Lena Dunham’s semi-autobiographical dramedy, ridiculing the clichéd Girls criticism and re-applying it to the original “too New York, too Jewish” Show About Nothing.
With passages that should be read in the voice of Shoshanna – “The whole thing just seems SO self indulgent. Seinfeld stars a comedian named Jerry Seinfeld who plays a comedian named Jerry. Wow. Really, Jerry? He also created the show and writes it. It’s like he can’t give up control of anything.” – the article has caused the controversy it courted, with punters on each side of the Girls debate weighing in on whether Seinfeld, an emblem of primetime greatness, should or even can be compared to Dunham’s depressing depiction of Gen Y.
Die-hard Seinfeld fans (and boy, are there a lot of angry ones!) have voiced their deep disdain for Trapp’s send-up, accusing the writer of inferring that (heaven forbid) Dunham’s vignettes of twenty-something existence is culturally equatable to Seinfeld. Though as one commenter on Jezebel pointed out, “Seinfeld very well might be the superior show, but Girls gets eviscerated for the exact same things that were only lightly debated about Seinfeld. Yes, there were discussions on many of these topics, but not the outright anger lobbed at Dunham and Girls.”
As per the College Humour article, we felt compelled to put together a (derivative) list on the shows’ similarities, but not without questioning why we were doing so. Perhaps the reason everyone – present not excluded – wants to pick Girls apart with the thought and precision Hannah would use to dissect a text message from Adam is because we’re obsessed with rationalising a show that, as much as we enjoy it, confronts and transfixes us in a way that only reflections can.
1. Both shows have been accused of expressing a racist worldview
Aside from a relentless public focus on nepotism, Girls season one was slammed for its racist-by-omission casting. Set in Brooklyn, America’s most statistically diverse district, the few non-white characters that made cameos in the show’s early episodes included an Indian-American gynaecologist (because in the world of Girls, non-white youth never pursue creative careers, unless they're Asians who "know Photoshop"), an gregarious ethnic admin lady from Long Island, and a vivacious Puetro Rican who schools Hannah on facial hair removal at her dull office job. Promising to “do better” with diversity in season two, Dunham gave critics the figurative middle finger, scripting a Republican African-American as one of Hannah’s fleeting lovers. His appearance, if you were previously familiar with the show’s backlash, felt novel at best.
Seinfeld was also perpetually slammed for evoking a privileged, white, ‘yuppie’ perspective, but unlike Dunham’s scriptural oversights, Seinfeld was oft in hot water for racial stereotyping. There was Babu the deported Pakistani, Donna Chang, the not-really-Chinese-woman, and a slew of sassy Hispanics. As Trapp points out in his article, “The only non-white characters are wacky immigrant cab drivers and soup vendors. Oh, hilarious: they can’t speak English well – what’s so groundbreaking about that?”
So, we ask, what’s worse? Ignoring or ignorance?
2. Both shows chronicle the semi-autobiographical misadventures of a neurotic lead
They wrote it. They’re the star. The show is essentially about them and Jerry’s pre-show monologue has been millennially replaced with Lena Dunham’s twitter commentary. Jerry, meet Lena:
3. Both leads are accompanied by an equally deplorable coterie
Complementing the misadventures of Jerry/Hannah are an equally conceited, unawareness, entitled bunch of miscreants that make the painfully self-centered lead look like Mother Theresa.
Leon Wieseltier, the then-literary editor of The New Republic famously wrote “Seinfeld is the worst, last gasp of Reaganite, grasping, materialistic, narcissistic, banal self-absorption” which, rehashed, nicely sums up Hannah’s crew: excruciatingly unperceptive, spoilt and self-important.
George killed his fiancée with those poisonous envelopes, and asked someone else on a date the same day; George pretended to be handicapped; George pushed an old woman while trying to escape a burning kitchen; and Elaine’s attempt to hire a doggie-hit-man was nothing short of unacceptable. Somehow, they all managed to make Jerry’s misgivings look like a sweet disposition – Schindler’s List romps and all.
While Girls has less than two seasons of bad behaviour to compare to Seinfeld’s nine, let’s take a moment to recall the following: Jessa recapping her heroin-trickled past to Thomas John’s parents; Jessa excitedly celebrating a miscarriage; Marnie dumping Charlie mid-sex; Adam peeing on Hannah; Elijah and Marnie bumping nethers, and so on and so forth.
4. Both shows are loved because they are best when they are at their most dysfunctional
Arguably, the reason people love Seinfeld, Girls and, I guess, sitcoms in general, is because they eschew ‘happily ever afters’ and replace the potential for narrative closure and wholesome endings with punch lines and anticlimactic outcomes. These devices resonate with an off-screen audience because, as TheVine’s editor Alyx Gorman pointed out in our review of the Girls Season Two premiere, “watching a comedy of errors can remind you of the humour in your own.”
5. Both shows were slammed for celebrating youth’s hopelessness
“Call me a hopeless Puritan, but I see, in this airwave invasion of sitcoms about young Manhattanites with no real family or work responsibilities and nothing to do but hang out and talk about it, an insidious message about the future of Western civilization”, wrote Elayne Rapping in The Progressive on what she saw to be Seinfeld's bleak nihilism. Apply at your will to to Hannah Hovarth’s drug-fueled “voice of a generation” speech, and consider culture's recurrent attachment to faliures.
6. Also, just quickly, is Shoshana the new Kramer?
Goofy, loveable and a show-stealing comedic. No one’s saying one is better than the other, just that if Kramer was a virginal college undergraduate with a penchant for Baggage (the show) he may look a lot like Zoisa Mamet’s onscreen alter-ego. Only she seems less likely to ejaculate the n-word at a comedy club.