Substances on “Girls”

Girls came back tonight and the season two premiere centered on a party. A soiree. A shindig. And for people of the media-beloved “twentysomething” age group, a party means a bunch of people abusing substances, after which all kinds of shenanigans will pursue. And that’s what happend on Girls. But did it?

There is a scene where Charlie’s new girlfriend comes out of a bathroom, holding a giant Tecate, and asks where the weed is at. After awhile, she decides the party is lame and leaves. While we are clearly supposed to hate this girl, I had to admit that she might have been onto something more. After all, the party that happened when every character on Girls got into a room together did not really seem like a party. It was a very small grouping of people who, in real life, would probably be sick of one another, a grouping mostly free of any non-incestuous, peripheral friends. Everyone was drinking wine and beer, as if they didn’t have a full liquor license, and, as this outsider pointed out, there was no weed.

On the surface, the substance use on Girls would seem pretty normal for college grads in New York city. Marnie drinks wine with her mom over a stressful lunch. Shoshanna accidentally does crack. And there are beers sometimes.

But to me, the role of substances in the show seems to exist purely as an occasional plot catalyst. So and so does this and that and makes this mistake. And so on. Outside of hip parties or intimate dinners, the characters seem mostly disinterested in them. In other words, the substance use on Girls is almost overwhelmingly healthy, except for maybe when it comes to so-glamorous-and-out-there-that-it-doesn’t-count Jessa. And this is strange to me.


Well substances aren’t usually used by twentysomethings in healthy ways. They are addictive, after all. People in college and struggling through post-college years use substances mostly cuz life is kind of hard. Everyone is broke and can’t even afford new soap and has so many roommates that they have to drink just to get along. Then, there’s the other side of the twentysomething coin – the rich people. The understimulated, bored people who have too much money. The Bret Easton Ellis types.

What’s weird to me is how precisely the characters on Girls sit just comfortably in-between these two demographics. They’re not so poor that shopping at Urban Outfitters seems like a pipe dream. They’re not so rich that they were raised by nannies and getting back at their parents. Instead, they’re in a perfectly healthy place in the middle, so healthy that it seems almost suspiciously P.C.

And it’s this weird P.C. layer that makes Girls so confusing to me. On the one hand, they are naked all the time and have sex and talk about clits and HPV. Scandalous! But on the other hand, a lot of bad, uncomfortable subjects don’t really exist in their world. Broke people. That one friend who is addicted to oxycontin.  It all makes me suspect that Lena Dunham is more of an outsider anthropologist when it comes to her peers than she is the scandalous center. She studies what people do but doesn’t always do it herself. She knows there are problems in New York City but doesn’t want to dive into them until she’s fully studied them. She’s willing to be her own guinea pig most of the time, but sometimes these portrayals seem strangely artificial.

Maybe this is all just in my head though. What do you think?

-Becky Lang