Reel talk: Please stop giving Lena Dunham TV shows
If you’re a fan of David Tennant (Jessica Jones) & Jennifer Garner (Alias), good news! They’re to star in HBO’s new half-hour comedy series Camping. However, if you’re not a fan of self-indulgent, tone-deaf showrunners, sorry but the show is hailing from Lena Dunham. It’s quite the problem!
Based on Julia Davis’s British TV show of the same name, Dunham will be co-writing, executive producing, and showrunning the series with her Girls collaborator Jennifer Konner. The story pivots around Walt (Tennant) – a man celebrating his 45th birthday on a camping trip with his “aggressively controlling” wife Kathryn (Garner). The couple will be joined by several unpleasant-sounding women.
The current synopsis makes the series sound ostensibly like a spinoff show called Girls Gone Camping. “It becomes a weekend of tested marriages and woman-on-woman crime that won’t soon be forgotten. Plus, bears.” So if you always wanted a bear attack to take down Hannah & Marnie in Girls during one of their noxious arguments about Instagram likes or upcycled furniture or whatever, this could be for you.
However, for the rest of us Dunham getting a new series isn’t exactly call for celebration. In fact, we’d rather an encounter a bear these days than anything written by Dunham. The actor & filmmaker is an easy target for such barbs and is regularly criticized for her work but it’s also very much warranted. Why? There are a few standout reasons.
Women supporting each other? Not in Dunham’s stories
It’s interesting Dunham’s new show will feature “woman-on-woman” crime since Girls was at its core a show about woman-on-woman malfeasance. While we love to celebrate female-written narratives featuring flawed and even monstrous female characters, we’re loathe to celebrate stories that focus specifically on female stereotypes and women treating each other horrendously.
Following the final ever episode of Girls, The Guardian asked, “Is the overarching lesson of the six seasons of this groundbreaking and ostensibly feminist show that women’s friendships are difficult, or even toxic? . . . Girls reduced women’s friendships to their most negative stereotypes: selfishness, narcissism, a willingness to throw other women under the bus when sex with a man is in the offing.”
The pernicious friendships in Girls were objectionable and bizarre and from the sounds of it, Dunham may be exploring the same tiresome female stereotypes with Camping. Who hurt her? And why is Dunham insisting on continuing her love of woman-on-woman cruelty?
Her career was achieved with the least amount of effort
For most of us, having the opportunity to pitch a TV series to HBO would involve a swell of sleepless nights and a series of elegant, cohesive documents prepared with pride for presentation. Not Dunham.
“I wrote HBO this one-sheet. It was like a tone poem about millennial life. It doesn’t mention a character, doesn’t mention a plot. ‘They’re everything, they’re nothing, they’re everywhere, they’re nowhere.’ I mean, it’s the worst pitch you’ve ever read — pretentious and horrifying — but I remember writing it, sitting on the floor listening to Tegan and Sara in my underwear, being like, ‘I’m a genius.’”
This perhaps explains why Girls became little more than a six-season “tone poem” about a young woman and her friends sitting in their underwear, thinking they’re geniuses.
Dunham’s reveal of her HBO pitch to The Hollywood Reporter unintentionally laid bare one of the main issues with the filmmaker’s work & career: little effort for great returns. Despite Dunham’s insistence her success isn’t owed to nepotism “because it’s the contemporary art world,” and nobody even knows who her parents are, she hardly slogged her way up to the opportunity and frankly, it shows.
Her writing hasn’t matured
Consider this review for a moment: “Narcissism side-by-side with ugly-duckling masochism, neither interestingly examined. Lena Dunham is still young and as her character whines to family, critic, and viewer, she’s ‘trying really, really hard.’”
This Cinepassion appraisal of Tiny Furniture from 2010 could have easily been written about Girls, or about any of Dunham’s recent social faux-pas (like her proclamation she’d never had an abortion, “but I wish I had,” or the revelation she was absent from Time’s Up event planning but present for the photoshoot).
Suffice to say, that’s a problem. Dunham’s writing – like her awkward political grandstanding – doesn’t appear to have developed much in the eight years since Tiny Furniture was released. But when publishers are throwing multi-million dollar advances at her for a book full of name dropping and diet tips, why would she care to bother?
Dunham’s myopic perspective is dull, bland, and out of touch
For a creator who positions herself as being progressive, feminist, and forward thinking, Dunham’s work (and her actions outside of it) suggest she may not completely understand the dimensions of what she hopes to represent.
In the Girls “manifesto” she pitched to HBO, Dunham suggested the women she wanted to write about were “beautiful and maddening. They’re self-aware and self-obsessed. They’re your girlfriends and daughters and sisters and employees. They’re my friends and I’ve never seen them on TV.”
It makes sense: we all crave representation in media. Except, like much of Dunham’s work including her debut indie feature Tiny Furniture, Girls failed to provide representation to anyone else besides the elite, white community of her comfort zone. Much has been griped about the show’s lack of diversity (and the cringeworthy decision to cast Donald Glover as a Republican love interest in a failed attempt to counter such criticisms), and rightly so.
With Girls, audiences were given a story conjured directly from an astoundingly privileged perspective while vying to explore the “struggles” of young twenty-something-women. Except, zany personality clashes aside, all four of the show’s central female characters were ostensibly similar: Wealthy, white, able-bodied, artistic, and bored shitless by the idea of having to make an effort.
It might have represented Dunham’s own social circle but it didn’t represent a diversity of women. Want to be the voice of a generation? Try encompassing the experiences of a whole generation and not just the people you brunch with.
Until Dunham learns more about life, society, and the world beyond her own experiences, her writing could get stuck in a Woody Allen-esque trap where her work becomes a retread of the same jokes, characters, and scenarios. On the other hand, Film Daily is hardly thrilled at the prospect of seeing how Dunham would fare with writing outside of her comfort zone. But hell, we’d at least like to see her try.