When Girls debuted in 2012, the spin was that it was it was a grittier Sex and the City, set in Brooklyn instead of Manhattan. And while it was true that Girls featured more realistic rundown apartments in less-manicured neighborhoods, it was also true that money on Girls was barely an issue, and the reality is that even those shitty Brooklyn apartments cost upwards of $2500 a month.
Hannah’s part time job as a barista and her brief tenure as a junior high school teacher were likely not covering her rent; only her advertorial writing gig was probably well-paid. The rest of the Girls characters were similarly underemployed: Elijah worked in retail while trying to get acting gigs, Marnie quit her gallery career and bumbled around as a singer-songwriter; Shoshanna hadn’t seemed to be employed since Japan. Only Adam and Ray had real incomes. This is not a realistic life in New York—or any big city, really—unless you are a trust fund baby. By this metric, Girls was less accurate than Friends. Rachel and Monica’s apartment might have been designed by a Los Angeles set designer, but at least they all had jobs.
Compared to Girls, Sex and the City was practically a documentary. While it was true that Carrie wrote a dating column once a week (in the real world, this column paid maybe $500 a story), and was able to afford her tiny Upper East Side apartment and a closetful of designer clothes, the rest of her friends made money, real money. Samantha was a powerful publicist, Miranda a powerful lawyer, and Charlotte was a gallerist who married well. Carrie’s financial follies were dealt with in an episode about her losing her apartment, trying to buy it, and not having any savings, a true experience for many professional and single women.
SATC got a lot of flack for being a fantasy of New York: one filled with celebrity parties, Manhattans, and Manolos. But as someone who was a nightlife columnist and actually lived a very similar life to the one depicted in SATC a few years after it aired, I can tell you it wasn’t so far off in some ways (though, no, I couldn’t afford fancy shoes or uptown townhouse apartments). I recognized their world, even if I didn’t always live in it.
I recognized the world of Girls, too, but it seemed more like a mirage to me. Hannah’s trajectory from college graduate to teacher to blogger to Internet sensation to college professor is pure fantasy. Along the way, she ticked every dream writer box: an e-book deal, admission to the Iowa Writer’s Workshop, her reading at the Moth which leads to a Modern Love column in the New York Times (apparently the first time she’d been published in a newspaper, how super!), and finally, the apex: a full time teaching gig at a college, where she earns enough to pay for a giant house upstate. I have a collection of talented, well-known, published writer friends who surely laughed-through-their-tears at last week’s episode when she got her teaching gig. Lena Dunham (and her writers’ room) should have known better.
The most accurate recent TV depiction of being young and female in New York is Broad City. It is the only show that I’ve seen that captures the struggle of being young in a big city, following two 20-somethings as they try to figure out their identity and shape their careers, while also trying to get laid and find the next party. Though they get into all kinds of absurd situations—their apartment being trashed after renting it on Airbnb, pretending to be a member of a co-op to get organic groceries, throwing rent parties filled with guys from Tinder—there is truth to be found in the absurdity.