Girls and the Stupid Drama-Comedy Distinction

Like every good American, I was reading Gawker yesterday, this time while stranded during a two-hour flight delay, and came across this post by Rich Juzwiak. First of all, he made a similar point to mine last week with regards to Donald Glover’s black Republican character:

Enlightening people on how things are tougher for minorities is in fact what Dunham did when she made a show about a bunch of white people in New York. Glover’s character was a token, but one used to illustrate how out of her depth Hannah and Lena Dunham are when it comes to talking about black people, and why her creative decision is, in fact, accurate. It’s not admirable but it is clever.

OK, with that out of the way, Juzwiak went on to discuss the ballyhooed Patrick Wilson episode “One Man’s Trash,” and how it wasn’t entirely unrealistic:

That controversial episode, “One Man’s Trash,” resulted in wildly divergent interpretations all over the Internet that focused on the likelihood of frumpy Dunham being the temporary fuck buddy of by a piece as hot as Wilson. …

What many didn’t take into consideration is that some dudes will fuck anything, regardless of where he fits on the 1 to 10 scale, and that sometimes people have these tangential half-narratives that don’t exactly fit in with their lives or what outsiders would expect from them. Hannah had just a bit role in the life of Wilson’s character. She was that weird thing he did.

I largely agree with the point made, and it led me to another conclusion, one I’ve thought about for a while but have never tried to articulate until now: it’s pointless to distinguish TV dramas from TV comedies.

If you read through our differing opinions on Girls last week, you’ll realize that we both, to some extent, took issue with the show’s plausibility. I lamented that sometimes it seems like we’re watching a caricature of Brooklyn; Kyra, among other things, took aim at the Patrick Wilson episode. I stand by my observation last week, but after thinking about it I’m not sure that it really matters in the grand scheme of reviewing and analyzing Girls, or any show, really.

For one thing, Girls is ostensibly a comedy and there are scenes that are intentionally “funny” (as in, they’re staged as jokes). But of course, some say, Girls doesn’t make you laugh all the time, and a lot of what you see is sad or disturbing or awkward, so it can’t be a real comedy, it has to be (the most vile word in the English language) a dramedy. (Please never, ever use this word in my presence.) Part of the problem with this is our seeming insistence on treating realism in dramas differently.

It occurred to me we never criticize the shows in the “traditional” comedy mold, if there is such a thing, for being unrealistic the way everybody went apeshit last year during Breaking Bad when (very mild spoiler) Walt was able to extricate himself from a bind by burning a plastic handcuff off all by himself. This, of course, came just a few weeks after (slightly less mild spoiler) Walt and Jesse used a GIANT MAGNET to pull off a caper (which no one bitched about). I guess that with traditional comedies, we expect an exaggerated version of reality because a lot of good jokes involve poking fun at, and reacting to, stuff in life that’s ridiculous. For example, Curb Your Enthusiasm is definitely true to life, but you’d never think that Larry David actually would pick up a hooker just to use the carpool lane. Louie is a hilariously depressing observation about life (a fifth of the show is his stand-up act), but I’ve never heard anyone criticize it for being unrealistic (though I have seen it described as a “drama”).

Thus it’s a little weird to me that we’re thinking about Girls the same way we’re thinking about Breaking Bad—by thinking too much about the minutiae or realism of every plot development—when I don’t believe such analysis lends itself well to either show. I can’t tell you why we should expect our dramas to be more realistic than our comedies, or why a show that distorts reality a little bit might be a bad thing. One of the arguments I tried to make last week was that Lena Dunham wasn’t making a show for everybody; she’s writing about her life, not yours. If she has to turn some of the hipster-chic lifestyle into a stereotype (which she often does for a laugh; I think the Booth Jonathan character is a good example of this), so be it. If Vince Gilligan thinks he needs a huge magnet for a scene (and it’s clear in the first episode of season five, “Live Free or Die,” that the magnet is meant to be ridiculous), great. Why should the un-realism of Girls be treated differently from Curb or Louie? Why can’t Breaking Bad be treated the same way, while we’re at it?

We don’t make the drama-comedy distinction with movies. A great film is a great film, plain and simple. Unfortunately, this works against comedies because, come awards season, they won’t be seen as serious or bold enough to merit sincere attention. But then again, the Golden Globes offers separate acting awards for dramas and comedies, and it’s always such a frivolous line-drawing exercise. Often it seems like the comedy-musical winner has just taken home some inferior award, even though in many years I’d favor the comedy actor over the drama actor (Jennifer Lawrence this year, Bill Murray over Sean Penn, etc.).

But TV is, to me, better-suited to do away with the drama-comedy distinction altogether. We’re not as worried that TV comedies, whether they’re sitcoms or “serious” comedies like Girls, will be thought of as lesser siblings. Name all the great shows you can think of—I’ll bet a lot, if not most, are comedies, largely in part because TV drama didn’t reach its potential until fifteen years ago. Of my four favorite shows on TV, three are comedies (Girls, Parks & Rec, and Louie). People are ready to look at comedies and dramas on the same playing field; for many, as evidenced by the way we analyze its realism or un-realism, Girls by itself blurs the line between the two. I say we do away with that line altogether.


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