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What Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Got Wrong About "Girls"

Posted by Jesse Tigges | February 07, 2013 02:18 PM

The cultural phenomenon of dissecting HBO’s “Girls” has reached another level with NBA legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar weighing in with a review from The Huffington Post. Last week, Abdul-Jabbar authored a blog post — apparently he's an avid pop culture enthusiast — voicing his criticism, and a few praises, for creator Lena Dunham’s construction of the world of “Girls” and the characters that occupy it.

If you haven’t read Abdul-Jabbar’s post, you really need to. It's not a James Franco review, but interesting to say the least. He makes some valid critiques and found some interesting figures on who watches "Grils." But his thoughts about African-American characters on the series is ... well I'll just let it speak for itself.

“Last season the show was criticized for being too white. Watching a full season could leave a viewer snow blind. This season that white ghetto was breached by a black character who is introduced as some jungle fever lover, with just enough screen time to have sex and mutter a couple of lines about wanting more of a relationship. A black dildo would have sufficed and cost less,” Abdul-Jabbar wrote.

Wow, incendiary is an understatement. I get the criticisms hurled at “Girls” for not representing the cultural melting pot of Brooklyn, but a couple things are being overlooked. What Abdul-Jabbar missed about the addition of a black character in Season 2 (Donald Glover’s Sandy) was it was done before “Girls” was ever knocked for being “too white.” (And not because he’s black, but because Glover is just awesome. Maybe Abdul-Jabbar hasn’t seen “Community.”)  As co-showrunner Jenni Konner said January 9th on Grantland’s Hollywood Prospectus podcast, “We had booked Donald Glover months before that conversation came up. That was not a response. I became obsessed with him after the Marc Maron podcast.”

Secondly, how many immensely popular shows taking place in New York City (“Friends,” “Sex in the City” and “Seinfeld”) had casts that were either mostly or entirely white? I don’t remember there being massive disapproval for those series’ lack of racial diversity.

One of the other criticisms Abdul-Jabbar had about “Girls” was the unlikable nature of its central characters and that they're "not that funny." He sights “Seinfeld” as accomplishing this more deftly. “'Seinfeld' made it a point to ridicule the characters' shallowness and self-involvement, raising it to a level of social commentary. And it was funny.”

As for being "not that funny," I offer: Hannah (Dunham) on cocaine, Marnie (Allison Williams) eating wedding cake or Shoshanna (Zosia Mamet) contemplating butt plug usage. Funny, really funny stuff. Yes, Hannah, Marnie, Jessa (Jemima Kirke) and Shoshanna are pretty vapid and obnoxiously self-involved most of the time. But that’s the show’s biggest accomplishment — being immensely watchable despite being filled with unlikable people. I don't know if Dunham and Konner are attempting social commentary with their characters, but there are definitely people like the characters on "Girls" in the real world. And Dunham and Konner's true goal is to present captivating, if unlikable, characters. Last time I checked the best shows on television were built around awful people like Tony Soprano on “The Sopranos” or Walter White on “Breaking Bad.” Not on comedies you say? The entire cast on “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” or the Blueths from “Arrested Development” are universally terrible.

I do have to agree with Abdul-Jabbar that the guys on “Girls” are really awesome. Hannah’s on-and-off boyfriend Adam (Adam Driver) is my favorite character on “Girls” and I’ve really missed his presence in the last two episodes. I’m hoping he comes back into the fold soon.  Also, the expansion of Ray (Alex Karpovsky) through his relationship with Shoshanna has been my favorite part of Season 2. I just don’t know if I’d go so far as to say the boys are better than the girls. They're mightily flawed as well.

My biggest gripe is that Abdul-Jabbar — like many other critics — is making "Girls" into something more than a hyperbolic and often satiric representation of people going through the mental adolescence of their twenties. When Hannah says, “I think that I may be the voice of my generation” in the pilot, we’re supposed to laugh at her. And feel a little sorry for her. Not believe her.

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