Over the past few years TV has seen a new and increasingly popular trend: programs that follow the lives of millenials. This new subgenre “unites the artistic strengths and intimate scale of independent cinema with the narrative rewards of character-driven television” . Prime examples of this phenomena can be found in HBO’s Sunday night lineup including Girls and Looking, along with Comedy Central’s Wednesday night hit Broad City. There are a considerable number of comparisons between these programs. Each of these shows offers a similar premise: relatable emotional situations and personal quandaries. However, Girls, Looking, and Broad City outline very different definitions of millennials and young people in general. What’s more, their focus on women, gay men and the “somewhat satiric understanding of how millennials view race and sexuality” elevates them above their 90’s counterparts (Friends, Will & Grace) . Yet, even with these improvements over time, there are still numerous ways that this subgenre could better represent the millennial generation and society.
Created and starring Lena Dunham, Girls is the story of four twenty-something women struggling with family, friends, relationships and careers in Brooklyn, New York. The series explores the fears of loneliness, intimacy, success and growing up . Later in the night, HBO depicts similar themes in Michael Lannan’s Looking, but with a twist. The series follows three gay men through the trials and tribulations of dating and relationships in San Francisco, CA. Comedy Central’s program, Broad City stars Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer, two twenty-something women living in New York City. Although it sounds similar to Girls, Broad City offers a more light-hearted, comedic approach to life struggles. “It’s a great blend of raunchy humor and gut-busting physical comedy, and despite being fairly surreal, it’s still anchored enough in reality that it’s relatable” .
Girls, Broad City and Looking have become the voice for many belonging to the millennial generation, much like Sex and the City, Will and Grace, Seinfeld or Friends were for Gen X in the 1990s  . However, unlike the shows that preceded it, this new batch doesn’t glamorize the lives of the young nor homogenize their experiences. Instead, each show finds a way to highlight the unique idiosyncrasies of each member of our generation. We are represented as narcissistic and immature in Girls . Broad City, in contrast, chronicles the lives of Abbi and Illana as they “bop through dead-end jobs, crappy apartments, stoned reveries, subway rides, and mostly short-lived romantic entanglements with an optimism that isn’t entirely misinformed,” . Their lackadaisical attitudes are at complete odds with neurotics, Hannah and Marnie. The characters actions in Looking mirror those in Girls, yet squash the stereotypes of gay men .
Despite the unique quirks and story lines in each show, they all clearly offer humor in “painfully recognizable ways – humor that hits a little too close to home” . Unlike their predecessors, however, these three shows have helped open the door to programs that are primarily written, directed or starring women and gay men. Together, they have helped start a discussion that did not exist before. “For the first time in a while, women in comedies aren’t just rolling regulators and the objects of undeserving men. They’re the wild-and-crazy pratfallers as well as the sly-eyed surrealists” . Similarly, Looking is the first series since Queer as Folk in 2005 that is specifically about gay men . Interestingly, the show is not solely focused on their sexuality. Their sexual orientation is simply one facet of their identity; this is unlike other programs that have centered on that element .
Yet, while each show makes strides in it’s representation of millennials, all three series fall short in other ways. Like its predecessors, Girls follows the lives of white friends in New York City. Lena Dunham brings no racial diversity to the series, a fact she has been criticized for since the show’s premiere. Critics of Broad City feel that, despite being touted as a feminist sitcom, the comedy falls short and fails at providing meaningful direction for its characters  . “It tends to go big whenever the momentum flags, shattering the surprisingly delicate satire it so often creates. The pleasant shock of hearing people say things people say all the time is neutralized by the annoyance of hearing people say things no humans have ever uttered” . Finally, many have questioned the acceptance of sexuality when examining the double standard between female and male nudity on Looking. Some believe this has to do with “Looking’s quest to depict the intimate lives of these men in complex and forthright ways. Put bluntly, it begins to feel a bit absurd that the camera stops where and when it does in Looking’s sex scenes” .
These three millennial programs have opened the door to wider discussions about the growth and direction of TV sitcoms and I sincerely hope this trend continues. They offer a breath of comedy and relatability that rarely existed on TV in the past – and is still too rare today. Clearly, there is still much room for improvement in regards to diversity and representation in terms of race, gender and sex on mainstream television, but the future looks promising.
*Since this blog was written, the HBO series Looking has been cancelled after only two seasons reiterating that changes still need to be made on television.
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