Ever since The Mary Tyler Moore Show debuted in 1970, young, independent single women on TV have flocked to the cities to pursue their careers. But Mary Tyler Moore made it big in Minneapolis. In more recent single lady sitcoms—Cagney & Lacey, Living Single, Friends, Felicity, Sex and the City, 30 Rock, Ugly Betty, Don't Trust the B----- in Apt. 23, Girls, and The Carrie Diaries— storylines emphasizes that, for young, unattached, career-minded women, New York City is the only place to be. These shows suggest that, if you take your career seriously, you simply must move to Manhattan.
But conflating ambition, glamor, and New York City is has a major drawback: Living in New York is a lot easier for people who come from money. For working class girls like the title character of Ugly Betty, the dream will, more often than not, remain out of reach. If you have no trust fund, it will be hard to pay tuition to earn the "University of New York" diploma seen on Felicity's wall. If you need to support your family, there will be no hanging out at Indochine, like in The Carrie Diaries. If you need to pay off over $25,000 in student debt, Sex in the City's Fifth Avenue professional-outfit shopping sprees will remain a Manhattan myth.
In its fourth episode of the season, Girls continues to let us know that our early twenties years contain some of life's best experiences: publishing a piece of writing on a hipster blog, dating an artist of midlevel fame, going to the "best warehouse party ever!", losing your virginity, getting a surprise marriage. But amid these exciting times, Girls characters are exploring those big, troubling questions that maybe they'll never shake. In this episode, "It's a Shame About Ray", even gruff Ray gets a little vulnerable. "What makes me worth dating?" he says to Shosanna. "What makes me worth anything?"
Much of Girls so far has dealt with romantic relationships. But in last night's episode, "Bad Friend," the drama centered on the hard work of handling friendships. Namely, best friendships. The tension that has been simmering between Hannah and Marnie since the beginning of this season finally exploded in a coke-and-bad-sex-with-a-terrible-artist-fueled showdown.
Onscreen, women struggle as unpaid interns but are saved by, in April's case, a surprise job opportunity in season two of Parks and Recreation. But in real life, about one in six 18-24 year-olds are unemployed and those who land coveted internships often go unpaid.
In fictional TV narratives, job interviews and negotiations are opportunities for farce. Especially when the manager is male and his subordinate is female, TV writers grab the opportunity to intersect career milestones with heterosexual complications. But when labor economics converge with gender in the real world, the result is far from uproarious.
Shows like Girls and The Nanny portray childcare as a temporary, middle-class job that comes with nonthreatening romantic entanglements. And Downton Abbey depicts domestic work as a stable career, so long as you can adhere to the house rules. But in the real world, domestic work is an unstable profession that can encompass unfair labor practices—and a lack of legal protection against them.
When Girls premiered last year, so many pop culture–loving feminists had pinned hopes on the show that it disappointment was almost inevitable. In a raft of post–Season 1 interviews, Dunham hinted that many critiques of the show—chief among them the issue of its attitude toward race—would be addressed in Season two.