Two of my favorite television shows ran on Sunday nights this past winter — “The Good Wife” on CBS and “Girls” on HBO — and because I didn’t have time on Sundays, I tended to catch them on demand on Monday nights, back to back. On the surface, these shows don’t have much in common; but dig a little deeper, and you’ll find surprising similarities. Both put women (strong Jewish actresses, in the case of Lena Dunham and Julianna Margulies) front and center.
Both are created by Jewish women (Dunham created “Girls” and often writes and directs the episodes; “The Good Wife” is the brain child of Michelle and Robert King, a married couple; Michelle King is Jewish). Other writers have covered just how Jewish these shows can be, but what interests me even more is that women are the stars, writers, creators and producers. And as such, they show us, and comment on, women’s experiences.
Hannah Horvath, the lead in “Girls,” is in her mid-20s; Margulies’s Alicia Florrick is in her mid-40s. Yet at times, I’ve felt like the two shows are talking to each other. The results of such cross-generational chatter can be entertaining and informative, but also disturbing.
Both shows announce their subtext in their titles. “Girls,” if you haven’t seen it, is about a group of four upper middle-class neurotic but charming 20-somethings in Brooklyn who are trying to figure out what they want their lives to be. When I was in college in the late 1980s, even 18-year-olds insisted on being called “women,” but these girls are not women and don’t want to be called that; they are the postfeminist generation. Some of the comedy and the pathos in the show comes from that girlishness.
“The Good Wife” is about a political wife and stay-at-home mom who has been humiliated by scandal (her husband, Peter, slept with a prostitute and was hauled off to jail) but decides to stand by her man. With her husband away, Alicia has to support the family, and she dusts off her law degree to start a new life as a first-year associate at a Chicago law firm, Lockhart Gardner.
The public embraces her and refers to her as “St. Alicia” for staying with Peter, but she is more complicated than that; she wants to be moral, but often her actions can be seen as going either way, particularly as she becomes more ambitious at the firm. A wife and mother cannot be a girl — she has too many responsibilities for that. But must she always be good?
Both shows, in their respective ways, break new ground. “Girls” does so in its level of realism about this current 20-something generation and their sexuality and economic challenges, and also it’s the first show to feature a protagonist who’s comfortable with her body. (Hannah’s not a fat protagonist, which has been done already; she’s just a regular-size, imperfect woman, which somehow feels more radical.)