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It’s a Girls, Girls, Girls World A Study of TV Trend Julian Axelrod Columbia College Chicago (2017)

It’s often said that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and this is especially true in the world of TV comedy. For every landmark sitcom, there are ten other shows with nearly identical premises that premiered the following year. In the wake of Seinfeld’s success, every comedian who stepped in front of a brick wall got a development deal. After Friends ended its nineseason run, network executives realized that America was finally ready to accept shows about attractive people being nice to each other. While dramas have also been known to ape their more successful counterparts, “Breaking Bad with Detroit cops instead of meth dealers” is a Watercooler Journal

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much harder sell than “The Office set in a different workplace.” Sitcom premises are usually so simple that it’s easy to slightly tweak one and call it a new show. The downside of this pattern of imitation (besides a litany of mediocre sitcoms littering the airwaves) is that worthwhile series are often written off as carbon copies of more famous shows, even if they’re only superficially similar. Parks and Recreation was initially panned as an inferior version of Greg Daniels and Michael Schur’s previous series, The Office, preventing many viewers from giving it a chance. Similarly, critics disregarded Happy Endings as yet another Friends clone about six attractive pals getting into misadventures. However, Happy Endings quickly developed its own voice, embracing the sort of weird references and rapid-fire dialogue more commonly associated with a sitcom like 30 Rock. But its initial reputation as “Friends with a gay Joey” probably didn’t sell many viewers on the show, and it was cancelled a few years later. If a show is a big enough success, it will inevitably become a label used by lazy critics to boil another program down to its most basic elements.

“When critics use a show like Girls as a reference point for new programs, it overlooks the subtleties that distinguish each show.” The latest sitcom to be turned into a critical cattle brand is HBO’s Girls. After two seasons of post-collegiate angst, uncomfortable sex scenes, and Adam Driver’s weird facial hair, the show has drawn a passionate fan base and inspired enough think pieces to keep The Huffington Post in circulation for years to come. So it’s only natural that we’re seeing an influx of new shows drawing comparisons to Girls as the original enters its third season. And so, here’s a breakdown of recent shows that critics are calling the new Girls.

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Broad City, A.K.A. Basic Cable Girls Girls-Like Premise: Two twenty-something friends navigate life in New York City, where money is tight and relationships are tough to figure out. How Is It Like Girls?: It’s the only show on this list that’s actually about girls—specifically, the relationship between stars and co-creators Ilana Glazer and Abbi Jacobson, who are best friends in real life. Their dynamic is similar to that of Jessa and Marnie—carefree Ilana is often a bad influence on uptight Abbi, although neither character is one-dimensional. Other Girls-like aspects (besides the girls) include financial troubles (the pilot revolves around Abbi and Ilana trying to secure funds for Lil Wayne tickets), a no-strings-attached relationship involving a guy who speaks in monotone (in this case, a dentist played by brilliant standup comedian Hannibal Burress), and the involvement of famous people on and off-camera (Amy Poehler serves as an executive producer, and Fred Armisen and Chris Gethard appear in the pilot). How Is It Not Like Girls?: While Girls employs a mix of comedy and drama, Broad City’s only goal is to be consistently funny. If Abbi develops OCD in the coming seasons, it will probably be played for laughs and disappear after an episode. Similarly, while the cinematography and editing on Girls often feels as efficient and composed as its characters hope to be, Broad City Watercooler Journal

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feels looser and more improvised, a natural extension of the stars’ Upright Citizens Brigade training and the show’s origin as a web series. And while the girls on both shows are flawed, Glazer and Jacobson write their characters as lovable slackers, as opposed to the delusional narcissists portrayed by Lena Dunham and Co. While Girls might have more substance, Broad City is flat-out funnier, and the lived-in chemistry between its likable stars effortlessly draws you into the world they’ve created.

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Looking, A.K.A. Gay Guy Girls Girls-Like Premise: Three thirty-something men navigate life in San Francisco, where money is tight and relationships are tough to figure out. How Is It Like Girls?: Overall, Looking is the most similar series to Girls on this list (which makes sense, considering Looking airs after Girls). While Lena Dunham’s success originated from her film Tiny Furniture, writer Michael Lannon and director Andrew Haigh attracted the attention of HBO with their 2011 film Looking, and the show’s tone is heavily influenced by their background in independent film. Like Girls, the episodes tend to be less plot-heavy than other shows, acting as more of a character study of these characters and their culture than an overarching narrative. That said, the character arcs presented in the pilot of Looking—mostly focused around our protagonists’ search for love and acceptance—are slow moving but intriguing, largely due to the charismatic leads. How Is It Not Like Girls?: Interestingly, Looking’s main difference from Girls isn’t the setting or the sexual orientation of its characters—it’s the age range depicted in the show. While Girls is an unforgiving look at the trials and tribulations of being young, neurotic, and having no idea what to do with your life, Looking offers a glimpse at what comes next. These characters all Watercooler Journal

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have stable jobs, and they generally seem content with their place in the world (this might be because they have jobs such as “artist’s assistant” and “wine waiter” that only seem to exist in TV shows). While the lack of neuroses in Looking is refreshing after two seasons of Hannah Horvath freaking out about her nonexistent writing career, it also lowers the stakes of the series, leaving the audience to wonder at times why exactly we should care about these people.

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Please Like Me, A.K.A. Gay Australian Girls Girls-Like Premise: A twenty-something man navigates life in Australia, where money is tight and… Actually, the premise of Please Like Me is almost nothing like Girls. After his girlfriend breaks up with him, Josh (comedian Josh Thomas, who created and wrote the show) realizes he is gay when a friend’s coworker makes out with him. He must also care for his mother after her failed suicide attempt. Somehow, Thomas spins laughs out of suicide and sexual confusion. How Is It Like Girls?: There are more than a few parallels between Josh and Hannah Horvath. Both are young, witty college graduates who are a bit too confident for their own good. Josh and Hannah are obviously very intelligent, and yet incredibly naïve and clueless about how to conduct themselves in social and romantic situations. And while both characters seem to have money for bills and groceries, neither of them seems to do much. Watching the first seasons of Please Like Me and Girls inevitably forces a reader to wonder where exactly these characters are getting their money. They can’t be getting paid to sit around quipping with their friends and having sexual misadventures, right (unless, of course, you’re Lena Dunham or Josh Thomas and you get paid to turn those quips and misadventures into an acclaimed sitcom)?

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How Is It Not Like Girls?: Considering Please Like Me was one of the first series to draw Girls comparisons when it premiered in the US last August, it’s surprising how little DNA it shares with Lena Dunham’s show. Although both series are autobiographical, Please Like Me tackles big issues that wouldn’t fit comfortably in a typical episode of Girls. This isn’t a knock on either show—Dunham and Thomas simply translated their real-life experiences to the screen, and Thomas happened to go through something very intense that Dunham did not.

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Conclusion, A.K.A. Don’t Call It Girls Considering the dramatic subject matter, it’s incredible that Please Like Me manages to be so charming and enjoyable. While Looking transcends its low-stakes premise to present an engaging story, Please Like Me approaches its dark material like a low-key Judd Apatow comedy. And while Girls brings in its characters’ parents once or twice every season, Please Like Me follows Josh Thomas’ divorced parents throughout the first season, which often provides a welcome relief from Thomas’ romantic drama. Thomas addressed the Girls comparisons in an interview with Entertainment Weekly, noting, “I don’t actually think we have a lot in common. I just think maybe what’s happening is that older people are seeing this show made by a younger person and they’re just like, ‘Well, this is young.’” Which brings us to the larger issue behind the comparison of sitcoms. When critics use a show like Girls as a reference point for new programs, it overlooks the subtleties that distinguish each show. Girls may have been the first slice-of-life comedy about post-collegiate millennials, but it lacks Broad City’s specific comedic sensibility. Its narrow focus doesn’t include the culture or age range portrayed in Looking. Lena Dunham’s approach to mixing comedy and drama is much different from Josh Thomas’ in Please Like Me. Girls is a great sitcom about young people making their way in the big city. But it doesn’t have to be the standard against which similar shows are judged. As long as money is tight and relationships are tough to figure out, there will be room for more than one show.

image credits, in order: ©HBO Studios ©Comedy Central ©HBO Studios @ABC2 Watercooler Journal

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It's a GIRLS, Girls, Girls World - A Study of TV Trend  

An exploration of shows "alike" to GIRLS ends up becoming a treatise aimed at critics and the industry. By Julian Axelrod (WJ editor), from...

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