The audience of a TV show rarely surprises us in regards to its identity. For example Sex and the City had a mostly female audience and Boardwalk Empire has a mostly male one. No surprises there.
Yet as HBO‘s Girls concluded its second season on Sky Atlantic earlier this year, I was intrigued to find statistics that show Girls to be a huge hit with men as well as women. The most surprising thing about this? More men over fifty watched Girls than twenty-something women.
According to vulture.com, 56% of those watching it were male. 22% of those were over the age of 50, towering above the 14% of female viewers in the same age bracket.
So why could this be and, essentially, why would men be drawn to feminine TV in spite of rigid expectations?
To understand why men are so into Girls, one must first explore the qualities of the show that potentially appeal to men and in the process fail to repel them when tradition would predict the contrary.
Girls is about four twenty-something’s in the reality of today’s climate: broke, working jobs they hate (yes Friends, no acting jobs or Ralph Lauren assistants here) and perhaps most essentially, an entirely accurate account of how dating – or lack of it – and relationships fall short of the glamorous standards portrayed on our TV screens (yes Sex and the City, men don’t normally have an art collection to show you in our Soho flat).
So my take on why it’s really hitting the spot with men, other than its uncanny realism: the character vulnerability. The TV misfit character is often wholly void of women, to our detriment. Take The Office, in both the UK and US version the role of misfit was assigned to Gareth Keenan and Dwight Schrute respectively. Or consider Peep Show, I highly doubt Mark Corrigan was ever seriously considered as a female character in the midst of social awkwardness with such effect. And of course, the female Larry David has yet to present herself.
Ugly Betty tried but failed and instead gave us a rather fraudulent version with American clichés a plenty. Whilst here in the UK, many would argue that Miranda fulfils this. Yet the show doesn’t gather a male audience and I would argue that this is more down to a lack of quality rather than the reasons that will probably come my way.
Girls, however, does achieve this feat with delightful effect. Hannah Horvath is at times hapless without surpassing the borders of reality. Shoshanna over-thinks things to exhaustion due to social uncertainty. Whilst Marnie and Jessa are both misfits largely due to their unlikeable nature without delving into the traditional villain/bitch role; a role that usually features in TV as a means to garner sympathy towards the more likeable main character. They’re all misfits, and as men we have rarely been treated to such a tremendous portrayal. It gives men a break and offers a balanced and realistic spectrum of reality.
It is, in many ways, a huge misconception that men don’t find women very funny. Of course we do. However it is entirely contextual: a token woman on a testosterone charged panel show? Few laughs.
Yet change the spectrum to say, the female friends in our lives, and women are hugely funny to men. We don’t live in a rom-com and some of my best friends are women who make me laugh just as much as my male friends do. Just in an entirely different way.
Girls is to me, and other men who tune in it seems, our funny female friend. This in spite of the fact that men are not portrayed in a particularly sympathetic fashion either – Marnie’s boyfriend is “too nice” and Hannah’s treats her like “monkey meat”.
Upon watching the BBC’s otherwise excellent United States of Television, the episode dedicated to the misfit character was totally void of a single female. One would hope that Girls could change this disappointing feat and inspire more witty shows like itself in the near future.