Arts & Culture
How Do You Solve a Problem Like Shoshanna?
In the new HBO series ‘Girls,’ Zosia Mamet’s character, Shoshanna Shapiro, shouldn’t be just a one-dimensional punch line Read More
The weeks before HBO’s new show Girls premiered it seemed like everyone had an opinion, especially about the show’s authenticity. There was talk of the sex scenes feeling real (or not, or that not being the point) and of the bodies of those having sex being real. Yet with all the focus on sex, one character was glaringly missing from the discussion: Shoshanna.
Played by David Mamet’s daughter Zosia, Shoshanna is everything the girls of Girls aren’t. She’s still in college. She has no financial concerns. And most importantly, she’s never had sex, a seeming character flaw that she admits to bashfully. With the third episode behind us, it’s time to ask the question that’s surely on everyone’s mind, or at least everyone here at Jewcy: Does Girls have a Shoshanna problem?
To be fair, Mamet does a great job playing a character that has no business being on the show. Her quips, while sometimes even more cringe-inducing than Lena Dunham’s character Hannah Horvath’s attempts to be sexy or professional (or both), are delivered flawlessly. But that only momentarily distracts from the fact that her character is so majorly absurd and even borderline offensive (As June Thomas put it, “she’s the Facebook chat of the group”).
The show’s website describes Shoshanna as “a virgin with Sex and the City dreams and Brooklyn nightmares.” Mamet herself said of the character, “She is literally the opposite of me … Jewish American Princess with an unexpected inner life.” She is introduced as the jappy girl with an apartment in Nolita who’s only part of the group because her cool British cousin moves in and begrudgingly includes her. She wears pink Juicy sweatsuits, listens to Kelly Clarkson, and abbreviates words incessantly. She also hails from the suburbs, making her character the obvious (obvi?) sheltered foil to her seemingly more experienced friends.
Emily Nussbaum points out that Dunham initially saw Shoshanna as being a minor character on the show and only later decided to make the role more prominent. But that doesn’t explain what she’s doing on the show to begin with. Still, if that’s the case, maybe Shoshanna will grow into a more developed, more relatable character, but so far the evidence does not seem to point in that direction. In the first few episodes, Shoshanna appears as the most caricatured of all the Girls.
In the second episode, when Jessa is scheduled to get an abortion, Shoshanna shows up at the Soho Women’s Clinic armed with bags of candy from Dylan’s Candy Bar. “Hi! So sorry I’m late,” she offers, octaves louder than appropriate for the pregnant women-filled waiting room, “I stopped at Dylan’s because I don’t know how long these things take, but when my sister had her baby it was, like, hours and I was starving.” Transcription doesn’t do justice to Mamet’s frenzied tone and hyperactive cadence, but what the scene reveals is an earnest—if completely off-base and inappropriate—attempt at being helpful in a serious, unfamiliar situation.
Sure, all the girls are lost and confused, but one gets the sense that we’re supposed to sort of understand the other girls—yes, Hannah is ridiculous for asking for $1,100 a month from her parents; yes, Jessa does not understand what constitutes appropriate clothing for work or what work really is; and yes, Marnie may have a misguided notion of what a boyfriend is. But it’s only Shoshanna who we laugh at, and never with.
While they’re all out experiencing life and making mistakes, she seems to be sitting around, waiting for them to show up and use her as a punch line. She’s the only character who doesn’t have a story of her own, or even a scene of her own. In last night’s episode we learned about Shoshanna’s baggage—she has Irritable Bowel Syndrome, she doesn’t love her grandmother, and, shocker, she’s a virgin (which we learned, and were meant to laugh at, in the second episode). They all have failings, and these failings are consistently made fun of in some way, but with Shoshanna it just feels more malicious.
Hannah brushes aside Shoshanna’s virginity as “baggage,” explaining that once she has sex her virginity won’t be an issue anymore. This flippant dismissal diminishes the enormity of Shoshanna’s very realistic anxiety, reaffirming her status as being somehow different from the other girls. It’s as if Shoshanna’s problems aren’t real enough for the group to address. In a show that honestly depicts young girls and sex, wouldn’t it make sense to have the virgin character not be simply a one-dimensional punch line?