Self-absorption in Spanx: A 'Super Jewy’ Parody of 'Girls'

Hollywood's Gail Lerner casts Laraine Newman of SNL fame in a senior citizen version of the popular HBO series.

NEW YORK – Can you imagine those self-absorbed, charmingly insufferable 20-something women featured on the HBO series “Girls” when they’re old enough to collect Social Security? To enjoy the possibilities of Hannah Horvath and her pals as 65-year-olds still roaming the streets of Greenpoint, Brooklyn, watch “Girls Season 38,” a new parody by Hollywood writer, director and producer Gail Lerner.

“Girls Season 38” opens with Hannah, who is played here by original Saturday Night Live cast member Laraine Newman, picking up a hot guy in a Brooklyn coffee shop. It cuts to a scene of them having sex. He is audibly enjoying it. She seems discomfited. She gets out of bed, armored in Spanx from neck to ankle. He asks “why didn’t you get naked?” and Hannah dryly replies, “At my age, this is naked.”

Lerner’s eight minute-long valentine to “Girls” and its creator, Lena Dunham, is hilarious. And she, like Dunham, is Jewish — which to Lerner is no surprise, though not much is overtly Jewish in the original series.

In “Girls Season 38,” however, there is. Hannah walks into their apartment to find her pal Marnie (played here by television star Wendie Malick) swathed in cobwebs as she waits for her long-suffering boyfriend to return. Marnie tells her she can’t keep paying Hannah’s share of the rent and Hannah says, “I get it and I would totally move into assisted living if I could afford it.” “So? Ask your grandchildren for money,” Marnie says. To which Hannah replies, “Obviously I did, but they were all like, ‘but this is my bat mitzvah money, Grandma!’ I mean seriously, they are so selfish.”

Lerner, who is 43, said she was motivated to make the short by her love of “Girls” and her admiration for Dunham, who in real life is 27. “I watch it and adore it, and at the same time it makes me feel like I’m 100 years old,” said Lerner in an interview with Haaretz. "Girls" debuted on HBO in April 2012 and was recently picked up for a third season.

Lerner shot “Girls Season 38” in just three days, just as the television taping season went on its annual hiatus.

Lerner, who wrote for and co-executive produced "Will & Grace" among other television series, grew up near New Haven, Connecticut, in a Conservative Jewish family. She was their “token Jew,” she joked, since she alone of her siblings attended Jewish day school and was the one who wanted to have a “hard core seder.” “My family was always like ‘uch, do we have to?’” she said. “They got really annoyed when I wanted to go to Simchat Torah.”

Laraine Newman, who is also Jewish, is an early member of L.A. comedy improvisation troupe The Groundlings and since SNL has worked mostly voicing characters in animated movies and television shows including “Monsters Inc.,” “Finding Nemo,” “Wall-E” and “Ponyo.” She has also guest starred on shows including “Curb our Enthusiasm” and “Friends.”

Newman said that she, like Lerner, is a huge fan of “Girls.”

Though she doesn’t physically resemble Lena Dunham, in the parody Newman adeptly manages to impersonate Hannah as a senior citizen. “I just identify a lot with not really knowing where you’re at, which is really the angst of these characters," she said. "They really don’t know what to do with themselves and have these expectations of themselves which are constantly being knocked down. I have compassion for that. Hannah is somebody who’s always trying to gird her loins in a way but still have this bravado.”

Newman, 61, said she has never been religiously observant. “We’re Jewish but never belonged to a temple and we observed holidays in a culinary fashion. We’re California Jews, a plain-wrap version. My parents didn’t have any navigation that way. We celebrated Christmas and Passover,” she told Haaretz.

Newman, whose daughters are young adults and happen to be named Lena and Hannah, said that they belonged to a synagogue when her girls were younger, and that they had bat mitzvahs, “but because I wasn’t raised with the tradition it was hard to be consistent with it. Though I do love many aspects of Judaism, like the examination of all sides of an issue, the ethical things, I do not like the superstition, and the rituals that involve things that are irrelevant that are maintained, that bothers me.”

Lerner has a daughter, who is 11 and attends Hebrew school at the Los Angeles congregation Ikar. Lerner, who studied religion and critical theory in college, said that she loved Ikar the moment she found it. “As someone who was interested in progressive feminist theory Judaism, it was like arriving in heaven,” she said.

What she admires most about Dunham, she said, is her boldness. “Lena Dunham knows that she’s depicting a character who says she wants one thing but really doesn’t. You’re creating this unappealing moment to show this true thing,” said Lerner. “I feel very burdened by ‘I want to say something but I am burdened by what other people will think.’ As a woman who wants to make TV and to make comedy, it’s ‘how did she get so brave,’ and ‘how can I catch some of that even at my advanced age?’ I should only be so strong and confident.”

And to Lerner there is something implicitly Jewish about her approach to humor.
“The way I like to explore my neuroses is through comedy,” she said. “To me Lena Dunham has such amazing chutzpah and this was me putting myself out there and saying ‘I’m going to have chutzpah too.’ It’s really about turning my neurosis about getting older, responding to questions about ‘are women funny, are older women funny?’

“Making something light out of a fear is ultimately super Jewish,” Lerner said. “That’s what’s very Jewy about the whole undertaking.”

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