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Before 'Girls': A Television History of the Single Woman in the City

Photo of Peter Knegt By Peter Knegt | Indiewire April 13, 2012 at 1:23PM

This weekend, Lena Dunham's highly anticipated new series "Girls" officially debuts on HBO. And if early reviews have anything to say about it, the show should quickly become an imperative addition to a long-cherished television genre: the single woman (or women) trying to make it in the big city.  In honor of this, Indiewire decided to take a look back at the historical progression of the shows that came before it.

Sex and the City (HBO, 1998-2004)
Like "The Mary Tyler Moore" show, "Sex and the City" is mentioned in the first episode of "Girls," though the two series are probably the least alike on this list. Blending comedy and drama (and set in the near restriction-free fictional world that comes with HBO), the series follows four thirtysomething New York women, Carrie (Sarah Jessica Parker), Samantha (Kim Cattrall), Miranda (Cynthia Nixon) and Charlotte (Kristin Davis) -- each a difference archetype of the single-gal-in-the city. Carrie, a newspaper columnist, is probably the closest thing the series has to a Mary Richards, but "Sex" is much less about the office politics that dominated "Mary Tyler Moore" than it is about, well, sex.  Like "Girls," "Sex and the City" offered a frank portrayal of the characters' relationships with their various male partners, and with each other. The show became a full-on cultural phenomenon (spinning off two rather dreadful feature films), though it holds up less well a near-decade later than "Mary Tyler Moore" does after over 40 years.

30 Rock (NBC, 2006-present)
Currently in its sixth season, "30 Rock" continues to give us a contemporary spin on the classic workplace sitcom.  Sans laugh track or multiple cameras, Tina Fey brings us a 21st century Mary Richards in Liz Lemon (and Alec Baldwin a 21st century Lou Grant in Jack Donaghy), the single fortysomething head writer of a "Saturday Night Live"-esque sitcom. Though never much of a ratings success, the show has been an awards favorite, with Fey herself managing 12 different Emmy nominations for her various jobs as writer, producer and star.

New Girl, 2 Broke Girls, Don't Trust The B---- In Apartment 23 (Various Networks, 2011-present)
"Girls" isn't the only new single-woman-in-the-city comedy this season. While its certainly gaining the most acclaim, it was preceded over on the networks by three different sitcoms: Fox's "New Girl," CBS's "2 Broke Girls," and ABC's "Don't Trust The B---- in Apartment 23" (there's also NBC's "Whitney" and "Are You There, Chelsea?," but since they'll likely be both wiped from our memory by 2013, what's the point of an extensive mention?).  Each follow young, single women hoping to make it in big city, and the former two ("New Girl" and "Broke Girls") are among the biggest new hits of the season ("Don't Trust" premiered only last week, but so far, so good). Which more or less makes the current television season the year of the "girls."

This article is related to: Girls, Lena Dunham, Television, Features, TV Features


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