The first time the show Girls was brought to my attention was my freshman year of college. My roommate was obsessed with it, and insisted that I would love it. Judging from the title and the general buzz I had been hearing about it at the time, it seemed like a show focused on telling authentic stories about women written and created by women. It peaked my interest, but getting caught up in other shows like Gilmore Girls and such on my Netflix account kept me busy.
Now in my junior year of college, my new roommate tells me the same suggestion, this time with some hesitance. She warns me that the show, and for the most part its creator, is problematic. She recognizes this, yet still watches. I couldn’t wrap my head around it. How could you not like someone, and yet still appreciate their work? So of course, I proceeded to watch all five seasons in the span of four days.
I finished it, sat there, and wasn’t sure what I had just experienced. Did I like this show? You would think I would be sure having watched the entire series in such a short amount of time, but the more I reflected on all the time I had just spent watching this I found myself scratching my head on this one.
Overall, I felt lost in the direction of what the show was about. Is it about the modern young female navigating love, work, and all the nooks and crannies in between? Is it about trying to maintain close friendships while still trying to find yourself? Is it about making countless horrible decisions yet always looking so perfectly fashionable?
Soon, I started to gather more feelings, strong feelings on my experience with the show.
Spoiler Alert: I have done little to none research on Lena Dunham or her intended vision of the show. Normally, I would but I have been advised not to, and judging by the mixed opinions, I am fine with doing that. I don’t know whether any of the things I discussed here were her intention, and what her true artistic vision is meant to be. Also, if you don’t want to be spoiled by anything that happens in Girls, I suggest you stop reading now.
For starters, I really don’t like any of the four girls. Shoshanna, I guess by default in that she has the least amount of awfulness which is saying something. I rarely found moments where I could relate specifically with one of them in their situations. But when I did, it seemed as if their problems magically got fixed within an episode or two.
I related with seeing Shoshanna’s love life unfold later in life, and then all of a sudden she has all of these guys falling at her feet. And with Hannah’s struggle to find her path as an artist, I empathized with her moments of doubt and her fleeting chances of success. The thing I don’t understand is why she’s so stuck creatively when her entire life is so dramatic it was made for a memoir! Yet this never pops into her head.
Aside from not being able to identify with any of the girls, I also question whether they really are friends. They never quite seem like a foursome to begin with, and whether that’s on the chemistry of the actors, or just how the show plays out, I never quite buy it. The amount of intolerable things that I know in real life would destroy friendships are so blasé here. Things like sleeping with your ex-boyfriend, stealing your friend’s ex-boyfriend, or letting your friend marry someone who has been engaged eight times or who I don’t know, tried to have a threesome with you are no biggies. It’s fine. It just mentally destroys them, but it’s fine.
I do appreciate how the friends seem to separate more into their own paths as the seasons go on. I think that slow separation rings true and appreciate that Girls does get that sense that it feels like everyone’s going somewhere with their life, what am I doing?The sentiment feels earnest, and earned. It’s just hard to see it happen over and over again when these girls keep making the same mistakes. Of course you’re going to make that bad decision that’s going to continue to lead you down a sinking path of bad decisions. Where is your self-awareness? Where is your redemption? How can I root for you?
I also have mixed feelings on how sexuality is addressed on the show. I’m all for women embracing their sexuality and feeling confident but often times we see these women using it as a form of escape rather than of pleasure and self-acceptance. Almost every time sex occurs on this show, it’s usually between two people who are in a very unhealthy relationship. It’s really sad to watch.
And when these concerns do get brought up, they don’t really address the issue head on. There’s an episode Hannah finds out her boyfriend has naked pictures of exes on his phone that she complains about to Marnie who doesn’t see it as a problem. Hannah then goes into his phone, deletes his pictures, only saving the nude ones of herself. They also end up breaking up, so what was the point, Hannah?
I do appreciate that it talks about sex so frankly. They bring up topics like masturbation, sex toys, and such in a humorous way. It may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but they are reflective of conversations among girls regarding sex.
They also address ramifications of sex like HPV, the importance of using condoms and abortions. However, it blows my mind that none of these girls have the sense to sit their ‘friend’ down and check in to see how they are after these experiences. That to me makes these situations feel unrealistic. I’m not asking for some after school special. All I’m asking is for these girls to seem a little more real in expressing their emotions.
The show also fails in truly exploring all of a female’s sexuality. The presence of a female/female relationship I don’t remember seeing or even being discussed as a real possibility. The only time it occurs to my recollection is when Hannah finds pleasure in a woman instead of her boyfriend at a retreat, and then Jessa helping out a not yet out of the closet lesbian.
Neither experience is played as very significant; making it seem like female homosexuality isn’t a legitimate option. Given the format of this show being female based and so frank about sexuality, I don’t see why this topic wouldn’t be embraced on the show. This and an overall lack of healthy relationships seem like such missed opportunities for real and engaging stories that a popular program of this nature could address.
Speaking of missed opportunities, it’s clear that diversity is another one with the casting of the show. I honestly kept track of how many people of color appear throughout the series and found that every person of color was in the same trope. Each was a potential threat/love interest who was clearly inferior to the other love interest and was in a maximum of three episodes.
Not to mention we’re talking about some of the most beautiful, talented actors/actresses of color as well: Rosario Dawson, Donald Glover, Hiro Mizushima. Seriously, take a look next time you watch. It’s ridiculous. For a show being set in one of the most culturally diverse cities in the world, it doesn’t seem plausible. Not one bit. The lack of self-awareness continues to be in trend apparently in casting as well.
Another missed opportunity also seems to be the topic of mental health. It’s brought up in the earlier seasons with Hannah who we discover has OCD. I found that such an interesting layer to her that really helped shaped her out more as a character and I thought was going to bring the show into another level.
I’m not gonna lie. I was deeply touched when Adam came running over to her apartment and holds her. It might be my favorite scene of the entire show. But then her condition drops out, and it’s like it never even happened.
Issues like alcoholism and heavy drug use also do the same. Jessa and Adam are both identified as former addicts and we are reminded of that with their meetings they attend on the show. Again, things fall to the waste side with their issues being so dismissive. Jessa gets kicked out of rehab, has a pretty awful relapse, but things go functioning as they were before without anyone saying anything. Adam’s alcoholism also has a big relapse that affects his later truncated relationship in a very disturbing way, but then we brush off that major incident so he can be back with Hannah.
It’s not to say that these issues should encompass the entirety of these characters, but the show seems so forgiving to let them move on from these very real and hard experiences to deal with day to day. Although very disturbing to watch, Adam and Jessa’s verbally and physically abusive fight in the season five finale was important to expose the toxicity of a relationship with two former addicts.
Their demons ultimately come out and it’s acknowledged as they lay in that wreckage. Some relationships aren’t worth saving, and there are some things you just can’t come back from, or forget. These brief moments of reflection occur, but it feels like a lot of that happens in season five, almost a little too late and unbelievable.
It’s hard for me to believe that these characters can continue to be so selfish, unsupportive of one another time after time again. Their jobs change, their boyfriends change, but their overall growth feels stunted. They never really change.
I could continue to go on, but would probably just send myself into further madness of trying to sort through these realizations. Even if I did know Dunham’s reasoning, I feel like I might not believe her cause there’s so much that concerns me and confuses me about this show. There’s far more puzzling moments than praiseworthy ones here.
Don’t get me wrong. There are some great things about it. The characters I feel do get more self-aware as the show goes on. In fact, because of that season five may be in my opinion the best season. I adore the theatre references. Andrew Rannells is and will always continue to be a treasure. The Patti Lupone episodes were the happiest surprise I could ever ask for. The soundtrack to the show is amazing.
I see the perks, but I also see the problems that I’m sure I can’t be alone in questioning. So does the good outweigh the questionable? I would say be the judge and decide for yourself. The episodes do go by fast, but if you’re looking for the crème de la crème go straight to the Patti Lupone episodes, or the Marnie centric episode of season five. You won’t be disappointed.
As for me, who knows maybe in the sixth (and final) season, I’ll discover my answer of why I watched the entirety of this show in the first place. Or not.