This review contains spoilers.
I watched HBO’s comedy/drama series Girls in fits and starts; a few episodes here, a season there. It’s taken me a while to decide how I feel about it. Girls does address a lot of issues left un-discussed by other series’ (such as the ‘problems of privilege’ and female sexuality/body image); it is certainly more serious than a soap, and funnier than the average sitcom. However, for me (a woman about to leave the twenty-something era of her life) Girls is at best un-relatable, and at worst embarrassing.
Girls – created by and starring Lena Dunham – is a series that sits somewhere between Gossip Girl and Sex and the City on the ‘shows-for-women-by-women-about-women’ spectrum. Its main characters (four female friends in their early to mid-twenties) have moved to New York City in an effort to fulfil their Me-Generation dreams. Dunham plays Hannah Horvath (the Carrie Bradshaw of the group), an aspiring twenty-six year old writer who finds herself struggling after her parents announce they will no longer support her financially. Allison Williams is Marnie Michaels, Hannah’s beautiful but insecure best friend; Zosia Mamet is Shoshanna Shapiro (read Charlotte York), the studious and (up until the end of season one, at least) virginal member of the group; and Jemima Kirke plays Jessa Johansson, Shoshanna’s wild and unpredictable British cousin (the Samantha Jones element). I didn’t notice until I began writing this review that each main character has an alliterative name, and I have no idea of the significance of this.
I was initially impressed by Girls – particularly when, in the very first episode, Hannah’s parents tell her she is effectively on her own for the first time in her life. I liked the way the series portrayed problems relevant to my generation: a sense of privilege, entitlement, ‘special-ness’, and the resulting disappointment when reality hits and all those high expectations are dashed. I was excited to see how the characters dealt with these things, interested to see them grow and change, become less selfish and more realistic.
Over the course of three seasons, however, I’ve been disappointed. The characters seem to have grown more selfish, not less; to have become increasingly confused and lost, rather than wiser. Girls also (predictably and disappointingly) focuses mostly on the relationships the main characters have with men. Granted, they are not all traditional romantic/sexual relationships, but they still seem to take precedence over storylines that deal with career choices, family relationships, and other equally important aspects of being female in the twenty-first century. Hannah’s on-off relationship with Adam (played by Adam Driver) is sometimes sweet, but is more often disturbing, dark and unhealthy. Shoshanna’s, Marnie’s, and Jessa’s relationships are equally dysfunctional. I know ‘stable’ partnerships don’t make for high drama, but for a show that (I assume) is trying to portray a somewhat realistic version of life for this demographic, surely at least one healthy, successful partnership wouldn’t hurt the ratings too much.
Girls is kind of murky. Both in the way it looks – lots of night shots, wet New York Streets, greens, browns, blacks – and the way I feel about it. There are some wonderful moments: Jessa, for example, helping an older woman to commit suicide in the season three finale. Here was a scene that was perfect for this character, a moment where Jessa has a real experience, a moment of gravity, a moment that could change her. However, it wasn’t given nearly enough attention; the relationship was rushed through before it had any time to build, and left me feeling like I’d missed an episode.
Overall, I find it hard to like any of the central characters. Hannah is endlessly self-involved; Shoshanna is shallow to the point of caricature; Marnie is needy needy needy. And while I can certainly see aspects of myself in each of these girls, they are only the bad aspects. Left out of Girls are all the twenty-somethings who have gone through the Generation-Me bullshit and come out the other side as hard workers, committed partners, and generally compassionate and wise people who no longer constantly seek external reassurance or praise.
Maybe the problem is that Girls is meant for twenty-somethings, and I’m just a few months away from not belonging to that bracket anymore. Maybe I’m the wrong audience, maybe Australian and American women really are that different, maybe I’m taking the show too seriously. I know at twenty-five I was (in many ways) a mess, much like these girls. But I also knew that it wasn’t okay, and I made an effort to move past it. Hopefully, in season four, Girls will, too.
Girls first aired in 2012. Season three premiered in 2014, and a fourth season is scheduled for 2015. The show’s content is partly inspired by Lena Dunham’s own experiences.