“If it hurts, you’ll always remember…”
After six seasons, sixty-two episodes, one thousand, eight hundred and sixty minutes (give or take), it’s over. Girls is no more. Hannah et al have moved on, to pastures new, not necessarily together but what joy, cynicism and dark, comedic delights they left behind. Also, it’s probably still in Sky box sets too if you just can’t say goodbye yet.
Following on from her success with semi-autobiographical Tiny Furniture (2010), Lena Dunham turned to television and created Girls. It never sat comfortably within a specific genre, part drama, part sitcom, like an anti-Sex and the City despite covering some occasional, similar ground. Realism wasn’t always its strongest suit but the writing always felt authentic even when certain situations seemed implausible. It dealt with the complications of women (those four with the alliterative names mostly) between the ages of 24-27 – that weird age where you never feel fully adult, have left girlhood behind but still need to navigate the choppy waters of self-discovery and finding your place in the world. These were young women who had all the self-confidence but little to no self-worth, they made each other’s problems about themselves and allowed their selfish anxiety to dictate their emotions. They attempted to be independent yet were reluctant to cut the apron strings entirely.
The series covered many topics including drug addiction, STIs, unwanted pregnancy, alcoholism, abortion, motherhood, infidelity, loneliness, death, and mental health. Whilst attempting to combat or even approach some of these issues, they all – Hannah Horvath (Lena Dunham), Marnie Michaels (Allison Williams), Jessa Johansson (Jemima Kirke), and Shoshanna Shapiro (Zosia Mamet) – made mistakes. Sometimes horribly, a lot of the time irreparably but that just made us root for them all all the more. Or many of you bailed on them around season 2/3 and have yet to go back…
Much criticism stemmed from the characters’ likability. That’s women for you. We’re not all sunshine and light, not all of the time, there are multiple facets, complexities that not many shows manage to depict quite so vividly. The girls’ fallibility and often cringeworthy behaviour (sometimes age appropriate, mostly grossly immature) is what made me latch on. Men have been getting away with being unapologetically “men” onscreen since the dawn of time, apparently women pose a greater problem.
Let’s not pull punches; Hannah Horvath was an annoying character, the one based on Dunham, she who often spoke before thinking, she who, nine times out of ten needed that extra bit of attention. We’ve all had at least one friend like her, probably, we’re not even friends anymore. It happens. The others weren’t perfect, not by a long shot, hello Marnie? but Hannah, for all her flaws and foibles was the heart of the show. She and her friends became a talking point between you and yours – the question of their friendship and why they were friends was never far from our minds, they never did seem completely compatible but something worked. Until they didn’t. Hey ho, that’s life.
Hannah lived outside of her sexual experiences, she saw her ‘job’ to fulfil certain things so she had something to write about; situations with which to glean as much experience from. Her sex scenes were nothing if not honest, hilarious and convincing. She was weird, surrounded by a cast of weirdos; characters we all empathised with time and again. All they ever wanted was to be happy; being loved was a bonus.
For its duration Girls never seemed far from censure – too privileged, too white, too much nudity (specifically Dunham). Most moans seemed to spend a little too much time on Hannah/Lena’s body. Unapologetic in her own skin, and why not, she doesn’t look like your typical TV star, certainly not the kind of woman to shed clothes so regularly and unabashedly. It was refreshing. Finally somebody onscreen who wobbled a bit having a convincing sex life. It made little difference that she was the creator, writer, producer, director and lead actress, she was there to be body-shamed by… well, it was scary how many. Somebody like Patrick Wilson (see, One Man’s Trash S2 E05) wouldn’t f*ck any woman who looked like that, yada yada yada.
It’s a white show. Written by a white woman about four (white) friends; its creator, co-producer, Jenni Konner and executive producer, Judd Apatow are Jewish too if this is something of interest (side note: must research criticism levelled at Knocked Up or latest show LOVE). One of the first things Dunham did, following comments about the lack of diversity on the show, was cast Donald Glover as Sandy in two episodes (It’s About Time S2 E01 and I Get Ideas S2 E02) which depicted Hannah’s ignorance surrounding the issue of race – they also made him a Republican too. While there have been numerous characters of colour albeit, one could argue, clumsily added, and mostly in supporting, non-recurring roles; still, attempts have been made to address the imbalance. Those same critics who describe the show as whitewashing would probably now accuse of tokenism or misrepresentation. The scrutiny with which Girls was subjected to over the last six years, one could surmise, is down to the gender of its creator. I’m sure there are some male-led shows that are held to account, just not quite in the same way as those by/for/with women.
If you’ve never bothered with it, fair enough, I would implore you to check out the bottle-neck episodes for a riveting taste of just how good the show can be, One Man’s Trash, Flo (S3 E09), The Panic in Central Park (S5 E06), American Bitch (S6 E03). Girls showed women in all their complexities, fallibility, humiliations and vulnerabilities. It was dark, cynical and sometimes depressing; not always a comforting watch but funny – I don’t think it’s given enough credit for its humour. Or for its ability to write men. Specifically Adam Sackler. To listen to Dunham, their show was a collaborative effort, replete with improvising so who knows the *true* author of Adam, regardless he remains amazingly written; the epitome of the sensitive, complicated, masculine male. A man in AA; his sobriety sometimes a battle. His dark, sexual, almost deviant behaviour and the temper… oh the temper. That which exploded usually to save him exposing his vulnerability. He was deep, complex and – just like the rest of the show’s characters – grew, evolved, shifted. It was a joy to watch, Adam Driver is a joy to watch. He (Sackler) was, is, for all intents and purposes, Dunham’s finest creation.
So, how to end it all? (Finale review over at TDF: Latching)
I will miss Hannah and the gang immensely (even Marnie). The girls may have been maddening and mortifying but we loved them; through their imperfections it allowed us to disengage from reality for a bit and embrace our own flaws.
Adulting can be hard. Womaning is harder.