When I first heard about Lena Dunham’s Girls, I was both intrigued and excited. Like a-little-bit-of-wee-came-out excited. I was rewarded for said excitement with the first season, which was an at times funny, generally insightful and fairly intimate glimpse into the privileged life of middle class 20-somethings in New York, a lifestyle I dance in the periphery of, with many friends and acquaintances living in similar situations as Horvath and co.
Dunham herself also intrigued and excited me, as a young pioneer of the female voice in television, she was something of a paragon for feminine expression, control and hard work. It made me giddy to think of her butting her head against the cracking glass with this vast and enormous opportunity to change the way women are represented on screen. To some extent, she succeeded there. The first season of Girls was challenging in its representation of flawed, lost, yet seemingly complex young women.
But the second season began with a dull thud as Dunham attempted to respond to criticism of white washing with a pithy attempt to introduce a black character. The tokenism set the tone for the rest of the season, which was superficial and pandering, but failing to deliver anything satisfyingly substantial. The frivolity and fun stalled as Girls lost its sense of humor about itself. Self awareness went out the window, and was replaced with sincerity in scenarios that were almost impossible to take seriously (Hannah’s inability to do any productive work for no reason at all, for example). Girls went from an absurdist romp with unchecked privilege to an unbearably claustrophobic therapy session with some truly unlikable characters. And I always thought Carrie Bradshaw was horrible.
Coughing and spluttering through season 2, Girls began to intimate that none of its female characters were actually redeemable–which for me, is problematic. The girls in Girls aren’t even anti-heroes, giving the audience little reason to root for them. As Hannah and Marnie competed for who could be most hideously self-centred and navel-gazing, I found myself wanting, praying, that terrible consequences would befall them. Even Shoshanna, the perennial favorite, went from being an endearingly fast talking idiot savant to being an annoyingly fast talking unempathetic selfish prick.
Every female character, in her way, needed something from another person, but not one of them was willing to give anything in exchange. It took the concept of “frenemy” to the absolute extreme, and to me it felt entirely implausible that any of these women would stay in each other’s lives, given the despicable way in which they treated one another. If season 2 spoke to female friendships at all it was simply to say that they are vacuous, and premised entirely on competition and resentment. I would like to suggest that these elements can and sometimes do exist in friendships, but that friendships also involve trust, tenderness and common interests. The Girls in girls don’t have any of these.
The series also evolved into a mini-movie style format, almost episodic in nature, so character development stagnated as the series struggled with its through lines. With little to tie the season together, the girls learned few lessons, and in a frustrating way, nothing was gained. Instead of slowly constructing a moral and ethical compass through experience (which is the journey of life, is it not?), Girls season 2 became the the On The Road of our generation. Season 2 began with nothing and ended with the girls prepared to sacrifice everything (friends, career, dignity) to get what they wanted (which in every case was a boy or having to do with boys). It’s reductive.
For a show called Girls, the female characters are completely flat. As I mentioned, the end of season 2 saw the friends consumed by boys. What of friendship, career, travel and independence? Girls season 2 barely scratches the surface of what it means to be a young woman in any other way than in relation to men. And strangely enough, it’s only the men–Adam and Ray–that make interesting characters. The boys in girls are the only ones changing, adapting, growing and indeed, looking inward to change the outward and ultimately be better.
Those are the stories I want for women–the same ones Girls affords the boys. Evolutional journeys in which women feel out their personas in relation to the world they live in, not just in relation to themselves and their romantic partnerships. We’re at a place now where women like Liz Lemon, Leslie Knope, Selina Meyer and Mindy Lahiri (as well as many others!) are the women we’re watching on TV. I hardly believe that a show based around any of these women in their 20s would have revealed anything so banal as the woe-is-me, boys-boys-boys syndrome of Girls.
I won’t be coming back to Girls for season 3. It’s not because the girls are hopeless, or because they’re struggling to get it together–the humanization of women is just as important as the proliferation of strong women. But Girls doesn’t just show flawed women. It shows us women who are flawed BECAUSE they are women. I won’t be coming back to Girls because of its sheer self-indulgence, misplaced priorities, and increasingly juvenile perspective on what defines femininity.