HBO recently finished airing the first season of breakout series Girls, written and directed by Lena Dunham of Tiny Furniture and produced by Judd Apatow, film funnyman known for such movies as Forgetting Sarah Marshall and The 40-Year-Old Virgin. Apatow’s influence is unmistakable in the raunchy, blunt nature of the late-night series. Dunham debuted in her television career as a plain-Jane leading lady with an influx of sarcasm and self-deprecating humor. After completing its ten episode season, how has Girls done compared to its fellow HBO companions such as Curb Your Enthusiasm and Sex and the City?
As a recap, the show features four girls (the show’s namesake) who live varied lives in Brooklyn, New York. Shoshanna, the youngest and most naïve of the group—she constantly talks in a rushed, enthusiastic voice like something off the Disney Channel—still attends college and only recently lost her virginity, a portion of her character that was referenced early in the season. Marnie, the responsible, overly-analytical roommate of Lena Dunham’s character, Hannah, plays the role of the control freak that recently ended a four-year relationship and is looking to find her niche. Jessa, the adventurous traveler who comes to New York to room with her maternal cousin, Shoshanna, plays the eccentric, promiscuous, spontaneous and inspiring Brit. Lastly, Hannah, Dunham’s lead role, is the icing on the cake (ironically as she jokes to being thirteen pounds overweight). Dunham plays a starving writer whose relationship with semi-boyfriend Adam is the controversial centerpiece of the show.
Girls has received critical backlash, in part received due to the nature of Hannah and Adam’s relationship. From the crude, heavily aired scenes of the couple, Adam has been cast as a villain, especially from the point of view of feminists who view Hannah’s role in the couple’s interactions as a pitiful counterpart. Dunham has victimized her character so Adam appears as an emotionless, testosterone-seething animal and she, like his toy. Equally controversial, Shoshanna’s character is mostly focused on losing her virginity. She’s seen trying to embody the qualities of the other girls and even going to lengths such as online dating to satisfy the role she assumes appropriate.
Despite some poor feedback, Girls has some qualities that could hold strong for the show’s future. As some have viewed it as heartless, later episodes in the season have taken a turn for the sentimental. In the season finale, viewers see that Adam shows that he is not just a domineering masculine force, but a reformed alcoholic who is afraid to let Hannah in. He says over and over “you don’t know me,” afraid for Hannah to see under the front he puts up—that he isn’t the uncaring, buff workout junkie. Viewers see a softer side of Adam, one that wants to move in with Hannah and is “in it for the long haul,” while she stares at him, bewildered.
What makes the show watchable to some and deplorable to others is the realness that it conveys. Some may not like the brutal honesty uttered in fragmented, honest speeches by Adam or blurted out by Shoshanna. But when considering real-life relationships, not everything can be as pleasant as something out of ABC Family. Girls is on HBO for a reason, and not just from the sex or blatantly crude language, but for the trademark realness, the aspects that make us feel like we can reach into the lives of previously unknown people and feel their personalities, something HBO does exceptionally well. We feel Marnie’s pain after her breakup with Charlie as she eats away her feelings listening to Demi Lovato’s “Skyscraper.” We feel Jessa’s uncertainty when she is dealing with the possibility of an abortion. We commiserate with Shoshanna as she feels inadequate. We ache with Hannah when she is faced with the same rough economy and difficult post-college life, scraping together a living she can barely afford.
What sets Girls apart from its predecessors like Sex and the City is the notion that just because one lives in New York, a place where Carrie Bradshaw had an illustrious life as a writer, not all is fashion and cosmopolitans in the big city. Hannah’s character exemplifies the in-between-ness of life as a twenty-something, an age stuck between promise and establishment. Again, this is a characteristic of “Girls” that makes it a mainstay to modern audiences. The show doesn’t allow its viewers to feel inadequate compared to romanticized lives of successful individuals, but creates personas that are relatable and face the same everyday imbalances that make us human. It documents imperfect relationships and investigates their flaws. Its incorporation of reality rather than expectations that many other shows lean toward sets it apart.
Some may view Dunham as an ironic leading lady—she isn’t the prissy girl at the forefront of her show. What Dunham has is a refreshing take on modern society. She showcases her tattoos, her discomfort with her weight, and, above all, her wit despite being overshadowed by Adam early in the relationship. In commentaries she intellectually justifies some of the show’s techniques, even aspects as subtle as stuffing her face in the first and last episode with sweets. She remarked in an interview for HitFix that it was like “having her cake and eating, too, or eating your cake and no longer having it resonance.” Jenni Konner, partner in production, also commented in terms of the show going too far. She said, “We’re guided—just at the moment we’ll feel what feels good or feels wrong or too far, I think. But the great thing that we learned from the feedback from this season is that it’s kind of interesting to show a lot of different points of view from a lot of different people and they’re not fact and they’re not our opinions. They’re the opinions of the characters.”
Girls has a lot to learn, but the girls who watch the show have found likenesses in each of the characters. Whether in Shoshanna’s naivety, Hannah’s worrying nature, Jessa’s spirit, or Marnie’s overly-analytical behavior, we can all resonate and find solace in knowing that there are others out there who live day to day, not really knowing what kind of mess life will bring them next, but surviving in modern America.