This isn’t so much a ‘what we’re watching’ as a ‘what we were watching recently’ post. Last month the HBO show Girls finished its second season, and will be returning for a third season next year. Since it came on the air the show has attracted a lot of attention and endless articles in the press and online (probably far out of proportion to the actual viewing figures – such is the way when granola-eating Guardian readers like me write about TV). Praise and vitriol have been thrown in equal measure at the show and its creator/lead actress, Lena Dunham, who has written or co-written most of the episodes, as well as directing almost half so far. You can probably guess which side of the fence I fall on from the fact I’m writing this blog piece – I love Girls. Having said that, there is a recent phenomenon called ‘hate watching’ where people will continue to watch a show they absolutely despise, and sometimes even write about how much they hate it. Frankly, life is far too short to be one of these idiots. Stick to watching things you actually like.
The fact it centres around four young women in New York City meant the instant comparison for Girls was Sex and the City (indeed the show seemed to pre-empt this by having Zosia Mamet’s Shoshanna talk about which Sex and the City character she was in the opening episode). But I think there’s almost a touch of The Great Gatsby about it, the characters have that same air of unwitting carelessness about them. I acknowledge that Girls is not a show for everyone, and I can understand the Marmite reactions it has provoked, even if some (by no means all, I stress) of the flak it gets is rooted in unpleasant misogyny and somewhat-OTT outrage that someone as young as Lena Dunham could be running and writing a TV show. And let’s not get started on the ridiculous debates online over Dunham’s nudity in the show. But I feel it strikes a chord with me, especially in its depiction of being in your 20s and unsure of your place in the world. Yes, the characters are privileged, yes you can argue it’s a First World Problems show, but to be honest so are most US TV shows, it’s not like there are many Ken Loaches working in US TV. And the fact the characters are privileged doesn’t make their uncertainty and the mistakes they make any less real.
Perhaps the most valid criticism of Girls is the characters come across as unsympathetic at times or, according to some people, all of the time. On this aspect, I think your mileage might vary. My personal feelings are that though the characters are capable of being unpleasant, I never find them completely irredeemable. There’s always a core of sympathy there, and the mistakes they make or the bad things they do are things we’ve all done ourselves at some point. The show is very good as well at calling out characters on their bullshit (this is one of my favourite things about it, it doesn’t pretend the characters are right just because they’re the protagonists), so it is very self-aware of how its characters are perceived. And I will note that though there are shows out there with far more unpleasant characters, and which are still fantastic – The Sopranos and even the anime Neon Genesis Evangelion spring to mind.
So why do I like Girls? I like its honesty, its depiction of feeling lost, but most of all what I like about Girls is it’s really, really funny at times. Sometimes this is humour of the most excruciating kind – like seeing Dunham’s character screw up a job interview with a spectacularly misguided attempt at a joke, or the frequently very awkward sex scenes – but more often it’s seeing Dunham’s observations of the world she herself has grown up in. And the ending to episode three of season one, with Lena Dunham and Allison Williams dancing to the brilliant Robyn song Dancing On My Own – one of my favourite endings to any TV episode ever. It encapsulates everything about being young and friendship and what great music can achieve. Though Lena Dunham’s dancing might be even worse than mine.
As I saw it, the second season of Girls ended on a fairly bleak note, suggesting these characters are doomed to repeat past mistakes. I’m just annoyed I know have to wait almost a year to see where they go from here. And I’m even more interested to see where Lena Dunham goes from here.