Lena Dunham

Counterpoint: What if Girls is Actually Great?

Andrew Findlay

Our resident sci-fi nerd Andrew Findlay apparently took issue with Jonathan May’s coverage of hate-watching the Girls season finale enough that he wanted to gush about it here. Here’s the opposite of hate-watching, which might just be watching? Here’s the first in our 46,750 part series “Counterpoint.”

Girls is an amazing television show. It is a perfect comedy of the awkward: the discomfort and hilarity rolling off of each episode in waves is a great accomplishment. Within this comedy, the writers also attempt to explore authentic reactions and emotions that actual people, not sitcom approximations, have.

A lot of people are annoyed by how ridiculous and terrible the main characters are, but honestly, have you seen people lately? Most of them are ridiculous and terrible. Think of your own friends: some might be paragons of virtue, but how many have some terrible habits and make dumbass decisions? How many don’t, God love ‘em, annoy the shit out of you sometimes? I posit that if your best friend’s actions have never filled you with rage, you might not be best friends. The show deals in hyperreality. It takes actual personality patterns, exaggerates them until they become semi-caricatures, and then explores the emotional ramifications of human behavior. Yes, all of these people are terrible. Yes, they are too much. The thing is though, that’s the point. Taking Girls to task for being filled with terrible people is like taking the Ernest movies to task because the main character is implausibly stupid.

Come now, a man of his intellectual ability could not save anything, much less Christmas

Even within this implausible framework, the show inserts interactions and situations that are startlingly real. The foundation of the fights between Adam and Hannah might be absurd, but the language they use in fighting and the way they deal with emotional conflict matches reality very closely. I have no firsthand knowledge of this, but my wife informs me that not all, but many of the conversations among the girls reflect how women really do talk to each other, which is “fucking refreshing” when compared to the SATC ladies discussing dick size over mimosas. Also, Girls has a realistic portrayal of post-coital conversation and body language. After sex, Hannah walks around talking naked, because why would you hide your body from the person you just fucked? Think about it – if you had sex with someone in real life, and they immediately tore all your bedsheets off your bed and wrapped them around themselves to hide their nudity, wouldn’t you be a little freaked out? This brings me to a point that isn’t really part of my main argument, but I feel it needs to be mentioned: Hannah is not conventionally attractive and walks around naked, ew! Well, sorry that modern culture has led you to expect only flat-bellied, buxom goddesses to be inflicted upon your vision. Seriously – Hannah’s body type is how a lot of women look, and there is nothing wrong with it. Check your privileged expectations.

Speaking of expectations, Girls is a comedy from HBO, the only show on television that passes the Bechdel test, and because of that, people heap a mountain of expectations upon it, expectations the showrunners never outright claimed or even hinted at. The people saying Hannah represents the voice of a generation, and the other people getting enraged at how bad a picture she paints of the current generation? Dunham never said anything about any generation. Yes, the main character of the show muses whether she may be the voice of her generation, but the main character of the show is remarkably narcissistic and was also high on opium at the time. Oh, all the show’s main characters are privileged and there isn’t enough diversity? Ha! I’m not laughing because that’s not true, I’m laughing because it’s true of nearly every television show. Again, for some reason, Girls is held to higher expectations than other shows, expectations no one set up aside from the people complaining about them. Where is the diversity on Friends or How I Met Your Mother? Where is the exploration of underprivileged characters on Sex and the City, where the four main characters go on endless brunches and shopping sprees, where one is a Harvard-educated lawyer, another grows up rich and marries extremely rich, another is a successful PR executive, and the last is a successful columnist with an on-off relationship with a man of fantastic means? Fuck’s sake, at least some of the characters on Girls actually struggle with unemployment. I’m not saying these criticisms of Girls hold no weight, I’m simply confused as to why Friends, SATC, and How I Met Your Mother get a pass for the exact same problems, whereas the response to Girls is virulent hatred.

This show is really great. My wife and I laugh during every episode, feel feelings for most of them, and are just generally amused and glad this show exists. If you hate-watch it, of course you’re going to focus on all these terrible people doing terrible things, but your perspective will suffer from confirmation bias, where you only see the bad and draw conclusions to support your preexisting idea that the show is terrible. Check it out. It’s great, and unlike anything else I watch on television.

 

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Hate-Watching the Girls Season Finale

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Jonathan May

Jonathan May’s original explanation and defense of hate-watching Girls can be found here. This post covers only the season finale, which aired on Sunday.

[Editor’s note: An earlier version of this post erroneously identified this in one instance as the series finale of Girls. It is actually the season finale. We apologize for the wishful thinking.] 

What can I say? All’s well that ends well, and end well this doesn’t. (Pro tip: Never make a Girls/Shakespeare comparison). I spent most of this disaster of an episode hating Marnie for hurting Shoshanna; I do admit that if Shoshanna hadn’t pushed Ray away, it might not have happened at all, but such is the wanton heart. I find myself thinking about the show purely in terms of the romantic engagements, which hearkens back to my theory that the show is in no way (and under no uncertain terms) a comedy, but rather a romance. But for a show all about girls, there is certainly a lot of attachment to boys.

This episode attempts to wrap up a season’s worth of false starts and prolonged miseries. Adam’s sister reappears, and tada!—she’s living with Laird, with whom she’s expecting a child. Then she promptly disappears from the plot. (Situation: resolved?) Marnie, no shocker, feels it necessary to reveal to Shoshanna that she and Ray slept together.Why she feels it necessary is beyond me. In a Western world of privilege, Marnie feels it’s her duty to unburden herself of guilt, rather than keep silent. She does this not for Shoshanna, but for herself, using the guise of truth as a way to assuage her own loneliness by bringing Shoshanna into co-misery. So, my real shocker for this episode was hating Marnie more than Hannah.

Which brings us to Hannah, unavoidably so. Her acceptance to Iowa was a trite and tawdry move on the part of the plot; Hannah lives in a world of limitless opportunity as a writer, even though we never see her writing. Comparisons to Sex and the City noted, Carrie’s main grace as the central protagonist was that the narration began and normally ended with her writing, her articles, because she was a writer. We never see any articulation or actualization of Hannah’s writing, just its end results. Where are the hard hours alone? The time spent putting together an application for a tough-to-get-into program like Iowa? We see none of that, and we’re the worse for it. Missing those moments cheapens the idea of work behind creative writing. We see Adam practicing constantly, Ray reading, Marnie singing, but we never see Hannah writing.

All in all, the episode closes with dramatic flourish typical of an inflated season of histrionics, with Hannah clutching her torn acceptance to Iowa like a sad, frumpy Vivien Leigh. Jessa’s arc throughout the season was the most interesting, and her courage in helping the photographer to end her life (and then save it) was the strongest point of the episode. Jessa makes it clear that at least some of the Girls aren’t just living for themselves.

My predictions for next season: We open in media res after something (?) happens to Hannah at Iowa, forcing a return to Brooklyn. Jessa has finally found herself. Adam is wildly successful. Marnie does something better with her hair. Shoshanna leaves the drama behind.

Jonathan May watches too much television, but he’s just playing catch-up from a childhood spent in Zimbabwe. You can read his poetry at owenmay.com, follow him on Twitter at @jonowenmay, or email him at owen.may@gmail.com.

Image source: Grantland

On Hate-Watching Girls

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Jonathan May

I must admit that I love to hate-watch shows. I don’t apologize for it. Many people love to hate things all of the time: other people, their Facebook pages, movies everyone loves, Republicans. So I claim Girls as my love-to-hate show. Besides the obviousness of it, that these are girls you are supposed to not-like, the show offers little in terms of episode-to-episode flow, the most appalling examples of which fall in the most recent and unfolding season (Adam’s sister, anyone?). For the first two seasons, I also held the show to be a comedy, which it fails at disastrously. The only funny moments involve Shoshanna, a character rendered tangential by her lack of “worldliness”—a quality which Lena Dunham and her ilk hold highest.

The problem with this is that these girls, apart from Jessa (sometimes), live out their petty dramas in the TV-bubble of New York City. Unlike Sex and the City, however, this works against the girls, casting them as Jenny-come-lately poseurs in a city that Carrie and crew embraced full and well years ago. This is more than just a problem of looking at two groups of women in completely different points in their lives/careers; as a result of hipster influx into Brooklyn (among myriad other U.S. locales), these girls don’t even recognize their status as interlopers, which is the root cause of their unhappiness. Marnie spends a lot of time alone; she has no friends because she has chosen to move to a city where sacrifice could mean something greater, but often doesn’t. Hannah never escapes her insular world made up of Adam and the occasional friend and the writing she is literally never doing. Each of the Girls revolves in a world populated by just a few.

Now, back to the hate-watching. I hate-watch Girls not only because I can and am free to, but also because I hate-read a few hundred romance novels when I worked at a used bookstore over the course of nine years. Girls’ formula is unfortunately so formulaic as to be laughable; it follows the exact arc of most good romances, which is lucky because the show fails as a drama and a comedy. So, why is everyone, myself included, obsessed with this new brand of romance? What does it offer? Well, I hate-but-don’t-hate to burst your bubble, but the show offers nothing besides pure romantic entertainment. There are no higher messages or coded morals; there are no expressions of the Zeitgeist or proclamations of culture. We have ripped tank tops and party dresses; we have unanswered texts. What we have is romance, and all proper romances end in marriage. So I guess we’ll see if Girls fails in that regard as well.

Image source: Grantland