Few HBO shows have ever received the sheer level of critical fixation as Lena Dunham’s Girls. Dunham, the 26 year-old auteur of the show, which is produced by Judd Apatow, has rocketed to success.
The show recently ended its second season and has already been picked up for a third. It follows the lives of a group of friends who met at Oberlin College and now live in Brooklyn, struggling to find love, friendship, money, creative expression, or simply sanity. The cast of characters, despite what the show’s name might suggest, contains a few sensitive young men, but their inclusion may owe to their romantic entanglements with the female cast.
The show received its most negative criticism for portraying only white characters in its first season. In response, the second season’s first episode saw the appearance of Donald Glover, a black actor whose character was also Republican, making him a sort of unicorn in the world of Girls. Dunham’s character has sex with him, resists any kind of emotional or intellectual intimacy, and the show dumps him fairly early on in the second episode. Donald Glover would have been a phenomenal permanent addition to Girls, and I think his character’s mishandling may be the greatest single mistake the show has ever made. Thankfully, its other characters receive far more development.
The neurotic Marney, the ditzy-but-insightful Shosh, the soul-blazing Jessa, and the self-deprecating Adam are supporting characters that obviously possess great depth, whose inner lives and quirks were revealed to us with mastery in the first season. We see their struggles and hopes with the kind of blinding clarity that has rocketed the show to such well-earned success. What the first season lacked, however, was an exploration of Dunham’s character, Hannah Horvath.
The show has always centered around Hannah, though for all her nakedness, her inner life was not revealed to the viewer until late in the second season. Aloof and preoccupied with writing essays, Hannah never seemed attuned enough to her own pathos to meaningfully communicate with her friends. To the viewer, she served mostly as an object of ridicule and humor, to the point that one can’t tell if Dunham loves or loathes her own character. Hannah is naked in the show nearly every episode, with a frequency and sincerity that vaguely suggests some kind of broader agenda without ever quite getting there.
Hannah, a writer of essays, seemed to mistake wit for expression in the first season, and never faced any kind of meaningful adversity. The second season sees her totally break down, alienated from her friends, family, and herself. Here we see a vulnerable side. She cannot explain away her pathos as she shoves a Q-tip in her ear until it ruptures her eardrum, goes to the hospital, gets back, and does it again to the other ear.
Still, for all its darkness, Girls possesses an amazing kind of resilience. The weight of prolonged adolescence hangs over all its characters as they struggle to find themselves, their voices, and their places in the world.
In the second season’s penultimate episode, entitled “On All Fours,” Girls reflects Requiem for a Dream more than it does Sex and the City. Hannah walks through the city in only a T-shirt, fully relapsed into OCD, while Adam, her ex-lover, falls back into alcoholism, from which he escaped at the age of 17.
The final episode pivots to a series of romantic triumphs, precipitated by a series of emotional trials in which the characters finally figure out what they want. It is every bit as good as a wedding, reminding us that for all its drama and pain, Girls is still a comedy, not a tragedy, with that fascinating blend of levity and depth that everyone should see.
Questions? Email Connor at v.