Sunday, March 20, 2016

I still like the show Girls

HBO's Girls gave birth to the modern thinkpiece culture that we see in writing about TV and film today.  Or at least the show was one of the things that gave that angle the power to dominate modern pop culture conversations.  When the show hit the scene in early 2012, it was met with equal amounts of acclaim and vitriol.  Many critics praised the series for its singular voice, focus on female friendships, and frank depiction of sexuality.  But others criticized it for a number of things like its overwhelmingly white cast, privileged and unlikable characters, and the alleged nepotism involved in assembling the show.  In its debut season, it seemed like a new thinkpiece about Girls was posted once an hour.  The haters and fans fueled each other.  For every article that applauded the show's groundbreaking nature, there was a rebuttal accusing it of being problematic garbage.

But there are only so many ways to talk about a show.  At a certain point, writers ran out of unique takes on it, and the people who excoriated the show got bored and stopped watching.  Since the intense hate that certain corners of the internet have for Girls is what drove its supporters into an aggressively defensive position, there was less reason to keep its positive traits in the collective conversation once the negativity died down.  Occasionally, there would be something that got the internet talking -- who can forget about Marnie getting rimmed last season? -- but in general, the critical community has moved on from intensely discussing it.

What a shame too, because Girls is still a good show.  The difference is that it doesn't feel as special as it did in those first two years, when everyone was talking about it.  Such is the case with art that has a significant influence on its medium.  Because there are so many shows with indie film sensibilities on television now, it's easy forget that there wasn't much else like Girls in 2012.  Its most obvious ancestor would be Louie, which had already existed for two years and was indeed the main point of comparison for reviewers at the time.  Now we've got Togetherness, Transparent, Casual, and countless others.  An increase in peers, coupled with a decrease in its auteur-driven sensibilities, made Girls appear less unique, despite only minor drops in quality.

Pure watchability is a highly underrated quality when it comes to television, and what these past few seasons of Girls have lacked in innovation, they've more than made up for in watchability.  I never feel the urge to look at the clock when I'm watching an episode of this show.  In fact, I'm often surprised when the credits start rolling, given the way half an hour just breezes by.  After the severe dramatic turns of season two (still my favorite season), Lena Dunham made a conscious effort to slide back over to the comedy end of the spectrum.  In the process, the show went from being a raw look at the lives of a certain demographic of women to a somewhat more cartoony version of that.  Girls has always been funny, but the most recent seasons have bumped up the comedic energy, giving the show more laughs than many traditional sitcoms.  Part of that is because Dunham and her writers have such a strong sense of the characters at this point, knowing how to perfectly play off of what makes these people tick.

There might not be a better example of knowing the characters inside and out in the entire history of the show than this season's decision to pair Adam and Jessa together.  It's one of those decisions that I wouldn't have thought to make, but it makes total sense now that I've seen it.  They're the show's two most impulsive, eccentric, and destructive characters; so naturally, they would eventually end up together.  Of course, these two are bound to destroy each other, especially once Hannah finds out.  But for the time being, I want to just enjoy them in this current, blissful state, because it's absolutely delightful.

Season five is only four episodes in and it's already full of rock solid choices like that.  After four years of tinkering, the show has finally found the perfect blend of comedy and drama.  One of its other problems was that as the series went on, it became less logical that these characters would even still be friends, let alone in the same room with each other, and as a result Girls felt like four different shows running in parallel.  Season five has the main characters interacting more and in ways that make sense, a welcome return because they bounce off of each other so well.  Most importantly, the show still manages to show off some of its indie film flair, as it did with the Shoshanna material in Japan, which felt very Lost in Translation.  There are still a few frustrating moments this season -- a comedic scene in a coffee shop a few weeks ago was over-the-top and annoying in an extremely "written by Lena Dunham" way -- but Girls has always been a show whose tiny frustrations make it even more fascinating.

Before the fifth season began airing this year, Dunham announced that season six would be the final season of the show.  Perhaps that clear stopping point has given the show a sense of direction, a goalpost to shoot towards.  This has never been a plot-intensive series, so it didn't need an endgame on a story level, but more on a character level.  Seasons three and four felt like the work of a show that was wandering around aimlessly in some middle space with its characters in a way that season five does not.  Girls has always been good, but this year represents the first time in a while that it has felt truly significant and urgent.


  1. I, too, have always found Girls to be good TV. Even last season, where it was at its weakest, it still could pull in episodes like "Sit In", and "Tad & Loreen & Avi & Shanaz" out of the blue. It helps that the show has a dream roster of writers (Judd Apatow, Paul Simms, Bruce Eric Kaplan) working towards Dunham and Jenni Konner's sensibilities. Although it can never recapture what made its first season (for my money its best) so thought provoking (whether it was angry or applauding thoughts), I'd say the acting has grown much stronger over time. The cast has grown into their characters where most shows would see them either grow out or grow tired of it. I feel like Girls is going to be forgotten by the end of the decade when it comes time to honor its best of the best, which is a shame. There's definitely something to be said of its consistency.

    1. I think if it ends on a strong note next year, it could be remembered a little more by the end of the decade. But you're right, it does look like it might not be regarded as fondly as it should.