Girls: Open Season
***Spoiler alert – Girls season three discussed below***
Could there be a title more inviting of scrutiny than “GIRLS”? Girls is a show about four girls living in New York City. Since it began three seasons ago its creator, Lena Dunham, has been challenged for misrepresenting women, or not representing them enough, or not having enough black characters, or for painting Gen Y as inherently self-involved and confirming the natty commentary of neighbouring generations. To her credit, Dunham always has a strong volleying retort.
Whenever I am recommending this show to (some of) my male friends I say “Don’t worry it’s not really a GIRLY show, it’s just a show about some friends living in New York.” A: Because guys are prickly about watching female-oriented shows, and being honest about it (being a fan of Felicity, Buffy, Gossip Girl, Gilmore Girls etc, the female focus actually attracted me). B: Because I think its title is a little presumptuous, and misleading. I wouldn’t say any show could be called “Girls” or “Boys” and not immediately conjure up gender stereotypes.
Initially pitched as a sort of new generation Sex and the City (observing women of New York BEFORE they are accomplished and established), Girls has since been treading a world starkly different to Sex and the City.
And as we continue from one season to the next, we seem to be heading away from comedy and into dark territory. Season three left me wondering if these four Girls would remain friends. And if not, what will drive future seasons? The show has been, and should continue to be, an honest insight into the characters’ lives. But is this enough to sustain the show?
I was really happy with season three, but for a few faults; many of which I think stem from its self-awareness. It is sadly becoming a by-product of its critics, who ruthlessly hang each character for being so self-involved. Personally, I didn’t initially believe they were being self-involved, but simply being honest about their convictions. To me it now seems like their ‘self-obsessiveness’ is a running joke, rather than inconsequential. Maybe they were kidding themselves in season one, but who cares? Should the onus be on Girls to be the guiding beacon for good and evil (when shows like House of Cards and Game of Thrones aren’t bound by the same rule)? Can’t it just be good (and honest) story telling? Or are viewers hung up on the name of the show?
Through the third season Marnie sleeps with Ray, and by its finale, she decides she should tell his former girlfriend, Shoshanna (and of course, it did the kind of good that any such confession would).
The scene where Marnie vapidly lets the cat out of the bag is excruciatingly tactless and insensitive. Marnie visits Shoshanna, who is mid break-down about being unable to graduate (which, by the way, doesn’t seem like such a big deal in this day and age, but it’s important to her so we will run with it). Marnie spends about 2 minutes trying to help Shoshanna feel better, before she dumps the news like a bag of cement. And this comes right after Hannah has done the same to Marnie with her good news.
These friends are now commanding an audience, where in season one they were listening. This lack of patience, which knowingly winks at its viewers as if to say “yes, we realise how self-involved these girls are”, subsequently renders their friendships irrelevant. And I’m left wondering where this is all heading.
In Sex and the City the ‘girls’ might have argued, but they always had each other’s backs. They would take a break from their pesky lives to laugh about how ridiculous it all was, while sipping cosmos, in style. And this is perhaps why I can’t help but feel Girls is dark. It’s definitely become more drama than comedy, of late. Is this the future this generation has to look forward to? One devoid of friends, careers and cosmos? It’s especially depressing when you look at how solidified the dynamic was in season one.
This stripping away of dynamic is perhaps best illustrated with Jessa. In season one she empowered her friends by removing judgement. Her advice was worldly, and avoided contrived moralising constructs. She encouraged Hannah to sleep with her boss, she encouraged Marnie to “get out of her own head for a while” and she celebrated Shoshanna’s oddities, and the way she shadowed her friends. Even if her advice was “bad” it pushed them out of their comfort zones, and forced them to question what is important to them (much to our amusement).
In that same season we saw the other side of Jessa’s bewitching influence, where she broke up a marriage, and this became an interesting character development for her.
In season three all of Jessa’s feedback is removed. She knows how to provoke people, but no longer holds influence. This may even be intentional, but it’s not explored or made clear. Her history with addiction turned from a mere patch in the rich tapestry of her life, to the sole focus, and it was pretty dull. We all felt Jessa’s pain when she screamed “I’m so bored!”
Jessa’s need for others was flagged at the start of season three, but it didn’t unfold from there.
As an aside, it is also frustrating that Hannah convincingly demands Jessa never leave New York again, and then spends the rest of the season acting like she doesn’t exist.
All of this said, I still really enjoy this show. We expect trials, and the show interestingly explores trials associated with career, education, health, relationships, family etc; not just romantic interests. This continued in season three, and it still had its moments of near perfection: the true highlight is where Hannah posed as a hedge fund manager’s wife, which was hilarious and poignant, the full merits and potential of this show were demonstrated well.
I am quite hopeful that Hannah actually makes the move to Iowa. I hate when tv series feel an arbitrary need to keep characters anchored to one city. Some distance and new friendships (Blerta?) for our leading ladies may actually help them to find one another again (or at least cut the ‘cat fighting’ crap). The series might continue to bleakly step back into adolescence where everything is taken SO seriously, but this doesn’t mean it isn’t relatable.
I don’t expect the friends of Girls to mirror the friends of Sex and the City, but it might be worth revisiting what it is that actually brings them together, rather than just what divides them.