My Complicated Relationship with ‘GIRLS’
Last Sunday, the world bid farewell to Hannah Horvath and all her millennial angst. After six seasons of sharp and often hilarious commentary on that sad/awful/amazing time between college and actual adulthood, GIRLS will be remembered as the ultimate statement on millennial life. Can you remember a time before GIRLS debuted when people used the word ‘millennial’ so often?
The show managed to be completely polarizing, thanks mostly to creator, writer and star Lena Dunham. Whether she intended to or not, she became the face of young, white, liberal feminism. And if you weren’t white, young, liberal or female, you probably had a hard time identifying with her writing. Also, if you weren’t fond of her naked approach to body positivity, then the show REALLY wasn’t for you.
I remember watching the first season after a close friend raved about it. She loved the irreverent humor, specifically how naked, awkward and inappropriate it was. Nudity, awkwardness and inappropriateness—that’s literally my checklist for must-see TV. I had to watch. I was struck by so many things: how imperfect these people were and how they had no shame in letting it all hang out, how genuinely funny the show was, how I’d never seen this group of people captured so accurately on TV before.
A thing I didn’t notice? That this show about struggling millennials living in Brooklyn didn’t have a single black face in any scene. But the internet noticed. It’s not hard to find think pieces about GIRLS and race. That’s probably why Donald Glover showed up in the season 2 premiere as Hannah’s summer boyfriend, with whom she had an awkward conversation about race.
Later, I thought about whether this mattered. As writers and creators, our storytelling reflects our experiences. And perhaps Dunham’s experience didn’t include POC. Not by any purposeful omission. It just didn’t fit. I don’t know if it was fair to pressure her into being inclusive when her show’s subject matter was so painfully specific.
If anything, I found issue with the early version of Elijah’s story arc. He was the witty gay inserted into the story for humor and little else. However, seasons 5 and 6 allowed him to develop into a whole person with career ambitions and some semblance of a love life.
Looking beyond the controversy and all the criticism, GIRLS was an excellent show. Dunham’s voice is unique. It’s self-deprecating. It’s witty. It’s detailed. And after six season of writing these characters, it’s direct, emotional and affecting. What I’ll miss most is the show’s well-crafted view of these not-so-glamorous, selfish people.
When I think about it, this show was revolutionary in the way it embraced unlovable characters. These weren’t people you aspired to be like. Hell, at some points you probably rooted for them to fail. But the fact that we kept caring and watching and writing think pieces for 6 whole seasons is a testament to the power of Lena Dunham’s storytelling.
GIRLS, you will be sorely missed. I guess it’s time for me to start writing my series about troubled, unlikable, black, liberal, millennial gays living in Hell’s Kitchen. Is that too specific?