HBO Girls Review
Living the dream, one mistake at a time.
And never actually facing the consequences of those mistakes, because entitlement.
Oh, Girls. This is definitely one of those shows that you either love or hate – there’s little in-between and I feel as though the general public feels the same given the vasts amount of both praise and criticism it’s received in the media. Well, I pretty much hate it. I admit I only managed to get halfway through season 2 before I was so appalled I had to stop, but from what I gather not much has changed since.
I first heard about the series on Tumblr as I follow several social issue bloggers, many of whom are women of color who were unhappy with an all-white cast in a setting that should be profoundly more diverse. I shrugged it off as something I would probably never watch, since I’m more a fan of fantasy and sci-fi anyway. But curiosity got the best of me – after Lena got showered with awards and seemed adorkable and humble, I decided I wanted to give the show a shot.
Talk about mistakes.
So why is it so popular / what does it do right?
I’ll start with the good. If we put aside the major issues I dive into below, the show is well written, funny, and does speak to a very key demographic of viewers, which is (begrudgingly) one of those things that lends itself to popularity in Hollywood.
GIRLS does sex-positivity fairly well, and I think that’s important. For some it might be a guilty pleasure, but for a lot of young girls struggling with society’s often harsh beat down of female sexuality, GIRLS takes it on in a more casual light. The main character likes getting some, and does so a lot. Despite her own issues of self image and self worth, she is comfortable expressing her desire and enjoyment of sex, in all its awkward and uncomfortable glory. Likewise, the other girls on the show express different takes on sexuality, from Shoshana discovering it to Jessa using it as a shield for her own insecurities. It covers a lot of bases, and doesn’t shame the girls much (though I worry they don’t stress safety enough).
At times GIRLS also does female friendship fairly well, but it also fails on many other points. Whether or not this is a bad or good thing depends – realistic, yes, but sometimes the petty, competitive nature of female relationships is glossed over to acceptable a little too much.
It has moments that really funny, charming, and relatable. Despite how much I dislike the show, I’d be lying if I said there weren’t points where I did enjoy it, if just a little. Lena is definitely a good writer and a decent story teller.
But, the handful of good points about Girls is very much overshadowed by some serious problems.
What Girls does so very, very wrong. A) Hannah.
I hated Hannah from episode one. And with every episode thereafter I just kept telling myself “It’ll get better… it has to, right? I mean everybody’s praising this series.” But like a high-speed train plowing through the ridiculous hipster terrain, Girls just keeps going on with its grating pretentiousness.
There is just so much disappointment being dished out of this show. Every now and then I can relate – as a young artist who went to school in New York and lived there or very close for a few years, there are some moments that certainly click. But those times are vastly overshadowed by the audaciousness of these characters. On a whole I spent much more energy yelling “Are you fucking kidding me?” at the TV than appreciating any sort of “I know that feel, girl” moments. Seriously.
First of all, let’s talk about Hannah. At the core she is terribly problematic as a main character – she is completely unrelatable and utterly unrealistic in her sexual conquests. I’m not shaming here. She’s not ugly, in my opinion, but she is supposed to be average – she’s chubby, quirky, and a little socially inept. On one end it’s remarkably progressive to feature a female main character like this – not a size 0 supermodel going out and gettin’ some on the regular. Most of us wanna root for a girl like that. I really would like to appreciate that aspect of the show, but it totally gets wasted because Hannah’s a shitty person.
She has NO redeeming qualities, what-so-ever, to make up for her averageness. I subscribe to the idea that while not everybody’s a perfect 10, personality can often make up for not being conventionally attractivev. It could have been empowering to have a sex-positive main female character who’s not afraid of being physical – if there was something likeable about her. But Hannah has a douchey personality. I mean she is really, really horrible. She’s selfish, entitled, self-loathing, over-dramatic, insensitive, ignorant, awkward in the bad way, whiny and needy, just to start. There is no balance to her character – nothing she does makes up for her homeliness, and that’s what pisses me off most. She doesn’t actually earn anything positive in her life nor does she seem to take the consequences of her actions and words seriously. Some people say that’s the point – it’s supposed to be ironic. Or something.
Why is Hannah so terrible, you ask? Oh, let me count the ways.
• She gets cut off and what’s does she do? Gets “high” and throws herself on the floor of her parent’s hotel room and throws a tantrum, like a five year old.
• She attempts to seduce her boss and then turns around and threatens to sue him for sexual harassment (after she allowed it to go on for a time because she liked the attention).
• Her best friend’s break-up is indirectly Hannah’s fault – but she’s more concerned with whether or not her written account of someone else’s failing relationship would make good publishing material.
• She somehow turns Marnie and Elijah’s awkward sexual encounter into this huge betrayal, when it had nothing to do with her AT ALL. She rips Marnie apart for being a terrible friend and KICKS ELIJAH OUT OF THE APARTMENT. OVER A SEXUAL ENCOUNTER THAT HAD DIDDLY SQUAT TO DO WITH HANNAH.
• She hooks up with an incredibly attractive, successful, and mature man and then has him beg for her stay with him, after their FIRST SEXUAL ENCOUNTER an HOUR AFTER THEY MEET?? (this was the episode I stopped watching).
In what world does someone who’s not stunningly attractive AND who’s also a total asshole get to hook up with so many relatively normal, attractive people? With the exception of Adam, whose attractiveness is offset by the fact that he’s out of his fucking mind, every guy Hannah has hooked up with up to the point where I stopped watching the show is way out of her league in all the ways.
This ridiculous lack of accountability for utter stupidity isn’t unique to Hannah, either. Marnie, for instance, gets pissed at Hannah because Marnie’s boyfriend INVADED THE PRIVACY OF THEIR HOME, went into Hannah’s room, READ HER DIARY AND THEN LATER SANG IT OUT LOUD. TO AN AUDIENCE. And that’s Hannah’s fault, how? The way Hannah reacted was obnoxious as hell, sure, but Marnie had no right to be mad at Hannah for her boyfriend’s clear invasion of privacy. Marnie is beautiful and boring, and hates her boyfriend for being perfect, but doesn’t want to break up with him because she is too, I dunno, dependent? Lazy? Afraid of being single? She tries to patch things up out of her selfish need to be doted on and breaks up with him again anyway, mid coitos.
The other characters are little better. Everybody is miserably unlikeable to some extent, with the exception of Shoshana who is the only character I actually like. Sure, she is neurotic and naive, but she’s also somewhat genuine, at least as far as I saw, making her moderately likeable.
To be sure, I find it almost laughable when I try to imagine myself in some of their situations and how my (pragmatic) family and friends would react if I ever acted that way, ever. It’d start with a beat-down from my mother and end with every single person cutting off contact with me for the rest of eternity.
The issue of race and why it’s a problem
So this is where things get a little controversial. The predominant issue of race is the fact that there is very little of it in Girls. Lena Dunham has made the case that she’s writing what she knows. And to an extent, I can almost get that. But she goes all FOX news to make a claim, through her character of Hannah, that she wants to be the “voice of a generation.” Well, no, you can’t make that grand announcement and at once ignore that the current generation is very much multi-racial. In what world do a bunch of people go to a party in Bushwick and not see anybody of color?? No. That’s not how it works.
The show definitely reinforces the privilege of white-ness, whether fans want to face that truth or not. We have four clueless young white women stumbling haphazardly through life and completely getting away with it because they are clueless young white women.
Nobody of color could act the way they do, treat people the way they do, and pull off the bullshit shenanigans the way these girls do and not have the face some severe consequences of those actions. And yet these ladies don’t, and it feels like a constant reminder of the schism between races that we’re struggling to close but feeljs so impossible because the pop culture that’s SUPPOSED to reflect our real culture paints a completely different picture.
And quite frankly, it’s annoying. I’m sure it’s not Lena’s intent, of course, but that just makes the matter worse. She writes what she knows, and what she knows is the status quo of our society and it feels like this is being shoved in my face even more so than it already is on a day to day basis.
I mean, I live in Boston, a city that is a little less diverse than NY (especially Brooklyn), and in my immediate circle of friends and roommates I regularly spend time with: four white men, one white woman, four asian men (Two Viet, one Filipino, one Thai), an Ecuadorian woman (married to a guy whose ethnic background I’m not even sure about, but mixed), and a Filipina.
I find it incredibly difficult to believe that a person living in Brooklyn would find herself only in the company of other white people unless it’s completely on purpose. Which it might be in this case.
At the end of the day, I’d sum up Girls as irresponsible at best if not downright damaging. I know Lena’s been under a lot of fire, and has tried to make steps towards diversifying the show. And I assume Hannah’s asshole personality is part of the development (hopefully). However, though it’s gotten the green light for a 3rd season, I’d have to hear about some very big steps in a better direction before the series grabs my attention in a positive way again.