Girls Recap: I’m Sorry, WHO Got Married?!
11:30 am, June 18th | by Sarah Devlin
On the season finale of Girls, Jessa married the creepy venture capitalist (played by Chris O’Dowd). Marnie crimped her hair, drank too much, did some amazing dancing and kissed Bobby Moynihan after eating a literal handful of cake. Shoshanna and Ray had sex. Hannah upset Adam when she was ambivalent about him moving in with her, so he yelled at her in the street and got clipped by a passing car. Hannah fell asleep on the F train and woke up in Coney Island with no purse, so she walked to the beach and ate some cake.
All right. Maybe all of my problems with this show lie with me, and not Lena Dunham. It’s certainly possible, given that I watched the finale with my roommate and she really liked it, while I went to bed grumpy. Maybe (and by “maybe” I mean OF COURSE) I’m jealous of Dunham’s platform, of the opportunity she’s been given. There’s so much that I love about this show, but I’m so frustrated by the weaknesses that I’ve seen again and again. Part of it is certainly that since the show hews so closely to my own experiences in New York City, and those of my friends, I get extra cranky when I feel Dunham and Co. aren’t “getting it right.”
It’s akin to the outrage from fans at inconsistencies in the film adaptations of their favorite books, which I used to find silly but can understand it now. When someone is attempting to delineate a world or point of view that you feel is essential to who you are, it’s natural to feel protective of the material. As a young M.F.A. grad living in Brooklyn, of course I feel sensitive to events on the show that don’t jive with my experience — but there are additional elements to my dissatisfaction.
Hannah Horvath is the show’s main character, which is unfortunate because she is deeply confusing to me. Even though, for the most part, I believe that the argument that Lena Dunham is privileged and has never known struggle (…people assume) is a bad argument for why she shouldn’t have a television show, it doesn’t sit right with me that Hannah is modeled so nakedly on Dunham, except when she’s not. Hannah is from the Midwest; Dunham is a New York native. She could have had the exact same show if she had made NYC Hannah’s home town, with her parents as professors at NYU who decide cut her off. Hannah is ambitious, we’re told, in that she wants to write a book, but lazy in that as far as we can see she hasn’t started it. Lena Dunham is clearly an ambitious girl; you don’t get a movie made and a show on HBO before age 25 if you’re not a hustler. I don’t understand this masking of the character; it feels like it’s supposed to insulate her from criticism by stripping her of most of her power. What if Hannah was a really excellent writer who worked really hard, and probably still didn’t get an agent or a book deal or a job with a non-creepy boss? Wouldn’t that be a powerful comment on being young today? No matter how hard you work or how talented you are, sometimes it just doesn’t happen for you?
The natural counterpoint to this is that Hannah is an anti-hero, the same sort of overgrown child archetype popularized by Judd Apatow’s films, played by a woman this time. That doesn’t sit right with me either. I watch plenty of shows about horrible people — Mad Men, Game of Thrones, The Real Housewives of New York City — but they are compelling to me because of some magnetism on the part of the characters. It can be anything from Don Draper’s savant-like talent at advertising, Tyrion Lannister’s skill at palace intrigue, or Luann De Lesseps’s hyper-confidence that allows her to continue to believe that she is a pop star despite shooting her latest music video at a casino in Atlantic City opposite Jill Zarin. Hannah, however, has been made into such a sadsack that she’s not allowed to be charming, or ambitious, or really good at anything. There might be plenty of girls like her in the real world, but not every person in the real world is interesting enough to warrant a television show about them.
Despite being billed as the work of a young auteur, I find that the show doesn’t seem to believe in itself very much, punching up many episodes with bizarre and wacky twists, like Jessa’s surprise wedding, or the weird Keri Hilson funeral dance number Hannah witnesses at home. These events are at odds with the very quiet, hyper-realistic milieux of the rest of the show, whose best humor comes from the interactions with the characters (Shoshanna and Ray’s budding romance comes to mind here). It starts to feel like Dunham is tap-dancing, and there’s someone nearby yelling “Faster, faster!”
The show doesn’t breathe, and the quirky plot twists make it feel like it’s constantly apologizing for itself. “I’m not interesting enough for you? I’m sorry! Here’s a surprise wedding!” The most egregious example of this was Hannah’s encounter with her old classmate, who has a wretched personality and a book deal. “Fuck you, haters!” the show seemed to say, a rather vicious comeback given how much positive press it had generated and how many people are totally on board. I don’t begrudge Lena Dunham her success, but that moment made me think that she must feel tremendously guilty about it. That’s a natural, human response, but perhaps not the best mindset for a show-runner to have.
There’s so much that I like about Girls. Next season, if I could learn a little bit about what kind of writer Hannah is, and what she has to say, and see more of the developing romance between Ray and Shoshanna, and get more wrenching and honest scenes like the break-up between Hannah and Marnie, most of my objections would disappear. But last night, I went to bed angry: I felt needled by the tip-toeing Dunham does along the line between fiction and non-fiction, the unwillingness to let the audience decide for itself if Hannah is a good writer, even as characters drop in from all corners of her life to tell her she is, the time wasted on ridiculous plot developments like Jessa’s wedding at the expense of any interaction between Marnie and Hannah. I can’t imagine how much Lena Dunham has learned this season, how much savvier and more experienced she will be going into the second season. I’m jealous of all the knowledge she’s been able to soak up, and I hope that it’s reflected onscreen in season two.