HBO’s Girls Season One was criticized for being insulated from the reality of the every-twenty-something’s experience. We’ve all read the scathing critiques about nepotism in the casting, the poor-little-white-girl problems of the story lines, and the lack of self-awareness of the characters that made them seem not only insipid, but ripe for blog-bashing. At least Carrie Bradshaw had the wherewithal to look back on her half-hour adventures and reflect in her iBook: “And I couldn’t help but wonder….” And then wrap it up in a neat little bow of self-awareness, usually with a clever penis pun for good measure.
You might remember a not-so-subtle nod to Sex and The City in the first episode of Girls: a poster of those girls in Shoshanna’s pink Brooklyn apartment. Her rapid speech about identifying as a Carrie or a Samantha served as Lena Dunham’s homage to and jumping off point from that show. And jump she did, from Manhattan to Brooklyn, from pretty young things full of verve and confidence and, yes, self-awareness, to less-pretty younger things with misplaced confidence, ignorance, and insulation from the issues that plague all but a slim populace of the United States.
And she was bashed. And praised. She was tweeted beyond belief.
Then there was Season Two, in which Lena Dunham took to the small screen to answer the critiques. From the inclusion of Donald Glover to showcasing problems beyond white entitled ones, Lena Dunham crafted a season to justify her existence. Unironically.
I love Lena. I consider us friends – not so much because we’ve met (because we haven’t), but because I feel like I know her, if only because I’ve seen her naked so much. We have no secrets. I thought the first season of Girls was brilliant. I think that tapping into the lack of self-awareness for which she was so criticized was that thing that made the show stand out. This is what the twenties are for: small lives lived within the confines of a core group. Lena’s honesty is that she went to an expensive liberal arts college where she befriended other white, privileged girls who make up her closest circle. I think throwing in multicolored people to satisfy critics would have rung false–as the inclusion of Donald Glover did.
I don’t know that any other show ever depicted the lack of self-awareness that marks the twenties with such truth. Their lives are small, but their experiences are true: the traumas of friendship, the “are you mad at me?,” the notions of good versus bad friends that are constantly being redefined. I think if they appreciated their places in life/culture or were more self-aware, the show would be ruined. Or it would be Sex and the City.
In Season Two, Hannah’s eccentricities grew into full-blown mental illness. Her quirks gave way to OCD, which served to justify the audience’s captivation about the character. It made it okay to watch because a crazy chick makes interesting television; even more, it makes up a show that is bigger than the small lives of four privileged Brooklyn girls. It has a message about illness.
And the story lines: Hannah getting her big break, the pressure of getting paid to write causing insurmountable stress. Then we have Jessa, who for the first time, devolved into a stereotype. Her reunion with her father was, for the first time in the series, a bad piece of writing. I’m one of the few who doesn’t cringe when Hannah takes off her one-piece romper to showcase her naked breasts, but bad writing irks the shit out of me. When Jessa said to her father, “but I’m the child,” I not only cringed, but was mad at Lena. It was lazy.
But all was forgiven when I thought of Zosia Mamet, whose Shoshanna tickled me at every turn. The story arc of her relationship with Ray was complicated, and one of the best things about the show.
And then she had to go and ruin it all by becoming self-a-freaking-ware in the finale. In her breakup scene with Ray, Shoshanna spews forth a torrent of truth that she’s been holding in all season. “I can’t be surrounded by your negativity when I’m trying to grow into a fully formed human,” she tells Ray. “Maybe I can deal with your black soul when I’m older, but I can’t handle it now. Maybe you just need to go change and we can be in love in another time.”
It’s the end of her relationship. But it’s more than that: It’s a wink and a nod to the audience. It’s the answer to a critique. It’s Shoshanna’s way of saying, “As I looked at Ray’s black soul, I couldn’t help but wonder: Might I be better equipped to handle it when I’m more mature?” Insert penis pun here.
So here’s some advice in advance of Season Three. Lena: look away from Twitter. You’ve got this. Don’t read any more critiques.
Except for mine.