Yes, this review has come several weeks after Girls finished up its second season. The reason for this delay is I gave up on Girls’ second season after episode seven, and only ended up watching the remaining three episodes because my housemate kept bugging me about it. Also, I love Ray.
And Ray hates everything.
I was also a little reluctant to add to the white noise surrounding Girls out here on the internet, with discussions on everything ranging from what’s wrong with our generation to Lena Dunham’s butt. So I’ll just write this once, and be done with it, because I won’t be returning for season three.
I can’t pinpoint the exact moment when Girls jumped the shark for me, but (and I’m perhaps unfairly picking on Dunham here – there are other writers, but she’s the show runner, it’s her baby) – it was around the point when Dunham was overwhelmed by the hype surrounding her show and confused the importance of character with that of abstract themes and social commentary. And unlike the way a mishmash of themes and plots is done in Banshee, (it’s a heist show! it’s a cop show! it’s a gangster show! let’s do all those things because they’re fun!) in Girls this ambition just makes it contrived, and rather tedious.
When Girls debuted, it knew what sort of show it was, and what it was rang true for a lot of the twenty-somethings watching it. Being in your early twenties is hard – trying to figure out what to do after uni (if you went at all), how to make money, where to live, how to negotiate relationships and friendships and all the while being bombarded with lifestuff. Girls initially set itself up as a show that was going to deal with that. The very opening scene has Hannah (Dunham) being cut off financially from her parents. Foolishly, we as viewers believed that this would actually be part of the plot.
Apparently not. I don’t know what world Hannah is living in where she can get away with not working, not having financial support from her parents, and still pay rent – but I want in.
Season one dealt with it somewhat – Marnie apparently covered Hannah financially while she searched for a job she could hold down for more than two minutes – but when Marnie moves out, it’s simply never addressed again. Eventually Hannah gets another roommate, who also moves out, we rarely if ever see her working at her shitty café job…so just where is the money coming from?
The reason I harp on about this is because it’s indicative of the endemic problems in Girls season two. We’re no longer dealing with characters we can relate to, trying to negotiate their early twenties while being witty and entertaining, no: now we’re dealing with increasingly bizarre situations involving characters with whom we have little emotional investment. Hannah herself is disengaged from her life – in order to “experience” things as a “writer” – so how are we supposed to engage with her either? Even her friends – with the exception of Shosh, who is the one patch of warmth in this show – hold very little affection for one another now. Jessa was always selfish and didn’t make her friendships a priority, but now none of them do. One character with that flaw still makes for good television; four central characters with that as a defining characteristic makes for tedious, unengaging storytelling.
My breaking point for this was episode seven, where Hannah follows Jessa to meet her father, but again, appears only to do so for some “abstract experience” (in this case sleeping with a strange teenage boy), and certainly not out of any desire to support her friend. And that, fundamentally, is the issue: Lena Dunham has underestimated just how unlikeable she’s made her protagonist. This is a serious problem.
In season one, Hannah was irritating, sure – she was self-entitled, spoiled, made questionable decisions – but she at least exhibited some redeeming features. We understood her warped-yet-occasionally-sweet relationship with Adam. We understood her terrible self esteem wrapped up in early-twenties egotism. And, while neither I nor any of my girl friends have ever bathed together (what was that?!) – Hannah’s friendships with Marnie, Jessa and Shosh at least provided an emotional grounding for the show. Marnie, Hannah and Shosh waited for Jessa at the abortion clinic with ill-advised cupcakes, even if Jessa herself was more interested in self-destructing over a white Russian cocktail.
The distinct lack of this kind of cohesion is what made season two such a hard slog to watch. The rare moments of character engagement really shone – whether it was Hannah and Elijah duking it out over his ill-advised sexual decisions, Jessa and Thomas’ brilliant break-up scene, or Shosh and Ray heartbreakingly trying to negotiate a relationship that really wasn’t working. Even Hannah’s desperate, pissed-off call to Jessa’s voicemail gave us a sign of what the show could have been, if we’d been given a reason to care about what happens to these characters now. (I do still love Ray, and Shosh, but that’s not enough to keep me tuned in). Finally, the ending that my housemate raved about, which made me reluctantly watch the end of the season, was sweet – but it’s not a pay-off if we’ve suffered through nine episodes of Hannah’s never-ending selfishness, and then are supposed to feel for her at the end.