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February 14, 2018

Popular Culture || What Did I Think of Girls (All Six Seasons)?

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I spent last week binge-watching the entire oeuvre of Lena Dunham's Girls. The series has been highly-acclaimed by critics, being rated 89% on Rotten Tomatoes and 87% on Metacritic as of writing. I am glad I waited for the series to finish up before watching it and while the show has some interesting aspects, I'm happy I didn't waste too much time worrying over it for the last six years, because I can't believe it went on for as long as it did.

If you haven't seen it yet, it's about Hannah, Marnie, Shoshanna, and Jessa, four late-millennial friends who live in New York with the hopes of reaching their dreams. The problem is that none of them really know what it is they truly want to do or who they want to do it with. Hannah is the lead of the show. She wants to be a writer but can do nothing but talk about it, and uses every opportunity to show others that she is smarter than they are. She is also perpetually changing her mind. Marnie is Hannah's best friend, a perfectionist who seems self-assured but is just as insecure. Jessa spends the entire series telling everyone what they should be doing with their lives while she is the epitome of insecurity and the first to run away from unhappiness. Shoshanna starts out as an innocent in the games that the three other women play with each other and possibly ends up being the most centred and focused of them all by the end.

I wouldn't say I enjoyed the series as much as I wanted to know how it ends (it's the sadist in me). The humour is questionable, depending all too much on stereotypical representations and situations and lewdness to drive the comedy. The tone was also off for me: when an episode attempted to be lighthearted, it was overridden by the selfishness of the characters and the mysterious feeling that a parody of a situation was being made to look serious.

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I like the way the series touched on sensitive issues in ways that either revealed both sides of the argument or opened up raw wounds on sensitive subjects, such as alcoholism, consent, race relations, mental illness, and abortion. This is one of the main reasons the show isn't too popular among viewers: it aims to trigger, on everything. But what is popular culture for if not to make us question the status quo, the current politics of the world, bigotry and prejudice, and political issues that often simply simmer below the surface?

One of my biggest complaints is the tired characterisation of the girls and many of the characters around them. Perhaps it is because something similar was done with Sex and the City, making Girls appear to attempt to be the voice of its generation. The character arcs are so slow: throughout the six years, Shoshanna is the only woman who becomes successful and confident, and the only one to recognise the toxic relationships her friends represent. Hannah's growth spurt only happens near the end of the series finale, where it seems all she needed to do was see a self-entitled teenager act like she did to realise she has been immature for all six seasons. While Marnie had the greatest potential for growth, she began and ended the story in her codependent relationship with Hannah, and only realises in the last five minutes that she needs to find herself. The only way I see Jessa having any growth was maybe not running away from Adam when he proposed to help Hannah raise her child.

If you think about it, we may think the show is about these women but it really is about relationships, their quality, and also how important communication - both conveying and accepting it - is in maintaining them. All the relationships break down because of the fear that honesty will cause them to collapse. Everyone on the outside of these relationships is happy to point out the girls' flaws and be honest with them in the hopes that they will improve. We are made to believe these people - Ray, Adam, Elijah, Hannah's parents - are being unfairly judgmental, but they have an honesty the girls' relationships lack. The women turn a blind eye to their own flaws and instead focus on each others' weaknesses.

HBO-Girls-Adam-ShoshannaI really struggled to like Marnie, Hannah, or Jessa: they were all pull-my-hair-out annoying and I honestly can't see myself being friends with any of them. The amount of time they spend talking to each other about their own feelings is only eclipsed by the amount of times no one is actually listening to what is being said. Shoshanna is really an outcast in the group, serving as a soundboard for all the other girls' feelings towards one another. The saving grace is, however, how well the characters are performed. Regardless of whether I like them or not, I think the point is that the viewers are supposed to be made uncomfortable; we are not supposed to like these women because they are real and they reflect our own flaws as we watch the show.

Throughout the series, we are forced to take a hard look at how women are judged and judge each other, often unfairly, often harshly, and often behind each others' backs. I recently overheard a man say a male colleague had to rein in his indulgence in 'female' gossip, and while this may be a stereotype it is one I've seen played out in office and social situations myself. In fact, it is interesting that I disliked the characters and it possibly reveals my own psychology as a woman doing battle with other women, since we are practically bred to be compete with each other for men, happiness, success, even motherhood. This also seems to be a favourite theme for Dunham, since her next venture into television, Camping, is also about 'woman on woman' crime. This 'mean girls' psychology often sees women separate themselves into social groups, themselves arranged in a hierarchy, and in order to 'fit into' the group, it is necessary to change who you are or be a pariah. It is part of our innate psychology as humans to need to belong and be accepted. Throughout the series the four friends in Girls seem to be breaking away from the social group they created but do so by systematically alienating themselves and each other from every member of the group. The dysfunctional manner in which these women leave their relationships is quite true to reality, because growing up and letting go is never cut and dry.


I cried during the episode in the final season where Hannah rejects Adam's help to raise her baby. It was spot on in reflecting that strange feeling you have when you realise you simply have to let go of the past and move on, much like the entire season. While Adam and Hannah resonated on a sexual and intellectual level, and the potential for happiness was always there, I think the pair realised they had both grown beyond each other, that it wouldn't be enough in the long run. It was heartbreaking. And that's how the end to a relationship always is. I take this episode to have been the true farewell to the series, because Girls realised it was time to say goodbye.

While I thought Hannah's growth being spurred by motherhood a tired idea, it made sense, as the overall point is not that Hannah, and by implication all her friends, have grown but that they are still growing, like her baby in her arms. The entire series looked at how these women grew apart and attempted to deal with their identity issues, failing dismally, even after six years. But the truth is that many people never know what it is that will make them happy. The final season is possibly the best overall, because we get to see the women without the negative influence they have on each other. The series did not end in a particularly memorable way, but it does end with the feeling that personal growth and success is not something you can ever put a finger on, and sometimes all it takes for you to be happy for the time being is to latch on to something worthwhile.

Have you watched Girls? I would love to know what you thought of it!

{Images: Facebook/GirlsHBO}

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