Updated: Oct 29, 2020
I was 13, and it was raining outside. Recently concussed, I had taken to certain hobbies, such as the art of the binge watch. Being able to watch TV was a new development in my health, and I wanted to take advantage. At least, that’s what I told my parents, whose concern for my watching 13+ hours of television a day was palpable.
What did I do? I watched Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, Invader Zim, As Told By Ginger, American Ninja Warrior with my dad, full cycles of ANTM with my mom (god bless Oxygen). That night was different. As I found myself listening to the oddly torrential rain from my window, my usual fetted Tumblr scrolling keeping me conscious and in a zombie-like stupor, I stumbled across a really average piece of media whose story would come to grow with me.
This is definitely the most overwrought way to explain the simpleness of watching Girls for the first time. Maybe it was my damaged brain, maybe it was the classic flavor of summer depression I had non-pathologically labeled at age 9. I wish I could explain why I love Girls in one beautiful, maybe run-on sentence but alas, here are some longform points on Girls.
1. General Relatability
The show is what it’s like to be in your early 20’s, living in New York City as a fresh-out-of (insert impressive university here) young woman. The show itself begins with Hannah getting cut off from her parents, who have been bankrolling her authorly dream-chasing since she finished undergrad at Oberlin. Hannah Horvath very much so is the flawed dame you’d assume would have such a name - she’s a little gross, knows little physical boundaries, very sensitive, chatty, quirky. Yet, in putting words down to describe her, having watched the show, these descriptions fall flat.
This is the same for every character - Adam, Ray, Marnie, Shosh, Jessa. Everyone in this fucked up, interpersonal tapestry of liberal arts post-grad Brooklyn are people you definitely know if you share Lena’s experience. At the same time, the consistent perfectly quippy one-liners and strategically placed thematic confession-monologues remind us that indeed, these are characters in a very staged life. Now, for the kicker: do those elements remind us that Girls is just a show, or that this particular flavor of 2010’s transplant Brooklynite try so painfully hard to live their lives like a show? Food for thought.
Everyone has had a tumultuous relationship with an Adam, and if they haven’t, I will venture to guess that at least 20% of his relationship with Hannah situationally applies to you in some way, regardless of your identity or orientation. If you’ve ever gone to a large-scale Bushwick warehouse party, it probably went something like “The Crackcident.” If you’ve ever met a contemporary artist type (definitely a Cooper Union alum), you know Booth Jonathan. If you’ve ever felt unloved, you know every single relationship in Girls. It is as simple and also as complicated as you would like it to be.
2. Is Girls Sex and the City for white millennials?
This is a question my best friend/roommate and I put a lot of time into as avid fans and rewatchers of both. She’s much more of a SATC expert and I am much more of a Girls analyst. Basically, the general ambient volume in our house goes from loud to screaming whenever we watch TV together.
Suffice to say, we have a lot of opinions about this question, the general lack of nuance in the phrasing and the shitty Vulture article written about the two shows, so there will be a secondary essay to follow with my best friend lending her expertise. Points to be made include (but are not limited to):
· Big and Carrie = Adam and Hannah
· Girls is the speculative Lena Dunham take on the 20-something versions of the SATC gals?
- Fuck The Carrie Diaries
· Certain Girls monologues directly pertain to/justify the relationships in SATC.
· …and much more.
I mean, all of the girls’ names are alliterative. The first episode has a direct SATC reference. Stand by for further development.
3. Hannah’s Body
Perhaps, the most deeply pathologized physical aspect on a character in this entire show is the fact that Hannah is white-girl fat. I will not cap, there were moments as a body dysmorphia-addled teen where I feared my body’s resemblance to Dunham’s only to come to the conclusion, now in my early 20’s, that that is the point.
Hannah’s essence is a particular brand of traumatized self-loathing that can only come out in extreme narcissism, to the point of wishing she had seen death via suicide because at least she’d have something to write about. The best part about her is that she doesn’t matter. Everything she hates about herself only matters to her, and because it feels that intense, it feels like that’s what everybody else sees too.
In addition to the aforementioned being the literal definition of anxiety, Lena Dunham has a way of writing and co-directing Girls in such a way that provides absolutely no resolution. There is no immediate gratification you can glean from watching Adam yell at Hannah about being beautiful and then get taken down by a car (S1 E10). There is no universe where that can exist, which provides the perfect vacuum-sealed crucible for insecure little people like me to examine their own anxieties. Beyond the banal trope of a white girl thinking she’s fat because she has ass and is 13 pounds overweight, there is power in watching Hannah’s lack of growth comedically splattered all over your screen, because Lena put it there. Thank you, Lena.
4. Adam’s Monologues
Speaking of Adam, I would first like to say: Adam Driver, there are several things I would like for us to do together such as staring at each other (non-sexually) and eating ice cream (sexually), please if you read this I would like to be your new friend (also sexually). This is a bad half-joke and definitely something Hannah would say - what can you say, I like to get into character.
Okay, Adam’s monologues. Every single one of them is well-written, succinct, emotional, visceral. My favorite comes from the beginning of Season 3:
ADAM : When I was 22, this Colombian girl dumped me. She was both Colombian and went to the University of Columbia. And she was beautiful
and she was smart and she was related to Gabriel García Márquez. And just as fast as we fell in love, she disappeared. And I knew she had just used me. You know, she was an intellectual and I was a thug. And I just stared at the ceiling all day remembering the first time we fucked on my couch in Sunnyside after a rainstorm on a Thursday.
HANNAH: Okay, I'm not a jealous person by nature, but I really hate this story.
MARNIE: He's telling an incredibly beautiful and romantic story.
ADAM: Then one day after being fucked up for months, I realized something. I didn't know her. She didn't know me. Just because I tasted her cum and spit or could tell you her middle name or knew what record she liked, that doesn't mean anything. That's not a connection. Anyone can have that. Really knowing someone is something else. It's a completely different thing. And when it happens, you won't be able to miss it. You will be aware. And you won't hurt or be afraid. Okay?
This moment wouldn’t be possible without the incredible acting, of course, but it calls attention to the dumbest baseline critique of this show, which is that it exists to valorize white women for their Hannah-like mediocrity. Adam is the real emotional sage of the show. While that isn’t to say that a show called Girls is actually about their shitty boyfriends/situationships, Adam has the most emotional maturity and is the best equipped at expressing it. Both him and Hannah are drastically honest people who can’t be honest with each other, hence the result of their relationship. We watch both Hannah and Adam grow, but he seems to “arrive” at that place faster – at least, the way he speaks says so.
By this point in the show, it is understood that the changes we’ve seen in Adam are due to his relationship with Hannah – it’s that gooey, “you make me a better me” that Girls recontextualizes to be “logically, I became more confident in my honesty because my partner sees me.”
Adam is so confident in his honesty here, whereas in Season 1, he couldn’t even be honest with Hannah about HPV, or using condoms. He means what he says to Marnie, because that’s the Adam that is with Hannah in that point in time, who would say what he’s saying the way he’s saying it. Does he feel that way, that connectedness, with Hannah? Is he getting to the point where he’s learned all he can learn from his relationship, the point where the realizations created by the tools he and Hannah found together recontextualize how he sees her? More food for thought.
More so, this monologue is just very correct, in a sense that it’s one of those true-to-life TV moments. Watching Girls for the first time, I only knew what Adam says here is important because of the way Adam Driver enunciated. I had my first situationship with a boy named ******* while rewatching Girls as a junior in undergrad, and I ~felt~ Adam. I’m 21 and about to enter postgrad, and upon rewatching again with several more situationships under my belt, I understand that what Adam said to assure Marnie is 100% true, no overthinking necessary.
Adam didn’t ever have to be Hannah’s teacher, nor she his. That’s the beauty of relationships in Girls – it’s about girls and boys and fucking in a way where it says more about union that whatever invented, one-dimensional aspect of commodity-feminism that critics would like to apply to the show. Hate to break it to ya, haters: a self-proclaimed feminist like Lena Dunham used a boy like Adam as her mouthpiece for relationship advice, sometimes.
The way Girls approaches relationships isn’t necessarily new, but also is (?) in a very particular way. Lena Dunham spends the majority of the show detailing Hannah, Marnie, Jessa and Shosh’s romances and flings through the context of their slap-dash friendship. However, you never lose the throughline of Girls, which is that it’s a show about girls, how they love each other, how they fight, how they interact. While this has been done before in such shows as Sex and the City (we’ll deep dive in the later essay), the way Dunham portrays the foursome’s friendship as the throughline is unique, and personally, very necessary.
Hannah Horvath, Marnie Michaels, Jessa Johansson and Shoshanna Shapiro are all horrible characters, and that is what makes them great. I don’t mean this in the anti-heroine sense, where the main characters possess heroic qualities because they’re fucked up; the only heroic thing about these girls is the fact that all their names are alliterative. Rather, I mean that these girls stick by each other because of their fucked-upness, not in spite of it, and they aren’t some happy band of debaucherous women, they’re a close pod of your normal, run of the mill, fucked up girls.
I am taken back to Adam’s monologue, where he talks about the randomness of connection, and how “you won’t hurt or be afraid.” That isn’t the case for Dunham’s portrayal of female friendship in Girls. Hannah, Marnie, Jessa and Shosh all hurt each other, they’re all afraid. Yet, for them, that doesn’t mean they’re not connected as friends, having only remained such because of trauma bonds and obligations. The girls of Girls are bonded because they see how each other is fucked up, and decide to love those aspects of each other, for better or worse. By the end of the show, we are able to see how all of the tension, tristes and boyfriend stealing lead to that acceptance of: you’re fucked up, I love you, and the way we love each other is by negotiating our flaws.
I am 21, and it is shockingly cold outside for the middle of August. Freshly post-grad, the distant mirror of which I once saw myself through Girls has become yet another veil of my still-developing adult personality, seemingly fused to my skin for the time being. And you know what? I think I’ll keep it.
A raging contrarian at times, my favorite part about Girls was telling people in undergrad how I just loved the show, claiming Lena Dunham was a genius in the face of virtue-signaling white girls horrified by the several articles about her famous wrongdoings. Yes, Lena Dunham is racist – in the same ways we all are, and more particularly, in the pointed ways privileged white women are, but that’s another conversation that frankly, we don’t need to have anymore.
There is no amount of dispelling I can do on Miss Lena’s personal behalf that can change Girls. That is not something I am interested in anymore, which is a bit of my own character development a la watching Girls at several pivotal moments in my life.
I really have nothing else to say other than the barest form of my take: Girls = good show, Lena Dunham = good writer, and the rest very lowkey only matters to you and those conversations you have with yourself in the shower.