It was posed to me, last week, that the reason why I don’t like Girls is because I’m jealous of Lena Dunham, who, unlike me, is a successful writer who makes real money. “That is definitely part of it,” I admitted outright.
But it’s not the only reason, I tried to argue, to a chorus of people proclaiming that it directly mirrors their own lives. “I can relate to it,” they intoned. “I am LenaDunham. Her best friends. I know the dudes they date. I live in her apartment in Greenpoint. I have HPV. Do you like my tattoos? My generation.”
“Does no one else watch this tv show?” I asked them. “Because it’s really not that good.”
But my protests fell on deaf ears. After the backlash that ensued after the first episode, which was as ridiculous as the florid praise that came before it, anyone who watches it is weary of having an individual opinion. If you hate it, you might disagree with real cultural critics. And if you love it, then you encounter people like me, who want to argue with you about it until you cry.
And if you kind of like it some of the time, because it can be really funny—I laughed so hard during the scenes when Shoshanna was high on crack that I literally peed in my pants—and also kind of think that some episodes were really quite mediocre, you don’t have anywhere to turn. Writers who think the show is great use it as a trampoline to make large, sweeping generalizations about the state of the rising generation. And writers who don’t like it are branded as misogynistic assholes who hate fat people, and women, and fat women especially. So nobody writes anything interesting about it.
But really, the show is just an easy conduit for us all to talk about what it means to live in the world today. That’s how culture works. We use it as a mirror to understand things that aren’t yet defined—How are people growing up in the Internet age? Will women really take over the world? Will we ever get over our body issues? Do men inherently hate fat actresses? And how about this darn economy?!—and Girls allowed us to explore these questions, very intentionally, at exactly the right time. That’s the entirety of its worth.
I’m going to ask you right now to set up a scenario in your head. What if you were watching a show on HBO about a group of guy friends living in Silver Lake. You like watching it because sometimes it can be funny. But more than anything, it reminds you of your own situation. The guys are poor. They’re struggling. Their sex lives are totally hilarious and weird in a way that their parents can’t understand (the girl puked on the guy while giving him a blow job after he cooked her a romantic dinner…ridic!).
There’s one dude who sleeps around with a ton of girls, even his boss, because he’s kind of a free spirit. There’s a nerd. There’s a funny fat dude that looks like Jonah Hill and complains a lot. There’s the uptight dude who works at a management agency and wears polo shirts. He can’t get over his ex-girlfriend. The fat dude can’t get a girlfriend. The nerdy dude totally has problems losing his virginity. The free spirited dude totally slept with that crazy Jappy bitch who would not stop texting him afterwards, and wants to settle down. They have no visible chemistry. And his screenplay about summer camp keeps on getting turned down. Bummer.
Then, in the season finale, for literally no apparent reason, the free spirited dude marries the crazy bitch, and there’s a big wedding ceremony. All of his friends seem really happy for him EXCEPT for the nerdy virgin.
Like, seriously, how pissed would you be that the show ended like that? If you were like me, you’d be like, wow, that was bad character development. Because I didn’t even have an inkling that would happen.
Which is how I felt when Jessa married the dude with the $10,000 carpet in his Williamsburg apartment. There was no nuance in her personality that would suggest that she secretly kind of wants to marry a toolbag—and she seemed more defined, and independent as a person, than to listen to the advice from the woman she used to babysit for, which was vague to begin with. This is the girl who, after the Bushwick party episode, I kind of wanted to hang out with. In the end, she just turned out to be badly written.
But getting back to my dude show, let’s say that it ended with the management dude making out with a fat girl because, despite the fact that the show is trying to be “real,” she’s very funny. And the nerdy guy finally lost his virginity. And the fat main character who looks like Jonah Hill ends up alone. On the way home he gets mugged. Then, he ends up on the beach, looking out over the ocean at sunrise, EATING A FUCKING PIECE OF CAKE?
Be honest, you would never watch that show again. Ok, fine, you’d watch it again, but you wouldn’t say that you loved it. It would get like a 65 on Metacritic because it’s quirky and captures the zeigest, but eventually, like How To Make It In America, it would fade into oblivion.
Now, I understand that Girls was different because it applied the bromance formula to an all female cast. But that’s the only way in which it was different. Does no one remember how explicitly the women in Sex and the City talked about sex? Or how the friendship group broke apart in Sisterhood Of The Traveling Pants 2? Or how every fucking romantic comedy with a female driven cast ends in a wedding?
When the screen went blank, I let out a long, satisfying moan. “Ughhhhh,” I said. My best friend Freg Gay, sitting on the chair next to me, who has only seen three episodes, turned around. “I don’t know, I thought it was kind of funny,” he said. “Lena Dunham does have some things going for her. She’s smart. She’s funny, and she has something else.”
“What do you mean by something else?”
“She’s fat,” he whispered, with gusto.
Given that Lena Dunham/Hannah ended the episode stuffing her face, Freg’s was a fair takeaway from the final episode.
Which brings me to my final point. The one thing that I thought was brilliant about Girls was that the “girls” weren’t stick figures. Even the “not fat girls” had tiny bellies, and big asses. My favorite line in the entire series was when Hannah said (to someone), “I have better things to worry about than my weight.”
This is obviously not true—women unavoidably obsess about how they look, or else society tells them that they’re not acting like women—but how great of a message is that to give to young girls? That you should be worrying about finding a good mate, and a good job, and following your dreams, before you worry about shaping your body.
The cake stuffing scene at the end, in Hannah’s final moment, ruined all of that for me. Here is a girl with nothing left who, in a final message to the audience, whether intentional or not, draws attention to how fat she is. Aren’t we supposed to not care? Aren’t we supposed to accept her for that? Aren’t we supposed to talk about how eating what you want doesn’t have to be disgusting?
I liked Girls. I didn’t love it. It made me laugh. It made me angry. I love Shoshanna. I absolutely hate Hannah. Maybe that means that it has more worth than I’m willing to give it, but I’m still waiting for something better. And I’m waiting for it desperately.