Girls arrived on the scene at a pivotal time for me as a TV viewer/person. I was 24 and had just quit my job in New York City and moved to Italy on a whim to “teach English” read: travel and dick around. Yep—very ‘Jessa’ you would probably agree if you’ve seen the show before.
So, I definitely “got” the show and was immediately drawn in. And, if you fit the demographic of the characters, like I do, you know it didn’t feel so much like a show that was for us young, white female, semi-employed, semi-single, privileged city-dwellers; it was a show that saw us, zoomed in hyper-close and pointed out our bottomless and oft-societally-rooted flaws. And not in the same light that jokes on the Internet about millenials are presented, but in a deeper, rawer one.
But, as the show rounds the corner on its third season, I’ve changed in two years, gotten my proverbial s**t together, but our anti-heroines are…still crying out for big-picture interventions. Lena Dunham is clearly wrestling with questions like “But how much can a person really change?” a question we see Adam and Hannah (yes, they’re on again) trying to answer in the season’s first episode, “Females Only” and that we see Jessa actively avoiding in the second episode “Truth or Dare.”
“I’m not gonna change into a different person just because you want me to,” Adam tells Hannah. “You have to,” she responds. “It’s called being in a relationship.” And it’s these expectation vs. reality gaps the undertone of the show has operated on in the past that appear to continue to drive the characters and their relationships in Season 3.
Dunham’s creation did something many comedies have done before: present a set of characters whose personality and choices are rarely admirable or at times even forgivable, and still craft a world where we care about what happens to them and agree to follow their comical/tragic misteps season by season (see: Seinfeld, Curb Your Enthusiasm, The Office, to an extent Sex and the City). Of course, like any series, Girls and its characters have had their peaks and valleys in realism and believability.
A significant chink in that realism from the get-go has been the show’s approach to race. Dunham was vehemently criticized for the unabashed whiteness of the world the girls seem to occupy within the immensely diverse city of New York. And with the introductions of various characters of color their interactions with the girls seemed to lack meaning and, more importantly, consequence (although worth noting is the now-departed Charlie, Christopher Abbott, who was a white Hispanic and whom Marnie infamously tells in Season 2’s finale that she wants to have his “little brown babies”). This continues in Season 3 Episode 2, “Truth or Dare,” where Jessa seduces fellow rehab inmate Laura (played by Orange is the New Black’s talented Danielle Brooks) mainly so she can prove her theory that Laura is a lesbian.
“So I went down on fat, gay Laura. It was basically charity,” Jessa glibly tells the facility administrator. As a consequence, Jessa is kicked out of rehab, yet, we see little in the way of any moral consequence for Jessa, and as a viewer, we are not given any scene that cues us into the pain Jessa causes Laura. Hannah’s interaction with a paramour played by Donald Glover in the beginning of Season 2 similarly failed to drive any meaningful comments or threads on race into the show.
Here’s hoping that Dunham keeps trying to dig deeper to present her characters with societal obstacles that effectively challenge their privileged, white-girl blinders.
Girls Season 3 Character Index
For you dear readers who want to go into the nitty gritty of the characters, I’ve added a Season 3 character index so that you can read about my gripes with where the season is taking them as well as their victories.
Marnie, Marnie, Marnie. The character I most struggle to like. Dunham seems especially prone to waterboarding viewers to Marnie’s character; yet again this season we find her working an hourly job and pathetically pining (again) over Charlie, whereas in the first season she was the character with the most professional promise and the most even-keeled outlook on love. Marnie is overdue for a rebound, yet the show is meticulous with Marnie’s unraveling.
Though Jessa and Hannah have serious meltdowns in the show, theirs felt less severe as there were so many chinks in their armor to begin with. And Marnie’s unraveling seems to bridge each season with no signs of stopping. Previews of the season show Marnie continuing to be the crazy spurned chick, taking out her Type A aggressions through kickboxing and not eating. Victories? None for now, though I really enjoy her interactions with her glamorous-in-the-suburbs divorcee mom, played by Rita Wilson.
The introduction of Hannah’s mental illness last season was something of a victory for her character as it explained/didn’t quite explain everything, the way that key character traits often can. Hannah’s back on the professional ball and working on her memoir again, although, of course, there are bound to be red lights ahead there. We haven’t totally abandoned Hannah’s characteristic childishness, a victory for the show, I’d say: indignant to her boyfriend Adam’s impromptu hike she plops on a pile of leaves and listens to “This American Life” on her phone, in “Truth or Dare.” She also sticks her head into and gets it stuck inside an upturned rocking chair while riding in the backseat of the rental car.
Hannah continues to serve as the anchor character of the show and realistically plays the part of the anchor in any friend circle: she scolds Jessa for vanishing without warning, she walks on supportive eggshells around Marnie’s pathological breakup blues, she reminds Shoshanna that college is the best time of her life and not to waste it. More than any other character, I continue to root for Hannah.
The one victory Shoshanna has held onto as Season 3 gets underway is her character’s impeccable comedic timing. Zosia Mamet does great things with Shoshanna and she can steal a scene with a perfectly timed eyebrow raise or simpering “um.” The scene early in “Truth or Dare” where Adam, Shoshanna and Hannah are in a rental car on the way to Woodstock, NY to pick up Jessa from rehab, has Shoshanna and Hannah bleat-singing and attitude-gesting the lyrics to Maroon 5’s “One More Night” until Adam punches the car stereo into submission is hysterical, and Zosia’s choices for Shoshanna in the scene are dead on.
Unfortunately, as Alyssa Rosenberg of Vulture observes, Shoshanna seems to have undergone a “brain transplant” this season and has lost her sharp edge. She makes an argument at one point that women can’t be president because they menstruate, and is utterly oblivious to the trouble Jessa finds herself in. Here’s hoping Dunham performs some brain surgery on our beloved, sassy Shosh.
Though, I’m not a contrarian as a person or as a critic, I am when it comes to Jessa. The harder she works at daring us to like her, the more I chase after her. She’s the shows biggest monster aside from Adam (more on him below) and though a window into her family life backed that up a bit, we’re still usually left scratching our heads. Like when she married the investment d-bag with the shag rug.
Season 3’s Jessa terrorizes rehab and maybe learns something along the way was another headscratcher. Though it’s clear that Jessa has no interest in addressing her own problems and is keen to deflect by calling others out on theirs, we still don’t quite know why, if she realizes it, or if she ever plans to stop. But, she’s got my attention, as Jessa is wont to do.
I almost didn’t do a character index on Adam as an entire review of these two episodes could be devoted to his character. Adam may not be the show’s monster, but he is certainly the carnival freak, and that was underlined, several times, in figurative Sharpie, by his encounter with his ex Natalia in Grumpy’s coffee shop.
Adam’s questionably consensual sex act with Natalia in Season 2 was one of the standout times we realized Adam has some seriously broken understandings of the world and is prone to hurting those around him without trying. Natalia’s not altogether untrue public denouncing of Adam as a “Neanderthal sociopath sex freak,” was all the more potent because he doesn’t deny it, and neither does Hannah. He also continually serves up some of the shows most poignant dialogue.
“Hannah needs so much, and you just give, and give, and give like a saint,” Shoshanna tells Adam. “I’m serious. Think about it. What would she have done during this period of mental unrest if her boyfriend had been, like, an actual human being, like, existing in society? What if you had, like, a job, or responsibilities, or places to be during the day, or a best friend?”
“She’s my best friend,” he replies, without missing a beat.
What channel is this on?
“‘Girls’ will be Girls in Season 3”
what exactly were they suppose to be ? :S
Haha. Well, it’s a reference to the popular expression, “Boys will be boys.” Have you heard that expression before?
Great review. Regarding the criticism you allude to against the show in its representation of race (or lack thereof), I’ve read some of those posts criticizing the whiteness of the world that the girls on ‘Girls’ inhabit and I’ve always wanted to write a piece in defense of that. For me, personally, I prefer authenticity. NYC itself is a very diverse city, it’s true, but it’s also true that for quite a lot of people, the actual level of real, deep interaction, not just commercial transactions, with those outside the demographic they’re used to is pretty limited. It’s not wrong per se, it just is (unless they let that limited experience become cause for ignorance and insensitivity towards others which is indeed sometimes the case). I could be in the East Village and surrounded by a rainbow of cultures and ethnicities but then go to a restaurant on the Upper West Side and only see affluent white people around me. And I’m pretty sure many of them rarely stray beyond their comfort zones, at least not willingly. Again, I’m not judging this; it just this. But if that’s their world, and I’m reading or watching a story about them, that’s what I want to see – their real, authentic daily experience, not an attempt to cater to a certain demographic and make people happy.
It’s the same reason I enjoy watching films by Martin Scorsese or Woody Allen, for example (especially their earlier ones) and not consider the lack of black, Latino or Asian characters in itself as being negligent, let alone racist, or misrepresenting New York. They’re just representing their world. The characters, on the other hand (as when characters in a Scorsese film talk about blacks or Latinos using the n- and s- words) might very well be racist. It’s a tough, complex issue and the funny thing is white artists will sometimes get criticized no matter what they do. Tarantino, for instance, gets criticized for using black characters the way he does. So it can almost be like a Catch-22 for some artists. That’s why for me, personally, I just prefer that artists be true to their voice and experience. (Though in Tarantino’s case, I happen to believe that he *is* being true to his experience, not in the sense of reflecting reality accurately but in the sense that he grew up watching tons of blaxploitation films from the 70s and is simply writing the same kind of archetypical characters he grew up with.)
So anyway I think trying to force the issue often leads to the kind of awkwardness that we saw when Lena Dunham tried to write in a few characters of color in…Season 2, was it? I think a better thing critics and audiences can do is, instead of asking and expecting all artists to represent all demographics, they should try to support the arts and art programs more, and to help give a more diverse range of artists the support, exposure and resources they need so that more people can tell their stories and then audiences can pick and choose the ones that they like or that feel real and true to them.
Whoops, this comment ended up being much longer than I intended but anyway, there it is. 🙂
oh yes! new episode today, right?
Isabel, yes! 🙂