Last night was the Girls season finale on HBO, and though there was some controversy throughout the season, there’s one thing that makes this show a success: the reality.
This is a column written by Hypable.com’s Senior Editor and writer John Thrasher. You can follow John on Twitter @jthrasher.
Note: Do not read on if you have not seen Season 1, Episode 10 “She Did.”
It’s very rare that a show can win me over in its first season. I find it very hard to like a lot of the shows that most of my friends like, based on the simple notion that the storytelling is boring/uninteresting/unrealistic (sorry True Blood fans, I tried!). However, the new HBO series Girls was not only amazing for each of those reasons, but each episode seemed to get better and better.
This season was marked with various controversies. The first being its apparent notion about sexism and gender. A couple of weeks ago we posted this story on Hypable asking if the HBO series is really about girls at all, with the Hypable user suggesting that each of the main characters is dependent on the validation of the men in their lives. And yes, while that was somewhat true, it was also one of many points of realism the show reflected to the audience. What makes Girls so interesting is how it took an unconventional TV formula and made it a huge hit across multiple demographics. These days, to make a successful TV show, you have to have a male heroic protagonist or a sitcom/comedy full of pop culture references and one-liners (Mad Men, Glee, Arrested Development much?). Don’t even think about a show with a female lead that has something to offer beyond her body, though. Our society’s scope of what makes great TV is based on traditional masculine ideals.
Girls, written, directed, produced by and starring Lena Dunham, has turned a comedy series with a flawed (not heroic) female protagonist into a critical and mainstream success. The show reflects a group of girls, each dealing with their own struggle to maturity, at times cringe-worthy, but overall likable, interesting, and most importantly realistic. Are we meant to criticize Hannah when she takes the tip in the hotel room in the pilot episode or are we meant to take a deeper look at ourselves, the reality, and wonder if we’d do the same thing? In fact, I had this conversation as it happened with my friends (who ironically live in Greenpoint, Brooklyn – the same neighborhood as Hannah and Marnie). At first they said, “Wow, I can’t believe she did that,” to which I responded, “Honestly, if I were in her position, I would have done the same thing.” Eventually we all came around and agreed that we would have taken all of the money if our parents cut us off in the same way. It’s unclear if we’re supposed to root for Hannah, criticize her narcissism, or look at all things and wonder how much of ourselves we see in her, even if we don’t say it out loud. And it’s that inner monologue with ourselves, that I only recently realized as being my subconscious, that makes this show a true piece of art.
We are part of a society where the masculine perspective of the blonde-bombshell or the femme fatale is the only “acceptable” way for a female protagonist to exist. Hannah is the character that most of these “acceptable” female characters make fun of or are used to contrast the differences between our perceived notion of what it means to be beautiful. Lena Dunham’s character Hannah breaks this all down with the audience finding her realistic portrayals of femininity, body issues and trust as reasons to celebrate rather than draw comparisons. As a feminist myself, and someone who loves successes like Bridesmaids, I couldn’t be happier and more celebratory for Hannah and what she represents.
That isn’t to say the show doesn’t have its season-1-style problems as well. Should the show bring in more diversity regarding race? Yes, I think so. And there are reports that Community’s Donald Glover has been seen shooting scenes with Dunham. The cast, supporting characters and guest stars have all predominately been white. That’s unrealistic, particularly in New York City… Or is it? Maybe there are social circles that are specifically white-centric, but not in a racist way. This show is more about realism and less about cultural expectations. There are tons of reasons this show could be criticized, whether it be about how doing crack is perceived as “fun,” or how the main characters depend on men too much, how the supporting characters (Shoshanna) are underdeveloped, or how certain demographics are underrepresented. There are an array of cracks to mend. However, the realism and perspective of the narrator present a story based more on the the situational realities of life and less on whether or not a female is dealing with them.
The season finale really nailed this unapologetic point-of-view regarding reality. Each character ended the season with their own personal version of maturity. Marnie, who on the outside seems like she has it all together, is arguably the least stable person on the show (yes, even over Adam) after her situation with Charlie, moving out of her apartment with Hannah, and then ultimately finding herself making out with the wedding host (played by SNL’s Bobby Moynihan). Shoshanna spent the entire season in a panic about where she is in life regarding her sexual maturity. We are meant to assume that she has overcome that hurdle (in her eyes, not mine), with Ray of all people. And Jessa, the resident hippie vagabond, randomly married the man who she was meant to have a threesome with, in what seemed to me like a clear attempt to take control of her otherwise uncertain whimsical life. Through various levels of realism, these portrayals of women and young people in general are arguably the most realistic depictions of real-life issues that are also not specifically about gender. Girls has turned the notion of women being objects of beauty, rather than having something to say, on its head and has done so on a mainstream level.
The season ended just as it began: with Hannah stuffing her face with food. This time, she clearly has her cake (and eats it too). A lot of Girls fans were wondering what it all meant. To me, after Adam rode off in his ambulance, it was all about her accepting where she is in the moment. The final scenes, which to me were a direct reflection of Adam’s “Time is a rubberband,” were all about Hannah accepting the realities, not over-thinking it, and simply admiring a moment alone on a beach at Coney Island after a rather dramatic last 24 hours.
Season 2 is in production with Dunham tweeting that she was excited for everyone to watch the season 1 finale because she was putting the finishing touches on the season 2 finale at the same time! No word on when Girls season 2 will premiere just yet, but I know I for one will be waiting to see how the circumstances from the finale fare and how Lena Dunham will continue to realistically challenge the notion of what it means to be a female on television in 2012.
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