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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.

  • http://hypable.com Selina

    Despite our disagreements about Adam, this is a great column! I think Girls is a show which really makes you think, and I enjoy the interplay between the four main characters.

    But I do want to say one thing: I wish that what you said about Girls changing the way we see female bodies was true, but that’s not what I’ve experienced. In fact, if nothing else it highlights how insane society has become. Do you know how many people (both men and women) are disgusted that Lena Dunham “dares” to take her clothes off, as “fat and ugly” as she is? She is NOT fat and ugly, and it upsets me to no end that so many people apparently think she is.

    • http://hypable.com John Thrasher

      Yes, and those people that think that way are part of the traditional masculine ideals of what makes “good TV.” And they’ll always be there, but for this show to be accepted as a mainstream hit (it’s particularly popular in men 50+) says a lot more than other female protagonists that are represented the same way as Hannah is. I think it also helps that this show is on HBO. On any other network I’m not sure this show functions or delivers the same message!

      • http://zackluye.com Zack Luye

        Just have Selina paste our conversation about Adam here.

    • http://hypable.com John Thrasher

      I should also say that the simple idea of Hannah, what she represents, before any reaction is made, is a huge swing in mainstream media.

  • HBT

    I have tried to figure out why I keep watching this show because I cannot stand all of the characters. It is realistic in some ways and very gritty, but maybe that’s why I don’t like it. I’d rather see ‘shinier’ people and situations. The genre makes it hard, for me, to take because it’s not trying to be a comedy or a drama it’s just matter of fact. That’s hard to watch as entertainment for me. Great article John!

    • HBT

       (I know this isn’t directly related to the article- sorries :P)

  • Hugo weasley

    I don’t understand how they can keep girls, but cancel how to make it in america. They’re pretty much the same thing… except for the fact the that ‘How to make in America’ had a story line, it was funny, and I liked the characters……

  • atalyce

    Great article! 
    Although I did write the piece asking how much girls is about girls, i really do like this show, it was just a thought i had and believed it would make an interesting article for Hypable. And fortunately, the next episode after i posted my opinion piece pointed out some of the problems in each character and really helped to re-focus it back onto girls, which i was definitely happy about. 
    I want to support this show in anyway that i can, because like you said, its realistic portrayal of women is something very new to TV and i want it to continue.   

    • http://hypable.com John Thrasher

      I loved your article! I was using it as reference! And yes I remember reading your piece and then the next episode came out sort of debunking it a tiny bit! hahaha! Bad timing but great writing! Thanks for posting it!

  • Elizabeth

    When I first heard about this show I have to admit that I was apprehensive. For some reason, just by looking at the actors (without knowing their previous work) I had decided that I wouldn’t like it. But wow was i wrong! This show is amazing. It makes you laugh, reflect and dive into the realistic story of these 4 young women. I love it and hope it reaches the level of praise it definitely deserves :)

  • akacj7

    “…wonder how much of ourselves we see in her, EVEN IF WE DON’T SAY IT OUT LOUD.” – that’s it right there for me. once i got accustomed to the style and rhythm of the show i really started “getting it” in that each of these character possesses flaws that i too possess, and the way these flaws are presented is a slap-in-a-face-reality-check… FOR ME. hannah is cut off from her parents money, marnie is NOT the goddess she thinks she is, jessa is reckless, and shoshanna is in denial about some realities of life. when i see myself in these characters i think oh my gosh, am i really like that? that’s not great. but its also not the worst. so i’ll just keep on keeping on, just like these Girls. they’re doing the best they can, and i will too.

  • Luigi_barraza

    GIRLS is the most insightful show there is right know, you just need to know a girl this age to see that it rings so true. Let’s support the show as much as we can so we can encourage this kind of amazing talent that Lena has.

  • https://twitter.com/#!/SonyaWrites Sonya Faria

    I completely agree with the column! When I first watched the show I thought that some of the things Hannah was doing were crazy and then I thought about it and if I were in the same position i’d probably do the same. I love how realistic this show is, life isn’t perfect and Lena Dunham isn’t afraid to show it. It’s refreshing to see a show like this! Can’t wait for season 2!!!!!!!

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