GIRLS, like many a great programme before it has heavily polarised opinion yet this just an example of why it is such great television. Great television should always attempt to push the medium into a place it hasn’t really been before but it should always feel like it is a reflection of the author’s voice. In that Lena Dunham, Girls creator writes, directs, produces and stars in the show, it is easy to see her voice on display. Girls is about the lives of four early twenties girls in New York. So far so standard, yet the first series showed the programmes ability to rise above this setting and create something far more thrilling than anyone expected.
Season two is far messier than season one yet far better for it. It is a programme that is aware of its own nature. Within the first two episodes our lead, Hannah (Dunham) has broken up with her boyfriend, Sandy (Community’s Donald Glover, the first of many great guest appearances) because he said her writing was about nothing. The season in general takes this tone of defiantly examining the nothing in modern life. Many times films and television about New York find that the city becomes the most interesting character but Girls wisely presents the city without focusing too much on it. It makes the city into a trap, imprisoning all the characters and forcing them into more uncomfortable situations.
It is admirable that the program is unflinching in its portrayal of its main characters as narcissistic, self-involved and often utterly detestable. Often other programs will show these figures but they are usually supporting characters and given some form of appropriate punishment, in Dunham’s capable hands the program allows these figures to progress instead of being simply torn apart. It’s a well-known trope of comedy writing the Seinfeld declaration of ‘no hugs, no learning’ and Dunham is clearly aware of it. It humanises the characters but it never gives them an easy resolution and is all the better for it.
Yet it is here that the criticism leveled at the program enters. To many the characters are simply off-putting. It is easy enough to see why; they are easy to hate but harder to love. Equally the show takes a very frank some would say exploitative approach towards sex and sexuality, but it feels very real. It is a programme aware that for many people modern relationships. One particular bravura turn in the middle of the season is the episode ‘One Man’s Trash’ which to some is everything that is wrong with the programme as 90% is Hannah talking and having sex with a man she met after leaving rubbish in his bins. It is an entirely unnecessary episode in the grander plot of the show but in the same way, it completes the series and highlights its examination of loneliness and separation.
It ends the very last episode with a montage of all the characters at their various points. Most of them seem to have some form of happiness and too many, it is greatly deserved. With the knowledge of a third series to come, we are aware that the happiness is probably short-lived but like the day Hannah spent away in ‘Poor Man’s Trash’, it’s all about the fleeting moments, the small victories and that modest victory for this modest programme is easily enough.