How relevant is it to watch Girls (TV series, 2012-2017) in 2020 ?
Often compared to Sex & the City and Gossip Girl, Girls covers the gap in the market for TV series about women in their twenties. The TV series follows the lives of four young women as they make their way through life from their early-mid twenties to their late twenties.
Hannah is the main character and the story revolves around her and three of her close friends. Hannah is a 24-year-old aspiring writer. Her parents decide to stop funding her lifestyle and she has to support herself. Between her mental health issues, her rocky relationships and life commitments, it is a much rockier path than she imagined.
Marnie is Hannah's best friend from college. Her life falls apart when she loses both her long-term boyfriend Charlie and her job in an art gallery but it also gives her the possibility to explore long forgotten dreams. Jessa is the nomad of the group. She comes and goes at the rythm of opportunities available to her. Shoshonna is the youngest of the group. She is a 21-year-old NYU student with big dreams and a practical plan to make them come true.
The choice of four characters with four different lives, jobs, bodies enables the series to cover a large part of the female audience. Whether you are a student, an entry level graduate or working odd jobs, there is a character you can relate to.
Although, watching it in 2020, the lack of diversity in the four protagonists, their boyfriends and close entourage is striking. The cast is predominantly white which feels wrong in a city as diverse as New York.
This issue has been raised by several media when the first season of Girls has been released in 2012. Several interviews of Lena Dunham mention that these issues will be addressed further in the series. It translated by Donal Glover playing Sandy, a black Republican who is Hannah's love interest for the two first episodes of season 2. He will never be seen again.
Lena Dunham adresses the diversity criticism on Indie WireIt saying she wrote Girls from experience and felt that being coloured is an experience she could not speak of. I would completely understand that if she wrote the six seasons by herself but many writers were men. It is legitimate to wonder why they did not get some BAME writers on board to explore that issue. Out of 62 episodes, 10 were written by men only, 16 episodes were co-written by both men and women and 32 - which means more than half - directed by male directors. Let's be honest, what do these male writers and directors know about being a woman ? Then the series should have been entirely written and directed by women only. All the numbers are based on the information available on Girls here.
Even today, a lot of the things Girls try to change is still accurate like the body positive message and the realistic sex scenes. It is not glamourous nudity and extremely choreographed movements. It is uncomfortable, and realistic. Because it is not trying to depict a glamourous version of reality, bodies can be seen as not sexualised but shown as they are. Hanna's body and her insecurities about it are in the centre of the series as is her confidence about it too. There is something empowering to see Hanna wear what she likes, feel sexy and come on to men when her body type does not fit the society's norms. It is empowering because it tells all women that we can do the same. Hannah is not afraid of her desire. She is one of the very few female characters to do so on TV and probably one of the only ones in 2012.
One of the strong points is the depiction of various types of relationships - parents, sisters, brothers, older people. There is a whole entourage and family environment around Hanna. When a lot of series focus on the main characters, Girls take into account the entourage around her. Usually, TV series get rid of the parents like in Gossip Girl where they are often away or simply exist off screen with little interference with their kids' lives whereas Girls puts them in the spotlight. Hannah's parents play a big part in her life and in the narrative. Their relationship with their daughter is the main focus as she is the lead of the show but it does not stop there. Their lives outside of Hannah are depicted on screen - fights, accidents, happy events, etc.
I have started this TV series at 25 and it was refreshing to see characters close to my age and with concerns closer to me. Although having graduated a year ago, I have found loads of things unrealistic. She has to start supporting herself and she makes a big deal about it. I don't know how many people of my age get entirely supported by their parents but I do not know any. Even the friends who get some help have to earn the biggest part of their income. And it is pretty normal at 24 which is Hanna's age at the beginning of the TV series. She gets an office job quite quickly and quits. I think it's odd that she does find a job in an office and being bad at it manages to keep it. Having worked myself in various jobs while I was studying and afterwards, no employer ever keeps you just because you have potential especially not in big cities like New York, Paris or London. The way she quits her job is also unrealistic. Who would do it without no income to pay the rent ? Luckily, Ray gives her a job as a barista but she keeps quitting it to ask to be taken back a couple of days later. It's very convenient that she has the manager Ray as her friend but it is also surprising the amount of things he has put up with. If I quit or walked out of my job for several days and then came back, I am pretty sure I would not have a job anymore. Hannah is always on the cusp of difficulty but always manages her way out like when she needs to find the money to pay her rent but she does not ask her parents. It looks like she got it but we do not know from where. When you are a graduate, money matters. That's why Shoshonna's and Marnie's narratives are more believable. Shoshonna can't find a job for months after graduating - welcome to the real world ! Marnie has to go back living at her mum's because she can't afford her rent after her band with Desi collapses.
Overall, I have found Girls weird, uncomfortable, frustrating and fascinating. I have heard about it for its feminist outtake on sex, women and bodies. I agree that Girls pictures sex and desire in a new way but numerous times this show has encouraged toxic relationships and going back to old patterns. Adam saves Hannah numerous times. He makes her take her pills at the end of season 2. She does not take ownership over her own mental health but depends on Adam for it. Hannah kisses a man without asking for consent in a situation where she has invited herself in his house. They are talking, not flirting. It made me feel really uncomfortable because it reminds me of situations where men did that and that was not okay. When it's not clear, one should not do it. Hannah stays with Adam but he has obviously anger management issues and she indulges in any sex thing he is interested in even when she does not feel comfortable with it. It's not healthy. In the first season, Hannah could not dare ask for more than sex.
This TV series should encourage women to take ownership of their romantic relationships, ask for what they need and go whenever it becomes toxic. Instead, it takes 5 seasons for Hannah and Adam to break up for good. Even when he is Jessa, the relationship is based on much anger. It is not intense, it is toxic. Adam is toxic in many ways just as Hannah but these issues are never properly addressed. The characters believe they can not change.
When Hannah is dating Fran (Nicolas Hoult), he is a very nice and respectful man. She grows bored of him but avoids dialogue. She breaks up with him while they are on their way for a big summer trip. She asks him to leave her at the gas station even when he offers to drive her back. She runs away from him. The story line treats Fran as the crazy one and the villain when it's Hannah who was being immature. Messy relationships are real but it would be nice to also see mature relationships where both parts communicate.
Watching Girls what I felt was frustrating is how selfish Hannah was. Whenever she calls her friends up it's either to discuss her own problems or brag about a good opportunity. It struck me first when Hannah invites Marnie over for dinner to tell her she is pregnant. Marnie tells her that Ray broke up with her. Hannah jumps on her own news and never offers support to Marnie. Reminded me of when she invited all of her friends over while living with Adam. She made about her and how adult she is when her friends were going through tough times. It was all about her showing off Adam like a trophy. She does that even to Shoshonna. She shows up at her place and discovers it's her engagement party and she hasn't been invited. She has treated Shoshonna badly and is surprised. She expects the world to revolve around her.
Hannah is extremely unsympathetic. It is difficult to feel anything for her because she is selfish and creates her own problem. Hannah is not helping herself. When she has mental health issues, she does not take her medicine. When she gets a book deal, she procrastinates and avoids doing the work instead of dealing with it. It feels like Hannah is running away from her life even when it is something she wants because then she complains about the lack of opportunity. It is difficult to identify with a character like that.
Twenty episodes in, there was no sign of change in Hannah. Her being the main character it is a bit confusing and annoying. You want to see the character grow, learn, try again. She is stuck in patterns. It annoys me because she is shown as the archetype of the modern woman when it's not true. A lot of this TV series is turning into circles over and over again.
Jessa, Marnie and Shoshonna have interesting arcs. My favourite is Shoshonna's because she grows, learns from all the experiences and by season 6, is a different woman compared to the 21-year-old she was. At the end of the tv series, she is very blunt with the others and takes her distance from the group. It's the best decision you would ever see any character take. Their friendship was toxic and holding each of them back. The depiction of female friendship is quite wrong and I would not recognize my friendships in these. It is based on drama, creating problems and not listening to advice or each other.
Some people might say Girls is about being real and sometimes people don't change. While I would agree with that, in a fictional work, there is no interest in the story and characters if they do not evolve and stay in the same auto-destructive patterns for 62 episodes. It is entertaining in the firsts season, it is frustrating by the end of season 2 and boring afterwards.
Watching it being 25 in 2020, it questioned my feminist views. Having been released between 2012 and 2017, Girls was a revolution for these years. Today, it has dated and can make you cring like Friends or How I Met Your Mother. It remains one of the TV series that deals with women in their twenties which is still a gap in the market. It is still comforting to see characters around your own age going through similar challenges although it targets a very small group of the female audience which is white WASP women.