Girls: The Growth Spurt

Girls
Six Seasons, 2012–17

Main Characters
Hannah Horvath (Lena Dunham)
Marnie Michaels (Allison Williams)
Jessa Johansson (Jemima Kirke)
Shoshanna Shapiro (Zosia Mamet)
Adam Sackler (Adam Driver)
Raymond “Ray” Ploshansky (Alex Karpovzky)
Elijah Krantz (Andrew Rannells)
Desi Harperin (Ebon Moss-Bachrach)

I have a friend who once told me that I reminded him of Hannah Horvath from the show Girls. I don’t know if this was a compliment, an insult, or just a physical comparison because both Lena Dunham (creator of the show) and I have brown hair and eyes, tattoos, and fat rolls. The show was pretty revolutionary at the time of its release. It centers around Hannah and her friends as they navigate the uncertainty of being in your early to mid 20s. This is a time when many of us are just trying to figure out who we are, what we want out of life, and how to achieve those things. Another reason why it was revolutionary was because the lives of 20-something Millennials had never been deeply explored in a TV series, at least not in a dramedy without a studio audience and laugh track.

I recently re-watched this series on a whim. I was wanting to submerge myself in the familiar, and this series popped up on my HBO Max account. When this series first aired, I was a fan from the very beginning. The writing was funny, heartfelt, heartbreaking, cringey, real, and just plain good. The actors were all so amazing, and a large portion of the cast were unknowns at the time, which I found to be refreshing. Sunday evenings were dedicated to watching this show for the entire six seasons. I looked forward to every episode, and every new season, even when the later seasons got a little preposterous.

Just like with many shows that maybe run their course a bit too long, Girls did the same. The first four seasons were great. Watching the growing pains of these characters was enthralling. First loves, first jobs, first apartments, first heartbreaks, and just first firsts. But, getting into the later seasons, things just got to be too much. The intertwining of their lives was sloppy, and at times, petty. As I rewatched the show from an older person’s perspective, some of the characters didn’t progress, they were stunted, lost in the mirror of looking at their life through Instagram filtered eyes. Most of them actually became much more self-involved, selfish, and completely out of touch with each other and with the world; it was frustrating to watch.

The series begins with Hannah and most of the cast in their mid-ish 20s, so selfish behavior is expected at that time, but you’d think that after six years of mistakes the characters would grow up a little more, but it felt like many of them didn’t, especially Hannah. Every season, it felt like Hannah would take two steps forward and then three steps back. She would mature a little bit, and then a situation would come up and her self-involved attitude would re emerge. It wasn’t just Hannah, though, Marnie was another character that did not progress. She made one bad decision after another, and then would gripe about why her life wasn’t working out the way she wanted. The only characters that really changed were Shoshanna and Jessa. In the end, Shoshanna spit the truth when she told Hannah, Marnie, and Jessa that she no longer wanted them in her life because they had grown apart, and because of all the self-absorbed antics she had witnessed over the years. This was a real moment between young women that had nothing in common anymore, not like the way they used to, but were still trying to hold onto the semi-good vibes of the past. Truly, it isn’t until the final episode of the series that Hannah actually becomes an adult. At this point in the show, she was a new mom and had gotten a job as a professor, but was still acting like a petulant, bratty teenager. It’s not until the final two minutes of the series that the audience sees Hannah step up to the plate, but it felt a little too late at that point.

Even though there was this feeling of frustration with many of the characters, I do want to say that, overall, the episodes tackled relevant and controversial issues, which is one component that kept me watching the show. An episode that comes to mind is “One Man’s Trash” in Season 2. This episode was during the season where Hannah’s OCD and mental illness kicks her ass. In this episode, Hannah has a two day tryst with Joshua (not Josh) played by Patrick Wilson. I remember when this episode aired, there was a flurry of responses to it, the biggest being that Hannah was not attractive enough to be able to catch the eye of this very handsome man. Wilson, for those that don’t know him, is what society would deem as “good looking”, and in the episode, his character and Hannah just go to town on each other for the entire episode. Many people felt that someone who looks like Hannah would have absolutely no shot with someone who looks like Joshua, but what people were really saying is that women who are not considered attractive (aka thin) could never be with someone who is hot in the eyes of the world. The feedback to the episode got so heated that Wilson himself put a statement out about the whole situation. I think of this episode because it was so telling about the way the world looks at and treats women who don’t fall under the gorgeous category, one that I often find myself in. We like to think that our society is progressing forward with the body positivity movement, but it’s not, or at least it’s very slow going, and this episode really highlights the way people still feel about bodies that are deemed unworthy of love and attraction. This episode and topic can make people feel uncomfortable not because of the sex scenes between Hannah and Joshua, but because it can reveal their inner bias towards people who are overweight.

This is part of the magic that was Girls. It was a show that created discussion. At the time when the show was on the air, my bff and I would talk for hours about each episode. We would laugh about the funny one-liners, gasp at the scandalous storylines, and shake our heads at the major missteps. It was a show that said something about society, about how these particular young women fit into this world, about growing pains that last well into one’s 20s, and about coming together while falling apart.

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