Girls first caught my attention with its trailer for the first season. I remember watching it and duly noting I would watch the pilot, and give the show a chance. It was mainly because it was a cast full of fresh faces. I had never seen or heard of these actors before and, given the state of television nowadays – where every single new show seems to be attached to a famous face – I really like the feeling and the mood these shows give me. I like unknown faces, it makes the show more special and somewhat more easy to relate to. The other reason for my interest was Lena Dunham. Back then I had no idea she was also the creator and the writer, so to me she was only the “unconventional leading lady” (that’s another thing: I will watch every new show with an unconventional leading lady, I’m all for unconventional, it is very easy to seduce me into watching television just like that).
It took me a while to get into the show because this is not an ordinary show. In fact, I remember my first reactions to it, and I don’t think I felt entirely okay with it until the last episode of the first season. I was annoyed because I had read a few articles on it, and it was a show described for people of my generation, it was meant to be a show that touched base with me, but I felt like an alien next to these women. This show was sold on the premise that it was like Sex on the City without the glamour and the slight surrealism of a world most women my age had never known. I guess I was disappointed because, while surely Girls has no glamour, it was not my reality either. It bothered me it was called Girls. It bothered me that I had been put into the same circle as these girls, because I felt it gave nothing to me and it told nothing about my experience as a woman (or rather, as a post-graduate girl that was meant to go into the world and “become a woman”).
As I said, the end of the first season felt rather different. I have no idea if it was the narrative direction of the show, or if it was me finally seeing beyond my disappointment and my uncalled-for expectations. The fact is that I started seeing the show in a different light, and with the beginning of the second season, I started to realise just how important it was. I felt every new episode dared to go even further into places not many shows dare to go these days. We live in an age where our television is populated by medical and cop dramas, where violence and death are glorified, where you navigate between cheap entertainment and laugh tracks or products that seem to be handcrafted for the intellectual snobs of our time. Girls, in the midst of this panorama, feels like an unexpected and a perhaps unwelcomed breath of fresh air.
There are many articles out there that will debate the show’s alleged racism, the fact that Lena Dunham is “constantly naked” or the fact that with each new episode, a new taboo subject is uncovered. As there are many of those already, I will skip all of that and jump to what I admire the most from the show, which is not its ability to strike controversy, not the acting that is contained within it, not even its ability (or perhaps its inability) to feel realistic. What I admire is the writing: not because I think it’s incredibly fascinating, or because I think the show is specially well constructed or because its characters are particularly very well drafted. I admire it because, in my opinion, what Girls does is create a grey area of discomfort.
Girls is aware that the world is not a black and white scene, that human ethics are dubious, that there is no such thing as right or wrong. It is aware that we live in a day and age where it is difficult for human beings to establish what ethics to adhere to, that the human race is chaotic and neurotic, self-centered and selfish. It is also aware that things can change. That people change constantly, not necessarily always towards a good place. Girls dares to make the spectator uncomfortable, it dares to write about things no other show has dared to write, and it does not need to use blood, death and destruction to shake its audience up. Girls dares to have a character such as Adam, really, and I believe that should be enough. Adam has been developed as a weird and occasionally scary character. At some points you feel you finally understand him, at other points you want to scream in exasperation. What is interesting is that Adam is not black or white, the fact is, that no character in this show is one or the other, in fact, they are all grey.
These characters, as all human beings, will screw it up one day, and the following they might make a better choice. They will not always apologise for their actions, even if they become aware of how wrong those were. Despite the show being a drama (I refuse to call it a comedy, I just refuse) it does not stand within the narrative lines established by televised dramas. Not everything is dark, and neither is it very light. Girls doesn’t want you to root for Adam, and it doesn’t want you to understand him. Because we don’t understand everybody around us either. Sometimes, the choices we make make us uncomfortable as well. And that’s why episode nine in its second season (painfully titled “On all fours”) was my favourite. It was one of the most uncomfortable hours of television I have ever sat through, and I thoroughly enjoyed going on that ride, where I was being shown how these characters kept on making wrong decisions, and they were not excused by it, because in real life you do not always get immediate redemption for your mistakes… in real life, you are actually rather lucky if you get such redemption.
“On All Fours” had us witness how all of these characters not only screwed it all up but they also made fools of themselves at the same time. It had us cringe with rather domestic and ordinary actions. It had Hannah and her q-tip, it had Shoshanna and her unexpected doubt, it had Marnie making a fool of herself because she’s unable to find out what she truly wants. It, then, yes, had Adam finally having a relatively healthy relationship, but then it had him destroy it, unaware that what needs changing is not the person he is with, but himself. “On All Fours” had one of the most beautifully heartbreaking scenes I have ever seen (dancing to Fiona Apple in that club – yes, that might be a biased statement sponsored by my undying, everlasting love for Fiona Apple) as well as one of the most uncomfortable scenes I have ever sat through (Adam, Natalia and the… ”sex”). I think that scene was a very important moment for Girls and for televised fiction in general. I believe it put forward how grey that area truly is. How grey it is for society to be able to identify what constitutes consensual sex and what doesn’t, how difficult it is to portray rape on television without glorifying the act, or without making it completely irrelevant. Girls dared to go where hardly any other television show has dared to go, and I really admire it for that.
The second season finished last March, and this article is only seeing the light today. That is because, while I started writing this article right after “On All Fours” aired, I stopped writing it a week later, after seeing the last episode of the season. I decided to let it rest, and let time decide if (and how) I should continue writing it. The season finale was contradictory to me, because it was one of the most alienating episodes the show has had – precisely because it was incredibly complacent and because it made a big effort to be definitely comfortable. It made me question if what I had been experiencing with the show up until that moment had simply been an illusion. But the truth is, I have been thinking about this article for weeks, and I have been discussing the show with new people as well, and every time I have revisited the show, one way or another, I have realised I was not able to let go of my need to write about it. I guess that, for all the damage that season finale could have done, the show has still managed to do something different in fiction in a very short period of time, and that is truly commendable.