I previously wrote about another one of my favorite HBO TV shows, Big Little Lies, but as the series finale of GIRLS aired last week, I find it appropriate to look back on this influential series.
GIRLS stars writer and creator Lena Dunham, Allison Williams, Zosia Mamet, and Jemima Kirke as the titular girls of the series. Like Big Little Lies, the stars of the series are female, but the context and content of the show is much different. GIRLS premiered in April of 2012 to unignorable buzz, praise, and criticism. The show follows four caucasian, 20-something girl friends finding their feet in New York City. Over six seasons, the last of which concluded this month, viewers watched four young women mature, regress, falter, find footing, and continue to mature into the quasi-women they became as the series concluded.
Girls from its beginning was plagued with criticism that sometimes drowned out the roars of acclaim. When the show first premiered, critics pointed out that every character on the show was caucasian. This so-called “whitewashing” of the cast was addressed by Dunham, she stated that she was writing her experience in New York City, and she did not feel as she was in the position to write someone else’s experience- the story of someone she was not. Dunham claimed she wrote what she saw in her world, but recognized the reasoning for the criticism and addressed this by writing in characters of color into later seasons, with purpose. Dunham often deliberately made social commentary on the use of “token black or asian” characters, showing how self aware the writer really is.
Another topic of discussion for GIRLS was how sex was portrayed on the show. Rather than glamorized, aesthetically pleasing sex scenes as usually seen on television and in feature films, Dunham preferred gritty, life-like portrayals of sex. For starters, creator Lena Dunham appears nude in almost every episode, with far from the typically Hollywood body type. Seeing a full-figured woman, confident in her body, from a female perspective, engaging in sex was new for television. Additionally, sexual consent, masturbation, abortion, and pregnancy were touched on throughout six seasons, always leaving the viewer with a fresh perspective on what they experienced in real life. In this respect, among others, GIRLS was revolutionary; it made it okay to see what a real woman wants and what real woman looks like.
GIRLS told the story of an particular experience of particular generation, that being the experience of white, upper-middle class millennial women in New York City. The importance of this show cannot be disregarded; it showed a generation of future writers, directors, and producers a new idea of what is “airable” or TV appropriate. It showed dysfunctional relationships, sex, drug use, funny women, struggling privileged people, mental illness, and more through the lens of a young person (Dunham) who was learning many of the lessons her characters were learning at the same time.