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.

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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.


Big Little Lies

I am an avid HBO programming subscriber.  Be it Curb Your Enthusiasm, Westworld, Entourage, Sex and the City, The Sopranos, GIRLS; you name it, I have watched it.  I had to download a VPN in order to watch HBO in Spain, and thank God I did because I would be lost without my HBO programming.  I started a new show one night in February when I got bored with only having one show to watch live, Big Little Lies.

The cast is stacked, featuring Reese Witherspoon, Nicole Kidman, and Shailene Woodly as the three female leads, and Zoe Kravitz as the main female supporting actress.  The series, adapted from a novel, follows three women living in Monterey, California, a quiet seaside community, and their relationships with their husbands, children, community, and each other unfold before the viewers eyes.  The hook from the first episode is that someone has been killed at a school fundraiser, the school where all the lead’s children attend, and a whodunit will unravel for the rest of the series.  This show, rather then weaving you back and forth from suspect to suspect, lets the story unfold and does not focus to much on discovering who committed the murder, it lets you learn sit back and get to enjoy the characters.

Perhaps the most important story line on the show is that of Celeste (Nicole Kidman) and her abusive, but outwardly charming husband Perry (Alexander Skarsgard).  Big Little Lies explores spousal abuse in a way that I have not seen on television before.  It does not glamorize or dramatize abuse in a way that feels unreal.  In fact, Big Little Lies is sometimes difficult to watch because of the accurate, raw depiction of a man who “loves his family” but beats his wife viciously.  It is hard to see this beautiful actress get kicked across her bathroom floor as her children watch TV in the next room, but it is important for people to see what domestic abuse really looks like.  I will try not to spoil the show, but Celeste’s eventual justice is bittersweet, as justice for abused women often is.  This smart, educated depiction of family violence is only one of the aspects that makes this show one of the best pieces of television I have ever watched.

Something else I really love about the show is its soundtrack.  Big Little Lies uses the lead’s children as a device which through to reveal a stunning and broad musical array.  From The Flaming Lips to The Alabama Shakes to Grace Slick, every song is a choice in this piece of theatrical art.  The show does not feature any original composition, rather it compiles songs eclectic and electric enough to prompt me to Google “Big Little Lies” soundtrack immediately after watching the first episode.  Each song is reflective of the show’s content and serves to push the characters and the storyline further, as a TV score should do.

If you haven’t had the chance to tune in, you can stream the seven episode series here.