Fans of Lena Dunham’s critically-acclaimed original series Girls are celebrating the triumphant end of its excellent third season and looking forward to the fourth.
But let’s be honest here: It’s also nice to have a break.
The series has consistently garnered its share of vitriol from the viewing public since the beginning. And while we – the fans – think you’re wrong, we also don’t completely blame you.
When people watch TV, they’re generally looking for escape. They want to cook meth for awhile. Or they want to go undercover with a CIA operative. Or they want to laugh their asses off. Girls provides none of these options.
What Dunham has done with this show is unique and challenging to the average viewer. It’s not a “dramedy.” That’s been done before. Rather, she has created an ensemble drama DISGUISED as a sitcom. And that fucks with people’s expectations. On the one hand, you have some familiar sets, and a cast of colorful, quirky characters. On the other, you have episodes that are sometimes devoid of laughter, but often rife with awkward sex scenes, embarrassing behavior, and situations that can feel so real they make you uncomfortable. To clarify, it is a comedy of sorts, thanks to Dunham’s honest and uncensored wit. But it’s funny in the way that real life is funny – which is to say “not always,” and “often in spite of the situation at hand.”
And while that may sound like a warning, it’s actually part of the show’s magic. Because when we watch those other shows, we merely imagine what we’d do if we were in the shoes of a drug dealer or a CIA operative. But when we watch Girls, we pretty much know exactly what we’d do in those situations, because we’ve all been there before. Sure, maybe we weren’t living in NYC and somehow affording our own apartments without having a real job. But we’ve all been in our 20s, and we’ve all had dreams, fell in love, had our hearts broken, and maybe broke a few ourselves. We’ve made bad decisions, and we’ve made better ones. And while we all continuously ride the wave of our lives into new adventures, I think we can all look back and generally agree that those post-collegiate years were uniquely magical, as we carved out the first steps of our adult paths, excited, terrified, and often hopelessly unaware of how much power we were wielding. Twenty-four year old you probably had a profound influence upon the person you are today.
This is why Hannah Horvath – despite her many pronounced flaws – is kind of amazing. She is not a wise person by any definition, but she somehow understands the high-stakes nature of her position in the hourglass. She knows that if she gives up her dreams or compromises her ideals in any small way, she will suffer the consequences for the rest of her adult life. This understanding manifests itself in behavior that often seems selfish, obnoxious, or insane. And we judge the shit out of her for it. I know I do.
But while Hannah is guilty of these charges, her biggest crime is that she refuses to play by the rules. We, however, in our wisdom, believe that a certain level of compromise and conformity is simply inevitable. We feel this way because we’re evidence of that fact, having compromised and conformed ourselves long ago. We play by the rules. And perhaps there’s a part of us that resents Hannah for having the conviction and the daring to actually follow her dreams, consequences be damned. Whatever our reasoning may be, we tune in every week.
At its heart, Girls is a coming-of-age story about a girl in love. She’s in love with herself, she’s in love with her dreams, and she’s in love with a man. And although she’s been in pursuit of all three this season, she’s found herself and her dreams to be the most steadfast. This, of course, isn’t surprising, because human relationships – unlike dreams and ideals – are impossible to sustain without growth and compromise.
The object of her affections is Adam Sackler – portrayed by the uniquely mesmerizing Adam Driver whose star has been on the rise since this show first aired in 2012. Like Hannah, Sackler is a man of uncompromising ideals, but unlike Hannah, his heart is more experienced, and he understands that love demands an unguarded devotion. Their relationship has been the heart of the show across each season. In the first, Hannah obsesses over a callous and mostly disinterested Adam, as if she was trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. But in her persistence, he begins to fall for her, only to be rejected by her the moment he confesses his feelings. It was complicated and infuriating. In the second, we observe Hannah’s callousness in the face of Adam’s heartbreak, as they explore separate paths, only to have fate bring them back together in dramatic fashion at the season’s close. We cheered. We cried.
In this most recent season, however, we finally get to see them together, in love, and functioning as a couple. And having walked with these characters down the long and winding road to this point, we are invested in their relationship. We’ve seen the passion and the pain, and we’ve related. And despite Hannah’s forays into the ridiculous, her chemistry with Adam has always rung true. But on Girls, as it is in real life, relationships are fraught with challenges, ranging from the petty to the profound. With Adam’s Broadway debut and Hannah’s recent acceptance to graduate school in Iowa, however, we witness a moment of truth for both of them. Hannah, while initially unsure of her decision, is ultimately inspired by her mother’s advice to accept the offer and figure out the details later. Unfortunately for Adam, he is one of the details. Given how difficult Hannah has been to live with since getting his big role, this news could be a deal breaker. In the finale’s final moments, each of them are faced with a rather stark choice between their dreams and their lover. And perhaps for the first time, we, the audience, are stumped as to what we’d do in their shoes.
Thanks again to Dunham and the entire cast and crew for another great season. A special shout out to Allison Williams and Alex Karpovsky for great performances in their particularly compelling parallel narratives.
After a well-deserved respite and some legitimate escapism into various fantasy worlds, I’ll be ready and waiting in front of the television next year for another round of heart-wrenching, skin-crawling, embarrassing realness.