The Lena Dunham/Girls Conundrum

I’ve been trying to write something about Girls for a while, but I got stuck. Being new to the show, it took a few episodes to grow on me, but being so invested in television production and attentive to writing, I grew to respect it. It did have the raw, intimate look at “real” life, and not coincidentally – creator Lena Dunham writes most of the episodes based on real-life experiences (from the dick pic in Hannah’s Diary and the tattoo on her ass, to the gay-ex-boyfriend storyline). But I’m getting ahead of myself.

girls new lena face

Girls is a dramadey TV series on HBO. If you haven’t watched it yet, whether by pure laziness or lack of interest, you’ve probably heard of its growing infamy. The awkward sex, the blunt honesty, and the total ridiculous reality of the [sex] lives of four twenty-something girls living in New York. A hipster-ized, technology-revolution-driven sex comedy from a female perspective. 90% of the credits are Lena Dunham’s name (director, star, exec. producer, etc), and it’s basically her baby.

It has the quirky honesty of Lena Dunham, the production and comedic style of Judd Apatow, and a team of hilarious cast and crew that have a million other little connections in movies and such (Dunham’s critically-acclaimed indie flick Tiny Furniture is basically a movie precursor to Girls, and available on Netflix, FYI), so what could go wrong? It’s basically an updated Sex and the City meets Curb Your Enthusiasm. The show does a lot of improv and on-the-fly bits, it’s been famed for its awkward, make-your-skin-crawl sex scenes, accused of being just another rant in the self-affirming writer generation, and been called too racy, too white, too fat, too sexist, too hipster, too privileged, too WASP, too unscripted, and some of those things may be true.

The protagonist, Hannah is flawed. Dunham calls her a mix of “natural intelligence and improbable stupidity,” which is pretty damn accurate. “She has the youthful mix of self confidence, but like, no self worth.” The real-life, improv-y soul of the show is where its unique appeal manifests. She uses her real father’s handwriting in the show, eats real food without a spit bucket, and builds bathrooms on sound stages. But Hannah is different than Dunham herself, a distinction people forget to make.

Hannah is entitled, presumptuous, and selfish.

girls do you realize

She’s sarcastic and inappropriate.

girls new mini abortion

She makes horrendous decisions, and overreaches her expectations.

girls voice of my generation

girls ideal sex w only me

Some of her flaws are endearing and relatable,

girls new lena bike lena new party

“My shoes match my dress! Kind of!”

girls new growing

And some of her flaws are cringe-worthy.

girls period stains

But she’s honest,

girls im scared

And everyone can find someone to relate to:

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girls new women telling other women

girls shoshgirls hannah good feel

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girls marney

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girls hannah good what you want girls grown up cook food

Following suit, Dunham has rarely kept her mouth shut regarding any matters at all.

On Rihanna and Chris Brown: “She’s had this amazing career, she’s won a Grammy, she’s talented, and then she gets back together with Chris Brown and posts a million pictures of them smoking marijuana together on a bed. And it cracks my heart in half in a way that makes me feel like I’m 95 years old. I just think about how many little girls are obsessed with Rihanna. [Being a role model] is a platform that you have to take seriously.”

On the Internet’s Anne Hathaway hatred: [via Twitter] “Ladies: Anne Hathaway is a feminist and she has amazing teeth. Let’s save our bad attitudes for the ones who aren’t advancing the cause.”

On Lisa Lampinelli’s “nigga” picture: [via Twitter] “That’s not a word I would EVER use. Its implications are beyond my comprehension. I was made supremely uncomfortable by it. Perhaps I should have addressed it, but the fact is I’ve learned that twitter debates breed more twitter debates. Don’t like the idea that my silence read to you as tacit approval. It wasn’t. But 140 characters will never be enough for the kind of dialogue that will actually help us address issues of race and class. My personal criteria for engaging twitter debate: I wait until something just sits so wrong in my belly & bones that I must finally speak.”

On Girls: “When you’re in your 20s, sex is sort of this battleground on which a lot of different stuff plays out.” It’s a show about life in your 20s, and sex is a big part of that. Granted, most of the time guys first kiss Hannah to get her to shut up, but their sexcapades are pretty hilarious.

Whatever you think of Dunham, she’s got a lot going for her. She recently signed a $3.5 million dollar book deal, Girls is one of the most talked-about shows on TV, and next season got bumped up to 12 episodes. Plus she’s gotten some decent action on the show post-Adam.

girls donald glover


She did win two Golden Globes and all…

If you watch the commentaries and behind the scenes features, they’re hilarious, and give the show a lot more context. The commentaries with all four girls are like listening to any girl friends ever. They forget what they’re talking about, go on commentaries about bread, “shorty-half-up-half-down” hairstyles and shaving, buttholes, dreams, rhymes, food, and fight about looking good.

“I love her luggage, I want her luggage.” “You look good without mascara!” “I really think that’s the best my hair has ever looked.” “You just get the feeling that he would kill giants for you.” “Hey, fun fact, that belt was actually taped to my body.” “I want to have his comedy babies.” “This couch gave me a rash.” “That wasn’t a compliment, it was a statement.” “This scene makes my skin crawl, in the best way.” “Checking your own dick for the time is the worst thing a person can do.” They take you behind the scenes of sex scenes, toilet scenes, falling asleep during scenes, their favourite foods, and it’s seriously worth checking out.

“Today I had two gluten free cookies for breakfast then got back in bed, it was disgusting.”
“That sounds glorious.” (Girls Pilot commentary)

girls new yo girl

Emily Nussbaum wrote in The New Yorker:

“Still, the most significant thing about “Girls” may be that it’s not a book, a play, a song, or a poem. And not a movie, either; since women rarely control production, there are few movies of this type, and even fewer that have mass impact. “Girls” is television… but it’s also TV in a more modern mode: spiky, raw, and auteurist. During the past fifteen years, the medium has been transformed by bad boys like Walter White and sad sacks like Louis C.K. “Girls” is the crest of… shows that are not for everyone, that make viewers uncomfortable. […] “Girls,” like Hannah, isn’t done: because it’s television, it’s being built in front of us, absorbing and defying critiques along the way. It lingers and rankles and upsets. Like any groundbreaking TV, it shows the audience something new, then dares it to look away. Small wonder some viewers itch to give the show a sound spanking.”

Lena Dunham is not perfect. Hannah Horvath is not perfect. Girls is not perfect. But why does it have to be perfect? We watch our favourite characters make stupid decisions, and it may drive you crazy, but we keep watching. So what if every character isn’t a good role model? Honestly, there’s really only one or two characters on Girls  that I actually like and relate to. 90% of what Hannah does warrants a collective facepalm and hrrphms of frustration, but that’s what girls do. And that’s what Girls does. Characters, just like people, don’t have to be likeable to be enjoyable. The entire seventh season of Desperate Housewives is fuelled by 3/4 of the women making horrible, unbearably ridiculous decisions, and Grey’s Anatomy sees Meredith Grey steal a baby, and ruin her husband’s medical trial, in addition to dozens of other “WHATTHEF%@&AREYOUDOINGYOUSTUPIDBITCH” situations. But we watch the shows, and we hope they move past it.

girls sociopath

We can see ourselves, the best and worst parts of us, and the people we know, in the people we reject or relate to on television. You can learn something about yourself through the characters you prefer over others. People are flawed, and while this may not be the most flattering interpretation of girls, guys, or people in general, it’s a damn good representation of their flaws. The guys are just as weird as the girls are (Ray has been known to be an outlet for Apatow), and just as ridiculous.

girls guys

Dunham knows what she’s doing as a storyteller, and her real-life inspiration and fetish for intimate bathroom scenes (the improv scene that opens the show in the first season, Dunham singing Wonderwall mid second-season) prove that whether or not she writes men and women properly, her voice is a fresh, different perspective that propels conversation.

girls marney dance

I’ve decided I don’t think you really have to like Girls to like Lena Dunham, and you don’t have to like Lena Dunham to like Girls. You don’t even have to like Girls to respect it as a movement. Television is a tool for storytelling, and the stories don’t have to be your stories to be relatable.

Hear it from LD herself:

Follow me on Twitter here.
Follow Lena Dunham on Twitter here.
Read James Franco’s endearingly honest Girls review here.

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