Lena Dunham’s Girls returns to Sky Atlantic for a fourth series tonight. Sooz Kempner explains its appeal.
“You have to see this show, it’s like Sex and the City but they’re our age!”
This is how a friend introduced me to Girls in 2012 and I’m forever grateful to her. However, aside from the four female leads and the New York City backdrop, there is little to link the hottest show of the 90s to Girls. SATC was pure aspirational viewing: see the lifestyle you will never have with women you will never resemble. When I watch Girls, there is nothing I aspire to. At all. But far too much I recognise. This is what makes it so awesome.
Our main cast of 20-something New Yorkers making their way through post-university, post-recession life cannot fail to resonate. Hannah, our protagonist, begins as an unpaid intern whose parents have decided to stop bankrolling her. If this was a Hollywood movie, Hannah would flounder for 80 minutes before spending 10 minutes finding the dream job and choosing the right man.
The beauty of Girls is that it realistically portrays there being no such thing as ‘sorted’. In three seasons we’ve seen her attempt a relationship with a man who’s possibly a bigger mess than she is, end it with him and prove she has learned nothing by dramatically getting back with him, believing he is her destiny.
Allison Williams as Marnie
The show also handles the changing nature of a friendship that began in your teens. Hannah and Marnie, her college friend, were once inseparable, but find they have less and less in common until they start to resent each other, sometimes openly. Part of growing up is the realisation that, just as you don’t need to be in a toxic relationship, you also don’t need to stay in a toxic friendship.
Marnie is always perfectly groomed and this turns out to be her downfall. She sees herself as the world sees her: if she appears perfect to the outside, she must be perfect. As the series draws on, her facade begins to crack and she finds that no one can get by on looks and poise alone. I like Marnie best when she lets go and allows herself to be happy, sad or silly.
Our other girls are Jessa, a life-long friend of Hannah’s, and Shoshanna, Jessa’s cousin who is nearing graduation. The former’s a gorgeous whirlwind: fascinating, hilarious and easy to love, but a walking disaster. In and out of rehab and everyone’s lives, she constantly pushes the boundaries of forgiveness, particularly with Shoshanna, who is driven and strident but comes across as an airhead.
However, drunk and sick of her friends in a series three episode, Shoshanna has an outburst that proves herself to be possibly the most insightful character on the show.
Hannah’s most enduring romantic (if that’s a word that can be used and it can’t) relationship is with Adam. She describes him thusly, “in some ways, he’s the most mature person I’ve ever met, in other ways, he has not yet been born.” Adam is the kind of man you’d never want to introduce to your parents. I often watch his scenes with Hannah (and not just the sex scenes – more on those in a bit) through splayed fingers.
Adam Driver as Adam
They probably should have broken up for good about 10 times so far in the show but as one of Girls most interesting characters I’d be sorry to see Adam go. The other main man is Ray, an ascerbic 30-something who is pushed to aim higher by eventual girlfriend Shoshanna. He’s smart, witty and good at his job but also directionless and she wants more for him, rightly or wrongly. When they break up he, following initial heartbreak, is able to get out of the rut he’d found himself in.
Much is written about the frank depictions of sex in Girls. As in real life, it’s rarely pretty. From Hannah’s confused role play with Adam to Marnie’s “look at the doll!” moment (I won’t describe further, it must be seen to be believed), the sex in Girls is often outrageous, occasionally questionable and always believable. Lena Dunham often appears naked and is frequently labelled brave by the media, something she rejects as she doesn’t find nudity scary.
But I’d still say the show makes a bold stand against today’s airbrushed, be-thin culture by showing a ‘real’ body on screen.
Though the sex and nudity of Girls gets the most press, it’s the show’s dialogue that’s its strongest suit. Sharp, funny, touching and sometimes heartbreaking, the characters all have a unique, entirely realistic voice.
Hannah is an exhausting mess. In fact, all the characters have the capacity to be exhausting messes, but what they share is hope. They all hope for whatever a better life might be. And that’s the thing that will continue to keep me hooked.
Lena Dunham as Hannah
Funny Women Variety Award Winner 2012. ASDA Kate Bush.