Saturday, June 8, 2013

HBO's Girls Reviewed

HBO have given us some pretty fantastic things over time. Game of Thrones is currently doing amazing things and I love Flight of the Conchords. One of their latest offerings is Girls, a drama about four girlfriends in their early twenties who are trying to shed their adolescent skin and become fully fledged and independent adults. As it turns out, that’s not so easy. I have to say, I love Girls. I think Lena Dunham is an extraordinary writer and should be commended for writing such a complex show. I do however find it difficult to recommend to people because I doubt very much that it resonates with everyone. Girls can be excruciating to watch, in many cases because of the terrible mistakes that the characters are making but mostly because it is so realistic that it makes you cringe. I have known people who are like the people in the show and I’ve seen people behave the way that they do. I’ve had the friend with the clingy boyfriend, the friend who comfort eats and the friend who does jerk things and doesn’t understand why nobody can stand her. If you haven’t had that experience yourself, you usually know someone who has or were there during a particularly crazy time in someone’s life where ridiculous things were happening that you were sure no one would believe if you told them.

As the title suggests, this show seems to be aimed at girls and I have heard many people say that they feel girls are the target audience. I can’t speak for whether guys enjoy the show as much but I can certainly say that if I am the target audience then Lena Dunham has done an amazing job of tugging on those strange memories, friendships and events and putting together a truly unique coming of age story.

Follow me under the jump for some more musings about plotlines and characters in Girls but please be warned, this is an adult show and there will be some explicit content referenced in the review.

Girls is not perfect by any stretch of the imagination but for the most part it is fairly realistic. By that I mean that young people tend to make more bad decisions than good decisions and are shaped by those decisions. In this show, they are mostly shaped for the worse and are waiting to figure out just what they want to be and who they want to be with. The show also deals with relationship break downs, binge eating, drug experimentation, sexual experimentation, mental illness, abortion, loss of identity and complete lack of understanding, all of which make for an interesting viewing experience.

The relationships between each of the core girlfriend group members are the most interesting part of the show. Each tries to discover what they want to do in life, how to be independent and have all the things that life promises while being both fiercely loyal and incredibly unreasonable with their friends.

Hannah, the main character, is incredibly selfish and has a considerable amount of self loathing. She is trying to write a book of essays and therefore, become a professional writer but is having little success due to a lack of direction and motivation. Hannah’s pseudo boyfriend Adam is a problematic character from the get-go and many aspects of his relationship with Hannah are destructive leading to some interesting situations for Hannah.

Marnie is the token pretty girl of the group starting out with a quiet and unassuming boyfriend, a secure and professional job and a bit of a chip on her shoulder. She quickly finds this stability eroding when she loses her job and dumps Charlie. She is Hannah’s best friend but at times finds her exasperating and their friendship seems to be the core focus of the show. Marnie’s boyfriend Charlie does a complete 180 degree change over the two seasons of the show evolving into his own man and experiencing some new things before returning to Marnie as an improved version of himself. It seems to me that he and Shosh are the characters who grow the most through the series progression.

Jessa is the most experimental and flaky of the core group of girls. She is beautiful, travels a lot but feels like she doesn’t belong anywhere. Her sexual exploits and drug fuelled adventures make Shosh and Hannah feel like Jessa is some kind of goddess while Marnie finds her problematic and feels like they don’t connect. Underneath it all though, Jessa is struggling with a lack of identity and exploring all the people other people want her to be.

Shosh is the groups resident virgin and gives a lot to her fellow girlfriends. She comes off as a little strange with a very glossy outlook on life and a fast, hyperactive way of talking and experiencing things. Shosh is not worldly or cool and so she gravitates to Jessa and the other girls, trying to learn to be cool by mimicking them and quickly learning that life is far more complicated than they make it seem.

Marie and Hannah’s complex relationship is fantastic to watch developing throughout two seasons; they explore their commitments to one another and their communication in an authentic way. Shosh’s journey is a joy; moving through first experiences and deciding what she wants in her life. Her relationship with Ray is a great analysis of two people who might work at another time and another place but who are doomed to fail because they’ve met now. Jessa’s exploration of personhood is interested and moving; I really wish there was more of Jessa than there has been because her past and her story are incredibly engaging.

All of the coping mechanisms that the characters develop to deal with their journey to adulthood are intriguing; bad relationships, temporary jobs, sexual exploits, drug use and pushing limits just to see what happens when something breaks. Jessa’s dabble with marriage is a perfect illustration of a spontaneous and ill-advised decision ending badly but contributing enormously to character growth and development; exposing what Jessa really wants and what her issues are.

Although the show has some brilliant explorations of identity and friendship there are frustrating plotlines that play out and that could lead to the downfall of the show in its third season. In fact, there is one thread that I just could not square with; Hannah and Adam’s relationship.

Hannah and Adam’s relationship seems to move from one destructive turn to another and I find myself unable to invest in them as a couple and adamant that she should leave him and move on with her life. There is nothing about his character that I like and I feel like he’s holding her back. At moments when Hannah looks to be making better decisions and growing she often makes a decision to do with Adam that undoes all of the good work. In season one when Hannah confronts Adam realising that whatever their relationship is, it’s certainly not doing her any good, and tells him in no uncertain terms that the relationship is just making her feel too shitty to continue I was punching the sky with glee. This was a brilliantly executed and honest confession and Hannah was taking control of a terrible situation and moving on... all great until Hannah gives in, has sex with Adam and then allows him the opportunity to be the one to break it off.

Later, Adam and Hannah become proper boyfriend and girlfriend after Hannah finds out there is more to Adam than she initially thought. It was an effective redemption of Adam and explained a lot about his previous behaviour. The relationship with him starts out fantastic and devolves into another angry and destructive situation. Hannah again manages to take control of the situation and declares the end of the relationship and tells Adam that though he might not agree it’s HER choice. She should be done with him here; having learned all there is to learn from him and their relationship.

However, in a truly harrowing series of events, Adam harasses and stalks Hannah and will not take no for an answer when it comes to rekindling their relationship. His aggressive and self assured manner is terrifying and Hannah is scared about what he will do. One night, he breaks into her house late at night and refuses to leave. The scene creeps me out in a massive way. After crying and dialling 911 (and hanging up), Hannah convinces herself that she has the situation under control. The police show up and arrest Adam and Hannah tries to explain why she called the police and apologises. Firstly, why apologise? He’s a creeper and she had genuine cause to fear for her safety. Secondly, I felt like these scenes showed Adam’s true nature as a person with serious issues who needed help. It would have been good to see him stop and Lena address his issues in the script and see where he goes individually. But he never sees what he did as an issue and that lets the show, its integrity and its character development down.

Later, while suffering a mental break down Hannah calls Adam of all people to comfort her. This makes little sense as she was scared of him a few episodes ago and is paranoid that he is following her. That this and his stalking seem to become a non-issue is infuriating, but also could be construed as realistic. There are many confused people who end up with the wrong person in a time of crisis because they need something familiar and seemingly safe. The end of season two doesn’t depict the situation this way though; Adam running to Hannah’s aid like a shirtless white knight and kicking her door down to cradle her in his arms in her time of need. He’s characterised as the only person of importance and the only person who cares. This is supposedly his salvation, his redemption, his glory moment and really, how are we supposed to buy it? This is the one thing about Girls that broke the story for me. This show is about the friendships that these women have and yet they become defined by the men in their lives by the end of season two. That Hannah ends up with an utterly unredeemable character doesn’t quite make sense at the moment the gesture takes place. The end of Girls season two certainly begs questions about whether the show has lost its way.

Ultimately, Girls season one was truly magnificent while Girls season two started to wander and wane, detracting from the overall heart of the show. It’s possible that adding extra writers in the second season took characters on some questionable journey’s and had them end up somewhere entirely unpredictable, and not in a good way. I hope season three sees Lena Dunham get back on track and writing all of the episodes again because the new format isn’t quite working. Overall, Girls is a very interesting offering that while not necessary enjoyable at times is a very good investment and very entertaining.

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