On the surface, Lena Dunham’s series Girls bears striking similarities to late ’90s hit show Sex and the City. Both shows had a six season run following the somewhat tumultuous lives of four female friends attempting to find success in New York City.
The character of these two HBO shows, however, could not be more disparate, which can be pinned down to the difference in the treatment of men. Whilst the male figures of Sex and the City remained one-dimensional, existing only to fill out the romantic plot lines of the women, the men in Girls are fully developed and multidimensional, making the show enjoyable for all. With the inclusion of Judd Apatow and Bruce Kaplan on the writing team, male influence within the script is felt, but it is evident that this is Dunham’s show, and this is Dunham’s vision. The appeal of Girls is in no way restricted to women, unlike Sex and the City which was targeted solely at one gender. Dunham’s concept and determination has proved successful and refreshing, becoming a triumphant example of how to create an equal and realistic depiction of modern life on television that is entertaining for all.
The complexities of all forms of relationships are explored further in each series, with the introduction of Adam Sackler played by Adam Driver in the pilot, who experiences many transformations in character throughout the show. Adam is portrayed as a brooding and mysterious recovering alcoholic in Season 1 battling demons and eventually falling hard for protagonist Hannah Horvath played by Dunham. Driver’s character can be seen to represent a realistic model of men pushing the increasingly fluid boundaries of masculinity in the 21st century, unafraid to express his extreme levels of emotion and intense passion whilst maintaining an impression of strength and ruggedness. The perception of Adam as a fool is frequently debunked by some of the most insightful statements of the show, proving the complexity of the nature of all the characters on Girls.
Despite the female protagonist and the inference of the title of the show, Dunham’s masterful conception means that the male figures exist much further beyond the boundaries of the women’s plot lines. Girls is intended to expose the ugliness inside the millennial generation as well as the faults of consciousness in all humankind. Viewers are not restricted to relating solely to the characters of their own gender; it is possible to draw similarities in their multifaceted and flawed personalities regardless of whether they are a man or a woman. The beautiful moments of friendship that arise out of the dark and muddied struggle of careers, love and growing up is what keeps the audience of Girls coming back for more and is one of the great things that will be missed about the show. Girls represents real friendships. It is a portrayal of not just romantic interactions between men and women but all forms of relationships. Over the course of six seasons we see friendships blossom and partnerships destroyed, enduring pain and suffering alongside immense happiness.
Dunham and team have found a new formula for successful television, showing that it is possible for people to experience great joy and great pain simultaneously.
‘Beach House’ (Season 7 Episode 3) highlights just how much disdain you can feel for the people closest to you. Attempting to force the bond between the foursome back together, Marnie, played by Alison Williams, coaxes Hannah, Shoshanna, and Jessa to Long Island to undergo some ill-advised group healing. Tensions continue to fester throughout the trip, culminating into a more than necessary argument between the women. Despite the evident unpleasantness, the ingenious writing and direction incorporates a hilariously uncomfortable dance routine into the half hour episode and portrays the unrelenting loyalty of female partnerships. At the end of the episode Hannah begins to silently go through the dance as they sit in frustrated silence waiting for their ride back to the city and the rest gradually join in. The viewers bear witness here to just one of many magical moments like this on Girls.
As a critique on modern friendships and the many forms they may come in, the nature of the show develops as the seasons progress to adapt to the maturing characters. As the cast approach their late 20s, the later episodes of Season 5 and the first few of Season 6 show that growing and progressing is not an easy road for any of them. As Jessa and Adam’s romantic relationship begins to take form throughout Season 5 we observe the breakdown of Hannah and Jessa’s bond. The majority of viewers can relate to experiences of betrayal, both as victim and as perpetrator, leading to the ruin of a friendship. Despite their bond having already weakened before Adam and Jessa fall into a relationship, the hurt that both women feel is palpable and is what makes Girls such a poignant and relevant series. Showing the intense and often calamitous tendencies of female friendships whilst exposing the underrepresented emotional nature of the male psyche, the final season is bringing the stories of each character to a close, which does not necessarily mean there will be happy endings.
Girls is an apt study of modern humankind, exposing the viciousness of our nature which in turns brings about miraculous moments of love and friendship. The realism of Dunham’s vision has created a show among the most important from this generation, showing men and women on an equal and disastrous playing field. Admittedly Lena Dunham is an acquired taste for many; however, even those opposed to her celebrity status are encouraged to give Girls a try, as it is difficult to deny the genius and refreshing nature of a show that will be truly missed as it ends this year.
Words: Ellen Weerasekera
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