Open your laptop and fire up some Robyn—Girls is over. After six seasons, America’s most-complained-about show has finally said good-bye, and now is the time for reflection.
Since 2012, Lena Dunham’s HBO series about four twentysomething friends in New York has been, despite never getting huge ratings, a hotly debated show, whether by fans who fight over its merits at parties, or by people who fight over Dunham on the internet. Girls rankled as many as it pleased, but it always stayed true to itself. That kind of perseverance in the face of comments sections and Twitter screeds deserves some kind of eulogy, so WIRED’s own Brooklyn pals—Charley Locke, Brian Raftery, and Angela Watercutter—sat down to discuss the show’s legacy.
Angela Watercutter: I always liked Girls, but for a long time it was just that show I watched on Sundays until Game of Thrones came back. I thought it spoke very well to a certain ennui that hits hard in your 20s—you know, the kind where you know the word ennui but don’t understand that you have no reason to feel listless—and could magically combine biting and heartwarming, but it was never my obsession show. Yet as this final season progressed, I realized that it meant more than I’d realized. The women of Girls felt like people I knew, even if they were people who occasionally frustrated me. And I’m now weirdly sad to see them go.
This feeling is, I think, exacerbated by the fact that the last season of Girls has been astounding. Some of the plot points were mildly laughable—I still have no idea what the hell Hannah Horvath (Dunham) is going to be teaching at her new university job—but I thought Allison Williams’ full-throttled commitment to Marnie’s self-absorption really took it to the house this season, and Jemima Kirke (and by extension, the show’s writers) gave Jessa a level of depth she never had before. (I would talk about how lovely Elijah/Andrew Rannells has been in Season 6, but if I started I’d never shut up.) But I’m getting ahead of myself. Charley, if memory serves, you started out a fair-weather fan of the show; how were you feeling about it going into last night’s finale?
Charley Locke: I did not like Girls at the beginning. Extraordinarily selfish, anxious, privileged people living out a cringeworthy vision of their 20s? No thanks. But as the characters grew into humanized caricatures, I warmed to it: They’re all cripplingly self-absorbed, sure, but in delightfully nuanced ways. (For full disclosure, a couple seasons into Girls, I also entered my twenties, and realized the show was not a grim prophecy.)
Girls found the funny edges of languid muggy afternoons on the subway before Broad City, and the relatable aspects of wincing self-doubt way before Insecure. Charley Locke
And, of course, Girls has always been so delightfully sharp. It found the funny edges of languid muggy afternoons on the subway before Broad City, and the relatable aspects of wincing self-doubt way before Insecure. And like Ilana Glazer, Abbi Jacobson, and Issa Rae did later, Dunham is a master of self-deprecation by means of pop culture reference. Girls nails some precise joys and frustrations of navigating the navel-gazing decade, and it does it all with cutting one-liners.
And the last season has allowed Girls to engage with itself (and its flaws) in a graceful way. Since the beginning, Girls has faced its share of criticism. Some was deserved—the central characters are all white, well-off, and somehow able to pay for spacious New York apartments with sporadic employment—and some wasn’t, as people conflated Dunham and Hannah. The final season deals with some of these criticisms head-on: Through Adam’s movie, Hannah sees herself through someone else’s perspective for the first time, and Dunham offers her own Girls thinkpiece on Girls thinkpieces in the excellent standalone episode “American Bitch.” And in the last few episodes, I’ve enjoyed Hannah’s self-aware reflections on the Girls era of her life as she prepares to leave it. (I’m thinking particularly of her private nostalgia in the last scene of the penultimate episode, when she smiles inwardly at her friends dancing, a Girls-style emotional release ever since that wonderful Season 1 scene set to Robyn’s to “Dancing On My Own.”)
How about you, Brian? You’re a true Girls fan—did you want the characters to come to some version of self-realization in the last season? Where were you hoping the show would end up?
Brian Raftery: Excuse me for a second—I’m a bit misty-eyed at the mention of the next-to-last episode’s dance-off send-off, which I thought perfectly captured what was so special (and sneaky) about Girls: It was ostensibly a show about friendships, but it was actually about relationships—the knotty, troubled, long-con pacts we make with the few people we know we want in our lives, but can’t always make on a day-to-day (or even year-to-year) basis. And sometimes, relationships simply have to end.
I won’t miss the way Girls—and Dunham—became an easy internet avatar for Whatever You Happen to Hate Today. Brian Raftery
I can relate to that idea—not just regarding the up-and-down connections with my own personal life, but in my own occasionally hiccup-hitting relationship with Girls. At some point during the third season, the anti-Dunham online outrage was so rampant and overheated, I actually stopped watching; I wanted to experience the show in a vacuum, without all the overbearing (if sometimes well-deserved!) Monday-morning outrage and tut-tutting over Hannah’s latest transgression. Sometimes, when a movie or show gets sucked up in the zeitgusto, I prefer to log off. So I turned away from Girls for more than a year.
When I returned, I realized Girls was not only once again a great show, but, maybe, just maybe my … favorite … show? Or, at the very least, all-time-Top-10 worthy? Not since the end of Friday Night Lights—a series that also survived a rocky sophomore season, and that shared Girls’ belief in bittersweet brutal-truths—have I been so sad about losing a group of characters. Ray! Marnie! ELIJAH! Like the actual New York twentysomethings I hung around with many, many years ago, they were ambitious, naive, and gorgeously sarcastic; I will miss them all.
Yet I won’t miss the way Girls—and Dunham—became an easy internet avatar for Whatever You Happen to Hate Today. The show had the misfortune of debuting not only during an era of widespread who-do-these-millennials-think-they-are? confusion, but also at the beginning of the thinkpiece revolution. And while I agree that a lot of the early knocks on the show were justified, at a certain point, Girls was seized upon by people using it to justify their complaints about twentysomethings, or New Yorkers, or rich kids. In 2013, you could bet that any article or essay bemoaning the state of young Americans would feature a picture of Dunham as Hannah. Which is, you know, the way of the web. But I do wish Girls had been allowed to simply be a TV show, not a constant conversation piece, and I do wonder if all of that noise convinced some people to break up with this deeply observant, very funny show.
AW: It’s funny you say that, Brian, because one of my favorite things about the last couple weeks of Girls talk has been people kind of mea culpa-ing (is that a thing?) about making Dunham a millennial straw woman. And even Dunham herself is even speaking about it. She and showrunner Jenni Konner did a great interview with Vulture where they talked about being the subject of so many thinkpieces and how they dealt with that. (Fun fact: They cast Donald Glover before they started getting a lot of criticism for how white the show was.) The best takeaway was that the most interesting thing about Girls is how it’ll be perceived in 10 years or 20 years, or, as Konner puts it, “without all the noise around it.”
But that noise isn’t dying down yet. (We’re still here!) So, I gotta ask you guys. What did you think of the penultimate episode? Did you like that there was a finale feel in that episode that allowed the actual finale to be kind of a coda?
CL: I really liked that message in the last two episodes: The relationships that shape you when you’re young don’t have to be relationships you depend on for good. Sex and the City, so often described as a precursor to Girls, framed romance as fleeting, as opposed to lasting female friendship. Girls makes that point, too, in the beautiful diner scene between Hannah and Adam in the third-to-last episode. But Girls also gives a more nuanced version of how friendships can be intense, formative, and temporary in the same way.
I also like imagining what Girls can be when watched after all the noise—I’m curious to see how Girls has changed how we represent, and talk about, friendship and ambition and young New York. Brian, do you think people will watch the show more charitably when watching after all the thinkpieces? And what did you think of the ending?
BR: Oh, I think Girls will age well: The jokes were precise and prolific; the cast members were remarkably at-ease and in-touch with their characters (and their fellow performers); and the show’s occasionally stark, occasionally day-dreamy, but usually pretty accurate version of how young people try to make it in New York City will draw in future wannabe-Hannahs and/or Adams for years to come. In 2037 or whenever, people won’t watch Girls for its real or perceived socio-cultural politics; they’ll watch it because Marnie singing “Stronger,” or Ray lecturing everyone on the virtues of McDonald’s, or Shoshana accidentally smoking crack are hilarious (and maybe semi-relatable?) reminders of how ridiculous and generally ill-fitting your twenties can be. For those reasons alone, Girls will only grow better with age.
And while I have no idea what those future audience-members will think of the actual series finale, I found it to be quintessentially Girls: Funny, unsentimental, and deeply true. Watching Hannah and Marnie try to keep their friendship alive while also taking care of a newborn was a reminder that, as far as they’ve come throughout this series, they remain in some ways the same characters we met back in S101. Marnie remains forever Marnie—nonchalantly vaping in the pediatrician’s office, singing Tracy Chapman’s “Fast Car” to no one’s pleasure but her own. And Hannah’s frustrations with raising a newborn—which culminates with that storm-out-of-the-kitchen conversation with her mom—is a reminder that, no matter what, she will always view her personal problems as singular, I-am-the-first-person-ever-to-experience-this affronts. Girls was never going to end with its characters suddenly older and wiser in every way; they’re still young, after all. And besides, no one truly ever grows up, as evidenced by the last two seasons’ emphasis on the failed marriage of Hannah’s parents, both of whom are still figuring out who they want to be.
But the final moments of Girls were a very moving acknowledgement of how you can always move forward in some small way, no matter your hang-ups or meltdowns. The scene on the porch at the end—in which Marnie talks about maybe wanting to be a lawyer, and Loreen (Becky Ann Baker) enviously describes her super-cool, serial-dating friend—indicates that, for the first time in a while, they both have something to aspire to. And when a pants-less Hannah takes the stairs to her bedroom, where she successfully nurses her son, the pre-credits look on her face implies a stillness that’s evaded her—and this fiercely contested show—for years.
AW: I’ve actually been thinking about that final scene a lot. There was something about that moment when Hannah sat down between Marnie and her mom that indicated three distinct levels of growth for women. First was Marnie, the one still very much confused about her place in the world; then Hannah, not too far ahead of Marnie, but successfully raising a child; and finally Loreen, someone who has been married, raised a daughter, and is now feeling perhaps more lost than the women next to her. To me that was a brilliant triptych of womanhood—stages that are often repeated, but never really completed, if that makes sense. Some critics have noted that this season took the easy way out in using Hannah’s pregnancy/baby as a way to say “Look, she’s grown up now!” That’s valid, I guess, but I also think that, in true internet crit fashion, people would’ve picked apart the ending just the same if Hannah had gotten a book deal or run for mayor. There are a million and one ways to be a woman in America, and America is perpetually ready to take issue with all of them. Girls didn’t invent this—it just gave the internet a convenient way to argue about it.
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