Two girls are having a chat on a bus in London. One of them is from New Jersey; the other is Russian. The bland, boring talk about one of them flying to her grandmother and looking for ways to survive the stop-over suddenly turns into something else.
They switch to the kind of bitchy whispers you only get to overhear when someone is being judgmental about a person who’s not there. They’re surgically dissecting someone else’s behavior. At first, it may seem they’re talking about some mutual friends. Well, they are, in a way.
“I don’t get all the fuss,” the Russian says. “They’re all messed up.” “The point is that none of them is redeemable,” the Jersey girl replies to her skeptical friend. “Hannah is horrible, Marnie is horrible and delusional…” she finger-counts.
“At first, I liked the girl with the British accent, but you know what happened,” she hints at something terrible. “Jessa? Yeah, she was cool before that.”
“What about Shosh? I love her.” “Shosh is my favorite.” Now that they’ve reached a compromise, they’re happy to move onto another subject.
If you still haven’t guessed who they are talking about, chances are you’re either over 30 or a guy who has been put off by the title of the HBO show created by Lena Dunham. Unjustifiedly, as the TV series, now at its sixth and final season, features some of the most relatable male characters you’ll see on screen. Even better, both male and female characters are relatable in a painful way, regardless of their gender.
Premiered in 2012 as the labour of a talented young screenwriter and director, Girls has become a worldwide phenomenon that may have changed TV standards for good. Focusing on four twenty-something girls living in Brooklyn, the show is a roughly real, fiercely funny narrative of physical self-acceptance, showing all sorts of bodies and sex in a very graphic, unappealing way.
It is about time a self-proclaimed feminist show featured naked bodies other than the attractive, objectified, firm silhouettes television has been feeding us over the past few years.
Nakedness and feminism can get along quite well. Burning bras, showing one’s vagina during a protest or simply posing naked for a photoshoot are compatible with advocating women’s rights when they are a personal call. Girls is one of such cases, the personal call of Dunham and showrunner Jenni Konner.
However, there is more than meets the eye. Girls is not all about fighting TV pretty, but also moral perfection. The Jersey girl was right: all the characters on the show are unredeemable, with the sole exception of Ray, the sensitive, selfless, down-to-Earth manager of the coffee shop where they all gather. Beware, this place is nothing like the Central Perk or the MacLaren’s. Girls does not aim at being iconic, rather at being so drab to be easily universalized — that is why it ends up being even more iconic in the audience’s gaze.
Its characters are self-absorbed and hideous on different levels. Desperate to change in words, but unapologetic in actions. Every and each one of their bad decisions makes them less endearing, but closer to the real girls they portray. Even the show’s response to the critics addressing the all-White cast appears consistent with its protagonists’ attitude: acknowledging the mistake, keeping doing as usual, then trying to amend it by casting non-White actors in the last season.
Hannah and his friends are as plain as some random girls on a bus: selfish, self-focused, self-involved. Their rants about their lives are the only thing that matters. It gets harder and harder to listen to the same rants by a friend without thinking: “Totally, can I talk now?”. In a world constantly pushing people to do their best, their surrender to their flawed self is revolutionary.
The latest, unexpected turning point comparing Hannah to Rory Gilmore is a pertinent example. Girls may have the guts that Gilmore Girls hasn’t in showing what is next, by shoving the reality of an unplanned pregnancy in the audience’s face.
Lorelai and Rory Gilmore are the best version of ourselves, flawless even when they take a false step. Hannah and her mother Loreen (amazingly portrayed by Becky Ann Baker) voice our inner, unspeakable thoughts.
“Plus, wouldn’t be kind of great just to have somebody else to consider?” an overly excited Marnie asks Hannah after the latter breaks the news. The narcissistic Marnie somewhat makes her best friend’s pregnancy about her: “You two are preventing me from becoming the godmother I need to be,” she shouts. It is hard to imagine Lane Kim saying that to Rory.
Moreover, Girls is hinting at a possible reconciliation between Hannah and Adam, who already proved to be a surprising reliable parental figure to his sister’s daughter. Whether a Rory-Jess take is what they are aiming at, it is still not clear. Not that Hannah needs a man: she doesn’t need Adam, neither she needs the water ski instructor who happens to be the baby’s father. Hannah doesn’t want him to be part of the baby’s life: telling the father would be “patriarchal and old-fashioned”.
Gilmore Girls wants to inspire its viewers to be better, impeccable — that is not a deal-breaker, but how draining! On the other hand, Girls embraces its characters and audience for who they truly are. That is refreshing.
Enough with high-priced outfits, fancy apartments straight out of lifestyle magazines and unbreakable friendships. If you take a look at current TV shows, you won’t find anything like it when it comes to depicting the lives of Millennials.
Girls is sharply written, beautifully directed and honestly acted. It feels so real that it may be too much to take at times. What if it’s good it’s about to wrap up, some may ask. Nah. We want more as it’s the least expensive form of counseling one can get without trading their comfy sofa for that of a therapist. Oh, Girls, we salute you in all your (and our) imperfections.