For the past two years, I’ve defended Lena Dunham and her hit HBO series, Girls, innumerous times. I felt like, privilege and nepotism of its actors aside, the show told an authentic, funny, and relatable story of young adulthood in New York. For a while, that was true. I cared about Hannah’s relationship struggles and was invested in Marnie’s career woes. I genuinely wanted to know if Shoshanna would get comfortable with sex or if Jessa could stop sabotaging herself. Those feelings have now stalled as Girls, now in its third season, has all but given up on interesting character development.
The characters only face slight permutations of the same issues from previous seasons. There’s no growth. The stakes haven’t been raised. The trite “white girl problems” were engaging for a while, but now that the audience is comfortable with those situations, feeding into that comfort is a mistake. The writing has settled into a lull of quirky faux-dilemmas and witty one-liners. The dialogue is good, but it isn’t moving towards anything, and it’s boring me.
The opening scene of season three began with Hannah and Adam running into Adam’s old fuck buddy, Natalia, and one of her friends at Café Grumpy (played by ascending comedian Amy Schumer). A dramatic confrontation about how Adam used Natalia for sex and never called her ensued, with the kicker: she’s pregnant. About 30 seconds later, the pregnancy was revealed as a joke to temporarily torment Adam, and sadly, because it let us know that the show is already shying away from taking risks.
A surprise pregnancy doesn’t have to be a lazy plot twist. Given the circumstances of Adam’s brief relationship with Natalia, it was plausible. Even an abortion storyline would’ve been intriguing if there was concern over bringing a newborn into the plot of Girls. Anything would have been better than the cop out of a joke. Can you imagine if Adam had to stop being an arts and crafts weirdo and get a job and have some responsibility? Even if the pregnancy was a joke, how was there no jealousy on Hannah’s part about who Adam slept with while they were on a break? That’s a conversation that most on-and-off couples have, and lapses like that are why it feels like the show is resting on its laurels and falling short on its promise of realism.
What Girls is going through right now reminds me of what Modern Family went through in its third season. Essentially the same thing happens over and over for a couple of seasons, but we love it. Then season three arrives and there’s an anticipation and expectation for those scenarios to warp and morph themselves into something more gripping and challenging. On Modern Family, I wanted infidelity and teenage drug abuse. On Girls, I want something that resembles the life that people like its characters really lead, not one that exists within an oblivious, contrived bubble.
Do you know anyone who’s really like the characters on Girls? Sure, they exist, and I suppose that’s Lena Dunham’s world and her experiences, but it’s alienating. It’s already grating that the show features hardly any people of color, but homogenous social circles are commonplace. There’s just a flawed depiction of them in Girls. I’ve watched every episode of the new season with two white girls who live in Brooklyn—presumably the show’s target demographic. Neither of them like the show and season three’s done nothing to change their minds. Complaints range from the fact that Hannah’s apartment doesn’t reflect her financial situation to the fact that the bar Matchless isn’t anything like how it’s represented on the show. As these twenty-something women told me, twenty-something women handle one-night stands and disputes with friends more maturely than the women on this show do, and when you have nothing in common with characters who are supposed to represent you, you loathe them.
I don’t think that all is lost; I just want Girls to fulfill its potential. As its characters become more detached from reality, my interest declines. Last season’s cocaine episode made Icona Pop’s “I Love It” a hit, but it was romanticized schtick that didn’t accurately portray the seedy logistics of a real night out with drugs, and the series is falling victim to those same traps all over again. At this point, Girls is coasting off its reputation, and unless the writing interjects some substance, that ride won’t last.