Is It the Sex or the Hate That Keeps Us Watching ‘Girls’?


If you’re like me and have slumped into a mind-numbing semi-sleep for the past five Sundays thanks entirely to the comings and goings of Westeros, then you have probably woken up with a jolt halfway through your Khal Drogo (Jason Momoa) dreams to discover yourself staring down the barrel of a gun. And that gun is HBO’s freshman series Girls, a show so fraught with first world problems and entitlement it’s nearly impossible not to experience polarizing feelings.

On the one hand, Girls is an engaging slice of life dramedy revolving around the personal and (maybe) professional lives of three recent college graduate lady friends (and one still-in-school cousin). Setting Girls apart from most shows currently broadcasting is creator and head writer Lena Dunham’s dedication to exposing the warts and imperfections of her four post-Sex and the City women while they each navigate the troubling landscape of sex, love, feelings, and career in New York. It’s just that her women, like their HBO godmothers, are living in a New York that doesn’t exist for most city dwellers.

In fact, these “real” women are still living in a fantasy world despite Dunham’s promise of financial struggle and hardship. What’s interesting is that after the first episode where money (or lack thereof) is discussed at length, the topic has yet to come up again with such fervor. Rather, the focus has turned to relationships and sex, which is fine with me. Who doesn’t like watching pretty young things make like rabbits?

On the other hand, Girls is both uncomfortably relatable and completely far-fetched. In a way it is The Office for Millennials, something we laugh at because it’s truthful, but also because it hits close to home.

Let’s start with Hannah (Dunham), whose parents have demanded she finally get her shit together, and have financially cut her off as their way of kicking her out of the nest. She’s twenty-four, unsure of what it takes to be a writer when she grows up, and easily susceptible to the influence of her best friends Marnie (Allison Williams) and Jessa (Jemima Kirke). She is also spending her time refusing to grow up by bedding an actor-carpenter named Adam (Adam Sackler) who has very little interest in her emotional well-being. It’s incredibly brave for Dunham to not only expose herself on screen in such heart wrenching, troubling, and intimate sex scenes, but to also write these moments for Hannah.

After five weeks I’m still constantly puzzled by how much heartbreak Hannah will put up with, but I’ve also started to realize Dunham is not interested in giving her protagonist any leeway when it comes to her poor decisions. As a writer, Hannah wants to learn and experience “stories,” and in a sick and masochistic way, Dunham holds up a mirror to all the Hannahs of the world through each pitfall. For example, it’s unclear if Hannah is aware of Adam’s manipulation, or if she likes to play the victim so that she has something to whine about later. She seems more interested in hurting than anything else, and I think many viewers have felt or still feel that way themselves. I’ve been a Hannah, and maybe that’s why I feel physically ill when she doesn’t stop Adam in bed the moment she feels uncomfortable. Or when she feels confused after she tries to break up with him and then he kisses her. Despite how caricatured Hannah is, she represents the sensitive soul of a lazy creative who distracts herself with sex, but doesn’t want to realize that someone who is sexing you may not love you.

Dunham is not concerned with having perfect characters, rather she seems to relish in providing her audience with what she views as accurate depictions of women just trying to make it through the day. Through the character Marnie, Dunham is able to expose someone who looks like she’s got everything together but under the surface is completely floundering. Unlike Hannah’s disheveled outward appearance, Marnie is straight up Duchess of Catherine put-together. She never has a hair out of place, an unmade face, or wrinkle in her best party dress. She works the job any art-loving New Yorker would die for and an adorable boyfriend who worships the ground she walks on. All these things make Marnie a perfect role model for the Connecticut set, except she is internally spiraling just as badly as her best friend.

I could sit her all day talking about how dissatisfied she is with her relationship, or how self-centered she is to think Charlie (Christopher Abbott) would never be a “real man,” but it just pisses me off. Marnie pisses me off. For someone who wants to talk so damn much, she has very little to say to anyone. And when she does, it’s all just negative chatter about how no one can live up to her standards. Marnie could die in a fire, and I’m not sure anyone would miss her. Well, the stick up her butt might.

However, my animosity aside, Marnie’s recent break-up with Charlie was both the most selfish and selfless move she’s made all season. It was the first time all season we saw Marnie both vulnerable and determined to change something about herself. Yes, maybe when you have a man in between your legs isn’t the best moment to rip off the Bandaid, but it’s a clean break. She needed something different (like maybe an Adam), and Charlie needed to run away from the crazy. Now she’s free to stumble her way through a multitude of one night stands that I’m sure will span the rest of the season.

Our last two ladies, Jessa and Shoshanna (Zosia Mamet) couldn’t be more sexually divergent; however their mutual potential for character growth is fascinating. One is a proud promiscuous lady and the other is a virgin, but they both learn something from the other. Jessa likes to use sex as her only weapon against men, yet she envies Shoshanna’s desire to be loved. She doesn’t want to admit that she has a heart and Dunham writes her in such a revealing way that after five weeks we’re routing for her to find self-assuredness through something other than sex. Jessa is intriguing and captivating, and her tougher outer shell will hurt like hell when she finally lets someone break it. She may think she can’t be “smotted” but if the series is really trying to be “real” then she is dead wrong.

Each week I promise myself I’m not going to aid my rising blood-pressure by watching Girls but then each week I get sucked back in. These four women infuriate me just as much as they enslave me, yet I don’t think I’ll ever be able to quit them. I’m hooked in for now, but to turn one of Hannah’s phrases: I think I’m at the point where I’m just hate-watching them. Or it could be I’m worried I’ll miss out on another one of Adam’s sexual kinks. Let’s be honest, those are fun to watch.

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