Even after three seasons, it seems that people would rather talk about Girls as a social phenomenon than as a television series. Tim Donovan wrote an intelligent piece for Salon that examined the trend towards millennials who are undereducated and underemployed. As the subtitle explained, “There's an entire generation in dire trouble -- poor, young, undereducated.” This is followed by the sentence, “So why do we only discuss Lena Dunham?” You might be tired of hearing about Dunham, who is not poor or undereducated, but the systemic underpinnings of the current problems, which Donovan addresses in detail, are what matter. Lena Dunham and Girls are not the reason we have a crisis among millennials.
Girls is not just a show about the Zeitgeist of the 2010s. Dunham brings on some of this criticism herself … I’m not saying she isn’t hyper-aware of her place within the cultural buzz. But more than a social commentary, Girls is about characters, characters with good points and flaws, and the show is successful to the extent those characters are interesting and the writing and acting is strong.
Season Three wasn’t exactly more of the same … each of the characters saw movement in their life’s paths. But it was more a case of moving chess pieces on a board than it was starting a whole new game. As they found and lost happiness and contentment and fulfillment, we saw people who were the same but confronted with different situations. Your feeling about the season (well, about the show) depends on which characters you like most, and whether they get enough attention. Hannah is first among many on Girls (and in her own mind), more so, I’d argue, than even Carrie on Sex and the City. If you enjoyed watching Jemima Kirke or Zosia Mamet, well, they didn’t always have a lot to do (although Mamet was given a couple of big scenes, both of which she killed). It makes sense with the world of Girls, though, that Hannah would be the central character, since she is so self-absorbed she probably thinks she deserves the extra attention. (This extends in many people’s minds to Dunham, and again, she asks for it. It’s almost a running joke when the credits go by with Directed by Lena Dunham and Written by Lena Dunham and Starring Lena Dunham.)
So yes, I like Girls, but I understand the complaints, even if I am mostly able to take it simply as a TV show. I think I understand why people want to talk about it, and why they want to give it more cultural importance than your average show. In the end, Girls is rather slight, and perhaps it crumbles under the weight of all that analyzing. What I don’t get is why another show on a premium channel on Sundays gets so little attention. Fiona Gallagher, the millennial played so well by Emmy Rossum in Shameless, is a lot closer to what I suspect the critics of Girls want: lower-class, struggling to hold a family together on little to no money, existing on Showtime which never gets the HBO treatment. In a better world, Shameless would be the water cooler show, and Girls would be that other show we liked. But this is the world we have, and I’ve been giving the seasons of Girls a grade of A-. This time, I’m giving it a B+. There is no good reason for this, but Girls hasn’t really grown on me the way a great show will, and at some point, the grades start dropping. (As will become clear when I write about Shameless after its season-ending episode, some shows manage to get better with age.)