“Girls” may be most famous for inspiring not only one bazillion think pieces about its take on millennial women but also a second bazillion think pieces about how many think pieces have been written about it. Many thousands of units of brain power have been spent pondering Hannah Horvath, as well as her creator, Lena Dunham.
Everyone with a keyboard — and mea culpa here — has resisted letting “Girls” just be a particular story about a self-absorbed young woman coming of age in New York. It has had to represent an entire American generation, a broad segment of white privilege, and/or the moment of liberation of women’s bodies from impossible standards of beauty. When the HBO comedy finishes its six-season run on April 16, many of those broad categorizations, commendations, and accusations will most likely be reiterated one last time.
But I can tell you that, while actually watching all 60 (so far) episodes of “Girls,” I haven’t been thinking much about its significance in our culture — whether it’s feminist or not, what it says about today’s kids, why cringe comedy is so timely, etc. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the show for the characters, for the actors, for the New York setting, and for the elastic writing and tone that could slip so easily from comedy to drama. I am relatively interested in its larger meanings, as I am with most TV series; but still, the show was the thing, and it engaged me without fail.
“Girls” is most often mentioned beside “Sex and the City,” if only to note that the comparison doesn’t work. I see it as a more realistic cable take on “Friends,” with pimples and evictions and the less romantic sides of sex. No one in the cast is particularly adorable; the pretty ones are trainwrecks like everyone else. Few of the stories go where you expect them to, given TV conventions. But it nonetheless chronicles, like “Friends,” an ensemble of men and women finding their way through those post-college years, struggling to make sense of friendship and love. As the seasons pass, the “Girls” characters have evolved, and I think the writing has only gotten better, with the last three seasons worth special note for their consistency and wisdom.
The cast was distinctive from the get-go. Early on, I found Adam Driver a revelation as Adam, Hannah’s boyfriend. He was unlike any romantic lead I’d seen before, with his awkwardness, his sobriety, his introversion, and his barely contained aggression. And then I became fascinated by Jemima Kirke as Jessa, so louche, impulsive, and cynical. Kirke, who worked with Dunham on Dunham’s 2010 film “Tiny Furniture,” is both funny with her shoulder shrugs and tragic in her need to numb out. Her bar pickup in last Sunday’s episode was a sad moment for Jessa, the only redemption being that she found she could no longer use sex as a drug; Kirke was fully affecting.
Putting those two characters and actors together was a perfect idea. Adam and Hannah never quite understood each other, and their recent attempt to reconnect was doomed to fall flat after an initial high. But Adam and Jessa are wonderfully insane together, Brooklyn’s own Gomez and Morticia Addams. They’re both moody, self-conscious, and cryptic. I’m guessing they’ll stay together; Driver and Kirke, both physically towering, have made that seem inevitable. As the older friend, Ray, Alex Karpovsky has also stood out, becoming the unexpected moral compass of the group as he has watched both Marnie and Shoshanna succumb to their own immaturities.
And Dunham has been consistently excellent, whether or not you like her character. She has succeeded where so many actors and writers fail — in creating a very specific character, one who, despite all of the think pieces, is very clearly not a general type. And she can be dislikable to the core, with no buffering, never an easy choice for an actor. I’ve been moved by Hannah’s regrets, cheered by her victories, annoyed by her more narcissistic moments, amused by her oddness, and drawn to her comfort level with her body.
Some viewers have been disappointed with the “Girls” end game, as Hannah is pregnant and has decided to keep the baby. But I think it’s a smart stroke, a way to heighten the transformation that Hannah has undergone over the years (not that she’s at the end of her self-discovery; we never are). Our Lady of Self-Centeredness is now at the point where she is able to think about caring for another person. We may not think she’s quite ready to be responsible for a life, we may wonder why she didn’t choose to have an abortion. But ultimately, despite all of our thoughts about what Hannah should or shouldn’t do, it’s her choice. I’m pleased that “Girls” appears to be going out with Hannah becoming independent, with her friendships remaining flawed, and with vague promises of a happy-ish ever after.Matthew Gilbert can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @MatthewGilbert.