If you’re anything like me, you might be finding it a little bit tricky to get excited about the final season of Girls out tonight (Monday 13 February). Since the show began five years ago, there’s been soooo much controversy surrounding the series and its outspoken creator/writer/director Lena Dunham that it’s easy to forget the impact the show made when it first came out.
Girls was an uncomfortably relatable insight into a group of young people learning how to adult: juggling unpaid internships, dealing with weird sex situations and finding their place in the world. Its no-filter sex scenes were gritty, hilarious and sometimes a bit gross; relationships were never even slightly simple, and the drive to succeed in the world of work led Hannah to do some seriously strange things (including some really creative things with an eyebrow pencil).
In the pilot episode, Hannah asks her parents to fund her life for just a little longer because she believes she could be ‘the voice of her generation, or at least, a voice, of a generation’. Ironically, Lena Dunham achieved such acclaim when the first season won a Golden Globe for Best Television Series in 2012, and its initial success snowballed into something that got way bigger than anyone could have imagined.
The writing was so refreshingly honest, so evidently personal to her own experiences, that it became hard to watch the show without seeing Lena Dunham The Celebrity stamped all over it.The similarities between the plot of Girls, her memoir Not That Kind Of Girl and her directorial debut Tiny Furniture meant that we felt we were watching the actors’ real lives, and Hannah Horvath’s self-absorbed tendencies could often get a little (okay, really) annoying. When the characters did something far from perfect, people were seldom happy about it.
Actress Allison Williams AKA Hannah’s BF Marnie Michaels, backed this up: ‘A lot of people dislike my character, Marnie. Initially I took it personally and wanted to defend her. But now I’ve realised a lot of the dislike comes from the fact that it’s uncomfortable to watch somebody make such bad decisions again and again. It hurts because we know how close we all come, on a regular basis, to make those exact same choices.’
Jemima Kirke, who plays British-American boho Jessa, added: ‘We’re so blended into our characters that people don’t see us separately. For example, when Hannah has a line that’s delusional and uninformed, that’s taken as Lena being delusional and uninformed and that’s why so much criticism comes to the show.’
Admittedly, the show has gained its fair few critics, and it’s never exactly got everything right. But having recently re-watched the first season in its entirety and remembering how fresh it once felt, I feel like season six will be one worth tuning in to. We’ve come this far, anyway. Here are some of the themes that Girls got so totally right from the very beginning, bringing taboo subjects into everyday conversation right from episode one.
Modern career girls
When Hannah’s parents cut her off in the first episode, she calculates that she can survive living in New York City for ‘three and a half days, or six days if she doesn’t eat anything’. Yes, it’s melodramatic, yes, it’s so Hannah Horvath, but we can definitely relate to that feeling when pay day is one week too far away. And it’s not just Hannah who job-hopped through all five seasons. Remember the time before Marnie covered ‘Stronger’ by Kanye West at her ex-boyfriend’s work party and decided she was the next Carly Rae Jepson? Well, before that, she worked in admin, as an art curator – and more reluctantly – as a hostess. Jessa did a fair bit of babysitting as well as working in a children’s clothing shop, and Shoshanna was unemployed and still in college during the first season, sitting at home binge-watching episodes of reality show ‘Baggage’. Essentially, the message is: if you don’t feel like your have your shit together career-wise, you’re most definitely not alone.
Let’s talk about sex
Girls arguably became most well-known for its no-holds-barred sex scenes and the frank way it spoke about things like consent, casual relationships and sexual health. Again, the weird situations that all four girls found themselves in were so horrifyingly relatable and so different to the way sex had been previously portrayed in shows like Sex and the City that it felt almost semi-educational. Scenes with full-frontal nudity and more-than realistic sexual encounters airing out to nearly one million American viewers every week was a huge deal, allowing taboo-topic conversations to take place in mainstream media. There was, however, a serious lack of condom use in the first season, but again, Girls definitely never pretended to lead the way morally, and was instead about mirroring the lives of 20-somethings not previously seen on TV. Sex in season one is lolz: There’s the time where Jessa re-dumps an ex-boyfriend after a quickie hanging out of a Brooklyn window, proclaiming herself ‘unsmotable’ (great word); *that scene* where the ‘uptight’ Marnie runs to the bathroom at a party to, er, relieve her sexual frustration after meeting super-creep Booth Jonathan and, of course, ALL of the wonderfully-written scenes about Shoshanna’s losing her virginity to Ray at 21, which she feels is kind of late (Message from the show? It totally isn’t.)
Friendship goals, kinda
‘You are gorgeous and a vision, you a brilliant genius – when I look at both of you, a Coldplay song plays in my heart,’ quoth Hannah to Jessa and Marnie in episode one (after drinking an entire cup of opium tea). Although she wasn’t totally sober, the first season of Girls arguably felt like the one where they all got along the best – but true to form, nothing ever ended too happily. Hannah and Marnie lived together for a whole nine episodes before Marnie dramatically moved out, Jessa and Marnie went on an NYC night out ending up in a weird man’s flat that one of them would end up marrying, and Jessa promises to look after cousin Shoshanna after she accidentally smokes crack at a party before ditching her to go off with her older man boss. Nice.
Okay, so they’re definitely not the blueprint for a perfect group of friends, but it seemed easy to draw similarities between certain traits of the girls and my own group of friends. As the generation before did with Sex and the City, you and your people just might have assigned each other group-specific Girls personas (I’m mostly a Hannah with Shoshanna tendencies, who can get so Marnie on less than eight hours’ sleep).
Boys boys boys
Girls wouldn’t have been Girls without the girls. Obviously. But Girls also features boys, and Season One reflected pretty much every (straight) relationship you could find yourself in during your 20s. There’s Adam, the guy who confuses the hell out of you but someone you can’t seem to let go of. Marnie’s clingy college boyfriend Charlie is your first boyfriend who you once thought you’d be with forever but then have to decide if and when you should move on with your life. Jessa’s less able to commit to one guy – until she gets married at the end of the series (remember that!) – and flits between flings with older guys, exes and strangers. Shoshanna’s first time having sex is stopped in its tracks by a guy she knew from college who claimed he ‘didn’t sleep with virgins’. Nice one, bro.
Although it’s more likely your girlfriends will be tuning in on Monday, Alison Williams thinks that Girls is ‘extremely helpful for guys to watch, on an anthropological level’. She said: ‘If [guys] want to understand women, to see the mistakes that it’s possible to make and the kind of breakdown of communication between partners that can be disastrous, crack on.’ That’s the guys told, then.
And finally, the iPhones show just how far technology has changed in five years
Perhaps the most jarring thing about Season One is how weirdly old iOS 5 looks. The existential crises of 20-somethings may be timeless, but that technology is already looking dated.