There are a lot of things that I love about the show Girls. I love that the show is written and run by Lena Dunham, a 27 year old woman who clearly has a ton of talent. I'm a big fan of when networks allow an auteur to have full creative control of a show. I love that one of the main themes of Girls how difficult it is to be a creative worker in an era where it is extremely difficult to make a living as a creative worker. There's a scene in this week's episode, "Road Trip" involving Hannah, the woods, and a clip of This American Life that almost made me swoon. This show should be like catnip for me. Perhaps it is, because, for all the problems I it, I keep coming back.
There are plenty of places you can go if you want to read about what the inherent thinks is wrong with Girls. To be honest I have little to no interest in topics like the show's diversity (or lack thereof) or the image of New York twenty something life that the show portrays. A show should be judged on the merits of the story that it is trying to tell. This is Mrs. Dunham's vision, not ours. If people want to make a show that is an objective look into the issues of race, age, and the socio economical divide in New York City, they should make that show. Actually, somebody should make that show, it sounds kind of interesting. The point is that Girls doesn't have to be that show, in fact it would ingenuous of Dunham to try to write those things into the universe she has already established just to serve the outcry of critics.
The problems I have always had with the show is more in the exception of the ideas than the ideas themselves. A lot of this has to do with casting, ironically the best characters in the show are played by men; specially the super talented Adam Driver who plays Hannah's eccentric boyfriend, Adam Sackler. For a show that mainly follows the exploits of Hannah and her group of friends, there are not a lot of memorable performances by the actresses. It must be incredibly difficult to try to write stories with specific people in my mind, especially when the people who are going to be reading the lines you worked so hard on are limited in their acting ability. With bad acting, good writing can be wasted and bad writing stands out like a sore thumb, whereas strong actors can carry scenes when the writing isn't great. I remember watching Orange Is The New Black around the time I was finishing season two of Girls, and it made me think about how much better Girls would be if Dunham had that kind of cast to work with.
I think the cast as currently constructed hampers Dunham as a story teller, and last season's fantastic bottle episode"One Man's Trash" bears that out. If you don't watch the show, or didn't make it that far last season, "One Man's Trash" was an episode in which Hannah has an affair with a character played by Patrick Wilson. The episode tells a complete story and does not heavily feature any of the other characters. It's a simple story told really well. It's transformative for Hannah's character. In a show that often relies on feeling current, there's something really timeless about this episode, it's easily my favorite from what was an up and down season.
The first two episodes of this season feature a lot of on screen time for Driver, who in the same scene can be funny, romantic, and aloof. I think leaning on Adam to open this season shows a lot of maturity from Dunham as a show-runner. If you have a star on your team, there's no shame in feeding him the ball. The scenes that dragged were, predictably, the ones involving Marnie and Jessa. I thought watching Jessa's rehab experience and Marnie moping around her new apartment was cringe-worthy. On paper, Marnie and Jessa are both essential to the show. Jessa is meant to be a force of nature that shakes up plot lines and advances the story. Marnie is the best friend character who also serves as Hannah's foil. The characters make complete sense, it's just he casting I question. It bums me out to say this but the number one question I have for this season of Girls is how will Lena write around the sub par actors on her show?
This makes me wonder what would happen if Dunham scrapped the show entirely and either wrote a novel(she is signed to a very lucrative book deal), a script, or started fresh with a show more in the vain of something like Louie - where every episode can tell its own story without having to worry about balancing everyone's character arc. There was this really amazing thing that happened with Louis C.K. last year. When C.K. realized he was not going to have enough material to shoot season three Louie, he told his network he needed more time. Because he runs the show on such a low budget, demands total creative control, and has such an amazing track record, the network gave it to him. Here we have an artist who was unwilling to compromise the integrity of his work by putting out a sub par product, and a network loyal enough to not only give their artist more time, but also empower him to keep creating cool stuff.
I think at her absolute best Dunham is a talent just as extraordinary as Louis C.K. What I want to see out of her in the next few years is a clarity of vision when it comes to her work. In a lot of ways I think that Dunham is shackled by the talent surrounding her on Girls. Maybe I'll be proved wrong this year, and I hope I am. The two episodes that aired Sunday were both a lot of fun, and I'm on board for a least a few more weeks. It's what lies ahead for Ms. Dunham in the coming years that I am most excited for. She's an extraordinary writer who seems to be ten steps ahead of everyone around her. Now all we need are collaborators who can keep up.