The Return of ‘Girls': What Will Critics Pick On This Season?Shannon Robb

Girls is back, you guys! The first episode of Season 2 aired this past Sunday. Are you excited? I know I am. I’m also happy that HBO decided to schedule its return for January, meaning we don’t have to wait until summer to see what Hannah, Marnie, Jessa and Shoshanna are up to now. As excited as I am, though, I can’t help but wonder if people will critique the second season as fiercely as they did the first.

I’ve loved this show from the very first minute it appeared on my television screen. Lena Dunham has this fantastic way of pretty much putting my life up on screen. I don’t mean my life exactly, but what it’s like to be a mid-20-something girl trying to find her way in the world. Hannah might think she could be the voice of a generation, but Ms. Dunham definitely is one of the voices of mine.

I know a lot of people may agree with that statement, much like I know a lot of people will disagree with that statement. But let’s be honest – whether you love Girls or hate it, it is firmly in the cultural zeitgeist. Much of last season was spent criticizing the “too small” focus of Ms. Dunham and her cohorts, that they only chose to focus on a small group of white women in the city. There was no diversity, it was too specific to a certain type of Gen Y-er, that the girls were whiny, privileged and didn’t know true struggle, and that the girls were narcissistic (I mean, Shosh lives in an apartment in the city paid for by her aunt…). All of those complaints are understandable, but any writer worth her salt will tell you, that you are taught to write what you know. This is what Ms. Dunham knows. She wrote what she was comfortable with, telling her story using characters she knew. In doing that, in writing what you know, you are able to more fully express to the audience the authenticity of the story you are trying to tell.

There has already been a lot of noise about what the second season of Girls will hold. This season, they will add some new, familiar faces to the cast in efforts to appease the masses. Hopefully not changing the style too much (I understand the complaints, but it’s TV…we have more important things in this world we should be complaining about, no?). Community’s Donald Glover has been added to the cast as a new love interest for Hannah. I am excited about this mainly because I think Mr. Glover will be a wonderful addition to an already quirky show! Rumor has it that Hannah will engage his character in an awkward conversation about race. Would we expect anything less from Hannah? No, not really.

But, will this conversation soothe the criticism or fuel the fire? Will people think the character fits organically into the story, or will they complain that he was added just to talk about race? Similarly, Hannah will be living with her gay-ex-boyfriend, Elijah (returning Andrew Rannells), who may begin questioning his sexuality. Is this something critics will pounce on? That the only gay character on the show may not be gay? Or that he even begins to question his sexuality in the first place? Or will they talk about Shoshanna losing her virginity and then trying to avoid Ray, while also trying not to fall in love? Or straight laced Marnie exploring her youth with intriguing, cocky, artist Booth (Jorma Taccone)? Or Jessa’s strange, weird, marriage to Thomas John (Chris O’Dowd)?

Much of what has been written about the upcoming season of the show has focused on the fact that the production of the second season was under way while the first season was airing and unfolding on our television screens every week. I think this is a good thing, because the Ms. Dunham, Judd Apatow, Jenni Konner and the rest of the creative force behind the show couldn’t focus so much on the negative feedback. They simply kept on writing and telling their story, not worrying about what was being said on the internet. They didn’t have the time to go down the black hole of negativity and criticism that the internet can become. I think it also means, not much will have changed too drastically.

Maybe I don’t understand where the criticism came from in the first place. Girls is hardly the only show on television with an all-white cast. It’s also not the only show to focus solely on a specific group of people. Girls is, by definition, a niche show. It’s on HBO. It was created by an indie-minded woman. It was written to showcase what her life and her experiences have taught her. Granted, I am a SWF, so you can take my opinions with a grain of salt if you’d like. But I think this show was unfairly singled out because it was new, different, and exciting. Maybe it was singled out because it was created, produced, written by, and often directed, by a young woman. (Perhaps we should be focusing instead on network executives and television studios who are in charge of it all).

So,  after the first episode has bowed, what do you think the critics will focus on this time around? Bad press is still press, right? The criticism from the show’s beginning only helped cement it into our cultural identity. The Golden Globes proved that, awarding Ms. Dunham the Globe for Best Actress in a Comedy/Musical, and the show itself for Best Comedy/Musical. Her acceptance speech was pretty awesome, too, thanking Chad Lowe out of left field (because Hilary Swank forgot to back when she won the Oscar). It made me love her even more, because I like crazy shout outs in awards speeches, they’re so unexpected and usually funny (who would you thank if you ever had the chance?).

Putting aside my SWF identity, I’m still looking forward to Season 2. I loved how the first episode just dropped us into the lives of these girls, not picking up immediately where season 1 left us, but a little ways down the road. I for one, know that I’m excited to return to a world where girls my age are struggling just like me, to find out what they want from life and how to stand on their own two feet while striving for it. Welcome back, Girls!

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  1. I realize I may be taking a huge risk of offending someone by saying this, but I believe that if a show were released with a cast of any singular race other than “white,” it probably wouldn’t be as controversial. People would applaud it. Whether or not it would be praised for finally bringing diversity in seemingly white-dominant shows/movies is not my point. I think that pointing out race singularity or diversity in any setting only furthers racism. It is not fair to call out the writer of this series by saying she didn’t have a diverse enough cast. To me, it would be the same as colleges trying to recruit people of other ethnicities for the sole purpose of diversity. It’s another statistic that you can claim and be praised for. And having characters of other races just for the purpose of being able to show you’re open-minded and unprejudiced, in my opinion, actually has the opposite effect. There seems to be an over awareness and oversensitivity which isn’t fair to emerging artists who are, like other people have said, writing what they know. We are at a point where I think it’s time to not dismiss racism (because it does exist), but to stop giving it so much attention. The more attention you give something, the more it will fester.

    • I feel like a broken record, but no, talking about racism does not further racism. The only thing that furthers racism is racism and/or racists. Pointing out disparities is not racist and trying to silence PoCs by telling us that we should just stop talking about it is pretty much how white supremacy operates.

      • I’m not wishing to silence anyone and I especially am not trying to target any specific group of people. That’s not what I want to do at all, though I can see how my comment could be taken that way. I think that discussing racism is one thing, and an important thing at that, but criticizing a writer for not having enough racial diversity, when it is likely completely unintentional on her end, seems to cause more segregation than help eliminate it.

        When I was in middle school, someone accused me of being racist. I was so hurt by that, and my mom asked me “Why didn’t you tell them that your best friend is African-American?” I told her that I didn’t feel like I should wave any person in the air like a trophy because of their ethnicity just to prove that I’m not racist. She’s a person to me.

        This may be getting way off the original subject, but it’s frustrating that these girls are all simply grouped as “white,” when in reality they have as much of a cultural and ethnic background as anyone else. I think it’s great that people don’t want to place labels on PoC by simply calling them “blacks, ” but I think it works both ways. I would like to feel safe saying all of these things without fear of being called a “white supremacist.” I don’t want to be put in a group because of the color of my skin any more than the next person.

  2. The criticism of Girls, is warranted. Yes, a lot of shows have the same problems (I’m looking at you, How I Met Your Mother), but the fact that any show is being criticized for this is the step in the right direction. And giving Girls a pass because it’s some sort of niche show that’s for women by women or something ignores that WOC are still women. It’s an issue of feminism lacking intersectionality. I love that Lena’s show is doing so well, but it sucks that despite being a privileged 20-something girl, because I’m a POC I’m almost never represented. I’m sure she “wrote characters she knew”, but she also wrote male characters. She doesn’t have the lived experience of being a man, but was capable of doing so. Maybe she drew on men from her real life. But surely, she must know one person of colour in real life.

  3. I love this show! I don’t even care!

  4. I have nothing against Girls or Lena Dunham. Actually I absolutely ADORE Girls. But every show has some sort of criticism. And most of the time it’s undeserved. As for the lack of diversity I personally could care less. The only thing that really upset me was Lesley Arfin’s tweets in response to the “lack of diversity” issue. It was racist and uncalled for. The reasons why I don’t care about the lack of diversity is because Dunham is writing about things she knows about. If she just tossed a minority in the cast to fulfill some sort of status quo, Girls would end up being just like any other show where there’s an all white cast and a token minority just for the sake of seeming diverse. I hate shows like that! But we see it all the time in shows, books, and movies alike. It’s like the Smurfette Principle in a sense that there’s at least one minority.

  5. I like the show and I’m black, but I’m agreeing with Ramou. It’s not hating by pointing out some pretty obvious disparities. I live in Brooklyn, you can’t walk for more than 2 blocks without seeing some sort of minority (WHERE ARE THE HASIDIC JEWS?). I think her addition of Donald Glover was largely due, in fact, to the criticism, so there is obviously value in it. I think making him a republican is a bit far fetched for his age and choice of location, but I digress. I think she’s a bit of a wunderkind with her writing style, but I find a lot of the characters completely unrelatable. I would probably identify closest with Hannah, but I feel like Hannah either lacks common sense or purposely downplays her intelligence in most social situations. All of the other characters seem a little one-dimensional to me. I probably gave you 4 cents rather than 2, but we can all use a little change.

  6. Okay, okay. I have one caveat and maybe it’s too simplistic, but here it is. We have got to stop saying that discourse and intelligent criticism is “hating” or “picking on” someone or something. Plenty of valid criticism has been aimed at Dunham & Co. and it shouldn’t all go into the hating category. Discourse doesn’t have to have such negative connotations. Discussions about things are great! Also, I can’t get fully behind the “writing what you know” defense. I get it, I totally get it. But this idea that Dunham – or any other white writer – is simply writing what they know really puts PoCs in the “OTHER” category. As if we’re so different from white people that a white person couldn’t possibly figure out how to write a character about us. Which, no. In conclusion, I own Season 1 on DVD and will probably watch every episode of Season 2 twice.

  7. Lena just won a golden globe, if the critics have anything to say she can use it “as a weapon against self doubt” :P