March 18, 2013



The second season of Lena Dunham’s GIRLS has been as polarizing as anything on TV since the conclusion of Lost; with its relatively low viewership, it’s sometimes felt as though literally every person who watches the show has been writing about it.  The season finale, written by Dunham with fellow Executive Producer Judd Apatow and directed by Dunham, is no exception, although for reasons that are the opposite of what drove most of the episodes that preceded it:  an excess of order rather than chaos.

The season has been confounding in many ways, and not, for the most part, bad ones.  Dunham made it clear this year that although her show runs half an hour in length, it’s not a “sitcom,” any more than Louie is.  There were laughs to be had, some weeks more than others, but overall the tone has been dramatic and even wrenching.  Unlike Louie, though, which is so formally unconventional that it’s clear at once the show doesn’t intend to be a standard TV series, Girls has the general outline and concept of something familiar–in season 1, it was often compared to Sex and the City, with its group of sexually active New York women at the center.  That center didn’t hold, however, and there were only shreds of friendships to be found in Season 2, as Hannah (Dunham), Marnie (Allison Williams), Shoshanna (Zosia Mamet) and Jessa (Jemima Kirke) barely had any contact in many of the episodes, and when they did, they often bickered or worse.  (The finale included a self-referential glimpse of what appeared to be the first line of Hannah’s aborted novel:  “A friendship between college girls is grander and more dramatic than any romance…”)

This was all disconcerting, as is so much else about Girls.  Since Dunham is herself an artistic, bohemian 26-year old, it’s sometimes hard to distance her from Hannah (although clearly Lena Dunham didn’t get where she is today by being as self-destructive, solipsistic and professionally unreliable as Hannah generally is).   The tone and form of Season 2 bounced around and never settled, with the Patrick Wilson episode serving as an essentially self-contained bittersweet short story in the middle of the season and the episode featuring boyfriends Adam (Adam Driver) and Ray (Alex Karpovsky) feeling almost like a planted pilot for a spin-off.  After Jessa’s most intensive episode of the season, where she and Hannah visited her father and stepmother, Jessa disappeared almost entirely from the show, the subject of a furious voice-mail from Hannah in the finale.  Adam, who had shifted from being the creepiest boyfriend on television to a credible romantic lead, fell off several wagons at once and engaged in a disturbing–and unsparingly depicted–new relationship with Natalia (Shiri Appleby).  And suddenly, in the last few episodes of the season, Hannah became wracked with an OCD far more serious and upsetting than anything Monk ever had to cope with.  If Season 1 had appeared to be following (albeit in an HBO-ian sexually explicit and indie way) the template of a group of young buddies gradually finding their place in the world, Season 2 splintered the show and the characters, all of whom were much more seriously troubled than they’d at first appeared, and much less supportive of each other as well.

This was all completely valid and for the most part compelling, no matter how some of us may have felt about one aspect of the show or another.  But what, then, was one to make of the finale?  Marnie, who’d spent the season falling apart, a process that peaked with her abject failure as a torch singer chanteuse of Kanye West raps, is suddenly back with Charlie (Christopher Abbott), who confesses he’s always been in love with her, and is now filthy rich to boot.  Shoshanna may have broken Ray’s heart, but he’s got more drive than ever before and she’s locking lips with an Aryan prototype.  And Adam, discovering the torments of Hannah’s returned OCD, literally runs barechested through the streets of New York while stirring music plays, FaceTimed image of Hannah held carefully before him, then breaks down her apartment door and heroically takes her into his arms like the Brooklyn version of Richard Gere in an Officer and a Gentleman.  Was all of this meant as postmodern parody?  Are we seriously supposed to believe in these couples?  It was entirely unclear and unsatisfying.

Even when Girls is frustrating, it’s one of the most distinctive shows on the air, and Dunham has a genuinely original voice.  The ratings have been remarkably tepid, given the amount of attention the show gets (usually around a 0.4, a tiny fraction of the crowd watching zombies on AMC at the same time–although comparable to Louie, especially considering the lower number of HBO households), but its audience is attractively youthful and its buzz is what HBO lives for, so the show’s Season 3 renewal was announced early in Season 2.  We’ll all have plenty more time to admire and despair of what is, for better and for worse, one of the decade’s signature series.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."