End of Series Report: Girls

24 May

Well, Girls, is over, and without a bang but with a whimper, one of, if not the, most polarizing series of the last decade slides to a pretty placid end. Girls went from being the most buzzed about series before its first episode to, well, just being more or less a TV show during the era of Peak TV by the end, for both better and worse but certainly for the more accurate, because that’s what it was, and that’s how it deserves to be evaluated.

Girls wasn’t a vehicle for some Lena Dunham agenda designed to sew controversy wherever it went. It was a TV show, with characters, and plotlines, and dialogue. On the whole, it was a good one. It was at many times an excellent one, with moments that reached the best of what TV has to offer, but was a little too inconsistent to be considered among that echelon for the entirety of its run.  Just like the meanderings of the protagonists, the show meandered over the course of the six seasons, winding its way back and forth, picking up and dropping stray storylines, raising and lowering in importance the and screen time and value of its non-Hannah characters.

This lack of commitment to a more unified story led to trade off of some absolutely brilliant one off episodes for the occasional lack of focus or clarity or plan that occasionally turned the show down some dead ends. These moments of brilliance include particularly episodes with Hannah, such as season three’s “One Man’s Trash,” in which she spends a weekend with Patrick Wilson, and when Hannah and Jessa visit Jessa’s father upstate (“Video Games”) but also Charlie and Marnie’s reunion in the fifth season (“The Panic in Central Park).

The show tended to recover well from those dead ends; the series never jumped a shark, pulling out of sticky situations and less satisfying storylines to always bring the characters back to interesting places.   The lack of focus, however, caused Girls to have the opposite problem that many 22-episode network programs with more time than material have – with only 10 half hour episodes available, characters and arcs inevitably felt underserved and that was particularly evident in the final season.

The final season was a particularly powerful encapsulation of this trend over the course of the series. This trend was exacerbated in the final seasons for two reasons – the core group of four titular girls that were only tenuously good friends to begin with, were less and less friends as the show went on and they naturally drifted apart, making it harder to give everyone screen time since they were rarely together. At the same time, the universe of characters expanded to the point where Ray and Adam and Eljiah were full-fledged characters who had their own arcs. While this was a testament to what solid characters they became, it then felt like they needed their share of screen time as well.

It’s hard to fit fulfilling stories for all those characters, especially when you want to have more narrowly-focused episodes in just ten half hours. There’s a reason that similar shows with similar episode amounts and run times – Atlanta and Insecure, for example, have kept up, at least so far, with a smaller cast of major characters.

There’s something to be said for being loose and flexible, and diving down those strange rabbit holes – but in that exchange, there has to be enough time left over to cover the amount of story that feels like it needs covering and Girls couldn’t quite get there this season.

It’s worth checking in at least briefly character by character, on the seven who are worth caring about to see where they started and where they ended.

Hannah was the show; Hannah was far more important than any other character, Hannah was the best and most constructed character, and Hannah was the best example of a character who  learned everything and learned nothing over the course of six seasons, which was one of Girls’ greatest gifts; Hannah managed to feel as if she grew as a character while still being in most ways the same person she was at the beginning and that’s impressive and interesting. She has a baby at the end but she’s basically still figuring it out; she manages to keep the baby alive and healthy so far but doesn’t feel far from another minibreakdown at any given minute. Her career evolution was her more traditional arc, and it was never the show’s strongest work. While much of the show felt real, the show’s jump from job to job for Hannah never quite did; everyone complimenting her work so much and so easily sometimes felt cheap. But in terms of personal growth – she’s every bit as needy, as self-centered, but by the end it still feels like she’s come a long way in our six years with us even if that isn’t entirely manifested in her behavior. She’s a mess but she’s somewhere.

Marnie is probably the character who has potentially moved backwards during our time with her. She’s hopefully broken up for Desi for good, but after half a dozen different moments which shouted at her the need to get her shit together; from her reunion with Charlie, to her and Hannah’s trip upstate with Desi, to her being dumped by Ray, it’s hard to imagine what could get through to her.She’s a narcissistic who is so self-involved she doesn’t notice what’s going on with others, be it Charlie or Desi’s drug problems, and can’t conceive of the possibly that Ray would break up with her. She’s the only other girl to make it into the finale; and her love-hate relationship with Hannah seemed to occasionally pop in and out. Often it felt as if their friendship existed only because he had for so long, and sometimes because they had no one else who wanted to listen to them and they mutually used each other. When Hannah’s mom asks what’s next in the finale, she doesn’t really know, and it’s hard to imagine what it could finally take for Marnie to take stock in herself and how she treats others.

Jessa always seemed to have the most functional friendship of all the Girls with Hannah, and while the last season didn’t accomplish everything, it at least gave us a much needed reconciliation between Hannah and Jessa in the penultimate episode. Jessa’s also made strides while being fundamentally the same destructive force she was to start the show; she embarrasses Shoshanna and takes over her networking event for no reason. Still, her heartbreaking relationship with Adam which was cemented and dissolved this season showed a much needed side to Jessa and made me both root for her going forwards and believe she has adopted enough – kicking substance abuse, at the very least, to find a path forwards.

Shoshanna was always the odd Girl out. She had no initial connection to Hannah, and has the least in common with the other girls. And when tensions frayed, and conflicts happened, it became harder and harder to find room for her plots, to pair her with anyone on the show except Ray, and she, more than anyone else, got the short shrift in the final season. The penultimate episode, which was more of a traditional series finale than the actual finale, which served as more of a coda, seemed like a meta-joke on how the show had forgotten about and run out of room for Shosh. All of a sudden, apropos of nothing, she’s gotten engaged to someone we’ve never met. She, in the final scene with all four girls, in the bathroom at her party, tells the other girls, they should call it – she doesn’t want anything to do with them going forwards, and she never had much in common with them before. The sad lesson for Shoshanna seems to be that the other three girls were simply a maelstrom which kept her off the life plan she always wanted.

Elijah gets the most traditional arc in the final season, which was somewhat welcome with the other characters swirling all around him zig zagging left and right. He attempts a return to his old love of theater and is pretty successful against some odds. It would have grown tired if everyone’s story followed this path, but it was definitely a nice moment for Elijah who had become a better and more important character with good reason over the course of the show.

Ray had some heartwarming moments as well but got shafted on his ending; appearing for the last time in the third to last time sharing a kiss with Shosh’s old boss Abigail. The pairing doesn’t really make sense, as Abigail had been nothing but obnoxious in our previous interaction and it seemed as if they were trying to force a quick warm relatively happy ending for Ray by having him share a moment with a character we’ve at least seen before. His arc up to that point, turning over a new leaf upon Hermie’s untimely death and ultimately dumping Marnie was inspired; it would have been nice if he could have gotten the sendoff he deserved (particularly how was he not at Shosh’s party as the only character that’s actually friends with Shosh?).

Adam got shafted even more than Ray when his ending boiled down to marginalizing him in terms of his relationship with Hannah, rather than the fuller character he become over the seasons. His last scene was poignant in and of itself as a realization that both him and Hannah’s yearning for their halcyon days could never be. But he deserved a scene more dedicated to his individual journey, rather than merely his part on Hannah’s.

The last two episodes were fine in and of themselves; all that was disappointing was the lack of story for the non-Hannah characters that got them there. I did like having the second to last be the more traditional finale as a nice change of pace, to relieve the pressure from the finale, and to be one of the smaller episodes that Girls has always done best.

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