This article may contain spoilers.
These days, it’s a strange thing if you go a full twenty-four hours without hearing or participating in a conversation about HBO’s hit series Girls. After the show’s first season finale last year, discussions mainly consisted of how much a gem the program was, it's relatable characters, it's realistic depiction of “our generation,” and how told the accurate but satirical style was changing the way we watched television. Issues such as sex,
body image, toxic friendships, and the financial controversy of having life funded through your parents’ pocket were finally placed in the spotlight, and people loved it. As of last Sunday (March 17th, 2013), however, when the show’s second season finale aired, the conversations on Girls started to take a notably different turn. People started trading in their compliments for questions: “Why was this season so sad?”; “Isn’t Hannah’s bitching getting kind of old?”; “Where the fuck is Jessa?” There’s no denying that Girls took a turn for the depressing this year, but what key differences (and in some cases, similiarities) set the second season apart from its predecessor? What has everyone debating whether or not the show’s novelty has run its course?
One of the most obvious changes during the second season was a notable lack of girls. Last season, Hannah’s visit to her hometown was the only case in which we left the series’ other three protagonists for an extended period of time. This season, we got a second Hannah-centric episode, an episode where the main concerns were the interactions between Ray and Charlie, and a Hannah-Jessa excursion that kicked the other leading ladies off the screen for yet another half-hour. The characters we invested so much in last year received considerably less screen time this time around.
Next on the list is sex and drugs. One of the reasons Girls attracted so much attention to begin with was because it depicted sex in a sort of awkward glory, instead of the glamorized, stimulating in-and-out primetime has trained us to expect and adore. Season Two continued this tradition, throwing in the staple mid-coitus comments from Hannah and a genuinely strange hookup involving Marnie, The Lonely Island’s Jorma Taccone, and a doll, but things went completely off the comfort scale in the penultimate episode, “On All Fours.” In a drunken stupor, Adam basically date rapes his new girlfriend and plasters the television screen with something I can’t ever recall seeing on TV before: cum. Girls (and HBO as a whole) are known for pushing boundaries, but as the blogosphere controversy would have you believe, this instance of forced sexual interaction took things in an unexpected and not entirely welcome direction. Yes, this show relishes in the grit and grime of “real life,” and in a sense the unexpectedness of “On All Fours” almost should have been expected, but a line was crossed in this episode that only tips the scale farther in the favor of drama over Girls’ usual comedy.
In terms of drugs, last season saw a ten-minute segment where Hannah paraded around with opium in her system, but this year’s “Bad Friend” featured cracked-up Elijah and Hannah participating in various New York debaucheries for a whole episode. Aside from the frustrating (and surprisingly sexist) Marnie interludes, I loved this episode, but its choice to follow the complete and destructive path of a crack trip turned drug use into a serious topic instead of the pilot’s humorous view on getting high. Are the dangers of drugs an important issue to discuss? Yes. Is such a discussion the Girls audience wanted? Not necessarily.
Since I've examined some of Season Two’s darkest developments, it’s time to inspect an aspect of Girls that hasn’t changed in the least: Hannah. She may have dumped Adam early on and signed up to achieve her dream by publishing a book, but all of these potential progressions are undone in the season’s finale and can’t make up for the behaviors we’ve come to expect from Lena Dunham’s self-pitying anti-hero. In Season one and two, Hannah love-hates Marnie, love- hates Jessa, has sex with strangers, procrastinates herself into destitution, and begs her parents for money. All of these traits seemed refreshing and charming in the first season, but seeing Hannah repeat her mistakes, however relatable such a process might be, made me groan in frustration on several occasions. Hannah represents the part of all of us that can struggle so hard and still come up short; I want to root for her, but her continuously destructive behavior makes it difficult.
Girls, by embracing the comedic tragedy of life, has provided unique and controversial entertainment for two years now. Its freshman and sophomore seasons have their differences, strengths, and weaknesses, but there’s no denying that nothing else on television quite matches the quirky ambition of Lena Dunham’s love project. HBO has already renewed Girls for a third season (featuring twelve episodes instead of the usual ten), so the real question in all this debate might be what path the show will take as it moves forward. How much weirder will things get and will Hannah find the strength to break free from the hardships of her current life? And, perhaps most importantly, how will Jessa make her triumphant return?