What Made ‘Girls’ Such a Great Show

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By: Jeff Graham

Lena Dunham’s television auteur experiment GIRLS certainly made headlines during its six year run on HBO. The show – which aired its series finale last night – was notorious for its frank portrayal of sexuality and endlessly narcissistic characters, dividing critics, with some hailing the show as masterful, and some deriding the show as self-indulgent. Dunham’s unfaltering vision inspired a laundry list of think pieces about the female body, the millennial experience, and even the necessity (or lack thereof) to write “likeable” characters in today’s television landscape. But for all of the acclaim, criticism, and exploration of the show’s social implications, most audiences failed to identify what really made GIRLS such a special show.

It was unbelievably funny.

Take this line, which has become the unofficial thesis statement for the show, spoken by Dunham’s character Hannah in the pilot episode:

“I think that I may be the voice of my generation. Or at least a voice. Of a generation.”

This observation, spoken by the character while high on opium, perfectly embodies how willing the show was to critique its characters with levity, self-deprecation, and sharp wit. For all of the critics who applaud Dunham’s “bravery” for appearing nude and depicting challenging portrayals of on-screen sex, I found her approach to self-deprecation, unconventional dialogue, and even slapstick far braver. The show was fearless for exploring humor in the unlikeliest of places, like this conversation between Hannah and Annalise, the grieving wife of Hannah’s recently deceased would-be book publisher, David, at his funeral:

Hannah: You were saying that you were saying that Millstreet’s dropped all of David’s projects?

Annalise: Right, that’s right. For now, yeah.

Hannah: So my book is dead? Um, Do you happen to know another publisher that I could maybe slip the manuscript to if I do decide that I really want to try to keep it alive?

Annalise: Okay, um…if I do give you another name, will you get the f**k out of here?

Hannah: Yes.

Hannah’s short-sighted insistence to mourn the death of her book deal – her e-book deal, mind you – in the midst of a bonafide memorial, perfectly encapsulates the show’s striking ability to mine humor from narcissism and dark irony. As a viewer, my deepest joys came from how disarmingly funny this show could be, mostly when I expected it least.

While it aired, critical attention on GIRLS mostly focused on how the show pushed the landscape of TV from a social perspective. This is a huge disservice to the show, which, more than anything, pushed the landscape of TV from a comedy writing perspective. For all of the “important issues” Dunham explored on her little HBO show, let’s not forget how funny it was, which to me is what made the show revolutionary.  

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