In January 2013, American radio personality and television host Howard Stern took it upon himself to publicly blast the popular television series Girls, making it known to the world that he wasn’t a fan of the show. Whilst this came as a surprise to absolutely no one – Stern isn’t exactly the series’ demographic – the shock for Girls fans came in the form of his criticism and ridicule of the show’s leading lady, Lena Dunham, who also writes, directs and produces the series. Girls devotees were outraged by Stern’s arrogant comments, which labelled Dunham as ‘a little fat girl who looks like Jonah Hill’ and a ‘camera hog’ who keeps taking her clothes off. Let’s not even get started with his comments that relate Dunham’s candidness on camera to rape, something that would be laughable if it wasn’t so absurd. What’s most funny about this situation though, apart from the irony that Stern is the epitome of a face-for-radio, was Dunham’s reaction to his comments. Talking to David Letterman, Dunham laughed at Stern’s mockery with admirable respect, using his words to make light of the negativity by saying, “I want my gravestone to say, ‘she was a little fat chick and she got it going’”. This here is the reason why Girls is so popular and why, if you’re not already watching the series, you should be.
Lena Dunham has become something of a heroine figure for young women and Girls is a revelation to a generation of females who have grown up being made to feel inadequate by society and popular culture’s expectations of them. It’s a show inspired by Dunham’s real-life experiences and, as you’d imagine, it’s wildly funny, brave and spot-on in its portrayal of girls who are financially stumped, morally ambiguous and eternally bad at making the right decisions on a daily basis. Where Sex and the City was all style, sex and cocktails, Carrie and co led a very different New York City life to the ladies in Girls. Dunham has addressed that grey area that comes before your 30s, the stage in life where you’re broke – probably still living off your parents, you’re working a crappy job with crappy hours, you constantly make mistakes and errors in judgment, and you still have no idea who you really are or what you want from life. Girls looks at not just what it’s like but what it means to be a twenty-something girl in the twenty-first century.
Hannah Horvath (Dunham’s character) is definitely not what we’re used to…she’s not a stick insect, she has a potty-mouth and she’s cringingly honest and open about every embarrassing and intimate issue under the planet but you love her for it because she makes you feel normal. This is a character you can believe in and that’s the secret to Girls’ success. For the show’s demographic – predominantly girls in their twenties – it’s like watching your life play out on screen. Whether you see yourself in hopeless Hannah, highly-strung Marnie, free-spirited Jessa, or the bafflingly lively Shoshanna, these characters are painfully familiar and easy to identify with. It’s bolstering to watch the awkward and awful scenarios they face because chances are, you’ve faced almost all of them yourself. From dire relationships, friendship struggles and unemployment, to body-confidence, health issues and identity crises…Girls is about as real as you’ll ever get. It’s easy for middle-aged men in particular to pick holes in the series, grumbling about the characters being self-absorbed or the over-emphasis on Facebook culture, but we live in the age of the social network and girls in their twenties are notoriously self-centered. Dunham realises this, even though it paints the female population as completely unreasonable and neurotic. Keeping the focus on Hannah allows the audience to understand every part of her life, the highs and lows, the extremes, the confusion that comes with growing up. It gives the show a direction instead of flitting between insignificant sub-plot characters and if that makes Dunham appear to be a ‘camera hog’ so be it. It’s no different to Mindy Kaling on The Mindy Project and this new wave of women who act, direct, write and produce all at the same time is inspiring to young women everywhere.
Girls isn’t a series content with playing it safe and Dunham’s bold and risky material makes for intriguing, funny and poignant viewing. With a string of awards to its name, it’s not bad for a little fat girl who looks like Jonah Hill. Not bad at all.
Season 2 of Girls is available on DVD now. Watch the trailer below.