There's that point in the souring of a friendship when you look back and see that perhaps the most recent issue isn't actually an isolated incident, but the latest in a chain of events, extending back further than you suspected. Perhaps this is due to our reliance on and desire for narrative structure—that need to impose some order on our lives and the moments that shape them—but there's also the chance that once we take off the rose-colored glasses, cast a look back at things in the cold, clear daylight, the pattern may be there for us to find, whether we want to or not.
And this is where I find myself with Lena Dunham's Girls, three episodes into this lackluster second season. Let's be honest, the first season limped to a close—that final episode was so stilted and bizarrely forced where the preceding episodes (save for Hannah's trip home, another weak moment for the show) captured Hannah's and her friends' lives almost effortlessly. For the most part, the joy of the first season was the feeling that these girls could actually be real—for twenty some odd minutes you could easily forget that the show is scripted, let the fact that these lives are fictional slip away, and embrace the truth Dunham presented despite all of its fictitious trappings. She was the self-proclaimed "voice of a generation," after all.
The second season has all but shed that verisimilitude. In order to achieve that willing suspension of disbelief, you have to be actively engaged with the characters, something that I no longer feel I really am. (And where exactly have Jessa and Shoshanna been disappeared off to? Their storylines are compelling—a free spirit engaged in perhaps a misguided marriage, the first serious relationship for the other—but are curiously ignored in lieu of karaoke sing offs, turning Marnie into a less savvy version of the previously unrestrained Jessa, and a coke binge, complete with the unsettling creations of an artistic hack.)
The abysmal season premiere set the tone for this weak season—nothing really happened, and whatever was happening happened to characters I suddenly felt estranged from. Luckily Dunham has steered the second season away from that meaningless, awful opening, but now the episodes seem to be heavily reliant on feints and devices: so far, a (to be fair, effectively unflattering) conversation on race (with a sprinkling of half-bright political ideas thrown in for good measure)—after which her black boyfriend just disappears, not that I can blame him after Hannah's Missy Elliot quote—and doing coke. With the exception of a few humorous or honest moments, the past three episodes have played out more like a show about adolescents, not young adults.
Grantland and the Atlantic still seem to be sold on Dunham's talents, as evidenced by their willingness to close read the episodes to uncover the meaning hidden within (or, as my cynical take has it, to force of modicum of meaning onto this suddenly weakened show). Both reviews have a few issues here and there, but come off quite satisfied with Dunham's take on this generation, so perhaps the issue is with me. (I am in the last year of my twenties, to be fair, but I know of at least one person in the targeted demographic who also feels this show is coming off the rails.) Friendship is a two-way street, to pick up on the metaphor I started off with.
Despite myself, I was thoroughly interested and engaged with the first season of Girls. I got other friends into it. I even drew a fair amount of inspiration from it, as I'm a true sucker for any solid attempt at a meaningful bildungsroman-of-sorts. I had hoped that the tepid season finale would be a mere hiccup, something that could be easily overlooked. Sadly, this isn't proving to the be the case, not so far anyways. (Will I watch next week's episode? Yeah. Probably. Not on Sunday, of course, as my energies will very much be focused elsewhere.)
Interestingly, I think Grantland's Molly Lambert summed up why I think the show is floundering in her review of the third episode, though perhaps not intentionally. Writing about the far-too-fictional opportunity Hannah lands with the laughably named jazzhate.com, and hinting at the bizarre desperation Hannah reveals being willing to jump at the idea of doing coke and writing an article about it, Lambert remarks:
"If Hannah wants to exploit her own personal experiences for cash, she had better be ready to spill everything and sell out anyone. She also shouldn't be too surprised when she loses friends over her self-proclaimed honesty, runs out of experiences to write about faster than she anticipated, and feels like a phony trying to have new ones just for her work."
Maybe Dunham is working through a sudden drought of material, as she has been tapping her personal experiences for storylines long before Girls was picked up by HBO. This season has felt, as much as it pains me to say, "phony" at times. And that's a death knell for a show hoping to capture something "real" about this generation. Worse yet, maybe there just isn't much to say about our generation, and the fault isn't so much with Dunham's ambitious project as it is with our lot of twenty-somethings and the lack of meaning we can bring to a television screen. I don't know, and that's obviously a far longer and more involved discussion that the one I'm attempting here.
In any case, I hope Dunham returns to form. I really do. It's just been hard to overlook the failings of this season, as these failings have overshadowed what endeared the show to me in the first place.