I love Girls, but ...
As the second season of Girls closes on SoHo - the finale aired last night - I'm conflicted by two thoughts: Girls might be the most daring and entertaining and clever comedy on television right now, and the term "comedy" barely describes the kind of show Girls actually is. But Girls might also be the most overrated show on television right now. And both of those thoughts might be absolutely correct.
(Warning: spoilers from Season 2 of Girls, including last night's finale, follow.)
There is no doubting the quality of what Lena Dunham has tried to do with her first show: Girls is one of the most original productions you'll find, a nuanced collection of stories and characters from an avant-garde writer who isn't afraid to take risks and send her creation in unique, often unexpected directions.
For example, who saw Hannah's bout of OCD coming? The last few episodes were as harrowing as they were funny. Dunham shone throughout. Likewise, the reintegration of Adam (the brilliant Adam Driver) was a curiosity, with him heading on a mission with Ray to return a dog, then picking up (and quickly dropping) a new girlfriend before running back into Hannah last night. It's the oddest, most honest love story you could imagine.
And through their stories, and those of supporting characters such as Marnie (Allison Williams), Shoshanna (Zosia Mamet) and Ray (Alex Karpovsky), the show can give us hilarious moments - Marnie singing a lounge version of a Kanye West track at Charlie's work party had me in stitches* - but also give us down to earth, human moments: Hannah dealing with her parents a couple of weeks ago, or Jessa confronting her dad a few episodes back, or that one episode when a vulnerable Hannah played hookey with Patrick Wilson for a couple of days, for example.
If you judge Girls purely on laughs, then it's a damn fine comedy series. But the form the show takes is more than just a comedy; it's a rather elegant mash-up of styles, from the comedic to the dramatic and everything in between. That it is produced for HBO plays in its favour, giving Dunham room to be more experimental with its format than most shows - in any genre - can afford to be. Girls is whatever Dunham wants it to be, really.
In case you couldn't already guess, I love the show. But, see, as much as I love Girls, I have this nagging voice in my head that is also telling me it's overrated. Girls is not as good as the hype surrounding Girls would have you believe.
The show is flawed on some levels, particularly in the nuance of the characters; there is a point where characters and stories can get too complicated or quirky, and Girls jumped in and out of that zone all season.
I don't think Girls works well as a series either. Most of this second season played like a series of standalone films featuring characters we knew that had little do with the ongoing show. You can almost sense that Dunham is constrained by the notion of an ongoing storyline. If that's the case, take the show further in that direction, because those isolated episodes were as good as anything else on the show.
I like the idea of a show playing with its format to this extent, but it leaves some of the characters under-developed. For example, the last few episodes tried to get mileage out of Shoshanna and Ray's relationship, but they both disappeared for long periods of the season. Why should I get invested in a pair of characters who don't seem important to the narrative of the show?
The point is that Girls is a great show, but I don't think it's as great as the reviews, awards and word-of-mouth would have you think. It's unique and creative and not like anything else on television right now. But that doesn't make it the greatest show ever made. The hype goes far beyond the quality of the show. Does it deserve the acclaim? Absolutely. But it's only great for what it is, not as a historical marker for TV.
But don't get me wrong: it is one of the best things on TV right now. This was a great second season, despite a couple of flaws - both of which can probably be chalked up to choices based on personal taste in the environment of creative freedom HBO provides its show runners. And I'll be tuning back in for Season 3 when it rolls around.
What do you think: how great is Girls? Do you agree that the hype outweighs the actual show?
(*) There were so many comedic highlights this season: Jessa and Thomas John's breakup, Shoshanna discovering Ray is living with her without her knowledge, much of the dialogue during Ray and Adam's trip to Staten Island ... this was a hilarious 10 episodes of television.