The State of the 'Girls' Debate Is Good

Not a single episode could air during season one without an overanalysis of controversial themes and Dunham's perceived agenda. And so in season two Dunham's agenda was to address controversial themes head-on, or indirectly, but mostly on purpose. Let's discuss.

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Sunday night marked the end of yet another perplexing, entertaining, and troubling season of Girls.  In case you haven't been on the Internet in the past two years, Lena Dunham's HBO opus about the lives of the young and the hopeless has been the subject of more "think pieces" than there are places to put them, and more water-cooler talk than there may even be actual water coolers. Not a single episode could air during season one without an overanalysis of controversial themes and Dunham's perceived agenda. And so in season two Dunham's agenda was to address controversial themes head-on, or indirectly, but mostly on purpose. Like so.


One of the initial complaints with Girls was its whitewashed image of young women in the diverse world of New York, and its stereotypical treatment of other races. It seemed that Dunham intended to quash those critiques right from the start, by way of her Hannah character's relationship with Donald Glover's Sandy, a black Republican. In the second episode of the new season, Hannah and Sandy have a frank conversation that highlights Hannah's ignorance about race—the exact thing that Dunham was accused of by so many TV pundits and viewers. When Hannah breaks up with Sandy, citing his Republican views, he complains about how "this" always happens: "This. This 'oh, I'm a white girl and I moved to New York and I'm having a great time and oh I've got a fixed gear bike and I'm going to date a black guy and we're going to go to a dangerous part of town. All that bullshit. Like, yeah. I know this. I've seen it happen a million times and then they can't deal with who I am." The speech slams both racial ignorance and hipsters. Two birds. One stone.

Hannah, ridiculously, turns Sandy's accusations around him, saying he was fetishizing her for being white, and claiming that she never thought about the fact that he was black, even though she had mentioned just that, mere minutes earlier. In that moment, Hannah is everything everyone said Lena Dunham was. And—boom—the argument ended.

Body Image and Nudity

Dunham has appeared nude on the show since the beginning, and her nudity—and body type—has always riled up those looking for something to criticize. This season the debate came front and center—quite literally—in the episode "One Man's Trash," in which Hannah enjoyed a lost weekend with the stereotypically handsome Patrick Wilson. Dunham was nude for large portions of the half-hour—ping-pong anyone?—inciting innumerable essays pondering whether whether Wilson is too attractive for Dunham, and whether Dunham really should be baring it all so frequently.

Whereas Dunham addressed the race argument on the show by essentially having her characters hash it out in satirical fashion, in this case she just fueled the fire by putting her body out there. As our Richard Lawson wrote, it's a pretty silly argument, and one that we wouldn't be having if, say, Allison Williams's Marnie was constantly naked. Dunham has been sounding exasperated herself by all the body-focused coverage. In her interview with Playboy she said: "If I could abolish one question, it would be 'Why are you naked on TV so much?' I don't know. Use your imagination."

Nepotism and Parenting

The series' initial poster morphed into a meme last April when someone highlighted all the familial connections of the real-life girls of Girls. With the show now canonized as a legitimate success, it's a little hard to continue making the argument that Dunham and the rest of the cast only got to where they are because they have famous parents. But in season two Dunham and crew seemed to address the mild controversy in a mild way, or at least wink to it. Dunham's mom, artist Laurie Simmons, appeared in one episode to turn Marnie down for a job. In another, Shoshanna tells Ray that Donald Trump "totally should have not hired his daughter Ivanka as a judge on The Apprentice."

But on a broader level, throughout this season parents became more present, further distancing the actresses from their showbiz/art world lineage. In the first episode of the new season we met Marnie's mom, a rosé swigging Rita Wilson, who is sleeping with a cater waiter. An entire episode centered around a visit to Jessa's father's home upstate, giving us some insight into Jessa's bohemian personality, and that trip prompted Hannah to reach out to her own folks, who became an integral part of the series as Hannah began to battle OCD.

With the characters' actual parents on the show it became hard to ascribe them with the same privilege the actresses grew up with.


This season turned renewed focus onto the boys of Girls—the very men who, during last season, James Franco called the "biggest bunch of losers I've ever seen."

While we're loathe to give Franco any credit, they were losers and in a way they went from bad to worse. Adam turned from mysterious guy interested in weird sex into a possible rapist. Ray turned from sarcastic barista to sarcastic barista with no motivation, living off of his much younger girlfriend. Charlie went from hopelessly devoted boyfriend to start-up jerk.

And yet, the boys of girls also grew. We got to see Charlie and especially Adam in a situations where they weren't defined by the titular girl they were dating. When it came to Ray, we got some depth beyond the snark.

Mental Health

This wasn't even a discussion in the first season, but in the last three episodes of season two it became a major plot point, as Hannah's OCD returned. This, of course, is a borrowed-from-real life plot point—Dunham's recent Rolling Stone cover story explained her history with the disease. And Hannah's OCD arrived suddenly; one episode she was complaining about her UTI, the next she was counting things out by eight. And if there's ever a way to confront a personal mental-health issue with emotion and power, well, Q-Tips.


The girls of Girls, especially Hannah, were seen as pretty unlikable, even before the show ever premiered and especially throughout its first season. But in season two Dunham ramped up the unlikable factor. Suddenly Hannah wasn't just a little selfish, she was downright horrible. In the final episode Laird, the neighbor whom she asked for coke, despite his previous addiction, before hooking up with him, railed on her for this exact problem: "You know what Hannah, you are the most self-involved, presumptuous person you have ever met. Ever. I had feelings for you until I realized how rotten your insides were."

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.