Do you watch the HBO show "Girls"? If you don't, I can tell you briefly that it follows the adventures of four friends, twenty-something girls in New York, as they flounder their way through relationships, jobs, life, basically creating mayhem and angst wherever they go.
Sounds a lot like a lot of other TV comedies, doesn't it? Things like "Sex in the City," "Seinfeld," even "Friends." The thing that sort of makes "Girls" different is that all those other shows generally have at least one character with whom you can empathize, one who is likable. All the girls on "Girls" are so messed up, so totally self-absorbed, that it is hard to feel sympathy for them when life sends hard knocks their way.
These are characters that are really...well, unlikable. And yet watching them has been somewhat like watching a train wreck for me. I just can't turn away. I have watched the show faithfully for five years now. This season's finale will be Sunday night, and barring unforeseen circumstances, I'll be there in front of my TV, watching to see the latest outrageous acts of Hannah, Marnie, Shoshanna, and Jessa. Especially Hannah.
Hannah Horvath, as all the sentient world surely knows by now, is played by the writer/creator of the series, Lena Dunham. Dunham plays Hannah as a character who is resolutely unappealing. She screws up everything in her life. She lurches from one disaster to another from week to week. She routinely makes the very worst decisions. She makes us so angry we long to reach through the screen and shake her. She is an exhibitionist who lets it all hang out (literally!) and seems to glory in appalling us.
One of the funniest scenes for me in this most brilliant (in my opinion) season of this series occurred a couple of weeks ago when Hannah went on a retreat with her mother and there was a shot of her walking away from the camera in a wildly inappropriate bikini. Yes, we laugh, but why do we laugh? Is it because Hannah/Lena does not have a model-thin bikini body? Are we laughing because women with imperfect bodies - which is most of us - are funny? Are we laughing at society's unreasonable expectations of women? Are we laughing at Hannah or with her? No body shaming for her!
We viewers want so badly, I think, to see some growth in these young women, some hint that they are on the road to actual responsible adulthood. We've waited in vain for it for four years, but finally, this season, I think I detect a glimmer of the possibility of such an outcome for at least two of the characters, Hannah and Jessa. That has given me pause to try to recall myself as a twenty-something. What was I like? Was I just as bad as these "Girls"? Worse?
Admittedly my memory of those years is clouded by the mists of time, but, if I am honest, I have to confess that I was every bit as self-absorbed and selfish as any of these young women. Maybe my foibles and sins were somewhat different, but they were no less self-destructive and self-referential. I was just as oblivious to the feelings and needs of others as I sought to satisfy my own. But at some point along the way, I did begin to change and grow and finally to become a relatively responsible adult.
So perhaps there is still hope for the girls of "Girls" to become fully-realized human beings. Maybe we'll get a clue in Sunday's season finale and next season, the last for the series, perhaps our hopes will be fulfilled.
Not for Marnie, though. There is no hope for Marnie.