HBO's 'Girls' Season 1 Finale: How Four Girls Made Television History

ByDavid Krebs

What did the first season of Girls accomplish?

For starters, as a show that has been around for three months, it has spurred a wave of conversation and criticism unprecedented for any other series. It has been the focus point of dialogues regarding racism, white privilege, body types, and about the disillusionment of the millennial generation. Not a bad start.

The first season of Girls was nothing short of an undulating roller coaster. A digital media rawhide torn-apart from every direction. The HBO series that started with a classic ‘mumblecore’ setup, gradually transformed into some sort of weird aggregate of comedic meets absurd, meets twisted, meets thoughtful storytelling.

I’ll spare you the definition of mumblecore (Google it if you must), because classifying Girls as any single genre has proven more difficult than expected. Lena Dunham’s Girls –  and the digital dialogue that ensued after its premiere –  has perhaps created one of the most divisive conversations in recent memory. Dunham’s ability to combine youthful ignorance and arrogance has created both a critical touchstone and a very real dialogue about the show’s representation (or failure there of) of sexuality, race, privilege, and gender in America.

Criticism and praise for the show came rushing in from all directions. Slate senior editor Hanna Rosin said in an interview that, “For me, the thing that makes the show different is how frank it is about certain kinds of sex, and a very imperfect relationship, and how it subverts romantic comedy’s expectations at every turn.”

On the other end of the spectrum (I’ve been here), you’ll find writers like Sasha Perl-Raver of NBC Chicago who notes, “By the end of the pilot, I was fighting the urge to throw kale chips at the screen. Who were these despicable, foul people who ate cupcakes in the bathroom where the door was NEVER locked?!?” Or Eileen Jones of Exiled Online, who writes, “The backlash against the show has been mainly about the all-whiteness of the cast, the way there are no people in color in Lena Dunham’s NYC except bit-part, background workers here and there. Personally I think people of color have dodged a bullet, and should celebrate their own non-representation in this TV-mumblecore hellscape.”

Most of Girls’ adversity has predominately focused on this ‘whiteness’ of the characters and the lack of diversity in Dunham’s Brooklyn. But there’s something to be said about Dunham’s New York, after all, the race jokes and slurs found in Girls do their job to represent the millennial generation’s discomfort with anything race related (see Urban Outfitters/hipster racism).

This poses a problem for Girls, seeing as its audience is as ethnically diverse as any other HBO series. According to Nielsen data supplied by HBO, “Fifteen percent of the audience that watches Girls on HBO's main channel is African-American, while 10 percent is Latino.”  That puts Girls into more or less the same racial/ethnic breakdown as Veep, Game of Thrones, and Boardwalk Empire.

The first season of Girls has accomplished its role as the ‘first-world/white girl problems’ show. That doesn’t mean that it’s any less realistic in its depiction of urban millennials. For that matter, the show succeeds in its representation of “a voice, of a generation,” as Dunham puts it in the season premier. That generation just happens to be privileged white girls who are incapable of dealing with race.

Additionally, there is something to be said about the digital discussion over Girls and its effects upon the confirmed second season. Dunham has opened the floor to discuss the issue of diversity and the absurdity of the discussion itself (after all, this is Brooklyn). The second season has already affirmed the appearance of guest star Donald Glover (Childish Gambino), as well as a much-publicized casting call for hipsters of all races and ethnicities.

So what did we learn from the first season of Girls? Is Lena Dunham “a voice of a generation?” Well … yes. But so are the critics, bloggers, and re-bloggers who took part in dialogue whether it was to impart messages of love, hate, or indifference. If anything, at least the Girls conversation is about something more than whether or not the show is good. At least the conversation addresses something meaningful.