Five minutes into the fourth episode of Girls, I realized I’d fallen deep, deeply in love. The signs were pretty unmistakable: I was sitting up in bed, grinning a mile wide, and my hands had spontaneously shaped themselves into a heart that framed Hannah Horvath’s winking face on my computer screen.
I knew Hannah couldn’t see me.
I sort of knew she couldn’t see me.
I felt seen.
It was the title card, and what had happened immediately before it, that tipped me into head-over-heels territory.
As the show opens, Hannah gets a sext from her caveman-friend-with-benefits, Adam. That’s enough to make her gasp and laugh disbelievingly with her roommate Marnie. But this sext comes with a sucker punch: seconds later, Adam texts, “Sry, that wasn’t for you.”
You’d think a girl in that position would tell her paramour to take a hike, or at least—as Marnie strongly recommends—refuse to dignify the whole thing with a response. But Hannah’s in denial. “If there was another girl, he’d never be this obvious about it,” she tells Marnie.
She’s also insecure (obviously, she’s 24). But best of all—what makes Hannah Horvath, and Lena Dunham, so much fun to watch—she is absolutely shameless. As Marnie retreats back into her bedroom, a heavy guitar riff kicks in. Hannah strips off her shirt and poses for the camera: face turned in three-quarters profile, mouth open like a Muppet, one eye squeezed shut in an exaggerated wink.
“I can’t take a serious naked picture of myself,” she confesses later in the episode. Posing on the couch, she looks ridiculous. Also awesome. And whereas other shows might use the scene to embarrass or condemn Hannah, this show gives her a rock and roll soundtrack and that wonderful title card—GIRLS, all in caps, big bold font, black background, sans serif. That sequence told me that the show was with Hannah through every mistake she was going to make, and I knew then: so was I.
Almost every episode begins with a variation of the same formula. One of the four main characters does something weird, or awkward, or reckless, or rude. Hannah reads out lout from the diary entry that ruined Marnie’s relationship, then pauses to ask Marnie if she’d have liked it if it wasn’t about her, “just as like a piece of writing.” Hannah takes off for the airport with her clothes bundled into a garbage bag because she doesn’t own a piece of luggage. Jessa receives a text from an unknown number and writes back a flirtatious note inviting the mystery guest to a party in Bushwick.
The opening scene is never concerned with flattering the show’s characters; it just wants to be honest about who these people are. And when GIRLS flashes onscreen immediately following whatever messed-up, beautiful thing just happened, I feel a rush of excitement. This is what girls are like, the title card tells us—not all girls, certainly, or most girls. But these girls: check their radical narcissism, their arrogance and anxiety and guts. The show dares you to love them.
There are valid reasons to decline the dare, particularly with regard to the show’s overwhelming privilege. Girls has got some rad feminist politics, but it needs to be more intersectional. God, I hope it will be more intersectional: Imagine the places this show could go. For now, I recognize the problems with its first season as well as everything the show is doing right.
Last weekend, I picked up Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason at a book sale. Bridget is Girls‘ fairy godmother in a lot of ways: messy, funny, bawdy, bizarre. In the sequel, Bridget’s mother offers her daughter a rare piece of good advice. Lena Dunham and company seem to have taken it to heart, and they’re pushing viewers to do the same.
Women, Bridget’s mother says, can get conned into believing they have to follow a million different rules to deserve to be loved. They end up thinking they have to be skinny and polished and successful but not too successful and coolly unavailable and freakishly young. It’s all basically rubbish, she says. Remember the Velveteen Rabbit. Truth is, all you have to do is be real.