The year’s most surprisingly controversial show wrapped up its first season last night, in an episode that proved once and for all that Lena Dunham’s Hannah Horvath is not supposed to be in any way an aspirational figure — not to mention left us utterly confused about the new Jessa, intrigued about the new Marnie, and hopeful for the emergence of a new Shoshanna. It was an uneven finale with a few great moments (we love the way Dunham chose to leave things between Hannah and Adam) and at least one payoff that seemed puzzlingly unearned. While we stand by our original defense of Girls, we agree that it could use a few minor (well, OK, in some cases major) tweaks when it returns and have enumerated our suggestions for Season 2 below.
1. More non-token characters of color: Halfway through the season, we figured out what was actually bothering us about Girls and race. It wasn’t that there weren’t any non-white characters; it was that the people of color on the show tended to be there for a very specific reason — to contrast their difficult, working class lives and “real problems” with Hannah and her friends’ more frivolous existences. But in 2012, it’s fairly unbelievable that these girls wouldn’t have a non-white friend whose experience actually overlapped with theirs. The news that Donald Glover will appear on Season 2 is a good start, although that alone won’t be enough to fix a pervasive problem.
2. More realistic male characters: Lena Dunham, like many young writers, is best at depicting characters she can relate to. That seems to be at the core of Girls’ diversity problem, and it’s also what makes many of the guys on the show so unrealistic. Marnie’s ex-boyfriend, Charlie, is a co-dependent pushover who spews the kind of politically correct, “evolved male” nonsense that only exists in Republicans’ worst nightmares. His friend Ray is a misogynistic, wisecracking asshole — which not only makes him a one-dimensional villain but raises the question of why a super-sensitive guy like Charlie would even want to be his friend in the first place. An actual adult male proclaims that Jessa “has the face of Brigitte Bardot and an ass like Rihanna.” And the only guy on the show who’s been given any real depth, Adam, transformed from dangerously apathetic and subtly sadistic to a clingy, Charlie-esque boyfriend (albeit one who might think peeing on you in the shower is funny) in the space of week. There are seeds of good characters here, but next year, we’d like to see the men on Girls become as multifaceted as the women.
3. Real problems: We know Girls is a comedy, and that entails a certain amount of glossing over serious struggle. That’s fine. What’s odd about this season is that we constantly saw characters stressing over their issues, yet rarely saw how they eventually dealt with those problems. Hannah panicked when her parents cut her off, blew a job interview… and then suddenly had a job. When she quit that gig, apparently without much forethought, she worried about how to break the news to her parents and ask for money to cover her half of the rent… and we never saw how that resolved itself, either, although an epic fight with Marnie a few episodes later suggested that she’d simply relied on her roommate’s generosity. And in the finale, Jessa marries the sleazy finance guy who once tried to have a threesome with her and Marnie, presumably as a result of her former employer confronting her about her future… but we have to make the rather unlikely connection between those dots ourselves, too. Girls doesn’t need to show us every boring second of these women’s lives, but it’s cheating when it skips over their most difficult moments — moments that might well be rich in that excruciatingly awkward brand of humor Dunham does so well.
4. More Shoshanna and Ray: For most of this season, Jessa’s Sex and the City-obsessed younger cousin has been the comic relief — and Zosia Mamet has proven herself a great comic actress. But just like Hannah and Marnie and Jessa, she deserves the chance to become more than just the girl who accidentally smokes crack and freaks out upon discovering that she’s worn white to a wedding. In one of the finale’s final scenes, we see her in bed with Ray, and their awkward yet tender exchange about her virginity suggests that this hook-up could have some longevity. We would like to see this, not only because Shoshanna shouldn’t always be the punchline, but because we’d like to be able to look at Ray sometimes without feeling nauseous.
5. Less love, more work: Speaking of Sex and the City, we bristled at critics’ knee-jerk impulse to liken it to Girls, just because both shows are about four women in New York. Girls is different, we kept thinking, because it’s not just about love and sex — it’s about being young and broke and aimless, with disappointing job prospects and no clear path to doing what you really want to do in life. But in the final few episodes of Season 1, romantic relationships have been at the forefront, to the exclusion of almost everything else (with the notable exception of Hannah and Marnie’s bracingly real friend breakup). Next year, I want to see more of these girls’ professional lives, from degrading job searches and awful minimum-wage gigs to minor slights in the office and maybe even the occasional personal triumph. The particular humiliation of graduating from college and trying to follow your dreams in the midst of a recession is what makes this show such an important document of a generation’s struggle, and it would be a shame to lose that in a cloud of hook-ups and breakups.