Accused by some of whitewashing Brooklyn and beloved by others for depicting the harsh truth of post-college New York life for over-educated women in their 20s, Girls may well be TV’s most talked-about comedy. Considering that most of those conversations hinge on how realistic the show is or isn’t, this season we’re recapping Girls by asking three writers who should know — our interns, Chloe Pantazi, Alison Herman, and Julia Pugachevsky — how real each episode felt. Read their responses to last night’s episode, in which Girls finally confronts its race problem, and let us know what you think in the comments
Chloe Pantazi: From guns to gay marriage, and the politics of interracial relationships, last night’s episode of Girls got about as real as it gets on HBO. First, there was Elijah and George’s breakup, the first relationship to dissolve in the episode. When Elijah confesses to George his brief affair with Marnie, insisting that he’s a little bit bisexual, George complains that he should have expected this from a 25-year-old. I feel like I’ve heard a version of this argument before. Yet Elijah’s just as quick to discriminate when it comes to Sandy’s Republicanism, when he starts questioning him about his politics in the bathroom. Though this scene didn’t particularly convince me. If your roommate’s dating a Republican, and they’re in the bathroom having a private tooth-brushing session, do you really go on in there to air your issues with Republicanism? Surely, you wait until you’re very drunk at a party together. Then you have a heated political debate. Not first thing in the morning, and definitely not without imbibing something stronger than Listerine.
Or perhaps, like Hannah, you wait for a fight to ask why it’s OK for people to own guns. Which is a fair question. But then the conversation turns to race, at which point Hannah narrow-mindedly comes out with the claim that she didn’t “notice” Sandy was black. That Hannah’s comments are both surprising and unsurprising – and that someone as smart could be so ignorant – is perhaps what’s most real about this scene. Sure, last night’s episode addressed real-life problems, Girls didn’t explore them convincingly enough. For a show concerned with veracity, the whole scene was too put together, like Dunham had a checklist – Missy Elliot quote included – she needed to get through when filming the scene.
Meanwhile, I’m totally unconvinced by Adam’s creepy advances as he continues to fight for Hannah, taking to YouTube to serenade her, and arriving at her apartment late to terrify her. Surely, the real Adam would just chill at home watching crappy TV until the next Hannah arrives to take care of him. And then there’s the unlikely story of Marnie giving up on the art world to cash in on her good looks as she takes a job as a club hostess. What’s most real is Hannah’s contradictory reaction to Marnie’s new job; she’s disappointed in her friend, but she’s also dead jealous.
While everyone else is talking politics, Jessa and Thomas-John are nesting in their hipster honeymoon phase; Jessa’s painting Thomas-John in a trilby, he’s buying her puppies, and they’re “creatively supportive” of one another – and it’s gross. As much as I want to cry that they’re not real, I’m seeing disgusting couples like Jessa-John all over Greenpoint. And across the East River, a couple I wish were real, Shoshanna and Ray, pillow talk about petting animals. OK, so it’s not hugely realistic that Ray would partake in such sweet conversation, albeit ironically, but I’m willing to believe, as much as Sho does, that Ray has a marshmallow center. He’ll be emoji-ing in no time. ♥
Alison Herman: If this were Friends, this episode’s name would be something like “The One Where We Attempt to Discuss Race (with Mixed Success.)” But it’s Girls, so instead devoted viewers got “I Get Ideas,” a very messy, very polarizing, and ultimately very real episode that saw turning points in almost all of the show’s relationships. Most importantly, there was the showdown between Hannah and Sandy, which saw our heroine hide behind good old liberal self-righteousness to cover up her own insecurity about Sandy’s less-than-enthusiastic response to her essay. As he calmly, and rightly, called Hannah out for her attempts to lecture him about his own experiences, the dialogue took a turn for the meta, sounding awfully like a commentary on gentrified white Brooklyn. Sandy complained that girls date him only as a testament to their own racial tolerance and not for his real self, who happens to be Republican; Hannah childishly responds by throwing out statistics on death row and describing blue balls as “another thing I don’t believe in.”
The scene was a classic example of Lena Dunham using her central character as a negative example (see also: blithely asking her parents to pay her a thousand bucks a month), turning the conversation into a spot-on takedown of the misguided views many white, privileged young women have about race. There were even parodies of reverse racism — “Maybe you should think about the fact that you could be fetishizing me!” — and colorblindness — “The joke’s on you, because I never thought about the fact that you were black once.” To me, it was the episode’s most real moment, in the sense that it perfectly captured the messed-up things girls like Hannah tell themselves about interracial relationships. Whether those views would all come to the surface within five minutes is another story.
As for the show’s other characters, Marnie’s scary encounter with her chosen career’s irrelevance hit way too close to home. It’s exactly the kind of life crisis Oberlin art history majors are bound to have, down to the feigned satisfaction with her new gig at a fancy gentlemen’s club. Like Hannah, she’s both burying her own fears and lashing out at those around her, except instead of attacking her boyfriend’s political beliefs she implies her best friend isn’t pretty enough for the job. Like last week, both Shoshanna and Jessa got shortchanged in terms of character development, but here’s hoping they, too, will have on-camera breakdowns as entertaining as their friends’.
Julia Pugachevsky: When Jessa confidently tells Hannah that her main priority in a relationship should be being supported creatively, she of course means that your significant other should accept you for who you are (but a statement as cliché as that would be far too simple for Jessa.) Hannah, indeed “overthinking” as Jessa had just noted, takes this the wrong way and decides that Sandy must read her writing and provide an honest opinion in order for their relationship to grow. This struck a chord with me, as every romantic relationship I’ve been in, regardless of how long it lasted, always involved some exchange of writing and asking for critique (of course, no matter what my opinion was, I always said I liked what I read.) Here’s the thing, though – unless you’re Arcade Fire’s Win and Regine and directly (and adorably) collaborating on projects, giving your art to someone you’re dating is, from my experience, not such a great idea. Hannah, for instance, gets upset that Sandy thinks her essay isn’t really going anywhere. If he lies, it puts a strain on the relationship. If he’s honest, she may say it’s fine, but, deep down, she’ll either be hurt or start to look down on him because he just “doesn’t get it.”
This dilemma, tied in with the glimpse we get of Jessa’s home life post-wedding, where she is seen painting her new husband and not knowing what to paint because she’s never painted anyone she’s loved before, highlights the absurdity of including a loved one in every detail of your life, so much so that they must be magnified and romanticized on a canvas literally bigger than you. In the world of Girls, intimacy isn’t a coffee date or marriage or even sex – it’s Adam breaking into your apartment in the middle of the night with the key he still has from your past relationship. In this chaotic mess of shared poems and grainy webcam videos, it seems that no one knows where she ends and the other person begins. And it’s not as romantic as it sounds.
Ironically enough, Hannah pressuring Sandy to give her feedback on her piece flips around brilliantly on Hannah, proving that she cannot accept Sandy’s conservatism – basically, she can’t accept who he actually is. In her ignorance and wounded pride, she argues that she never saw him as a black man and claims she is colorblind and not racist, going as far as to accuse him of reverse racism. Like guys on dating sites who repeatedly state that they’re not jerks, if you feel the need to convince someone you’re not a racist, you probably kind of are. While Hannah may have lost some major points as a character, I think Lena Dunham did a great job of addressing race and the criticisms of the last season. This was a bold and scarily accurate debate on the modern definition of racism, at a time when I feel many other writer/directors would just add a one-dimensional “nice” black character to add a sense of faux diversity to the show and to avoid any more accusations of its cast being too white. Lena Dunham will give you what you ask for, but she isn’t going to please you. Which, of course, is why we keep watching.