“[One] thing about me is I give zero fucks about anything, yet have a strong opinion on everything, even topics I’m not informed on.”
There’s that Hannah Horvath complexity. Funny, self-aware, confident, paranoid and ignorant at the same time, all in some kind of adorable but disgusting jumble. Lena Dunham’s protagonist at the heart of HBO’s Girls has always had the ability to drop lines like the one above, but this gem from the premiere of the show’s sixth and final season feels special. But it doesn’t feel like the right way to begin this review. This quote, from later in the same episode, fits a bit better:
“I don’t even know what any of my friends like, I just know what they don’t like.”
To begin with, it’s a quote about negativity. For what seems like its entire run, this show has been haunted by just that. First, there’s the problem of negativity within the show. As Dunham’s character, Hannah, points out in that line, many of the main characters are not wildly positive people. Scripts for the show, especially in the last few seasons, are peppered with both criticism of anyone or anything and a real pessimism about life in general. Over the course of six seasons, many of our main protagonists have slipped into a realm of real unlikability.
This unlikability takes its toll. I don’t know a single person who watches this show whose feelings toward it aren’t at least tinted with hate. This can be anything from a distaste for a particular character to a struggle with a bigger idea, like the fact that a show with such a broad title is only really about a very small, privileged group of people.
But despite all this, Girls has stuck around. Not only that, it has developed its characters and storylines enough to earn what should be a pretty good send-off season. For this review, I watched the first three episodes of season six and if they’re any indication, these last episodes have the potential to be both as strong and as tiresome as the program has ever been.
The quote above, the second one, is an indication of what Girls can and has always been able to do right. The writing, especially when it turns inward and tackles the experience of being young in the 2010s, is pretty great. When Hannah said that line, I nodded to myself. There’s real honesty there, and honesty means good writing.
And, on the whole, Sunday night’s premiere was a showcase of all the good things a Girls script can be: funny, self-aware and, at times, pretty devastating. The episode focuses on Hannah attending a surf camp to write a magazine story. While there, she has a fling with one of the instructors (The Night Of‘s Riz Ahmed). The show has always found real strength in episodes that take viewers out of the standard bustle of its New York setting and the somewhat standard annoyance of its natural storylines (think of how good that Patrick Wilson event episode was). This one is no different. It starts season six off on the right foot.
Then comes episode two and a Marnie storyline that moves at the speed of light, tripping all over itself in the process. There’s also some drama with Jessa that pops up and before you know it, we’re right back in that awful place of 30-minute Girls episodes that feel two hours long. Essentially, we get the best followed by the worst and this succession should come as no surprise to any longtime viewers.
Luckily, we’re saved by episode three. An event episode much like the Wilson one, it has a strong guest performance of its own and takes some big swings at a relevant, complex issue. It’s the kind of television that sticks with you after the credits roll and if not convinces you then at least gives you hope this show knows exactly what its doing. Maybe these types of moments are the most frustrating thing about Girls.
One last moment of brilliance to prove my point: at the end of Sunday’s episode, after Hannah starts to develop feelings for her surf instructor, he casually mentions he has a girlfriend. It’s an open thing, though — very modern. She’s clearly hurt by this revelation but plays it cool. They attend a bonfire together that night and as some douche with a ukulele plays “She’s So High” we get a stunning shot of Hannah’s face. Tears pool in her eyes and there’s a quiver on her lips that vacillates between a smile and a frown. It’s hard to tell what she’s feeling and harder still to know how to feel in response. She is, and always has been, a beautiful mess.