When Girls burst on to our screens in 2012, it had an immediate and profound effect on audiences. So much so, that I actually didn’t start watching the series myself until a couple of years later as a reaction against just about everyone I know telling me that I’d love it. It’s like when your mum asked you to clean your room, so you purposely let it get so messy that it was virtually uninhabitable before addressing the situation.
Nevertheless, when I finally got round to watching Girls, I discovered that my friends were right. After binge-watching the first two seasons in one weekend, I was captivated by the world that Lena Dunham had created.
Every so often a series comes along that changes television forever. As Girls airs its final episode this weekend, the show has undeniably proven to be one of them. Dunham and her team have achieved this by breaking with practically every notion of what a female ensemble television show should be. There is no “funny one”, “promiscuous one” or “prudish one”, and the characters aren’t even immediately likeable. Sex scenes and female bodies are presented with an honesty that many found startling at first, but is now refreshingly normal.
Over six seasons, the fluctuating relationships between the show’s main characters have shown female friendships in a new light. Still, Girls has not escaped without criticism, with arguments that the series is too white and privileged being particularly hard to refute.
As with most television shows that carry so much cultural baggage, the impact of Girls will be better understood in years to come. With unapologetic feminist Dunham at the helm, the series has inevitably struck a chord with young women, but it is by no means narrow in its appeal. As a gay man in my mid-twenties, I identify just as strongly with the female characters as I do the men, including Elijah, the show’s central gay character.
In the first episode of Girls, Dunham’s character Hannah Horvath professes to her parents through a cloud of intoxication that she is “the voice of her generation”. While this claim may be a stretch, the series as a whole is certainly generation defining.
Girls perfectly captures the struggle of leaving university with lots of creative drive but little idea how to channel all this energy into a career. The characters scramble for junior admin roles, internships and jobs that they hate despite yearning for so much more. As someone who moved to London after graduating from university, I can identify with having big dreams and an often-crippling desire to make them happen. It can sometimes feel like you’re being left behind.
In stark contrast to Sex and the City – in which Carrie Bradshaw can somehow afford a huge apartment and a lifetime supply of Manolo Blahnik shoes by writing a weekly newspaper column – life in Dunham’s New York is anything but glamorous. The characters pay astronomical rents for the privilege of cramming into small, mouldy apartments, and experience the feelings of isolation and frustration that go hand-in-hand with being young and ambitious in a big city.
We millennials are often told by our parents’ generation (the ones who enjoyed free tuition and actually stood a chance of buying a house) that our twenties are the time of our lives. Until Girls, popular culture had done little to challenge this narrative. In reality, most of us spend our twenties feeling worried by the fact that we aren’t having more fun. Like an overhyped New Year’s Eve that lasts for an entire decade, it’s incredibly common to question your choices and feel as though everyone is probably having a better time somewhere else.
Discussing the final episode of Girls, Dunham has described the importance of avoiding a happy ending for every character, stressing that “perfection isn’t the goal”. This is the main lesson that the series has taught me. It’s normal to sometimes feel lost and lonely in what are supposed to be the best years of your life, even if you are living in one of the greatest cities on earth.
Young people today muddle through our twenties in a world where everyone is filtered to perfection on Instagram and impossibly witty on Twitter. Yet disappointment and ambivalence remain integral to the human experience. Behind the lens of our artificially edited world, most of us are just drifting from one thing to another. It’s OK not to know where life will take you.
The final episode of Girls is on Sky Atlantic on Sunday at 10pm