Love it or hate it, rewatching Lena Dunham’s Girls is ~the moment~. No seriously, viewing figures have doubled between November and January 2023, rewatch podcasts are popping up everywhere and #girlshbo has 51 million views on TikTok.
Millennials rewatching are mostly in their 30s by now, and with distance from the torrent of criticism the show garnered, from its debut right up to the end, many report that Girls has only become more relatable. In case you’ve forgotten, throughout Girls’ five-year run, the internet was perpetually dissecting every aspect of the show – be it the lack of racial diversity, Dunham’s liberal use of nudity, or her portrayal of unlikable female characters.
Regardless, the love-hate relationship so many millennials had with Dunham’s exploration of their generation’s culture seems to have, with time, transformed into one of greater understanding and fondness.
If you were in your 20s when Girls first dropped in 2012, like the Girls themselves, you too were likely painted with the you’ll-never-own-a-home-because-you-eat-avocado-toast-and-are-lazy millennial brush. You probably dated someone with a manbun, frequented frozen yoghurt shops, and relentlessly described things as “problematic”.
But in the eleven years since season one’s debut, Gen Z – the latest generation of 20 somethings – have begun to leave their mark on the world. They are now at the same life stage that Hannah Horvath was when her parents took her to dinner to deliver the news that they would be sending her “no more money”.
Gen Z may have swapped craft beer and hipsters for elf bars and softbois, but do they see their own experiences of “figuring it out” reflected in the trials and tribulations the Girls went through in the 2010s?
We spoke to Gen Zers to find out what they think of Girls amidst its revival. What’s changed? What’s stayed the same? And is it really the voice of a generation?
How does it feel watching Girls now you’re the same age as the characters?
“The first time I watched Girls at 19, I was like these girls are crazy, what are they talking about? Now I watch it and I’m like, I had this conversation today, or I did that stupid thing yesterday. It’s so humiliating to almost become them.” – Amelia, 25, New York City
“The first time I watched Girls I was quite literally a child. The chaos entertained me but I did always think it was a massive exaggeration that 22-year-olds would have their lives in such disarray. Unfortunately I was very wrong about that!” – Saskya, 22, Manchester
“I feel like my life is a lot more boring than theirs, and I can’t tell if I’m doing something wrong or if they’re an idealised version of what chaos in your 20s is supposed to look like. It’s definitely interesting to see just how different two lives can be.” – Issy, 25, Chicago
Hannah became the poster-child for the annoying millennial, but what do you think of her?
“I found it refreshing how Hannah achieves so little, yet has so much confidence. In later seasons, though, I don’t appreciate her defeatist attitude, the decisions she ends up making, or her stylistic choices. I think she tried to cling to her youth despite being like 30 and it reads as desperate and very millennial.” – Saskya
“I feel like so much of the hate that Hannah got was because people weren’t used to seeing someone like Lena on TV, so they were hyper judgemental. People were like, not only is she not conventionally attractive and a size zero, but she’s also fucking annoying and that’s too much at once!” – Amelia
“She really is the voice of a generation – maybe not for millennials, but definitely Gen Z. I think Girls is more popular now because people are getting more annoying. I hate to say it, but as a generation we’re more annoying than millennials because we’re self-aware, but we continue to act the way we do.” – Evan, 24, New York City
And Marnie? She’s Type A personality to tee, and probably has the most cringey moments of any character, but is she likeable?
“Marnie’s a phenomenal character, so fundamentally delusional. She’s the emblem of someone who thinks they have their shit together, but doesn't even know what that looks like. I think the costume designer did a great job by putting her in those business casual outfits when she rocks up to Brooklyn parties – you’re just like, this woman has no idea what she’s doing.” – Issy
“She’s well intentioned, but she’s narcissistic and has a big victim complex. It was quite progressive that Marnie is the slimmest, because her characterisation makes that quite unappealing as she’s so annoying. She’s really judgemental but you’re left thinking, ‘Who are you to judge when your life is in the state that it’s in?’” – Jessie, 20, London
“Marnie is definitely the most millennial character – she was so much a part of the hustle, girl boss dialogue. I feel like post-Covid, our generation doesn't respect the ‘structures that be’ in a way that Marnie does. She wants to follow the rules and I don’t think we see it as something to trust or put our hope or energy into.” – Amelia
Shoshanna is the youngest of the group and starts off as more of a basic girlie, by today’s standards, before maturing into kind of an assertive badass. So do we stan Shoshan?
“I find shelter in so many of her mannerisms, and it’s nice to see someone similar to me on TV – someone who talks weird and fast, and also has the most insane opinions ever. At one point she says, ‘What’s your favourite utensil?’ That's definitely something I’ve said before, she’s honestly so Gen Z.” – Evan
“Lena gives her the viewer’s voice. When you watch the group remaining friends even though they kind of hate each other and clash, Shoshanna is the only one – kind of like the viewers – saying, ‘I don’t get it, why are you staying together?’ She ends up learning the most because she’s willing to listen and change.” – Eve, 26, London
“I know a lot of girls similar to Shoshannah, especially in the earlier seasons. The way she idolises the other girls simply because they are older, and the way she glorifies her cousin's addiction because she thinks it's cool – that's very much a theme of my generation. When she goes off to experience life on her own, she realises the other girls are not the icons she once thought them to be.” – Saskya
Jessa is this effortlessly beautiful, mysterious cool-girl, but do you guys want to be her as much as the OG watchers did?
“She’s a bloody nightmare. She was annoying in the first watch but I was still viewing her with teenage goggles like, ‘Oh, she’s cool and pretty.’ Now I see her character as really tragic and I just feel sad for her. Even though her storylines became heavier, they made her behave more comedically: All her scenes in rehab come across as silly and fun, but maybe that’s because she’s not taking it seriously.” – Eve
“Jessa is my favourite character despite the fact she’s very immoral. To be honest, I definitely like her more because she’s beautiful and cool. She’s the saddest character to me and I think all of her decisions stem from this deep place of wanting to be loved.” – Jessie
“When I watched it years ago, I viewed her as maybe how her friends were viewing her – this carefree woman who has amazing things happen to her at every corner. But her flaws are more apparent in the rewatch. She encapsulates being mysterious, but being mysterious is just not wanting to let people see you fully.” – Evan
A lot of millennials rewatching the show have said they really relate to Ray on second watch. What’s your reaction to that and what do you think of Ray?
“That’s so funny because in the show Ray is the jaded 30-something and now that millennials are 30-something they're like, ‘Maybe he was onto something…’” – Amelia
“I assumed we all just related to Ray: He’s stuck, he’s disillusioned, he has these political desires that can never be matched. He’s very much the reality check for what’s going on here – ‘I live in this ridiculous world full of fads and silly people, so what’s the point of trying to do anything?’” – Issy
“I’m so worried that I’ll become Ray.” – Evan
What do you think about all of the backlash the show got at the time?
“As a Black woman, at times I did ask myself why I saw so few, if any, Black characters on the show, but it’s more understandable when you know it’s written by Lena Dunham, as she was writing from her own experience. At times I think it's better to have no representation than the wrong representation.” – Saskya
“The whole ‘that’s not my experience’ thing is kind of bullshit because she wrote really nuanced men and she’s not a man, so it’s kind of a reductive reason to justify why you don't include diversity in characters.” – Eve
“Girls isn’t a very representative TV show, but you can use it as a lens to look at that particular time period. Remember when they had Donald Glover in the second season briefly to date Lena Dunahm’s character? That was a disaster, it was embarrassing and painful.” – Issy
What do you think would be different if the show was made in 2023?
“There’s no talk of therapy in the show, but if it was made today all of them would have therapists. All the language that we have now surrounding mental health didn't really exist then.” – Amelia
“I was definitely disappointed with the queer representation in the show. I feel like the attempts to tackle particularly the queer female experience were just bizarre – sometimes uncomfortable, sometimes vaguely homophobic. I’m particularly thinking of Jessa in rehab when she goes down on this other woman. There could’ve been a way to make it still awkward and messy, without it feeling like being queer was the butt of the joke.” – Issy
“The sex and the nudity is so naturally woven into the story and it has a purpose, but today there’s so much more discourse around nudity, and safety, on TV and film sets that it probably wouldn’t be made like that anymore. These days people are pushing back: They don't want to see boobs and they don't need actors to do nude scenes, really.” – Eve
What lessons have you taken from the show?
“Nothing has ever spoken to me more than Girls, especially at this age – it's like, finally, characters I can connect with on TV. I feel like I’m seeing myself and my friends reflected on the show and, for me, that's so powerful and so fun.” – Evan
“Wherever there’s an issue in my life it’s what I watch to comfort me. At the end, none of them have their shit together, whereas in most coming of age shows you get to the end and they’re all perfect.” – Jessie
“The lesson I took from it is you’re always more annoying than you think you are. People spend their formative years, then adult years, saying they’re ‘not Hannah’ or ‘not Marnie’ but we all are, that’s the point of the show. Everyone is annoying because we’re all human and individual and flawed and that’s fine.” – Eve