Girls has been back for two weeks, and for the first time, its return hasn't been greeted with any outraged headlines or lengthy thinkpieces about feminism. There's been no racy butt-eating, no belly jizz, no Lena Dunham playing topless ping-pong with a stranger. If anything, it's becoming a fairly procedural show about a group of friends in New York. Does that mean it's bad now? We got a boy who still likes it and a girl who now doesn't to argue their case.
Hannah Ewens, a girl: I love Girls, but it's just not as good as it used to be. When it started, it captured the middle-class female millennial existence in a way that film or TV hadn't before. Every episode had a purpose: It developed characters with flaws and idiosyncrasies, in a world they and the viewer were struggling to understand. But the first two episodes of the new season feel like flogging a dead horse. It's kind of a case of Flanderization (like Flanders from The Simpsons who was quite normal in the beginning, but to keep him going as a character, the writers exaggerated his tropes).
The story lines—Hannah's gay dad, Adam's next relationship, Marnie getting married—meander along with very little at stake. Yes, they're in their mid-20s and slowly sorting themselves out a bit, so I get that it's not going to be like before, but the whole thing feels self-indulgent and unfinished. Dunham has run out of material. I think she succeeded in doing what she wanted with Girls by the end of season three. There's going to be one more season after this, and I can't understand why.
Sam Wolfson, a boy: I think Girls might be a victim of its own success. When it started, it wasn't a spectacularly written show, but it felt like it dealt with characters who hadn't been on television before—materially poor but culturally privileged 20-somethings who combined a near-relentless pursuit of hedonism with lofty ambitions of glamorous careers, which they had no intention of doing. That is a lot of people I know.
But as it went on, it became much more nuanced and intelligent than just HERE ARE SOME MILLENNIALS–it dealt with the contemporary realities of that life: how mental illness can strike at the time you least want it to, how the only jobs in media involve making branded content for GQ, what it's like when you dump your longtime partner for being too boring and then can't get him or her back after you've fucked around a bit. Throughout it all, there is a big gamble underlining everything—how long can you hold on to the dream, and when do you cash in your chips and settle for a life more ordinary?
So as it reaches its final lap, I think it should be given a bit of leeway to see what happens to these characters now that they've all basically settled: Marnie for marriage, Jessa for a man she's actually suited to, Hannah to a proper job and a nice-but-dull boyfriend. Even Hannah's dad, initially enthralled by the erotic dreams of meeting a man online and coming to New York to sleep with him, has to deal with the more drab reality of meeting an old bloke who looked nothing like his dating profile and the awkwardness of leaving his wallet at his house.
It can't all be fucking junkies in rehab or doing pills at a day rave. These characters have aged by five years. At some point, they have to deal with the fact that they're probably not going to be actors or famous writers or muses. If anything, I think this could be Girls' most interesting season.
Hannah, a girl: I get they're older now, but this next "stage" could still be interesting if covered in the right way. The characters are almost so specifically drawn that it's now at the expense of a story line. They're sticking with their traits as they were immortalized in earlier seasons. If this were a real friendship group, it would've been death-by-passive-aggressiveness and dating each other's sloppy seconds long ago. The constant see-sawing of their relationships seems contrived now. I'm bored by the dissatisfaction with their female friendships.
In comparison to a show that's fresh and new and inventive like Broad City, for example, Girls feels twee and tokenistic now. When Adam and Jessa hang out at the fair, it's a soft-lit montage straight out of a Matthew McConaughey romcom wedged in as bluntly as the plot line itself, to convince us that it's not totally random that these two are now coming together.
If, like you say, Girls is about tears and heartbreak and painful parallels to our own lives, then what's the point of this season? I know we're only two episodes in, but if it ends up that all the characters work their shit out, then it loses its purpose.
The things I did appreciate from that last episode: learning that I need to be paranoid about coffee cup lids because the hot coffee does in fact release bisphenol-A into your drink, slowly killing us, and that agave syrup is "through the roof on the glycemic index."
I also hate Fran.
Sam, a boy: But I think their friendships are dying. Apart from in get-the-gang-together scenes like the wedding or season three's outstanding bottle episode set in a beach house, they barely ever hang out as the four of them. It's the opposite of Friends, where they are always sitting in the same living room—Hannah moved to Iowa, Shoshanna moved to Japan, Jessa got married and disappeared for half a season. Life continues to happen, and it doesn't pause for their tantrums. Unlike most sitcoms, including Broad City, which always suggests that friendship triumphs over all, Girls kind of feels like a show about four characters with less and less in common.
But Broad City, that is really what we're talking about here, isn't it? Do we still need Girls now that we have Broad City, which has more likable characters, more laugh-out-loud moments, and is now just a bit cooler?
Undoubtedly, Girls opened the door for that show as well as Aziz Ansari's Master of None, Judd Apatow's new Netflix series Love, and even Transparent. These are all shows that have taken the basic concept of lost millennials and provided interesting twists on that theme. A whole genre has emerged since Girls, and Lena Dunham can take a lot of credit for that.
But none of the shows quite understand the minutiae of first world problems the way Girls does. It is a show that uniquely manages to both empathize with and mock its characters and does so while being very funny. Broad City is more about dealing with what life throws at you; Girls asks who is doing the throwing and what do they want with your boyfriend. There's room for both of them.
Hannah, a girl: It created that genre, sure. But I'm in the camp of "create something perfect and then kill it." I hate sequels and fifth seasons and the idea of a Twin Peaks revival. I can pinpoint the peak of Girls, and it was in season two. Since then, it's become a well-shot soap opera: all about the characters and forcing them awkwardly through their next story line.
I'm doubtful that the last two seasons are going to bring anything new to the table, and because we have all these new great shows building on the millennial experience, I'll be happy when we've collectively gotten Girls out of our system. What I am excited about is what Lena Dunham will do next. Her podcast and newsletter seem to address issues around adulthood and intersectionality much better than this show does. I believe in her writing. I just want Girls dead, so she can get on with more of the new projects she has already devoted the past couple of years to. She's so obviously moved on, and I would like to as well.
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