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Girls Season 2 Ends, and Things Get Weird

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Critics of the first season of Lena Dunham’s Girls moaned about privilege and “first world problems.” Others heralded its 26-year-old creator as “the voice of a generation.” The show won two Golden Globe Awards. After the buzz around its controversial inaugural season, the ten-episode second season couldn’t have been more highly anticipated.

Season one of Girls was hilarious. Remember “The Crackcident,” when the high-strung Shoshanna accidentally smoked crack at a party and then attacked Ray on the streets of Brooklyn while wearing only underwear?  And all those times Hannah ruined her chances of a career, from the failed rape joke at a job interview to that time she propositioned her overweight, married, too-friendly boss for sex because she thought it would make a good story? Season one was not all jokes and gags, but humor was sprinkled all over—Hannah once confronted Adam about how terrible he makes her feel, but did so with horribly drawn on eyebrows that made the whole thing a little ridiculous.  Jessa needed an abortion, but luckily got her period before anything got to be too much of a downer. Season one touched upon serious problems, insecurities, and issues without ever abandoning the comedy genre for which it ended up winning the Golden Globe.

Season two had a noticeable shift, one that got stronger and more intense as the season went on. Things got pretty dark, and writer and producer Lena Dunham didn’t lean on comedy much to lighten the mood. At first it was a lot to take in, and made a lot of people pretty angry (“But that episode wasn’t even funny!”). But Dunham is a smart writer, and trusted her audience enough to allow the show to take a slightly different path. The characters’ serious flaws, which we saw highlighted and exposed all throughout season one, finally brought on some real-life consequences. Jessa’s spontaneous wedding crumbled and caused her real pain, and Marnie lost her job, and more difficultly, her sense of identity. Shoshanna’s first love ended up becoming much less idyllic than she had probably imagined on her “manifestation board.” Adam and Ray, who had once been pretty obnoxious supporting characters, came through to show some serious complexities and vulnerabilities. And Hannah, overcome with pressure, loneliness, and a lack of support, re-developed horrible symptoms of OCD that destroyed some of her adolescent years.

The “first world problems” critics have been pretty silent—maybe because they’ve just lost interest in the show, but more likely because the characters in Girls are no longer so enviable. Hannah may have a nice apartment to herself in Brooklyn, but after the last few episodes, would anyone seriously volunteer to trade lives with her? Although some fans may get nostalgic for the good old days when Shoshanna analyzed Jerry Springer's dating show Baggage and Marnie and Hannah flung toothbrushes at each other after a passive aggressive girl fight, Lena Dunham’s bold decision to reduce the blatant humor and amplify the characters’ problems had an enormous payoff. Fans are hooked on the characters, and now Dunham has the artistic license to take greater writing risks, transform the mood of the show and introduce gritty darkness without any punch line guaranteed.

If the first season could be characterized as a comedy sprinkled with tragedy, the second was a tragedy with a dusting of humor. But last night’s finale left us with some salient developments for the leading characters, perhaps misleadingly indicating a light at the end of the tunnel for some. Marnie attempts to find herself again by reuniting with Charlie, but it’s hard to believe that their fairy-tale happy ending is going to be the end of their tumultuous story.  Shoshanna can’t bear the loss of her innocence, crushing Ray and moving on to turn over a new leaf in her young life. Hannah and Adam’s reunion was a long time coming, but they both have plenty of healing to do.

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