As someone who's been very vocal about my nuanced dislike for Girls, it both shocks and pains me to say this, but I like — no, I love — the second season of the divisive HBO comedy. Well, at least the four episodes I've seen so far. There's always a chance the series will nosedive starting in Episode 5, but as of now, the show has completely reinvented itself in my mind. And for all you other Girls haters out there, let me explain why I firmly advocate that you give the show another chance.
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One of my biggest problems with Girls' first season was I felt it displayed a hollow simulation of what it's like to be a twentysomething Brooklynite rather than a complex and honest representation. I don't think Girls believes it represent the entire generation, but as a twentysomething Brooklynite, I do feel it was attempting to represent me and my experiences to a degree. There were a few times when I felt like Girls did that during the first season, but only in a painful way that made me want to lock myself in my therapist's office for 10 hours because the show (unconsciously) exploited my neurotic fears and self-deprecation to a disturbing degree.
This season is different. The first few episodes feature Hannah (Lena Dunham) in the beginning of a new relationship with the Anti-Adam, a black Republican named Sandy (Donald Glover). With so much of last season dedicated to Hannah's subservient relationship with Adam, it's refreshing to explore the way she interacts with other, saner men. But don't worry: Hannah's still just as neurotic. which is, after all, a huge reason her character resonates so well. After Sandy says he loves how weird she is, Hannah tells him, "Don't say love to me. ... I don't wanna hear any love."
It's one of those moments that walks the fine line between making you want to gently hold her and making you want to violently shake her. Anyone who's ever been in a relationship half as twisted or as soul-sucking as Hannah and Adam's understands, but anyone who hasn't (or just refuses to acknowledge they have) simply wants to murder her.
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But seeing Hannah take charge of her love life isn't what makes the introduction of Sandy so game-changing. It's the fact that the show (which has often been criticized for being white-washed) not only added a black character, but that Sandy wasn't just a token afterthought to appease the critics. In fact, the series wastes no time before addressing the issue of race head-on. When Hannah discovers Sandy doesn't like one of her essays, she lashes out, leading to one of the most brutally honest discussions about racial fetishization and white liberal guilt, the likes of which I haven't seen on a watercooler show since early seasons of 30 Rock. (Yes, 30 Rock might have done it in a much more lighthearted manner, but the message was generally the same.)
After saying she'd never considered the fact that Sandy was black, Hannah proudly declares she doesn't "live in a world where there are divisions like that." Sandy quickly shatters her self-righteous myth of a post-racial society, calling her "insane" for never acknowledging he was black, "because that's what I am." It's one of those perfect scenes that I found myself watching over and over again, until I had nearly every line memorized. But what I love most about their fight is that Hannah isn't really upset about their political or racial differences. She's hurt because he didn't like her writing and it's easier to blame The Republican than acknowledge the idea that maybe she isn't "the voice of my generation."
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No one came out of that argument feeling good, but that's what made it so great to watch. Whereas I felt the message of Girls' first season was "Everyone's a Mess," this season I feel Dunham has struck a beautiful balance between the self-involved world of youth and the way they interact with outside issues and imposed expectations on a daily basis.
And though I'm happy the series is no longer shying away from subjects larger than Hannah's neurosis, it's when Girls focuses on the actual girls' relationships with each other that it truly lives up to the hype. When Jessa shows up unexpectedly in Episode 4, climbs into the bathtub alongside Hannah and begins to cry without any pressure to explain why, that's the moment— the catharsis, the intimacy — that really sold me on the second season.
Many people remember a scene from Season 1 when, after a particularly rough day, Marnie and Hannah dance together without exchanging a word. It struck such a chord because it was beautiful, therapeutic, but unfortunately, far too fleeting. Other than that rare moment, I couldn't really understand why these girls were friends for the majority of the show's freshmen run. But now I finally get it. And more importantly, I finally feel as though Girls "gets" me.
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Season 1 was full of characters making mistakes and, to be honest, just generally being a-holes. But nothing came of it. They lived in a fairly consequence-free world where workplace sexual harassment and someone accidentally smoking crack couldn't even crack their hipster nonchalance. But now, for the first time, the characters in Girls are coming to terms with the fact that their actions have serious repercussions. In the face of this truth, some of them fall apart and a surprising few pull themselves together.
And while I could easily get on my soapbox about the haphazard, borderline irresponsible, way they treated Shoshana and her sexuality in Season 1, I won't because all is forgiven after an upcoming scene between her and Ray at a subway stop that literally brought tears to my eyes. And not tears of sadness — tears of joy.
If a month ago someone had said Girls would make me feel hopeful, I would have gone on a 10-minute, expletive-riddled rant about why that would never, ever happen. But dammit, Dunham, you've proved me wrong and I'm so glad you did. Now, I don't expect everyone to experience a complete emotional turnaround on Girls this season. All I can ask is that you give it a chance, because I did and I have no regrets (at least when it comes to the show). That's all I got. Whether or not you watch now is up to you.
Girls airs Sundays at 9/8c on HBO.