Last night, the first season of Girls ended and I couldn’t help but think of a comment on our last post about the show:
Don’t get me wrong, Lena has hit the head squarely in terms of entertainment. However, as speaking for a voice of a generation, what generation is that—overtly Anglo, upper-middle class, self-absorbed and self-critiqued with a pronounced gumption for entitlement coupled with at best, dubious work ethic…if so, then yes, she does speak for those folks.
The finale ends with Hannah content, sitting on the sand, eating a piece of night-old cake. And it was hard not to think, “What a stupid idiot.” She smiles the self-satisfied smile of kid who thinks they lived a story. In that moment you get the sense that she is proud of the disaster she is because she thinks it makes her interesting. As the same narcissism that makes you think you are the voice of the generation makes you think your problems are unique. She is wrong, a she almost always is. She is one of the most honestly flawed characters ever to be on television and as a result, one of the best.
Hannah is another in a line of comedic antiheroes that includes: Larry David, Kenny Powers, and David Brent. However, Hannah has never created one of the most popular TV shows ever; she’s never pitched in the majors; fuck, she couldn’t keep a job at a paper company. Even worse is that unlike those three, Hannah is incredibly self-aware. She operates under the belief that if you know your own flaws then that makes them OK. Hannah knows she’s a bad person and she’s either too scared to change or doesn’t want to. She is profoundly unlikeable in her reality and to the audience, and she likes that because it makes her seem deep or edgy. Yet she isn’t deep or edgy, she’s just unlikeable. And that’s the point.
In a recent interview Girls co-showrunner Jenni Konner, paraphrasing Neil Labute: “People are always asking me who to like in this show, and I’m like, ‘Like your friends. This is a show.’” Flawed characters are funny and compelling. Furthermore, they allow you to have it both ways: they have the most room to grow and it’s entertaining to see them falter. Watching a guy on rolling skates try to make it up the hill is more fun then watching a guy standing on a hill and Girls did an amazing job this season putting molehills in front of Hannah and letting her make mountains out of them. Every week Hannah would make the wrong choice, providing the audience a safe way to indulge the dumbest parts of themselves, the 23-year old part. Paul Feig when discussing Freaks & Geeks in And Here’s the Kicker said, “Real-life experiences are rife with bad decision-making. And bad decision-making is, in a lot of ways, the key to comedy.” That was one lesson the two shows’ shared executive producer, Judd Apatow, definitely passed on. Maybe it’s the privilege or the times, but Hannah is one of worst decision makers ever on television, which in turn makes her one of the best.
Yet there is hope, even if it’s only through Lena. It has been alluded to plenty that Hannah represents a version of Lena when she was younger and though she might be privileged and selfish and insecure and lazy, she does grow up and make a piece of art that is so confident, so specific, so simply good. Which takes me back to last night. There are tons of “big” ways the season could’ve ended – hell Adam was on the way to the hospital – but it ended with Hannah stuffing her face with cake she was planning to bring to someone else. She’s a stupid idiot but she is our stupid idiot.
*The title of “worst generation ever” almost always just means whichever is the current youngest.