A Complete Timeline of All the Controversies Girls Started

Photo-Illustration: Vulture and Photo by HBO

On Sunday night, HBO will begin airing the sixth and final season of Girls. Lena Dunham’s divisive comedy was less of a television program and more of an internet think-piece factory, cycling through a number of controversies about race, sexuality, likability, and whether and not someone who looks like Dunham should dare put her naked breasts on flat-screens across the country. The early years were especially fertile for this kind of hand-wringing, and nearly every episode sparked it’s own outrage cycle. In honor of its final season, Vulture has compiled a complete timeline of the furors, kerfuffles, backlashes, backlashes against backlashes, and backlashes against backlashes against backlashes that we have endured since the series began.

March 27, 2012: In her review of Girls for The New Yorker, Lorrie Moore calls the show “unwatchable in the best way.” She draws special attention to the difficult sex scenes, which she calls “heartless and degrading, and not remotely exuberant … like careless cruelty between nudists.”

March 31, 2012: Frank Bruni also bristles against the unconventional sex scenes in the New York Times, lamenting, “Gloria Steinem went to the barricades for this?”

April 11, 2012: Though the show receives mostly positive reviews, the official backlash begins with a review in Mother Jones, which calls the show “unstoppably irritating” because it is full of “First World problems.”

April 15, 2012: Girls premieres.

April 16, 2012: Writing in the Hairpin, Jenna Wortham is the first writer to bring up the fact that almost the entire cast of the show, including its secondary characters, is white. The race problem will plague the show throughout its first season and beyond.

April 17, 2012: The “World of Wonder” blog superimposes the names of the cast’s famous fathers on the show’s promotional poster and replaces the show’s title with “nepotism.” There is much concern that the cast has successful parents, especially in the weekly recaps on Gawker (RIP).

April 18, 2012: Girls writer Lesley Arfin addresses the race controversy by writing the really stupid tweet: “What really bothered me about Precious was that there was no representation of ME.” She deletes it and apologizes.

May 7, 2012: Dunham thoughtfully addresses the race question in an interview with NPR, saying, “I wrote the first season primarily by myself, and I co-wrote a few episodes. But I am a half-Jew, half-WASP, and I wrote two Jews and two WASPs. Something I wanted to avoid was tokenism in casting. If I had one of the four girls, if, for example, she was African-American, I feel like — not that the experience of an African-American girl and a white girl are drastically different, but there has to be specificity to that experience [that] I wasn’t able to speak to.”

June 12, 2012: Dunham responds to nepotism charges by saying her parents aren’t that famous. “I really did want to challenge all the people crying nepotism to actually tell me who either of my parents were, because it’s the contemporary art world,” she said on “The B.S. Report” podcast. “Okay, I’m Laurie Simmons’s daughter. In one sentence, give me the concentrated version of her Wikipedia entry. You cannot! She’s had a lovely career, but she’s a feminist photographer from downtown New York.”

June 18, 2012: In a season-one episode, Adam Driver’s character, Adam, pees on Hannah against her will while she takes a shower. Some people were, ahem, pissed.

June 19, 2012: At IndieWire, Alison Willmore wrestles with whether or not we need the show’s main characters to be likeable, which is a distillation of the arguments most people were having about the show.

January 1, 2013: Even Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is mad about how white Girls is.

January 4, 2013: The New York Post’s Linda Stasi wonders in her (positive) review why a woman with “giant thighs, a sloppy backside, and small breasts is compelled to show it all.” This starts a long discussion about Dunham’s body and whether or not we should be forced to look at it.

January 7, 2013: Howard Stern jumps on the “Dunham’s too fat” bandwagon. “It’s a little fat girl who kinda looks like Jonah Hill, and she keeps taking her clothes off, and it kind of feels like rape,” he says. “She seems — it’s like — I don’t want to see that.”

January 13, 2013: Season two premieres. The nation girds its loins.

January 14, 2013: Dunham responds to Stern by calling into his radio show. “I’m not that fat, Howard,” she says. “I don’t mean to take major issue with you about this. I’m not super thin, but I’m thin for, like, Detroit.” Detroit never responds to this controversy.

January 14, 2013: The backlash against the backlash begins. The day after winning two Golden Globes for Girls’ first season, Salon’s Elissa Schappell writes a “leave Lena Dunham alone” post.

January 22, 2013: To correct the whiteness of season one, Dunham cast black actor Donald Glover as Sandy, Hannah’s new boyfriend. That caused its own backlash over how it was handled.

February 10, 2013: The season’s fifth episode, “One Man’s Trash,” features Dunham engaged in a weekend-long affair with a wealthy, dreamy doctor played by Patrick Wilson. The internet collectively freaks out. Basically it boils down to a bunch of guys saying that Dunham is not hot enough to “deserve” a man as handsome as Wilson, and a bunch of women saying that is ridiculous.

March 10, 2013: The ninth episode, “On All Fours,” prompts another internet freak out. When Adam has rather forceful and humiliating sex with his new girlfriend, Natalia (Shiri Appleby), everyone is uncomfortable wondering whether or not it’s rape. Former Vulture critic Margaret Lyons wrote at the time, “Girls thrives in that scary area bounded by what we say we want, what we actually want, and what we want people to think we want. In lighthearted episodes, that triangulation leaves us wondering why Ray is so focused on certain cuts of jeans. In darker episodes, we’re left to wonder if one of our favorite characters is actually a rapist.”

March 18, 2013: After season two wrapped, there is a whole new concern: whether or not Dunham can adequately write men. This argument never achieved the critical mass of some others, but it is batted around time and again for another year or so.

April 4, 2013: Christopher Abbott, who played Marnie’s boyfriend Charlie, quits the show because of “creative differences” with Dunham. That doesn’t stop him from returning for an excellent bottle episode in season five.

May 17, 2013: Salon’s Daniel D’Addario is sick and tired of everyone comparing every movie and TV show to Girls. He’s not wrong.

June 6, 2013: Talking to the Los Angeles Times, Dunham finally addresses the controversy surrounding the Patrick Wilson episode by saying, “I get so tired of having to cry out ‘misogyny,’ but that’s what’s going on in this situation.” She also acquits Adam of rape. “To me, it seemed like a terrible miscommunication between two people who didn’t know what they really wanted,” she said.

January 9, 2014: The Wrap’s Tim Molloy asks a really stupid question of Dunham and executive producer Judd Apatow when they appear at the annual Television Critics Association press event. He asks,“I don’t get the purpose of all the nudity on the show. By you, particularly. I feel like I’m walking into a trap where you say no one complains about the nudity on Game of Thrones, but I get why they’re doing it. They’re doing it to be salacious. To titillate people. And your character is often naked at random times for no reason.” Dunham responds perfectly, “Yeah. It’s because it’s a realistic expression of what it’s like to be alive. But I totally get it. If you’re not into me, that’s your problem.” Molloy gets mad at them for getting mad at him for asking, and everyone else gets mad at him for asking such a ridiculous question.

March 26, 2014: The third season doesn’t bring much controversy until the season finale shows Hannah being accepted into the prestigious Iowa Writers’ Workshop. Vulture wonders whether or not she would have actually gotten in.

March 28, 2014: We get our answer about the Iowa controversy: the University of Iowa won’t allow the show to film there.

July 16, 2015: When the Emmy nominations are announced, this is the first year that Girls isn’t nominated for Outstanding Comedy Series, and Dunham isn’t nominated for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy. Internet cesspool and future presidential elector Breitbart says it’s because Dunham falsely accused a man of rape in her book.

January 12, 2015: In the season-four premiere, Marnie (Allison Williams) is on the receiving end of some analingus. The episode is either completely shocking or totally no big deal depending on whom you ask.

January 26, 2015: Salon says that “Girls has a friendship problem.” Alright, it just feels like we’re making stuff up now.

April 13, 2016: While the Girls outrage cycle has slowed down considerably, it still seems like everyone hates Hannah Horvath.

February 1, 2017: Dunham and Apatow discuss the one sex scene that HBO wouldn’t allow them to air. No one freaks out. No one says it is censorship. No one mentions Lena Dunham’s body or race or consent or whether or not she deserves it. The outrage cycle is officially broken.

HBO’s Girls: A Complete Controversy Timeline