GIRLS isn’t amazing because the writing is so profoundly new and fresh, it is amazing because it subverts the male/non-male paradigm that so codes our sexist televisual experience.
I have been mulling over writing something about this show for some time because I am not sure I can do feminist film/television criticism justice. My first response to seeing it was that there were finally female characters on television who were as complicated as women I’ve known in real life. I couldn’t grasp specifically why I liked it so much other than that feeling. One of my favorite lines in the first season is when Hannah asks Marnie what it feels like to be loved so much, and she responds “I can’t feel it anymore”, as the two of them laugh about her boredom with her current relationship.
Women aren’t supposed to say that, certainly not on fucking television. They are supposed to hang on a mans every affection, pining for valentines day flowers and candy, hoping to someday earn a diamond from their diligent attention to our hearts and our penises, regardless of how shitty or uninspiring we are (see According to Jim, The King of Queens, All in the Family, The Honeymooners, The fucking Flintstones, etc.) The more recent examples of women in television don’t hang on men’s every word but they still exist not as women but as foils to whatever dumb shit the male character is doing that week. More specifically they aren’t female they are non-male. It was watching that scene a second time that made me believe Lena Dunham’s work is very much influenced by feminist film theory. Being a film theory quasi nerd (quasi because real film theory nerds could wipe the floor with me) I love this show for that.
PBS aired a documentary series called Amercia in Primetime. The one titled “Independent Woman” speaks to the development of female roles over the course of television history.