After the first season of HBO’s Girls wrapped in mid-June, after 10 episodes of good sex, awkward sex, bathroom sex, warehouse parties full of crust punks and girls named Tako, after an HPV diagnosis, after diary pilfering, tragic break-ups and shower cupcakes, after Lena Dunham crafted an unmistakably original, funny, brave show, TV suddenly felt dull.
And boy, do I miss that voice.
How, at 26, Dunham is so confident, so focused, so unselfconscious, is not only deeply interesting and impressive but makes it all the more encouraging that she’s being allowed to create on such a large-scale, mass-audience-courting platform like television.
Of course, that’s a large part of why her critics – it’s safe to say she has as many detractors as fans – have been quick to dismiss her, mistaking her youth for naivety and viewing her talent as relative: Why her? is the constant, if unspoken accusation.
While she cut her teeth with small-scale student film projects before her feature debut Tiny Furniture got buzzing at SXSW, being handed a TV show is an entirely different story and, going with it, a serious level of responsibility. Rarely has anyone under 30 been calling the shots, acting lead, serving as writer, executive producer and creator, and even rarer still is the person balancing so many high-profile duties a woman. The youngest person to hold that honour before Dunham was Josh Schwartz, who brought you The O.C.; a show that, while hugely popular, was a glossy teen soap where honesty and authenticity were toxins to be avoided in favour of kind lighting and logic-twisting drama.
But Dunham doesn’t shy away from her age – a quick scan of her Instagram shows a slew of self-takes and the kind of cutesy poses that are firmly within the domain of twentysomethings – but she’s also willing to take risks that are likely tied to the edge youth gives her. That false sense of invincibility necessarily decreases with age so it makes perfect sense that a woman under 30 would create a show like Girls because yes, she’s young and thank god for that.
With Season 2 nearly upon us — it kicks off January 13 — Dunham will again have a chance to show Why her? and we’ll finally get more truly must-watch TV as we reconnect with Hannah, Marnie, Jessa and Shoshanna, girls that, at the end of 10 episodes, felt more like friends than fictional characters.
Not that Dunham hasn’t given us plenty to talk about in the interim.
From her more-cute-than sexually-audacious pro-Obama video wherein she coyly likened her first time voting to losing her virginity, to co-writing the not-entirely-successful mumblecore pic Nobody Walks to starring in a promo video for the New Yorker iPhone app, alongside Jon Hamm no less, Dunham is quickly establishing herself as a one-woman cultural institution, crafting her empire with confidence and killer focus. Though her show walked away with one (nearly invisible?) casting Emmy after scoring five major nominations, getting that kind of recognition during your first season on the air means, at the very least, that you got their attention.
It seems, though, that Dunham took at least one major criticism to heart and will be offering more racially diverse characters in upcoming episodes after many found Girls too white and insular. Though he was absent from the excellent Season 2 trailer, Donald Glover, a gifted comic, singer, writer and actor on Community, will make an appearance on the show and considering his talent, it will likely be a welcome addition as opposed to blatant tokenism. From the two-minute preview of the next season, it’s clear Dunham is, thankfully, continuing to write the show as she sees it in her head, with a ruthless honesty that she’s aware many don’t think she’s earned.
Not that she’s letting it bother her.
Speaking to Esquire Magazine, she addressed this reverse ageism, saying; “People are ultimately threatened by young people taking positions of power. But there’s also this feeling of I could do that, too. People don’t feel rabidly jealous of Larry David or Salman Rushdie because they don’t think, I could do that. And with what I’ve done, I think a lot of people think, I could do that in my sleep. If I’d just met one person along my path, I would have that TV show.” [italics theirs]
Hey, jealousy! And I’m not talking about the unfair, untrue, unhelpful social myth that every girl is automatically looking at the other with cut-eye, we’re talking about Dunham’s obvious talent being viewed as trivial or contextual because it’s assumed anyone could do what she does. But they can’t. Trying to tell her own stories in a land where young girls are rarely taken seriously and are all too easy to take down when they are offering up something without apology becomes doubly true when that something has anything to do with sex, from the little-seen perspective of a girl trying to have it, figuring how to have it and who with.
Either way, expect more of Dunham’s singular, outspokenness on your TV this January. At the New Yorker Festival in October, she warned that she won’t succumb to the body shame she’s supposed to feel, now or ever: “Get used to it. I’m going to live until 105 and I’m going to show my thighs every day.”
Here’s to the next 79 years.