This article contains some spoilers related to the first three seasons of Girls.
HBO’s popular show Girls is returning to the air with its fourth season on Sunday, with each of its central female millennials facing some big decisions and crisis leftover from the end of season three. The show hit a nerve with the zeitgeist when it premiered in 2012 and made an instant celebrity out of writer and star Lena Dunham, who has gone on to be an important feminist voice on television and in media since her rise to fame.
Girls follows the lives of a group of close-knit 20-somethings living in Brooklyn, New York, and many of the storylines are based on real life experiences Dunham has had. The show has received acclaim for its authenticity, portraying real female experience and often unlikeable female characters when those things aren’t often seen on television. The show wasn’t without its critics, however, who pointed out the huge amounts of privilege allowing those characters to live the way they do. The series focuses on a main group of four close friends who though they are very different regarding their interests and personalities band together to help each other through the inevitable mistakes that are made during early adulthood.
We already know from the Season 4 trailer that in the new season Dunham’s character Hanna has gone to creative writing graduate school in Iowa, Marnie is still trying to pursue her music career while navigating a tricky romantic situation, and Shoshanna is dealing with the harsh realities of trying to find a job just after graduating from NYU.
Girls has received praise from critics throughout its first three seasons, all of which have high ratings on review aggregator Metacritic. Feminist TV critic for New York Magazine Emily Nussbaum wrote when the show first came out, “As a person who has followed, for more than twenty years, recurrent, maddening debates about the lives of young women, the series felt to me like a gift. Girls was a bold defense (and a searing critique) of the so-called Millennial Generation by a person still in her twenties.”
Dunham does not look like your typical Hollywood actress and yet chooses to get naked constantly on her show. That kind of body positivity is appreciated by women looking to see other women on television that look like them but not appreciated by male television critics who wish one of the other three characters would take their clothes off instead, as The Hollywood Reporter critic and early Girls supporter Tim Goodman points out.
While there may be some fairer criticisms to make about the show regarding privilege and race, Dunham said very early on that she is a huge admirer of the HBO hit Sex and the City, but wanted to make her own show about how those women got to be so successful in their careers and friendships before that series starts. Girls is sort of like a modern precursor to SATC, both of which focus on four rich, white women living in New York City. Like Girls, SATC was praised for its portrayal of sex and female friendship when it was on the air.
“I knew that there was a connection because it’s women in New York, but it really felt like it was tackling a different subject matter,” Dunham told The Hollywood Reporter. “…Sex and the City was women who figured out work and friends and now want to nail family life. There was this whole in between space that hadn’t really been addressed.”
Like all shows, Girls will struggle to remain funny and keep its characters fresh as the seasons go on. Since the entire premise of the show is built upon the characters’ youth, their aging is another added pressure when it comes to adapting with each consecutive season. Hanna’s absence from New York and inability to interact directly with the other main characters will be something that could throw the show off balance in its fourth season. Dunham has proven herself to be an extremely talented writer and even had the term “voice of a generation” thrown at her. So if anyone is up to the challenge of helming a TV series for years, Dunham should be capable of continuing to come up with funny, zeigeist-y feminist musings for years to come.
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