The initial buzz for the HBO series Girls quickly turned to an epic backlash, a bit overheated for any show, but especially considering its creator is Lena Dunham, a 26-year-old with only a quirky indie movie to her professional name. But, haters be damned, as it quickly gained a fervid following, capped by HBO renewing the comedy for a second season. Along the way, Dunham took the criticism in stride, thoughtfully addressing some concerns while dismissing others. Season 2 will be the true test of the attention Dunham paid to the complaints. Is she listening to the haters?
Race. Critics at The New York Times, Jezebel, The Daily Beast, The Hairpin, and just about everywhere else were quick to point out the show's lead and supporting cast was predominately Caucasian. Durham responded to the criticisms in interviews with Huffington Post, NPR's Fresh Air, and elsewhere, and lo and behold, the second season premiered with Hannah Horvath now seeing Sandy, a sweet, intelligent African-American (played by Community's Donald Glover). Though it is a little aggravating that Hannah's seemingly perfect rebound after her excruciating relationship with Adam appears out of thin air, Sandy gratefully resists stereotype and tokenism (which Dunham said she wanted to avoid). Girls showrunner Jenni Konner told Grantland that Glover had been cast in the role before the racial debate started. Nevertheless, critics already seem pleased with the choice. Coming episodes promise a more explicit conversation about race and their relationship; albeit comedic and framed by Hannah's self-centered, immature perspective, but the discussion stands out among Girls' television peers in its frankness.
Over-Privilege. Critics whined that the characters of Girls were selfish, narrow-minded, and spoiled to a fault. In many ways, the second season doubles down on that world view—the girls haven't appeared to grow up much. Marnie wallows in her "I don't have a job, boyfriend or BFFL" self pity; Jessa is still manipulating men for sport; and Shoshanna can't stop repeating mantras seemingly ripped from the cover of Cosmopolitan magazine. At least Sunday's premiere suggested a source of all the shallowness, with Marnie's mother (played by Rita Wilson) vainly dishing about her "cater-waiter" boyfriend and picking apart her daughter's appearance. Turns out Marnie is a chip off the old, stuck-up block.
Body Issues. Much attention—too much, frankly—has been paid to Hannah's "unconventional" figure, which she often bares completely, in sex scenes or just lying around her apartment. Dunham joked that Girls co-exectuive producer Judd Apatow constantly encouraged her to put a shirt on, lest Hannah's frequent nudity become "fetish." But in season two, Hannah continues to run around in various stages of undress, as in last night's episode, when she tossed her clothes aside casually in Sandy's apartment. This may be Dunham taking a stand on all the body talk; more likely, it's just how she sees character behaving, unashamed of her body. Furthermore, the tense conversation Marnie—not only Hannah's best friend, but often her foil—had with her mother about eating, weight, and depression served to illuminate the insecurity the belies the other side of the body issue spectrum.