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.
The Boys. Even fans of the show were dispirited by how unlikeable the males of were in the first season. "The guys in the show are the biggest bunch of losers I've ever seen," said James Franco in his review, after agreeing with common male comment that "I like the show, but I can't see me in the show." The show even inspired a "Boys" parody video. Will our girls find better boyfriends this time around, or will the ones they have at least man up a bit? Sandy seems promising—too promising, considering Hannah's proclivity for messing up all the good things in her life. And Thomas John, though while in love and married to Jessa, selfishly skips a cab line, living up to initial impressions that he is in fact a jerk.
It doesn't appear our ladies have found any knights-in-flannel-armor just yet.
Sex. The easiest—and perhaps most misleading—characterization of Girls is that it is "Sex and the City for the Millennial generation," which the show preemptively winked at with the Sex and the City poster in Shoshanna's apartment. Say what you want about the comparison, but the sex in Girls' city (Brooklyn, I guess?) certainly isn't as glamorous as Carrie & Co. In Season 1, Marnie compared her longtime boyfriend's touch to a weird uncle, Hannah's sexual encounters ranged from awkward to agonizing (and STD-inducing), and Shoshanna deplored her virginity. Slate's Katie Roiphe asked, "Is this 'realism' or an old-fashioned moralism very sleekly packaged for a new age?", joining The New Yorker and New York Times in its criticism. Season 2's Hannah is now having fun, healthy sex with Sandy—empowering, really, considering the needy turn her previous relationship took. But she refuses to emotionally commit to him ("Don't even say a joke love to me. I don't want to hear any love"). Shoshanna meanwhile feels rejected by her virginity-taker (Ray-fans will be please with how his character develops this season); and Marnie muses, "I actually realized the other day that I that I could go like eight months with no sex and i would be absolutely fine."
While the girls on Girls clearly have a lot to learn, the show itself, early in its second season, is already showing interesting development. But don't expect Dunham to stray too far from the series' original magic. As she told the Today show, "If you loved what we were doing last season, we're going to push it further. And if you hated what we were doing last season, you're going to hate it even more."