HBO's Girls — indie darling Lena Dunham's series about a group of directionless twenty-somethings living in the hipster boroughs of New York City — was one of the most widely debated shows of 2012. Though the first season earned gushing accolades from prominent TV writers and strong ratings from viewers, it wasn't without its hiccups. Some of the show's harshest critics accused Dunham and her co-stars of nepotism and, in some cases, racism — complaints Dunham has candidly said she plans to address in the show's second season. That's not the only way Dunham can make Girls better. On the eve of Girls' season two premiere, here are six ways I hope to see Girls improve:
1. Diversify the characters
One of the most common criticisms of Girls' first season was the whitewashed, caucasian-centric cast. Even critics that otherwise praised the show's rawness in depicting the trials and tribulations of privileged, aimless twenty-somethings called out the show's lack of diversity. Dunham has addressed the issue in interviews, and this year, she's cast Donald Glover as Hannah's conservative, African-American love interest. This is certainly a step in the right direction, but if Dunham really wants to diversify the cast, she'll need to add more minority characters in starring roles — particularly female roles.
2. Less navel-gazing and more story-building
One of the biggest things Girls' first season lacked was an efficient, season-long narrative that cohesively tied all the characters and storylines together. Instead, each of the main characters had her own problems that were stretched out over the season (Hannah's on-again/off-again relationship with Adam, Marnie and Charlie's break-up, Jessa's babysitting misadventures, and Shoshanna's quest to lose her virginity). But these storylines largely happened independently of each other, and sometimes resulted in complete omissions of major characters within a given episode. I'm hoping Dunham and her writing staff have sharpened their skills and found ways to integrate the primary cast into a coherent, season-long story arc.
3. Give the auxiliary characters more of a purpose
Two of the show's best (and funniest) characters, Ray (Alex Karpovsky) and Shoshanna (Zosia Mamet), were given little to do in season one besides offering some stock laughs. But when the pair were featured prominently, they were usually scene stealers, particularly when they were on screen together. The best episode of season one found Shoshanna accidentally smoking crack and Ray trying to calm her down. Hopefully, Dunham has recognized the potential for both of these underused characters and found a way to work them into each episode more prominently.
4. Establish the main characters as unsympathetic
The best, most authentic episodes of season one found Hannah and her friends making the wrong decisions and having to pay for their mistakes. But the selfish nature of the show's leads was occasionally overshadowed by the show's romanticization of hipster life. Scenes that found the characters at exclusive warehouse parties, dancing to Robyn in their pajamas, and eating cupcakes in the shower blinded viewers who were supposed to understand but not empathize with the main characters who are often narcissistic and terrible friends to each other. Dunham's pivotal feature film Tiny Furniture is a masterpiece of self-satirization, and she should have a similar goal for Girls.
5. Include more guest stars... and use them effectively
It was always a delight to see which actors would unexpectedly show up in a given episode of Girls' first season (my vote for best cameo goes to Chris O'Dowd's self-absorbed Thomas-John, who will return for the second season). But too often, the recognizable faces felt like a missed opportunity. Jorma Taccone, one-third of the comedy group The Lonely Island, had a brief role last season as an overly confident artist Marnie meets at an art gallery, but the cameo turned out to be a whole lot creepier than it was funny. Taccone is set to return in season two, along with Glover, Patrick Wilson, Rita Wilson, and Colin Quinn. Here's hoping Girls has found a way to tap into the full range of their talents.
6. Make the show funnier
Sure, there were funny moments in season one of Girls — but would you call the show a comedy? The first half of the season hinged on the comedic misfortunes of Hannah and Jessa (and, to a lesser extent, Marnie), but the latter half took a more serious tone; consider the final shot of season one, which found a robbed, hung-over Hannah lost on the Coney Island beach eating cake. While some serious drama is certainly necessary for a show like Girls, its best moments relied on the comedic escapades of its characters, and season two would benefit from more attempts to pull off laughs.
THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER
- Why Pakistan won't hunt down the terrorists within its borders
- Sorry, GOP, tax cuts don't pay for themselves
- Pope Francis' American problem
- How to be the most productive person in your office — and still get home by 5:30 p.m.
- How academia's liberal bias is killing social science
- 43 TV shows to watch in 2014
- Diagnosing the Home Alone burglars' injuries: A professional weighs in
- Hey, bosses: Stop giving bonuses to your employees
- Are there dogs in heaven? Let's hope not.
- What would a U.S.-Russia war look like?
Subscribe to the Week