By Zeba and Fariha of Two Brown Girls | Shadow and Act January 13, 2014 at 4:24PM
In recent years, HBO’s Girls has sparked some fruitful conversations about body image, sex, feminism, and race. Last year, it also sparked the idea for the podcast Two Brown Girls, where we (critics Zeba Blay and Fariha Roísín) discuss film, television and pop culture from the perspective of two women of color. We started the podcast initially as a reaction to the lack of PoC representation on Girls, a show that (perhaps unfairly) was purported in its first season to represent an entire generation of 20-somethings. With the show now in its third season, reportedly set to feature its first black female characters including Danielle Brooks (Orange is the New Black) and Jessica Williams (The Daily Show), we’re now starting a weekly critique of the show in effort to unpack what does and doesn’t work. Below, we discuss the good, the bad, and the ugly in ‘Females Only’ and ‘Truth Or Dare’.
Zeba: Can I just start off by saying that last season of Girls was really bad so my expectations are already pretty low for Season 3? No shade. Actually, all shade.
Fariha: Last night's double episode was so depressing. And, also, not very good. Unlike you, Zeba, I did enjoy S2. I thought it was so much better than S1. It was tighter and the writing, I felt, had matured and developed. You could see that Dunham was trying to apply the feedback, or mostly criticism, that was so readily given to her for S1, and I appreciated that. However I felt the first two episodes of S3 to be vacuous and uninspiring.
Zeba: Do you really think so, though?
Fariha: Yes. I definitely think on some level she is trying, yes. And maybe I want to give her the benefit of the doubt, throw her a bone, or whatever.
Zeba: Because I think for me last season was a real slap in the face, as far as criticism concerning the lack of diversity on the show goes. The Donald Glover cameo was a joke. Dunham doesn't seem to care what her critics think and I actually appreciate her more when she doesn't pander to critics. I mean, the whole "Hannah suddenly has OCD" and "Adam Saves the Day!!" things felt really forced.
Fariha: I felt as if the last episode of S2 was kind of supposed to be a rom-com-esque "Nora Ephron" meets "Woody Allen" you know, like, very When Harry Met Sally. There was that ludicrous sentimentality that I on some level enjoyed and I think it was supposed to be grotesquely quaint and at the same time uncomfortable, because we *know* how bad Adam and Hannah are for one another. But, okay. Let's start with the Adam and Natalia Meet at Grumpy's (while Hannah and Ray watch) situation.
Zeba: I know we talked on the podcast last year about how problematic the sex scene with Adam and Natalia was in S2, and how we hoped it would be addressed. I wasn't totally satisfied with this follow up... The tone just seemed off. Maybe it was the annoying friend?
Fariha: The annoying friend needs to go away. But, I'm glad it was addressed. I guess what do you want out of a scene where it *is* addressed?
Zeba: I guess I wanted Adam's behavior to not be addressed as a weird quirk in the awkward ravings of a disgruntled ex-girlfriend. The scene I guess was really all about how Hannah and Adam have basically moved on, how they're in a "good place." But let's move on to another topic. Let's talk about Marnie in all her beigeness.
Fariha: Marnie is my least favorite character on the show, mainly because she's just so uninteresting. I want to be able to root for her because I do connect with her confusion and I do understand her inability to know what it is that she wants from life. Her directionless-ness is ubiquitous and I think that it's interesting for that to be characterized in someone that seems, outwardly, so together; she's like a tightly woven knot that's slowly unravelling. But Alison Williams is not the right person, maybe, to properly captivate and navigate Marnie in the way she needs to and therefore it doesn't quite translate, or resonate, and just ends up being lame.
Zeba: Yeah. I do think it's significant though to see how Hannah and Marnie's places have kind of changed. Hannah's the one with a boyfriend and a somewhat budding career (the whole e-book thing is still hilarious), and Marnie's just been left by Charlie (wonder how things would have gone had Chris Abbot not peaced out). I think Marnie is an interesting character in her uninterestingness - she's that wack girl we all know who seems to have everything going for her with very little effort, and it's only when she loses it all that you start to realize none of her good fortune was of her own doing. It'll be interesting to see whether or not Marnie can pull it together. I will say the scenes with Rita Wilson were hilarious, though. The taco dinner scene was also pretty good. Shoshana is growing on me
Fariha: Definitely. Marnie really is the one that should, as society dictates, be in a "good" place and I think having that critique of "none of her good fortune was of her own doing" is a really cool thing to be discussing on a TV show. It’s a progressive and smart anecdote -- and, also, a compelling way to look at the structure of “adulthood” and “success.” We're not used to being told that we can't have it all, and I think Marnie is definitely not the type of girl to expect not to have it all. Yet, here she is -- boyfriendless and out of work -- drifting through confusion and obsessing over the failure of her relationship with Charlie, which from experience, definitely acts as a conduit to disengage with the proverbial “larger issues.”
I really liked the taco dinner too. I love Adam's weird and surprisingly insightful perspicacious advice. He seems so resentfully helpful and his aloofness is endearing. I really liked the shot of him talking to Marnie about his "Colombian girlfriend" that went to "Columbia."
Zeba: Thing is though I should have added to my previous statement "that wack white girl we all know" because true tea, this show is most fascinating in how it (probably unintentionally) takes down some of the privilege that goes with being a white girl just trying to "find herself" in this so-called structure of adulthood and success. To keep it all the way real, as a black girl watching this show, I can't relate to any of these characters. Maybe that's part of what makes it fun to watch. They're very well crafted archetypes of people (including some friends, yes) who I can easily identify in real life. It's fascinating. Speaking of which - so, now we know were Jessa went. She's in rehab! With Richard E. Grant! Who was oddly sexy?
Fariha: Richard E. Grant is so sexy. I found it also very smart that although you could recognize that Grant's character was a total asshole there were those drawn out moments that you were hoping that he would prove to be redeemable, which in the end -- he didn’t. But there was that tension built that established a sense of anything goes, that sense of an unformed dubiousness, and that makes for good writing and good entertainment. Nothing is good when it’s predictable.
Zeba: I found his scenes with Jessa to be by far the most engaging thing about the two-episode premiere. You could see the fact that he was actually an asshole coming from a mile away, with the effortlessly disheveled hair and all those fatherly pieces of wisdom that didn't actually make any damn sense and what not. However. We should probably talk about the Black Girl in the Room.
Fariha: Or, as Jessa likes to refer to her as the "Fat, Black Lesbian."
Zeba: Let me just say that this is exactly what I knew would happen. It's frustratingly predictable. Last year, it was announced that Danielle Brooks, who we all loved on Orange is the New Black, would be on S3 of Girls. But the role and how big it was supposed to be was pretty much unknown. But I knew it was going to be a minuscule role designed solely as a prop to move along the story of a white character. So Danielle was there to show us how messed up Jessa is, and ultimately get her kicked out of rehab. I'll just say it: Girls does NOT know what to do with black characters (or gay characters, for that matter).
Fariha: And therein lies our frustrations with this show. It is entertaining, and for the most part it is "good," however, it's inability to write for, and about, a large proportion of society proves to be very problematic. Judd Apatow recently shared this piece of timely wisdom: "I don't think there's any reason why any show should feel an obligation to do that. In the history of television, you could look at every show on TV and say, 'How come there's not an American Indian on this show?' 'How come there's not an Asian person on this show?' It really has to come from the story and the stories that we are trying to tell." And it's like, the fact that you're a privileged white male who has consistently demonstrated to not understand the very ethos of what representation and what it asks for, i.e. that it's identical for wanting "more women" in TV/Film, is not only condescending, but it is down right disgusting. And the fact that Lena Dunham is, for all intents and purposes, the isomorphic Apatow, makes me very continuously frustrated with this whole venture.
It shouldn't be something that's hard to understand. It's very simple. People of Color don't want representation because they're greedy (as I feel sometimes we're relegated to that, as if it comes from a place of insidiousness) but it's more: PoCs want representation to facilitate positivity in the way we view ourselves, and how society sees us. If you're happy that Lena Dunham, a woman with a normal body type, is on television and therefore seemingly paving and ushering the way for women of all shapes of sizes to be on TV/Film too, then you should most definitely understand that it's necessary for PoCs too.
Zeba: Apatow is basic and his movies are basic. Here's the thing though - you have this black character who you refuse to even own her own identity. Jessa tells her she's a lesbian and boom! She's a lesbian. Who doesn't like sports! I guess the whole scene was supposed to be funny but for me it just felt really forced. I realize more and more though that, like, I don't know if I want to even see any black characters on Girls because they're always badly written, they're always there for an episode an a half. You never feel like Dunham & co are actually taking in the criticism. It's like, "See! Here's a black person! And she's gay!!! Now shut up!!" That's not how it works. So until they get a consultant or something (like me) I'd say, you know, stick to the beige white girls.
Fariha: No, I'd say: HIRE BLACK WRITERS.
Or, hire us? We’ll write for you, Lena. We can help you. Girl, let us help you.
Zeba: Or better yet take those flawless black writers and have them write their own amazing show about black people in their twenties. Shout out to Issa Rae and Lena Waithe. At this point any PoC on Girls will be tokens. So let's watch it for what it is and go make our own things. That's where I'm at right now.
Fariha: Also a good sentiment! Being allies to the cause is important, food for thought Apatow! So, overall, how did you feel about it Z?
Zeba: As season premieres go, it was pretty bland, but it had seeds of possibly interesting things to come (Hannah and Adam's codependency, Jessa's impending breakdown, Marnie's...everything). Weak writing, super problematic treatment of a QPoC, but I found myself liking Hannah more than I ever have. So, that's something. You?
Fariha: Dunham's fleshing out the characters and as a writer I appreciate that, for obvious reasons. It was definitely a lack-lustre premier but you're right, there's plenty places to go with each plotline. Adam's still a great character study and probably my favorite, despite his issues, and Hannah has grown on me also. I currently find her abundance of quirks thoroughly endearing and I identify them in a lot of people I know. Dunham has really started to explore her in the most interesting ways and that's going to be fun to watch. She's evolving, as are all of them. So, I'm staying positive, regardless.
Zeba: Well, can't wait to hate-watch episode two next weekend!
Fariha: Here's to hate-watching! And here’s to cool celebrity cameos. Kim Gordon, girl, you cannot act, but I really enjoyed you in it anyway. See y’all next week.
Fariha Roísín is a Montreal based writer and cultural critic. One day she wants to be really funny. Follow her on twitter @Mofafafafa
Zeba Blay is a Ghanaian-born film and culture writer based in New York. Follow her on Twitter @zblay.
To find out more about Two Brown Girls go to twobrowngirls.co, or listen to the podcast here: https://soundcloud.com/twobrowngirls