Read "Two Brown Girls Talk 'Girls' - Season 1, Episodes 1 & 2" HERE to catch up on the series of conversations.
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, set to feature its first black female characters, including Danielle Brooks (Orange is the New Black) and Jessica Williams (The Daily Show), we’re running a weekly critique of the show in an effort to unpack what does and doesn’t work. Below, we discuss Episode 3, "She Said OK," which aired Jan 19, 2014.
Fariha: I spent most of my morning looking at SNL pictures of Drake on Tumblr. Then I saw a gif of Philip Seymour Hoffman in Almost Famous and I was like “Oh yeah that's right yeah, yeah, yeah.” Because Philip Seymour Hoffman has that really weird like “I-don't-get-it-i'm-confused?” appeal to him and i'm into it and so whatever, Zeba. So, that's where I am with my life right now. That’s all to say -- Oh! Yeah! Girls.
Zeba: Sounds like you're in a good place! I actually just finished watching the whole SNL -- it was pretty funny! In any case - let's get started on Girls. I want to start off by saying Happy Martin Luther King day. Also, I came to a huge realization after watching this episode of Girls.
Fariha: What’s that?
Zeba: I really, really don't like this show. A lot. Like, it's a chore getting through it. Which makes this whole experiment that much more.... complex.
Fariha: I feel you. It's not that I don't like it, but rather it's just really frustrating to dissect because for the most part all of the characters are so draining to watch and are all supremely shitty and I'm not entirely sure who to vouch for, which might be Dunham’s whole purpose. But, like, we’re in our twenties, Zeba -- and we’re not that shitty. Anyway, I like Adam. After this episode I like Adam even more, I guess that's the most intense feeling I had walking away from it. I mean what did this episode even mean? What was it about? Where is it even going to go?
Zeba: Yeah. Last week, we got a lot harsh but valid comments that voiced this kind of confusion. A lot of people wondering what the point of us "hate-watching" this show even is, I believe one person called us two chickens "clucking" over nothing. To be honest, I really was under the impression that this season of Girls would have an ACTUAL recurring black character, and I thought that would make for a fruitful discussion about representation. But now, yeah, there's this sense that there really isn't much to unpack. In other words, to answer your question, I think this show is going to places that none of us really care about. What were your reactions to the episode as a whole?
Fariha: Agreed. And can I just add that the reason why we started this weekly criticism piece was not to hate watch, but rather to discuss the impact of the supposed “recurring black character.” And even that person is yet to appear, at this point we're not so much hate watching as much as we are just "trying to get it.” Nice chicken analogy though, thanks reader!
Okay my general thoughts were: “Why does everyone suck?” I felt sorry for Ray but I really thought Dunham would explore him a little bit more. I loved the episode last season where Ray goes to Staten Island and he just has that breakdown with the dog. It was so climatic and emotional and I loved the exploration of him in the subtlest way. But with last night’s episode there was no real resolution and at every turning point I thought something, anything would be reveal itself. But, alas, nothing! When he went out to speak with Shoshana while she was smoking there wasn't really any purpose, so it felt unnecessary. It could have been way more powerful just to have that shot of her fiddling with her cigarette and him just sort of begrudgingly watching her and then duly walking away. I constantly felt that there were so many moments that could have been fleshed out even with one more sentence, but, no! This whole episode felt like fluff.
Zeba: I feel you. I often say that there's nothing I feel I can really relate to on this show, but I could latch on to (in a small way) the tension between Marnie and Hannah. The Marnie character just gets more and more ridiculous every time we see her. It's good for laughs, at least. Hannah's birthday party just seemed really sad and empty and beige. It was more a reflection on Marnie than Hannah herself, I think.
Fariha: Yes, and perhaps we talk about the dynamic of female friendship represented in Marnie and Hannah. It's a complex amalgamation of time blended with experience, but it's obvious the two are drifting from one another and Marnie is holding onto it simply because she has no one else. I like that embodiment of selfishness because that feels very real. It's nice to see another complicated female friendship onscreen as that's what I very much enjoyed about Frances Ha, and despite both Marnie and Hannah being so marred and self obsessed they still love, though thoroughly hate, each other. For better or for worse.
Zeba: Yeah. It's a relatively interesting thread. Not to change the topic (but I will anyway) but I have a question: Why do you think you watch Girls? Do you think you actually "hate-watch" it, or is that maybe not the right label to use?
Fariha: I don't think I hate watch it, in fact I think for me, personally, I do enjoy it. For the most part it's entertaining and it's a nice reprieve from other television shows. The real reason I think I watch Girls is to understand why it's been labelled as this important vehicle for change -- and why it's seen as the zeitgeist. There are definitive pockets of the world that sincerely and fiercely engage with this show and I guess I want to understand why.
Zeba: I think that's valid. I think the term "hate-watch" implies, anyway, that deep, deep, deep down the watcher does like the show. Did you read that recent article, about the "obsession" with Lena Dunham and Girls?
Fariha: You mean "Falling Down the Rabbit Hole of NYC’s Lena Dunham Obsession" by Jamie Fuller?
Zeba: Yes! It was kind of mind boggling seeing how many think pieces and references have been made to this series in just a few years (I myself have written a few - and of course, this feature in and of itself is contributing to the list).
Fariha: How did you feel about it? It was definitely a rabbit hole. Are we contributing to some obsession? Are we all obsessed with Lena Dunham?
Zeba: I don't really know how to answer those questions. I think at one point I certainly was obsessed, not because I liked the show but because I believed it truly represented a problem, and still does. But it's like that Lisa Lisa song, that "I'm all cried out," song. I'm all talked out. Like, you were just trying to engage about the actual episode and I deflected because I'm so uninterested in discussing anything about this show and I feel like I won't be interested until I actually see some black and brown folk. And when is that ever going to happen? Spoiler: probs never.
(Fariha’s silent for a while)
Haha, are you mad at me?
Fariha: Never. You're speaking truths, Zeba Blay
I feel like maybe there's a larger issue that Dunham’s inadvertently tackling. Like, that you’re allowed to be an asshole when you’re white -- as if the two are interchangeable -- which perhaps is why this show is so white and emblematic of the whiteness that exists, as it’s synonymous to being able to do whatever you want at any given time (read: so, being an asshole), without any societal repercussions. Everyone else of any other race always seems to be relegated to being a thug, or a delinquent, but on Girls (which if it is so representative of our times) it’s just “being in your 20s!” And that’s white privilege. What a political statement! Thanks, Lena!
Zeba: Damn, go in! Well, I'll end by saying that I would genuinely like to know what other black and brown people like or even love about Girls. Because race and representation aside, I'm just not entertained by it. But I know there are a lot of girls like me who are. So this little chicken would love to see some of their thoughts in the comments this week!
Fariha: Yeah, let's make a call for PoC/WoC! Hey guys, let's just have a big ol' discussion about all this. Let's rehash ~feels~ people. We wanna know!
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