Lena Dunham as Hannah Horvath in HBO’s Girls.
I’ve written about Lena Dunham in this space before, and I’m not looking to repeat myself, but the gist of my take on Girls is: it’s fine. Just that. Not the Second Coming of twentysomethings (which one shudders to contemplate anyway), nor some brave new art form. Girls has some good jokes embedded in unremarkable-to-sloppy plotlines and acting, but otherwise I generally prefer control and artfulness to Apatowian craft-of-no-craft.
That said, I watch it faithfully for the occasional flashes of talent it contains. So there was no reason for the queasy feeling I got when I heard that the show had been renewed for a third season. I mean to say that I actually felt a pit of dread begin to open in my stomach. I interrogated this overreaction, and concluded: my objection is not so much to the show as it is to the endless amounts of thinkpieces—as I once saw someone put it, Very Important Essays—Girls inspires. There are thinkpieces about thinkpieces and now I suppose you could call this a thinkpiece about the general phenomenon of Internet thinkpieces about television shows, so yes, on some level, I’m a hypocrite to point that all that out.
But: it’s undeniable that a lot of the reason Girls has the cachet it does is that the chattering classes (again: mea culpa) can’t stop writing about the damn thing. Perhaps Lena Dunham’s singular talent has been to figure this out, and recently, at least, to explicitly milk it. Last night’s episode featured her character meeting with the editor of a website who could offer $200 a post for confessional essays. It was obviously an attempt to patch over the problem, so prominent in the first season, of Hannah’s having no income. But it was also, unwitting or not, a reference back to the mechanism that has supported much of the show: “naked” confessionalism, like the kind the show fictionally depicts, is currently “marketable.”
To be fair, it is usually less profitable for the individual who does the confessing than it has been for Dunham. As usual, Dunham’s view of the economic situation of her characters is seen through the rose-colored glasses of someone who entered the market well-connected. Two hundred dollars is actually pretty high for a confessional essay. xoJane, which the show seemed to have used as a model for its fictional website, reportedly pays about $50. But she is showing that the formula can work if you are simply deft at manipulating it. As of this writing, Girls ratings continue to hover around 1.6 million watchers. And in fact, though few seemed willing to write about it, ratings were slightly down for the second season premiere, and that’s even as New York magazine celebrity profiles refer to Dunham as “leading the culture.” Which I suppose she is, if by “culture” you mean “web commentary."