Girls recap – 1×02: ‘Vagina Panic’

What a difference a week makes! Last week we saw the arrival of the highly anticipated and universally lauded new HBO show Girls. Well those rosy reviews are old news, and we spent the better part of the last week exploring an almost immediate backlash to the once golden child. How can we possibly talk about this week’s episode when there is so much being said about the series itself?

Let’s lay it out (and do a bit of recapping as well)

This reversal of fortune happened almost immediately after the first episode aired last week. Accusations of nepotism, racism and privilege dogged the show and it’s creator most of the week. One of the first big issues came when it was revealed that the actresses playing the main girls were all from ‘connected’ families. Initially this seems curious, but let’s get serious people: it’s Hollywood! It’s all about who you know.

But by far the biggest accusation against the show, and the one that should stick, is its exclusion of any women of color, or people of color for that matter, unless you count the homeless guy at the end of the first episode who harrasses Hannah (Lena Dunham), or the latter’s work associate who was hired because of her skills with photoshop. And we’re definitely not counting them. The lack of characters of color does seem like a glaring omission not only for a show based in NYC where people of color actually make up the majority of the population, but also for HBO, a network that has set itself apart and brought so many great shows that were diverse and fully realized: Treme, The Wire, and even True Blood (Here’s a facebook page of academic analyses of the show for your viewing pleasure)

In a sort of response to some of the critics, Dunham in an interview responded, “When I get a tweet from a girl who’s like, ‘I’d love to watch the show, but I wish there were more women of color,’ You know what? I do, too, and if we have the opportunity to do a second season, I ll address that.” Is it me or does this sound a little patronizing? If you want to see more people of color on the show – then freaking include them! You are the Girl that runs that world. That is why your name appears 27 times in the end credits.

Now this is not a new accusation for a television show; the primetime landscape is pretty white. So then is it fair to level all the complaints onto one show? Well kinda. This is a show set in NYC, airing on HBO – did no one think of diversifying the cast a little?  Francie Latour addressed the issue in her editorial:

“America is transforming into a majority-minority nation faster than experts could have predicted, yet the most racially and ethnically diverse metropolis in America is delivered to us again and again on the small screen as a virtual sea of white.”

I will be honest, it did not occur to me that there were no people of color on the show. This is definitely not something I am proud of but it’s the truth. I accepted the reality presented to me because it is what I am given on almost every other network, every other night of the week. This is how whiteness perpetuates itself: it is an invisible factor in all our lives, something we do not even engage with but something we passively accept.

Some would say that Dunham is writing what she knows and she doesn’t have to include people of color if she doesn’t want to. This is definitely true; the show doesn’t have to, nor does it have to represent everyone. Part of the show’s success is portraying girls who are complicated and not stereotypical and perhaps not so easily relatable. But I think Jenna Wortham said it best:

Girls was supposed to be for the people, by the people. It is for people like me who were hungry for something relatable, something real. It’s a tricky time in America to talk abut race and belonging, but deep down, I’d hoped that this show would somehow get past the same challenge of all the BIG shows that came before that failed to weave a main black character at the show from the jump.”

As a show that was billed as the new smart, funny and introspective show on HBO, it just feels all that more disappointing that they would fail to recognize the diversity of the city the show is set in.

Courtesy of HBO

So what about the episode you ask? In case you were wondering, it certainly didn’t address the issue of race (zing!). But it did touch on another hot topic: abortion. The episode centered mostly around Jessa’s (Jemima Kirke) decision to get an abortion. In a political climate where Planned Parenthood is being defunded and attacked daily, it’s a bold move to center a whole storyline on this legal procedure. Especially considering the flippant way the show seemed to go about it. It almost seemed like the episode was a metaphorical middle finger to the republicans who seem hell bent on taking away a woman’s right to choose. I definitely enjoyed the scenes at the clinic, especially the irate messages left by Marnie (Allison Williams) while they waited for Jessa to arrive.

We were also treated to another awkward sex scene between Hannah and her boyfriend, and I guess it wouldn’t be an episode of Girls without Hannah having a case of verbal diarrhea (in this case during a job interview). Who makes a rape joke during an interview?! This scene just pulled me out of the episode completely. Not because it forced me to realize or acknowledge something about myself, but because it felt so completely fabricated and gratuitous.

So where does this leave us? Well, the show itself is smart (most of the time). It can also be funny and occasionally (painfully) relatable. The characters are complicated, sometimes unlikable, and pathetic. And they are definitely all white and all very privileged. The critics are right: the show lacks diversity, but then again, so do most television shows. Who knows – maybe in season two they can seamlessly incorporate an African-American friend into the group. Until then I will be watching to see what these four white girls do and secretly hoping that Hannah gets her shit together.

What do you folks think? Are the critics justified? Are you enjoying the show? Do you want to scream at Hannah as much as I do? Did the abortion storyline irk you? Hit the comments below!

Girls airs Sundays at 10:30pm EST on HBO

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