This late in the series’ run, there are no neutral parties in the great Girls pop culture wars. You either love the show or find its ongoing existence a blight on some combination of HBO, Peak TV, and the larger American experiment.
I’ve always fallen into the former camp, while acknowledging some creative and/or PR bumps along the way. As Girls prepares to debut its sixth and final season on Sunday night at 10, I still consider it a great show, and an important foundational piece of the current era of deeply personal half-hour dramedies that began with Louie. (Though their networks are reversed, Girls is to Louie what The Shield was to The Sopranos for the start of the modern golden age of TV drama: proof that the original show wasn’t just a singular event, but something other people and networks could make their own versions of.)
But because I’ve said so much about the series over the previous five seasons, and because I’ll likely have a bunch to say after the series finale airs, that leaves very little new here for the start of season six, of which I’ve seen the first three episodes. So in honor of that, I’ll tell you three things:
1. The third episode will be The Thinkpiece Episode.
Girls doesn’t do these every season, but at least once every couple of years, we’ll get some kind of solo spotlight, usually on Lena Dunham’s Hannah, designed as much to provoke discussion and debate as to be part of the tapestry of the show itself. This year, it’s the third episode, where Hannah is invited into the home of a famous author (The Americans star Matthew Rhys) to discuss an article she’s written about him. It is, in many ways, an even more effective episode of television than season two’s “One Man’s Trash,” the episode with Patrick Wilson that serves as the prototype for this kind of outing for the series. I’m just not entirely sure that it’s a more effective episode of Girls, for reasons I’ll go into in more detail after the episode’s aired in a few weeks.
2. The girls — and guys — keep moving in and out of each other’s lives in interesting combinations.
The season kicks off with The New York Times’ Modern Love column running Hannah’s account of seeing ex-boyfriend Adam get together with alleged best friend Jessa. So she’s still on the outs with those two (and doesn’t share any scenes with them early on), having gotten closer with Marnie and Elijah again to help fill the friendship void. Meanwhile, there’s tension between Marnie and Ray over her continued touring with ex-husband Desi, between Marnie and Shoshana over the way that Ray seems to get along better with Shosh than with his alleged girlfriend, and between Shoshana and Jessa over various slights between the cousins over the years. (It’s been so long since they had meaningful interaction that I’d honestly forgotten the connection between them that brought Shoshana into the group.) As Girls co-showrunner Jenni Konner reminded me at the end of last season, the show has never really been about the larger group of friends — even in the first season, all four were in the same place very infrequently — but the later years have kept them further and further apart, which feels true to life and the way intense friendships from college or the start of adulthood can start to fade as you get older and more involved with other parts of life. It’s not just the Rhys episode (where Dunham is the only cast regular to appear) that separates Hannah from the group; she spends the majority of the super-sized premiere episode out in Montauk, hanging with a surfing instructor played by The Night Of star Riz Ahmed.
3. There are definite signs of creative old age.
Keep in mind, this was my fear at the start of the fifth season, too, and by the end it wound up being one of the series’ best overall. But where some of the sketchiness at this time last year was more about adjusting to the characters’ getting older and easing into new phases of life, the flaws early on here are more about execution. The premiere is weirdly structured, basically as a Girls solo episode padded out so we can catch up with the supporting cast, but where the show tends to work best in those single-character stories, Hannah’s time in Montauk quickly feels repetitive, and the ensemble material’s more compelling. The second episode has a Hannah/Marnie/Desi roadtrip story that’s played for the broadest comedy the show’s ever tried, and it’s mostly cringe-inducing. And while the third episode is thoughtful and unsettling and well played by both Dunham and Rhys, it feels more like a short film Dunham wanted to make under the Girls banner than a part of the show. (Though Girls owes a big spiritual debt to Louie, it’s never been as anthology-style.)
But at this point, if you’re in on Girls, you’re going to watch through the end, and I expect plenty of weirdness, awkwardness, and sadness before we get to the conclusion. It’s definitely time for this story to end, but there can be some interesting tales before we get there.