Here’s a theory: Nobody cares about “Girls” anymore.
When Lena Dunham’s awkward, naked, hipster fever dream of an HBO series debuted back in 2012, it was “raw” and “real” because the main character has a far from perfect body, is often naked, and usually finds herself in compromising sexual situations. Also, every character in the show is the most vapid, deplorable person imaginable, which held some weird attraction for people.
But “Girls” also used to be, at times, genuinely shocking. There haven’t been any television shows whose sole purpose is to make you feel uncomfortable by explicitly depicting two average-looking people having sex. The asshole main characters were so horrible that we watched the next episode just to see what horrible things they would do next. And, while we’re at it, can you name another show that once featured Brian Williams’ daughter masturbating in a bathroom?
But now, no one is talking about “Girls” anymore because it’s no longer shocking. It’s boring, and nobody watches it.
The show, which is now in the middle of its third season, airs right after HBO’s most buzzed about show, “True Detective.” That show has 2.6 million viewers and climbing. The most recent episode of “Girls,” on the other hand, had about 916,000 viewers — a figure has been dropping steadily every week. That means that once “Girls” starts, about 1.6 million people change the channel from HBO. Ouch.
Back in the first and second seasons, “Girls” had just a little over one million viewers, and was inspiring nearly twice as many think pieces (this is a non-scientific calculation) as it does now.
A quick review of Slate, Salon, Vulture and Jezebel — sites that have frequently published exhaustive stories about the importance of “Girls” — reveals that the majority of the pieces now written about Dunham focus on her politically-charged celebrity status, not her “art.”
When we talk about Dunham now, it’s all about the Vogue Photoshopping incident (which doesn’t even have anything to do with the show), or the time that TV critic asked her why she was always naked and the feminist backlash that ensued. The reviews for the show are still good — professional television critics have always been Dunham’s real target demographic — but the praise is more muted now.
There are, of course, exceptions like Vulture’s “Is Hannah Horvath TV’s Most Selfish Character?” (The answer: DUH.) But all of these stories came out ahead of the third season premiere. Since it actually the show actually started up again, no one is talking about it. The TV writers who once wrote rhapsodically about Dunham’s televised humiliations now spend their energy dissecting the latest “True Detective” or “Hannibal.”
As someone who prides herself on knowing basically everything there is to know about pop culture, I watched the first two seasons of “Girls” because they seemed to be culturally relevant. But I had to stop hate-watching it after the second episode of this season because it’s just not even fun to hate anymore. And so far, I’m not missing out on the conversation, because nobody is talking about the show.
“Girls” was renewed for a fourth season before the third season even aired, which — as of now — seems like something of a premature decision for HBO. It looks like they expected an equal amount of coverage and vitriol — all press is good press! — that surrounded the first two seasons.
But the show, which in reality always struggled to find an audience, has stopped capturing the imagination of its relatively few fans. Nobody cares about it anymore.
Dunham is doing well for herself. She landed a coveted Vogue cover, even though she has absolutely no idea how to dress herself. She’s also writing an “Archie” comic and will host “Saturday Night Live” this weekend. She has successfully marketed herself as an icon for our generation, for good or ill, although that SNL appearance won’t “break the internet” like it might have once. It will be met with a collective yawn.
A side note: Over the weekend, I started chatting with a mom of a 12-year-old girl in a bar. She asked me if I watched “Girls” and I said that I had stopped. She told me that she and her husband used to watch the show to see what twenty-year-olds are like these days, but she stopped because it was unwatchable.
“Is that what it’s really like [in real life]?”, she asked. “Is everyone just f**king each other and acting terrible? Because it scares me for my daughter.”
So thanks, Lena Dunham, for being the “voice of a generation” and giving us all a really, really bad rap.