The training wheels are off the fixie bike, and for the hipsters of Lena Dunham's imaginary New York, it's sophomore season. Over the past ten weeks, her ode to cluelessness has been fixing the gaze (and the column inches) of the TV devotee, and in doing so, artfully dodging a trip to the one-hit-wonder archive.
The chatter over Girls is, to say the least, expansive. At its centre is a deuce rally over the show's bearing on real life, an argument which is as tedious as it is ultimately invalid. In spite of its single-camera drabbery, Girls is not a documentary: the absurd and the imaginary lie at its heart. Dunham's Brooklyn is as fantastical as the Orange County of Arrested Development, with e-books and app deals subbing for model homes and banana stands. A nursery school sandbox, her New York is both accurate and fictitious, crawling with high-functioning rugrats whose coping strategy comprises a cocktail of drugs and self-pity.
This is precisely Dunham's point: 'crackcidents' aside, reality is relative. While her (and I guess, our) Peter Pan generation floats absurdly above the humdrum of hard work, they do so in total ignorance and without any anchor to reality. Imagine Marnie the medical student, or Jessa the grad-schemer - they wouldn't have the time or the energy to sustain this kind of kidulthood. But for our heroines, the pursuit of a warehouse rave or a Disney husband is, in itself, knuckling down. To quote Hannah: "all adventurous women do".
Like Arrested Development, the gag of Girls is that characters of stature have the heads of children (note the title: by any common-sense metric the protagonists are 'women'). Hannah is archetypal; her inner child so vocal it has long put her outer adult out of business. Second-season Hannah has regressed even further towards the playground: the hair is prom-worthy, the puppy fat immobile, and she is, by all accounts, pretty much wearing a baby-grow. In this respect, she and the positively neanderthalic Adam (again, note the name) are made for each other. His uninhibited childishness far outstrips the Sex and the City ramblings of Shoshanna or the Stepford grasping of Marnie - he is an animal, defaulting on his infant self at the slightest provocation, stealing dogs and smashing apartments.
Where Arrested Development was stand-alone spoof, Girls is contextualised to make a smart social statement. To that end, the nonplussed rational observer is no longer a character in the show (Jason Bateman's raised eyebrows were forever fanning the Bluth family's comic flames), but the audience itself. We are the voice of reason, and, at the same time, speaking for myself, accessories to the chaos.
Dunham's argument, while inflated for comic effect, can be verified with a visit to any East London tube station. What she exposes is a product of baby boom and economic bust; parents looking to give their children everything they themselves were denied, but who have, in the process, armed them for a buyers' market with nothing but arts degrees and self-importance. This is where the character of Ray comes in; he represents the future where parents can no longer serve as a relevant model. Hyper-educated but unprepared for real life, he is a thirty-year old barista laden with regret. Shoshanna breaks off their relationship under false pretences - Ray's company is a daily reminder of the fate she, with the help of daytime TV, invests so much time in ignoring.
Girls shines a self-deprecating light on what is a tragic (in the Greek, rather than the melodramatic, sense) generation. While Dunham pokes fun at herself and her contemporaries to an eye-wateringly candid extent, there is a touch of desperation with the advancing of years - and of seasons. "You're just two babies holding hands", says Adam (ironically) of Ray and Shoshanna. As baby-in-chief, he has some nerve, and yet it is he who marks a last-minute key change in the second season. Running to rescue Hannah from some imagined crisis, he cradles her in a moment of true catharsis which suggests that redemption is found, at the very least, in each other's clueless company.
At this point, Girls deviates from a sibling show, Seinfeld, which posited a similar tale of the young and the selfish. Where Jerry and co. dissolved into mutual destruction, we can surmise that there's more hope for our Brooklyn beatniks. Dunham has taken it upon herself to offer a fictional solution to a very real problem, and the kids in question are hanging on her every tweet. For now though, it's recess in hipstergarten.