How 'Girls' Became Television's Most Genuine, Honest-to-Goodness Hate Watch

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How 'Girls' Became Television's Most Genuine, Honest-to-Goodness Hate Watch

By Dustin Rowles | TV Reviews | February 24, 2014 | Comments ()


There’s a lot of reasons that we “hate watch” television, and most of them have to do with the fact that certain shows are so terrible that they’re ironically enjoyable to watch. Take last year’s Smash or the final season of Dexter or, for many people, Newsroom, which was hated by some more for its smugness than anything else.

Girls, on the other hand, has morphed into a smartly written, observant, and well acted show about completely loathsome people. This is not new to television comedy, of course. The characters on Seinfeld were misanthropic, Larry David in Curb Your Enthusiasm is heinous, and the characters on It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia lack any redeeming moral qualities. The difference between Girls and a show like It’s Always Sunny, however, is that the awful qualities in the characters on Sunny are designed to elicit laughter. The awful qualities in the characters on Girls are designed to make us revile them.

It’s working.

The female characters in Girls are solipsistic, privileged, tedious, boring little sh*ts. While I completely understand that Girls is designed to bounce these reflections of reality off of Generation Y, I don’t care. I’m not saying there are necessarily any actual similarities, but to whatever extent that the real-life counterparts in Girls can self-identify with their characters, they are also despicable. The individuals, or the types, or the class of people that Lena Dunham is basing these characters on are unspeakably appalling, and should be removed from the gene pool.

This is not a man/woman thing. This is not misogynistic thing. This is a human being thing, and no one should have to surround themselves in the company of these types of poeple. If you find yourself identifying closely with any of the characters on this season of Girls, I hate to borrow a line from Rust Cohle, but either kill yourself or seek therapy, and please do the rest of us the service of not sharing all the monumental insights you gained from therapy, because the only insight that matters is that you are a boring, self-involved asshole. You are terrible, and any failure to recognize that in yourself is part of the problem.

The characters in Girls are sociopaths. No, really: Here’s a test designed to determine whether you’re a sociopath. Hannah, Jess, and Marnie fit nearly every one of these qualifications. The only redeeming female character on Girls is Shoshana, and only then, when she’s drunk. In fact, this would be the perfect show to watch with Drunk Shoshana, because she would tell it like it is, as she did in last week’s episode, describing Hannah as such:

“You’re a fucking narcissist. Seriously, I’ve never met anyone else who thinks their own life is so fascinating. I wanted to fall asleep in my own vomit all day listening to you speak about how you bruise more easily than other people … [I don’t want to be like] you, like mentally ill and miserable.”

Yes! Thank you, Shoshana.

So why continue to watch? Because for three minutes while Shoshana was going off on her friends, I felt redeemed. It felt good to have our voice reflected in this show, for someone besides Ray and occasionally Adam (who honestly has his own head up his ass as much as anyone else on Girls) to remind us that we are dealing with terrible f**king human beings, and that the only joy that comes in watching Girls is in the pleasure of hate, and it’s not ironic hate. It’s pure, piercing revulsion with people that are only a college degree and their parents’ safety net away from being fucking serial killers.

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Comments Are Welcome, Bigots and Trolls Are Not

  • Kristin Peterson

    I think this show is over your head, Dustin, and based upon that ridiculous test you suggested we click on the only character on the show that vaguely could be a sociopath is Jessa and who cares anyway? It's just a tv show, you can change the channel or binge watch some Entourage for some truly redeeming characters. Don't forget your blankie.

  • Only good thing about last night's Girls episode was the Miguel song over the end credits. That joint is fire.

  • Three_nineteen

    The four main characters on Seinfeld are narcissistic, despicable sociopaths, and they aren't even in their twenties.

  • Television has taught me this is true of all New Yorkers.

  • Yocean

    I knew that from first minutes . That's why I never got in. Hate to say....wait I do NOT hate to say I told you so!

  • Jezzer

    I'm actually singing "I told you so!" right now.

    While dancing the Snoopy Dance.

  • Salasalu


  • Bob Genghis Khan

    Soooo....because the characters on your beloved Shameless are poor, the awful shit they do is excusable, but characters on Girls "should be removed from the gene pool." Sure.

  • As someone who grew up dirt-floor, ketchup soup poor and has climbed several rungs on the societal ladder since then I can say that, in my opinion, while the actions of the Gallaghers might not be excusable, they are (most of the time) understandable, given their circumstances. The actions of the characters on 'Girls' are (by and large) neither, given the high degree of privilege and luxury they started out with and continue to enjoy.

  • Jezzer

    I have never been so proud of anyone in my life as I am of Dustin Rowles right now.

    If this turns out to be an early April 1st prank... >:(

  • DarthCorleone

    I'm with Yossarian and Wednesday, as I think this is a little harsh. For me the show manages to hit a sweet spot between comedy and drama that works. It's a tricky balance that I'm constantly criticizing in many of the screenplays I have read over the years. Yes, these characters are very flawed, and I probably wouldn't be friends with them in real life, but - then again - perhaps I could be. I've done my share of stupid, self-involved things in my life, especially in my early twenties.

  • mairimba

    Thanks! Now I have a new book to read.

  • Yossarian

    That's a lot of hatred and antipathy for a group of characters who biggest sins are privilege and self-involvement and sometimes not being a good friend. Really, what did any character do this season that deserves this much disdain?

    Jessa was kind of a bitch at rehab and Hannah was mean to her Dad on the phone when her book deal was canceled and Marnie is depressed and not over her breakup. They move through their world trying and failing to find fulfillment. They generally have good intentions but their limited perspectives and human imperfections cause conflict.

    And maybe you like the security of transgressive characters who know they are doing something wrong (House of Cards, Justified) or maybe you just find it easier to sympathize and accept flawed male characters in shows where their flaws are not the only thing going on (Martin Hart on True Detective).

    The girls of Girls are flawed and complex characters but they aren't monsters. The intent of the show is not to create characters who are simply off-putting and miserable.

    Hate watching Girls misses the point of the show entirely. It's an exercise in empathy, not negativity. It's a character driven show, it's about understanding the characters. Their awful qualities aren't designed to make you revile them. They are designed to challenge you to understand them.

    And from that perspective the show succeeds to the extent that you buy these characters as realistic and sympathetic. Which is partially on the show (sometimes the writing strays to far, like the second half of season 2), but it's partially on the viewer. You have to work at seeing the humanity of the characters.

    Is it understandable to feel emotionally detached from the death of someone you only really knew briefly in a professional setting? Is it understandable to be simultaneously excited about a new job full of perks and paychecks while at the same time worried you're abandoning your dream job?

    Is it understandable to be unable to get over a breakup and to compensate by channeling too much energy into planning events with your friends and putting too much pressure on trying to recreate the good times of the past, because that's comforting, and you think you need that, even as you drive everyone around you crazy and come off as a control freak, because you don't know what else to do, and you don't understand why your friends can't just go along with it. Have you never been in a shitty mood because you wanted to spend time with someone and they invited someone else to tag along, and were having more fun with them, and it just pissed you off?

    Hannah IS self reflective and very socially interactive. She's just not always very good at it. She likes being in that role of supporting and caring for others. She genuinely wants to help talk through the conflict between Adam and his sister. She wants to be supportive of Marnie. She wants to help Jessa. She wants to provide guidance to Sosh. She want's to be supportive of Adam. But she's imperfect and self-involved so her desire to help is sometimes tainted by narcissism. Sometimes it's more about her role as helper than it is about providing help. Her helpfulness comes off as being patronizing, or controlling, or enabling. And it's entirely conditional on her own state. When she's going through something difficult she has no patience for helping others, she tells off her friends and kicks out Adam's sister and has a meltdown and is rude to her Dad.

    But that's human. That's a person having a bad day. That's something relateable and sympathetic. That's a complex character that is internally consistent and not just pointlessly evil or cruel. I don't want to say you're watching it wrong, but you're certainly missing something if you write it off as just horrible people being horrible. It's a lot more interesting and rewarding to put in the effort to empathize with the girls. That doesn't mean you endorse or agree with everything they do. You're aren't supposed to. But you probably have friends or family who chronically make bad choices. And being judgmental is easy. But being a good friend or being family means seeing past that, realizing they aren't perfect, and accepting them as human and flawed.

    You've gotta love-watch it

  • Jezzer

    " The intent of the show is not to create characters who are simply off-putting and miserable.

    And yet...

  • JustOP

    'The female characters in Girls are solipsistic, privileged, tedious, boring little sh*ts.'

    It took you this long to figure that out? The title alone gives away how self-indulgent this show is.

  • I don't think this is entirely fair. I think that yes, they are definitely gross people. Some more than others (Jessa, for example, is probably one of the most loathsome characters I've ever seen that isn't on a show about serial killers) but I think it's pretty inflammatory to say that identifying with any of their issues* makes you a horrid sociopath. Hannah, for instance, has struggled this season with the inevitability of choosing between your ideals as an artist and being a person who needs to survive economically/professionally in today's publishing industry.

    I don't think it makes you despicable to weigh your dreams/your rent at age 25. God knows I still do at 34. I thought her stunned realization that "real" writers need to compromise sometimes to pay the bills was a very realistic moment - and I think it transfers well beyond writing/publishing. I think plenty of people have that "oh sh*t" moment where they discover the reality of work vs. what they thought it would be like in college.

    *general disclaimer that this is all analyzed within the scope of Girls, where most of their problems are luxuries

  • I think a lot of the people finding it hard to give a single shit about these Girls, or even see anything to like in them, are ones who did work. Either throughout high school and college, or maybe instead of college. Plenty of people didn't live in this la la land of "My mom will cook all my meals and my clothes appear in my drawers as if cleaned by magic and then my parents pay for college (and I mostly just smoke weed and complain about what little is being asked of me) and when I'm done they will support me until my True Purpose reveals itself by blooming out of me like an exotic flower." Some of us knew what the real world was like long before 23.

    That said, I still like this show. Dunham writes shitty people without pity, and that's as it should be. I think it's hilarious how awful they all are (and how convinced each one is that they're really a diamond in the rough.)

  • Stacey A

    Dustin, you're not dealing with sociopaths. You're dealing with 23-year-olds. Same diff'.

  • dizzylucy

    I can deal with loathsome characters - some of the funniest and most interesting characters are pretty loathsome people. But tedious and boring doesn't work for me, and that's where I draw the line for hate watching.

  • Sara_Tonin00

    Did I click through to the right test? I dont' see most of the ladies passing that sociopath test.

    and again - no passes for the men. They are just as much troubled assholes as the "girls." We just spend less time with them. And are more conditioned to accepting such assholish behavior from men.

    Btw, just try falling in love with another manic pixie dream girl after watching this show, because these characters are showing the rest of that manic pixie iceberg.

    (also: my hunch is that at least half the people here would appear to be assholes as well if we were the subjects of a tv series.)

  • NateMan

    I admit I'm one of them.

  • Sara_Tonin00

    I am TOTALLY one of them. I would say that when I look at my friends, about 50% of them are Terrible. At least one of them revels in it.

    but...they ARE fun.

  • NateMan

    I never got the point in watching movies or shows with characters you hate. Sure, LOVE to hate, ala Boyd, who is just so awesomely loathsome that you can't help but applaud. But he's a villain; it's what he's for. It's why I could never enjoy Friends, although my wife and most people I know really enjoyed it. I just hated all those whiny, self-absorbed people. Well, apart from Joey.

  • I agree with your points and that's why I'm really liking the show now. I don't hate watch anything, I've never seen the point. I genuinely like the show and have from the start, although season 2 was a mess.

    It is obvious at this point that Lena is well aware how self-involved and awful her characters are and the writing is getting stronger and stronger to capitalize on that. This season has been outstanding in my opinion, with "Beach House" perfectly straddling the line between hilarious and uncomfortable.

  • Wednesday

    Oh, come on. Are they awful people? Yes. But not totally irredeemable. I thought it was sweet that Hannah was so legitimately happy on Adam's behalf. I like that Marnie can see she's pathetic and self-involved. Or Elijah is a little star-struck by someone with a minor role on freaking "One Tree Hill."

    I am NOT this show's target demographic, but I appreciate how they will show ALL the warts, not just a minor one here and there to keep you interested in the characters. These people are train wrecks, but they know they're train wrecks, and they don't want to be train wrecks. They're just not sure how to stop yet and it's a comfortable space for them.

    It's not a hate-watch for me. Even though my friends have problems more age-appropriate, I do find parallels in seeing the way people fuck up their lives and their friends know it and love them anyway.

  • Abby Cadabby

    Thank you! I feel like everybody has just made up their minds about this show and refuse to actually pay attention to anything going on in it. A flawed person does not a sociopath make and, yeah, nobody would be going to the trouble of diagnosing them if they were men (yeah, i said it, Dustin).

    Considering the lack of examples given, I'm inclined to believe this was put up for the page views, because I KNOW you know there are aspects of this show that are important and need to exist.

  • "Here’s a test designed to determine whether you’re a sociopath."

    /takes test
    //closes browser
    ///doesn't care that I'm a sociopath

  • NateMan

    To be fair, that test is pretty useless. Here's a better one:
    "Do you treat every other person as though they are things placed there only for your amusement or betterment?"

    If the answer is "Yes", you're a sociopath. If the answer is "No", you're not. If the answer is "Most of the time", you're just an asshole like most people.

  • Nisi

    What if I feel that every other person is there as an obstacle?

  • NateMan

    Then you're suffering from what I like to call 'My Mother's Martyrdom Syndrome'.

  • Nisi

    That must be in the DSM-5

  • NateMan

    If not it should be!

  • Thank god I'm just an asshole.

  • NateMan

    I know, right? Makes things so much easier.

  • Andrew J

    I've been saying that since season one. The problem with critiquing "girls" is that sooner or later someone from the "and she's a fat slut" group comes to ruin the genuine talk about the terribleness of all the characters.

  • cruzzercruz

    I can't bring myself to watch season three. I was masochistic enough to sit through the first two, but I just can't do it again.

  • Lin-z

    I binged-watched season 1 last week because I was so curious about this show. But, I just don't like it or the characters. Your review is spot on.

  • Ian Fay

    I was perusing Twitter last night and a bunch of people tweeted the following
    dialogue that a really real person was paid to write for an HBO show:

    "I should really hit the trail my clementine is making paella tonight"

    Even Aaron Sorkin would think that's out of line.

  • They're the Yellow Queens

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