Girls kicks off its sixth and final season this Sunday on HBO, and with that beginning of the end comes a look back at the controversial, groundbreaking dramedy.
Earlier this month, there was an oral history in The Hollywood Reporter and a panel discussion hosted by the New York Times looking back on Lena Dunham's show. These pieces focused on the big things that Girls did, especially early in its run — such as its frank depiction of sexuality and nudity in a way that had never been seen before on television, and its creators' unflinching, uncompromising commitment to putting women's stories on TV in, again, a way that hadn't been seen before.
But what will Girls mean going forward? After the memories of the controversies have faded and the particular generation of affluent Millennial New York City life it depicts ages into its 30s and beyond, how will we think of Girls?
In the immediate short-term, one of Girls' biggest contributions has to do with a boy — it's the place where movie star and Snickers pitchman Adam Driver first came to public attention. There's a direct line from Driver's wounded, volatile performance as Adam Sackler to his wounded, volatile performance as Kylo Ren in the Star Wars franchise. Adam Driver is going to be around for a long time, and we have Girls to thank for that.
More broadly, the impact of Girls can be seen in shows like Crazy Ex-Girlfriend and Insecure. The success of Girls showed Hollywood that these kinds of unapologetically feminist shows about complicated women created and produced by women are worth making. They may not capture huge audiences, but that's a "yet." Girls may end up being a TV Velvet Underground that inspires the next David Bowie — the smaller, more challenging thing that wasn't for everyone but without whose influence the enormous, universally beloved thing wouldn't exist, and whose influence is also felt in every smaller show that traffics in similar tone and subject matter.
TVGuide.com put the question of legacy to the cast and crew of Girls on the Season 6 premiere red carpet last week, and some answered with variations on that idea.
"I think that they asked Barack Obama the same thing, and because we're so similar I'm going to say what he said, which is that he thinks it's going to take 10 years to know," said executive producer Jenni Konner. "But what I hope it is is more women showrunners, more women creators, more women in Hollywood working, wage equality, all of those things. I hope we have any bit of contribution to that. Nothing would make me happier."
"More women lifted up by the systems that helped us and their voices magnified," added Dunham. (She meant "amplified," but she said "magnified.")
Jemima Kirke, who plays Jessa, would like to see what was starting on Girls become the norm.
"I don't know, but I hope that we come to a point in time where we watch Girls and it becomes a sort of dated show, you know?" she said. "A dated show that everyone remembers fondly as being sort of big for its time, like we were your Mary Tyler Moores or That Girl or whatever it is. I hope that we join that sort of legacy of female TV shows."
"I think Lena has started a lot of really wonderful conversations socially and politically," said Andew Rannells, who plays Hannah's (Dunham) roommate Elijah, "and I also think that tonally, in terms of television, she opened the door for other shows to tell similar stories in a similar way and have characters that are not always likable or show the nicest parts of ourselves. That's what I think is most exciting when I look at some other work that's being produced now. It's like, 'Oh yeah, Lena had her hands kind of in all that.'"
"I have no idea. I think that it's got staying power, though," he said. "I have a hard time watching the show now, but I'm hoping that in a few years I'll be able to catch up. I think it'll be great in 20 years."
Jon Glaser, who has a recurring role as Hannah's neighbor/Adam's sort-of brother-in-law Laird, isn't so high-minded about it.
"Solid show," he said. "Solid show that featured women, which is nice to see. Well-written. Just a high quality, creatively interesting, well-done across the board show in terms of the execution of it. The writing, the performances, great cast. I just thought it was a solid show and I was psyched to be a part of it."
Glaser — who has been a part of an impressive number of influential comedy series, from The Dana Carvey Show to Parks and Recreation — thinks that at the end of the day, if people are still going to watch it or remember it, it'll be for how good it was.
Of course, there is the possibility that Girls will be (unfairly) remembered more for the endless swirl of negativity around Lena Dunham, especially if she continues to put her foot in her mouth as often as she did during Girls' run. But people's personal feelings about Dunham's public persona shouldn't overshadow what she and her team accomplished artistically.
Girls premieres Sunday, Feb. 12 at 10/9c on HBO.