About fifteen minutes into watching the series finale of “Girls,” I felt a sinking feeling of disappointment. The episode, set five months after Hannah has given birth and moved to upstate New York, is much like past “Girls” bottle episodes. Existing in a strange, surreal, almost suffocating space, the storyline is shot in one location and cut down to one or two main characters. “Girls” has almost always been successful when it dipped into contained storytelling, and in a few cases, like Hannah’s afternoon with the writer accused of sexual assault, it has made for exceptionally thought-provoking, powerful television.
But the last episode of “Girls” is not a time for a bottle episode. It’s a space to celebrate seven characters who we have spent six seasons getting to know, caring about and occasionally wanting to shake silly out of irritation. Which, perhaps, is why it was so frustrating to spend thirty minutes exclusively with Hannah, and occasionally Marnie, as the two characters pretty much spend the entire episode dealing with the challenges of a newborn baby. Not that it isn’t an important storyline, and not that it isn’t a critical full-circle moment, watching Hannah, an often selfish, erratic 20-something, have to enter a new stage in her life.
The problem is, this show isn’t about Hannah.
It has always been just as much about Marnie, Jessa, Shoshanna, Ray, Elijah and Adam. It’s an enormous tribute to Lena Dunham’s writing and directing that those six characters felt equally as important to the story, and that they were just as painfully real, full of color, humor and depth. To end “Girls” without all of them there felt unnatural, and almost swept their importance to the show under the rug. This was Hannah’s story all along, it seemed to say.
The argument, perhaps, for ending “Girls” the way that they did, so completely, almost disorientingly, removed from the dressings of Hannah’s 20-something life, is that the show never did stick with convention. Plus, it had been gently guiding Hannah away from New York for some time, an idea that I thought was smart and, as a lifelong New Yorker, something I deeply understood.
But there were other ways to stay true to the show’s tone, and deliver Hannah into this new chapter in her life. The second to last episode of the series did just that. It showed four friends having something of a break-up, but coming to an understanding. All of the characters were moving in new directions, and the final five minutes of the series tied in all the emotions a good series finale should. There was a feeling of finality, hope, and a chance to see the whole group of characters together — perhaps for the last time.
I didn’t need to spend a half-hour watching Hannah figure out her new life in upstate New York — and this is coming from someone who always really liked Hannah. The show was about four women, and occasionally three men, finding their way in New York City, and that’s exactly where I would have liked to have said goodbye to them.
It calls to mind some of the best season finales from “Girls”: when Hannah gets into Iowa and holds that letter in her hand, when she runs across the Brooklyn Bridge after performing at The Moth for the first time, when Adam comes to her house and picks her up after everything that happened between them. Those were all euphoric moments, small moments, tinged with sadness, and leaving lots and lots of questions behind.
So yes, I think that last shot, from the previous episode, when all four girls are dancing in Shoshanna’s apartment, is completely fitting for a “Girls” series finale. And that’s exactly how I will choose to say goodbye to them.
“Girls” is wrapping up its final season, and for all of you mourning the loss of Hannah, Jessa, Marnie and Shoshanna, boy, do we have a treat for you.
The cast slipped back into their characters during a reunion on “Jimmy Kimmel Live” Wednesday night, in a sketch that explores where their characters end up many, many years down the line. The twist? It’s also one big homage to “The Golden Girls.”
Settle on in for a healthy serving of “Girls” nudity, self-centeredness, grounded absurdity and Elijah just bein’ Elijah. All that’s missing is a Betty White cameo.
Sarah Heyward’s rise from personal assistant to writer on a hit HBO show can be traced back to a graduate school essay about sex.
Fresh out of Iowa Writers’ Workshop, the 24-year-old got her start in television as an assistant to Jenni Konner, executive producer of the then soon-to-be shot series “Girls.”
“Jenni knew I wanted to be a writer so she asked if I had a script to show her,” Heyward said in a recent phone interview. “I had really just started out attempting screenwriting and I didn’t think that I had anything good enough. I printed out a short story that I wrote for grad school instead.”
That piece, titled “How to Lose Your Virginity,” was passed along to the show’s creator/star Lena Dunham — and Heyward promptly landed a seat at the writer’s table.
Over the next six seasons, Heyward would co-write “Bad Friend,” still one of the show’s most talked about, heartily meme-ed episodes (yup, that’s the one where Hannah does ecstasy with Elijah), and “Hello Kitty,” a brilliantly constructed show within a show.
We chatted with Heyward about the final season of “Girls,” dealing with critics and the hardest character to write for.
Thea Glassman: Do you remember what your first day in the writers’ room was like?
Sarah Heyward: I remember it really well. I’d heard that in a lot of typical comedy writers’ room the staff writers are told not to speak for the first few weeks, basically be quiet until someone asks you something. I was definitely nervous but Jenni and Lena were very welcoming. They told us right off the bat that they didn’t want the room to feel hierarchal, they didn’t want anyone to feel like they couldn’t talk. I think also the fact that Lena was only twenty-four and she had never done a show before also really helped. It wasn’t like I was entering a room of seasoned professionals and I was the only who didn’t know what she was doing.
Were there any challenges in the beginning going from writing fiction to screenwriting?
It was a huge challenge. I still feel like I’m a much better fiction writer than I am a screenwriter. I always loved TV and movies, but it’s very different to watch something, than to actually write a script for it. I felt completely under water. Screenwriting has such structural limits, and it’s almost like doing a writing exercise, understanding where the first act ends, trying to wrap it up. In short stories you can write something totally crazy — and you can do that in movies, too —but I certainly didn’t feel like starting out I could take that freedom. I was really of the mind that I needed to learn the rules before I could break them.
Was there one character you ended up enjoying writing the most for?
I was often paired with Shoshanna in the earlier seasons because, other than Lena, I was the youngest in the room and the most traditionally girly. The writers started associating me with Shoshanna so they started taking lines I said in real life and gave them to her. We also took some tiny elements from my virginity loss experience.
The girls have such distinct voices and the actors have such distinct voices that it became fairly easy to channel them. I’d say the one that was most difficult for me all the way through was Jessa, because she’s such an enigmatic character and it’s not always as easy to tap into what her reactions would be.
I re-watched the series from the beginning recently, and had completely forgotten what a big shift Marnie has made from season one. What was that process like in the writers’ room of shaping that character over time?
That’s definitely true. I’d say that the pieces of script that were being used to audition girls for the role of Marnie were written to be very similar to Audrey [Gelman], Lena’s best friend. Then, we ended up casting Allison, who isn’t very similar to Audrey. I think Marnie’s arc is interesting because she is the one who changed the most. When you’re starting as a type A, high-strung place, it’s really interesting to take that all apart over the course of a few years, to see what happens when everything starts to unravel for that personality type.
What do you remember from Allison’s first audition?
I remember her coming in, and she hadn’t done anything at the time. I believe it was Judd Apatow who had seen that video of her singing the “Mad Men” theme song and thought she was great. A lot of bigger names were trying out for the part and it was sort of like, ok, Judd wants us to see this person. Truly, within five minutes of the audition, she blew us away. Her audition was so good. It was just her face. She nailed it. Her lack of experience was really winning and she was fresh and really excited. She had just graduated from Yale so she definitely had the Type A, overachieving thing down pat. She had to be Marnie.
The first episode you wrote for the show was “Bad Friend,” which really has lived on as such a fan favorite. What was your experience like co-writing with Lena — and how did you come up with the idea for that mesh yellow tank top?
It was a pleasure, it was fun, I was still very much learning at the time. Lena was always very generous with me, she gave me more trust than she probably should have. I know in some rooms, when there’s one creator who has such a singular voice the way Lena does, that writer rewrites everything. I think we split the script in half, she wrote half the scenes, I wrote half the scenes. She certainly went over what I wrote but she never took it away and rewrote it, which I really appreciated as a low level writer in the room at the time.
The mesh tank top thing, I remember I wrote it without thinking about it. I mean, half the time when you write in what they’re wearing, it’s going to change. But it was just an off the cuff thing, and I didn’t quite think until I was on set that I had basically written in that Lena would have her breasts showing for basically the entire episode. But of course she’s Lena, and she didn’t care at all.
The tank top became legendary with “Girls” history, which is funny to me. On the last day of shooting they let us go into the costume closet and take things that we wanted and there was an entire rack of neon mesh tank tops. I was like, glad to see you have so many back-ups —- and I still don’t want one. I’m happy for it to live in “Girls” world forever.
How did it feel saying goodbye to these characters?
Six years is a long time to work on one show with basically four main characters. It felt right. It was the right time to end. We had known where we wanted the characters to end up more or less, for at least a few years. I was pretty mentally prepared. As it’s airing though, it’s hitting me more that this is over.
Have you been watching along with each new episode?
I definitely watch because, other than when they want my opinion on a cut, I don’t generally see the episode when it’s in the editing process. I’m always curious to see how it all comes together, what they chose to keep in, and the actors always do so much improvising and there’s a lot of last minute joke pitching.
I didn’t realize there was improvising! Who improvised the most?
They all improvised. I’d say Andrew Rannells was an improv star for us, through and through. Often out of laziness, once and awhile we’d just write in that Andrew could improv some things about the theatre world.
Honestly, one of my favorite people to watch improvise is Ebon [Moss-Bachrach], who plays Desi. He has this line last week where he’s talking to Marnie about how all her friends talk shit about her, they say this, they said that, they say her poetry is repetitive. That was completely Ebon. I remember he came up to me on set that day and said he had a couple of ideas for what Marnie’s friends could be saying between her back. He said they were really bad pitches and asked me to fix them. But they were amazing. I was like, if you think I’m going to come up with something better than Marnie’s poetry being repetitive, you’re insane. He is a genius, he brought so much to Desi.
Looking back at all the criticism written about “Girls” over the seasons, how did you deal with that commentary in the writers’ room? How much of it did you try to address, and how much did you decide wasn’t constructive?
The way it works with a TV show is that you’re writing the next season often before people have even seen the previous season. We were already writing season two before people had even seen or reacted to season one. The feedback sort of started pouring in during the process. I’d say we didn’t make a conscious effort to respond to any specific criticism other than all of us, of course, agreeing with the criticism that the show should be more racially diverse. It was completely valid.
“Girls,” in my experience, was never a show where the voice of the critics affected us one way or another. Lena has such a strong voice, she’s very sure of herself, she stands up for what she believes in. She’s not that affected by what people think, which is incredible, and it’s allowed her to rise really high.
We were so happy people were talking about the show. It felt like it could have been this tiny show about four girls that just disappeared….[but] it ended up creating discussions with people that needed to be had. Just look at TV now, five or six later, it’s a whole different world. It’s a completely diverse palate. We often say “Girls” would not be made today and that’s kind of a cool thing. I don’t know that they would make a show about four white girls now.
It’s almost the weekend, and whether you’re in still-snowy New York or surprisingly rainy Los Angeles, the weather is no excuse to miss out on great cultural events — unless you’re binge-watching past seasons of HBO’s “Girls” in advance of the premiere of its final season, in which case, more power to you. That premiere is Sunday evening; if you don’t feel like revisiting the whole series, read Gabe Friedman’s ode to the show in The Schmooze. The Grammy Awards are also Sunday, and Forward favorite Drake is nominated for Album of the Year for “Views.” Tune in to see whether he comes out on top.
If you’re looking to escape, find yourself a copy of Neil Gaiman’s newly released “Norse Mythology,” in which the accomplished fantasy author gives new life to beloved characters like Thor and Loki. For a compelling nonfiction read, look to Daphne Merkin’s “This Close to Happy,” also released this past week; in the book, the former New Yorker staff writer explores her own history with depression. In Longform, read Taffy Brodesser-Akner’s profile of a surprisingly sensitive Tom Hiddleston for GQ.
In New York City, don’t miss comedian Gad Elmaleh at Carnegie Hall on Saturday. (While you wait for the show, revisit Ross Ufberg’s 2016 profile of Elmaleh for the Forward.) On Sunday, get the grandmotherly love advice you didn’t know you were missing at the American Jewish Historical Society, and learn about the music popular with Jewish occupants of New York’s turn-of-the-century tenements at the Museum at Eldridge Street.
It’s a great weekend for classical music in Washington, D.C., where violinist Joshua Bell and pianist Igor Levit will both play on Saturday. (Bell is performing with the National Symphony Orchestra at the Kennedy Center, Levit at the UDC Theater of the Arts.) In Chicago, attend a screening of “Morgenthau,” Max Lewkowicz’s documentary on the legal legacy of the Morgenthau family, at the Spertus Institute. Comedian Scott Rogowsky is still performing at The Virgil in Los Angeles; if you didn’t catch him there last weekend, be sure to do so this one.
“Girls” returns for its final season on Sunday, and we really couldn’t be sadder to see our favorite Brooklyn 20-somethings go. In the meantime, we’ve devised a comprehensive drinking game to get you delightfully tipsy during the upcoming episodes (basically, for those of us not into sports, this can serve as our own personal Super Bowl).
So, tuck in with your Marine or your Hannah, and prepare to get a little weird.
Take a sip anytime:
• Two or more characters have a conversation in the bathroom
• Shoshanna appears in a scene with a different hairdo
• Lena’s parents have a fight that she’s dragged into
• Marnie is disappointed in Hannah
• Elijah’s hair looks perfect
• Jessa says something cutting to Hannah
• You can’t decide if Desi and Marnie’s music is beautiful or awful
• Two or more of them discuss their friendship
• Someone is naked
Take a shot anytime:
• Ray gives a sage life advice soliloquy
• Shoshana speaks in Japanese unnecessarily
• Desi says “bella”
• Desi does something pretentious
• Hannah quits a job
• Hannah complains about her lack of inspiration
• Hannah wears either a romper or “shorteralls”
• Marnie really wants to discuss all of their friendships
Take a big ol’ gulp:
• Anytime Laird’s baby is dressed exactly like him
• Hannah writes something emotionally revealing
• Hannah’s mom is in full crisis mode and says “f—ck” a lot
• Marnie crosses her arms
• Jessa is whimsically behind the times (doesn’t have a cell phone etc.)
• Anyone is in the bathtub
• Anytime one of them dances and (bonus sip) Marnie does the “stank” face
• You find yourself reevaluating your own life
• You see yourself in one of the characters and feel both awful and completely validated
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