First Impressions: Girls still has a lot to learn in its sixth & final season

The fifth season of HBO’s Girls – in many ways – raised the bar for the popular but divisive series. Both as a writer and an actress, Lena Dunham cleverly and effectively built on all the aspects of the show that have worked in the past and dropped what didn’t. Efforts by everyone involved helped refine the show into a series of evocative 30-minute vignettes.

It strode where previous seasons stumbled and created a compelling patchwork quilt of frayed friendships and melancholy mistakes. Perhaps most importantly, it saw genuine character development for its cast and left them in a genuinely exciting place ahead of Girls’ final season.

Unfortunately, Season 6 – or at least the first two episodes of it – isn’t quite living up to the tall shadow cast by the stretch of outstanding episodes that preceded it.

The first episode (“All I Ever Wanted”) has its merits, reintroducing us to a Hannah Horvath finally finding some momentum with her writing. Better yet, it adds a dash of color and diversity (Riz Ahmed) to her love life when a work-assignment sees her end up spending a weekend at the beach. Her escapades here are initially a bit cringey in that usual Girls way but eventually arrive at some interesting emotional territory for her character. There are moments where it really works but, ultimately, the potential dramatic power of the episode’s main plot feels dulled by the reality that constitutes yet another micro-romance for Dunham’s character. It’s a gentle indulgence but an indulgence nonetheless.

It’s the side-plot is where the real cracks begin to show. Season 5 saw some pretty major changes to the emotional dynamics and status quo of the show. However, almost immediately (and frustratingly), the show backpedals on a lot of these major milestones for its characters. The series choice to rekindle the utterly toxic relationship between Marney (Allison Williams) and Dessie (Ebon Moss-Bachrach) weighs upon it particularly badly.

The second episode (“Hostage Situation”) feels like a further manifestation of these issues. On one side you’ve got a “Beach House”-styled getaway story centered around Hannah, Marnie and Dessie. On the other, you’ve got a side-story that takes Jessa (Jemima Kirke) , Shoshana (Zosia Mamet), Ray (Alex Karpovsky) and Elijah (Andrew Rannells) to a networking event.

Though some good lines are snuck in, neither of these plots really get enough screentime or scriptwork to land with the same level of pathos or gravitas. As a result, it all feels very disposable.

Season 6 of Girls seems to be making a genuine effort to focus on its original cast but fails to catalyze upon what makes them interesting. It feels like the show is recycling it’s greatest hits rather than building to a crescendo.

Aside from the brief montage that opens the first episode, it never really delivers on the pitch for the shows final season: seeing these great characters grow up. Let’s hope the remaining episodes of Season 6 can bridge that gap.

Girls premieres on Foxtel’s Showcase on February 13th