We knew from the beginning that Girls would be a TV series we’d love to hate. What we couldn’t have known is that one of its most insufferable elements would also make for comparatively excellent television. Girls is ultimately satirical in effect, but it’s painstakingly detailed and realistic as a portrait of an articulately tongue-tied generation with lofty ambitions and no immediate prospects. Half its viewership hates it for that very reason (they would be advised to people-watch on the L train for 10 minutes and then look in a mirror), while the other half will love it forever. Everyone who watches Girls, I believe, can agree that, insofar as it depicts Gen Y with frightening accuracy, it has produced a string of characters you occasionally want to see murdered with a shovel. At the end of the day, we’re all selfish assholes with hearts of gold. Girls gets that much right.
When the series debuted in 2012, many observers seemed offended that the privileged daughters of theatre, film, music, television and art-world royalty had been cast in a TV show about being down-and-out in New York. As the show improved and the outcry increased, it became clearer that people were just looking for an excuse to complain about the existence a show run by two millennial women in an industry run by older men. (Except for the racial representation critique. That… was a problem).
It’s with no small amount of love in our hearts, then, that we mark the start of Girls’ final season by ranking the series’ major and recurring characters (and their bizarrely forgettable last names) by the degree to which we could stand to be in a room with them, even for a second.
Lots of characters on Girls do weird shit. Only one seems certifiably… unwell. Caroline explodes onto the scene exactly as we’d expect Adam’s sister to explode. But unlike Adam—who is a troubled dude, for sure—Caroline is completely unreasonable. Every time she shows up it means either a screaming fight with Adam (as in her first appearance, “She Said OK”) or some creepy stabs at self-help. I don’t want to pick on her too much, because the show makes it very clear that she’s mentally ill, but Girls handles the topic of mental illness with far more nuance when it comes to Hannah: Caroline is an overblown caricature of the kind of person you’d do well to stay far away from. Even when she’s glowing over her pregnancy, you want to claw your eyes out. Plus, after irresponsibly using her birth to make a point about the “birth industrial complex”—threatening the safety of her child in the process—and cursing her daughter with the name Hannah Jessa Bluebell Poem, she walked out on Laird and their baby without any warning. Even in absentia, she’s still ruining everyone’s lives.
He may not have stuck around for long, but Jasper was the rare example of someone who was a worse influence on Jessa than she was on them. Grant borrowed a good amount of his Withnail and I charisma to play Jessa’s destructive rehab friend. His performance was great, but Jasper was the kind of creep only Jessa would seek out for sui generis Jessa reasons. Then again, she didn’t really seek him out at all. This weirdo basically tracked Jessa down after leaving rehab, pushing her back into substance abuse and petty theft, and causing her to quit her new, stable job at a children’s boutique. Eventually, he left to seek out his estranged daughter—maybe she knows how to deal with him. Regardless, Jasper was a hyperactive, off-putting eccentric and trouble from the word go.
Look, I love Shoshanna, and I wish her the best. She’s a much better person than most of the people who show up on Girls. (Except for that time she cheated on Ray and never told him about it. That better get resolved.) She’s lost, and she’s trying to be found. Shosh may go about it in ineffective, Pinterest-y ways, but she believes she’s working hard on herself, and that’s more than can be said for the rest of the main cast. Girls could also be seen as Shoshanna’s coming-of-age, even more so than Hannah’s. She loses her virginity, graduates college, gets her first boyfriend and job, loses both, goes overseas, comes back, and by the end of Season Five she’s basically where, say, Jessa starts off in Season One. Unfortunately, Shosh’s personality is so goddamn exhausting it supersedes all of this. She talks a mile a minute until her voice is hoarse, and seems utterly incapable of de-stressing or taking anything with humor. God bless her, but Shoshanna is the walking headache the Universe sent you for a roommate freshman year, and despite her personal growth, that’s still who you’d be stuck talking to.
To be fair, some of the shine is taken off Desi’s deplorability by Ebon Moss-Bachrach’s hysterically on-point performance. He underlines Desi’s every action with a sickening blend of faux-modesty and unctuousness. However, when you’re watching someone do that character that well, it becomes magnetic, rather than irritating (Desi is responsible for perhaps my favorite line in the entire series: “You know you recoiled from my touch just now”). Still, a great performance alone can’t save Desi. He’s a shallow, emotionally manipulative poseur who makes himself out to be the victim whenever he’s caught as an abuser. Before he marries Marnie, he’s playing hooky during their concerts—a big red flag. Even after their merciful split, he’s still getting blown in his dressing room by a (questionably young) fan, all while asking her how much she likes his music. A fitting end to the series would be for him to be crushed by a falling satellite.
It might seem completely unfair to lump in Clementine with Desi just because of their relationship. Clementine was totally justified in her suspicion and treatment of Marnie, who was, after all—not to mince words—getting her butt eaten by Desi while he and Clementine were still together. However, it’s revealed in Season Four that Clementine was also cheating on Desi at the same time, and breaks up with him because of it— underlining Girls’ arguable thesis that everyone is just horrible to each other all the time. And Clementine did traffic in Desi’s painful hippy-dippy bullshit. We can, I think, be rightly wary of anyone who would voluntarily spend time with him.
Here are some things Booth Jonathan says in his first appearance alone: “Try to give less of a shit.” “The High Line is kind of bullshit.” “I want you to know, the first time I fuck you, it might scare you a little. Because I’m a man. And I know how to do things.” It should be a given that the famous artist with his name in the wrong order who hires Marnie as his assistant/not-girlfriend would be a garbage person, but it bears repeating. This guy places higher than Desi only because he’s a completely unrepentant dick and he knows it. You have to respect that a little. (But not that much.)
I’m tempted to give Thomas-John a few points just for being responsible for one of Girls’ best freakout lines: “I JUST WANT TO BE BALLS DEEP IN… SOMETHING!” But that doesn’t mean Jessa’s “husband” (remember when that happened?) wasn’t the aggro finance bro from our worst nightmares. Everything about this guy, from his nice-ass suits to his presumptuous, pathetic attempts to rope Jessa and Marnie into a threesome, was more than just sleazy. Maybe there’s an element of projection here: Thomas-John and his ilk—dissatisfied, yes, but inordinately wealthy—are what the characters on Girls fear the most. Fear becoming, relying on, or losing someone to. By extension, maybe Thomas-John represents the fears of the larger Girls demographic. I don’t know, though. I don’t know anything about anything.
Hannah’s one-time e-book editor was the kind of necessary evil she’s likely to encounter more and more as she begins to take her writing career more seriously (perhaps Chelsea Peretti’s Vice-like magazine editor?). He was a gatekeeper who appeared to be stringing Hannah along, though her indecision surrounding the book didn’t help matters. Overall, David treated their professional relationship too personally for Hannah—and us—to get comfortable around him. His drunken antics even lead to a fistfight with Ray. Ray. And if you thought he was going to get a pass because he, you know, died? Well, in death he didn’t get much better, apparently having lived a Grindr-centric double life that he kept from his family.
Fuck. This. Guy. This Anderson Cooper-esque news anchor may be a charming and grounded high-society-type on the surface, but in breaking Elijah’s heart he revealed himself to be a calculated and manipulative douchebag who preys on the fantasies of young men for his own gain. Yes, someone could potentially have a delightful time with Dill, complete with a fancy cocktail and light schmoozing, maybe even a free vacation and some passionate oral sex, but they would invariably be left with the feeling they’ve just been played. We were always going to be naturally suspicious of Dill, if only because of his social status. But that doesn’t mean the revelation in “Hello Kitty” that Elijah was one of many men Dill was taking advantage of didn’t hurt. Elijah was completely blindsided, and yet managed to remain open and vulnerable enough to approach Dill to ask if they could be exclusive. The fact that Dill had the gall to reject Elijah and thank him in the same sentence was unforgivable.
In every conceivable way, Laird belongs in the middle of this list. Hannah’s downstairs neighbor and one-time fuck buddy (it was for an essay) is a pretty reliable, mostly harmless guy. The kind of ex-drug addict who can still get you coke. As with Clementine and Desi, it’s his association with and devotion to Caroline that raises eyebrows. After all, he did consent to name their child Jessa Hannah Bluebell Poem Schlesinger-Sackler, and then gave her the nickname “Sample” and a (hand-knit) beanie to match his. Caroline seems to bring out, not the worst in Laird, but definitely the Laird in Laird. He may not be as volatile and unpleasant as she is, but after they got together, conversations with Laird became as circular and endless as any with Caroline. He absolutely did not deserve the treatment he got from Caroline, but he should have known what he was getting in to.
By herself, conceptual artist Mimi-Rose isn’t all that bad. Her sudden appearance as Adam’s girlfriend was a surprise, but she was sweet, kind, funny, whip-smart and brought out the best in Adam. More than maybe any character on this list, she knows what she wants out of life and is completely assured in her own choices. Adam may have flown off the handle upon discovering that Mimi-Rose had an abortion without consulting him, but she was in the right and knows it. Mimi-Rose is an adult. However, when her insufferable ex-partner, Ace (Zachary Quinto), enters the picture, we realize that she may be a little too adult. Mimi-Rose handles conflict with infuriating calm and control. She even starts to sound like a fucking therapist, saying things like “I’m distracted right now by these feelings of jealousy,” and walking herself through her rationale for returning to Ace right in front of Adam. By the time she leaves for good, the only person truly sad to see her go is Hannah. That should speak for itself.
I feel really bad for those girls who have been dubbed the “Marnie” of their friend group, which is basically shorthand for “bitch.” But that ugly assessment doesn’t do justice to Marnie, nor to Allison Williams’ increasingly fantastic performance. She does hit some cringeworthy and blithely un-self-aware lows (in brief: that music video, the “Stronger” quasi-cover she sang in front of everyone at Charlie’s company, announcing her and Desi’s engagement right after Ray’s campaign victory speech, etc.), but she’s also grown the most out of any of the major characters. I cannot, cannot hear her sing, talk about music or fawn over Desi anymore, but thankfully, with their recent split, those days seem to be behind us. Here’s to a Season Six Marnie that we may want to spend time with. I have my fingers crossed and my hopes high.
This is the last entry I wrote, and it took me all that time to decide where to place Hannah. In talking with friends about this, I think I find Hannah a lot more tolerable than most people do. Moment to moment, she seems like a delight. It’s just over long periods of time that one comes to the realization that she uses the people around her for selfish reasons. And Hannah is incredibly selfish. She cannot read a room to save her life (Shoshanna’s Japanese co-workers would say she is lacking in “ky,” or the ability to “read the air”), and must be a phenomenally frustrating person to be friends with. But Girls is her story. And Lena Dunham knows what she’s doing with it. Compare her reaction to discovering Mimi-Rose was dating Adam to her reaction that Jessa was dating Adam. I almost stood up and cheered during Hannah’s Moth storytelling debut, a moment that should have been grating and awkward but ended up indicating more than anything else the amazing progress she has made. However, that doesn’t mean Hannah doesn’t have major interpersonal issues she still needs to work out.
There’s a reason so many hapless men fall for Jessa. She’s mean, impulsive and in control. Of course, that’s a front, and it doesn’t take long for people to suss that out, forcing Jessa to constantly one-up herself in a way no one can possibly sustain. Season Two’s “Video Games” gave us some very necessary information on Jessa’s family life, helping to explain what exactly her deal was (and hey, that was Rogue One’s Ben Mendelsohn as her dad!). And Jessa is fun to be around, no doubt. She’s just self-aware enough that in a room full of bullshit people I would probably rely on her a lot (her initial reactions to Thomas-John were the saving grace of that absurd almost-three-way scene). But one simply cannot live their life the way Jessa lives hers, and in spending enough time with her, that is what she will eventually ask of you. Hannah may be selfish in her general perspective, but Jessa is more aggressively selfish, in that she just takes whatever she wants with no restraint (as when she gets herself and Adam arrested for public urination for no reason). Also, I will never forgive her for talking about Paris so much in the first episode.
Poor Charlie has been bounced around roles on this show more than anyone else—and I include that time that Ray ran for city council in order to spite Marc Maron. Introduced in the first season as Marnie’s sweet but suffocating long-term boyfriend (who apparently was pursuing a career as a songwriter?), Charlie returned as a bossy Internet entrepreneur, no longer a pushover but now kind of a dick. When a newly married Marnie runs into Charlie on the street years later in Season Five’s “The Panic in Central Park,” he’s become a common street thug. He carries a knife, sells cocaine, and lives in a heroin den. Yet this is the Charlie who—up until the heroin thing comes to light—draws Marnie back into a one-night stand. To be honest, that’s probably the Charlie I’d most want to hang out with, too. Toxic though he may be, Charlie has mellowed considerably since his grating early appearances. Maybe more of these characters should try heroin.
To be honest, I kind of forgot about these guys. That’s no surprise, considering the bulk of the main cast had no idea they even existed. The wealthy couple Jessa briefly babysat for wasn’t intolerable, just super depressing—Jeff (pictured) more so than Katherine. She had her (clearly successful) career as a documentary filmmaker, and was shockingly cool to Jessa about Jeff’s marriage-ending infatuation with her—they somehow manage to bond over Katherine’s jokey descriptions of the violent dreams she’s been having about Jessa. Jeff, on the other hand, didn’t really have anything in the end. So, while I imagine we’ve all spent quite enough time around the kinds of rich people whose kids we take care of, Katherine and Jeff were normal enough, I guess. Plus, it’s always a delight to see Kathryn Hahn in anything.
Again, not intolerable, just punishingly dull. Fran was to Hannah what Nathalia was to Adam: a nice person for her to be weird to. The difference between Nathalia and Fran was that Fran eventually snapped under the pressure of dating Hannah Horvath. His epic “fuck you Hannah” rant after she breaks up with him at the beginning of their summer road trip verbalized everything we’ve ever wanted to say to her, at the exact volume we’ve always wanted to say it. However, he did then leave her stranded in the woods. So I guess Fran’s yuppie, buttoned-down, “nice guy” façade was just that: a façade. Still, his repressed anger and collection of his ex-lovers’ nude photos was about the only interesting thing about him.
Were it not for her latest appearance, Tally would rank lowlowlow on this list. Introduced as a foil for Hannah in the first season, Tally is an endlessly aggravating thorn in her side. They may have graduated together, but by the time the series begins, Tally has become successful in every way Hannah has not. She’s the one with the fancy book deal who runs in cool literary circles and, even when appearing to be perfectly nice, never misses an opportunity to rub it all in the face of her former Oberlin peers. Hell, if Lena Dunham existed in Larry Sanders form in the Girls universe, she’d probably look a lot like Tally. But Girls responsibly fleshed out her character into someone a little more sympathetic: We’d been seeing her through Hannah’s rose-tinted lenses the whole time. Of course, she’s her own human with her own fair share of insecurities, as we realize once Tally and Hannah sit down to hang out and quickly discover how similar they are. Ultimately, she’s like a lot of Jenny Slate’s characters: a super-cool stoner chick.
Though Elijah is low-key one of the biggest messes on this show, he scores major points for being one of the only people who regularly calls Hannah on her shit (he also manages to call Ted Horvath’s sexuality way back in his first onscreen conversation with Hannah). And while his life may be one left-turn away from completely falling apart at any second, the dude is a snappy dresser with a million-dollar haircut who is a ton of fun to hang out with and doesn’t bring nearly as much baggage to the party as the other main characters. Plus, he seems willing to drop anything for his friends, as evidenced by his sudden move to Iowa to surprise Hannah at school. Sure, that may have been selfishly motivated as well, to some degree, but he did something that made another human being happy, and in the Girls-iverse that counts for a lot.
Loreen and Tad have hit a rough spot lately. Both have become bitter and skittish, respectively, since Tad came out of the closet in Season Four. Which is completely understandable. Last we left them, they seemed to be on the mend, content to stay together in name only, as best friends. Which speaks to what we love about them, and what, I think, initially made us frustrated with Hannah. How could someone with such loving parents wind up so goddamn difficult? Or maybe that’s inevitable. Anyway, in each of their appearances, Loreen and Tad typified the dorky parents who called Netflix “some really fun Netflix” but left some pasta in the fridge. They try as hard as anyone to be decent people. More than any other couple on the show, I hope they work it out.
Adam was the complicating element that hooked a lot of people on Girls in the first place. “That Lena Dunham show is great, and she’s got this freaky shirtless boyfriend who needs to be seen to be believed.” Adam Driver is phenomenal; all of his character’s tics and eccentricities are fully lived-in and spontaneous in his hands. No one is surprised that of all the people who started out on Girls, he is now the huge movie star. And Girls clearly realized that Adam was as essential to the show’s emotional DNA as anyone, and quickly. But Adam Driver’s charm can make it difficult to assess Adam Sackler as a character. His perversity ranged from cartoonish (peeing on Hannah in the shower) to serious and disturbing (the infamous “On All Fours” scene, or his violent fight-fuck-sesh with Jessa). Driver makes it easy to forget that Adam is, like, shouty and unpleasant and… dangerous. The show played his stalker-ish obsession with Hannah for laughs, but he’s absolutely the kind of guy you should call the cops on without hesitation. And yet, he’s just so fucking cool that I can’t help myself. I’m part of the problem.
Hermie is basically just a good guy. Responsible. Good-natured. Though we know very little about Ray’s family life, Hermie quickly emerged as a sort-of father figure to him. He even passes on his coffee shop, Cafe Grumpy, to Ray after revealing that he’s dying. While he did mock Marnie’s music video in a way that prompted a bit of a breakdown on her part, that thing totally deserved it, and he later stepped in to counsel Shosh on her Japanese job prospects with Ray unavailable. We don’t necessarily see much of Hermie throughout the series, but he also hasn’t done anything to piss us, the good viewers, off, and his influence is largely responsible for Ray’s mid-series maturation. That’s enough for me.
Nathalia never did nothing to nobody. As a brief girlfriend of Adam’s in Season Two, she was only ever incredibly kind, not to mention outrageously patient when it came to Adam’s brutish tendencies. She attempts to teach him how to be a goddamn adult, even at his most Kowalski-ish, and then what happens? Nathalia is made the target of Adam’s sexual humiliation in the series’ darkest and most troubling scene, and then is promptly dumped so that he can rescue Hannah. She’s so nice that even when she bumps into Adam at Cafe Grumpy in Season Three, she refuses to give him the verbal lashing he deserves. Her more outspoken friend (Amy Schumer) has to do it for her. Christ, we should all send her an Edible Arrangement just for putting up with this shitty world.
If you’ve only seen the pilot of Girls, Ray may seem like an unlikely candidate for the title of “Most Tolerable Girls Character.” He’s introduced as Charlie’s asshole best friend, the guy who hangs around making creepy jokes at parties and pawing through Hannah’s diary and underwear for laughs. By the time he’s begun a tentative romance with Shoshanna, however, he’s become the only character on the show we actually trust. Five seasons later, Ray is the beating heart of Girls: a grumpy, sour apple, for sure, but one who deeply cares about the well-being of others, and actually forces his behavior to change in order to better the lives of those around him. From Season Two’s “Boys” on, we think of him as the guy who helped return the dog, all first season transgressions forgiven. Ray’s undying love for Marnie may not be the show’s most believable thread, but when a fully tuxedoed Ray wades into a pond in order to snap Desi out of his cold feet on her wedding day? Whoo-ee. On a show that fetishizes poor judgment and selfish reasoning, Ray is a good man. That’s more than the best we can ask for.
Graham Techler is a New York-based writer and actor. Follow him at @grahamtechler.