It’s easy to go after a character like Shoshanna from “Girls.” She’s intentionally been created as an outsider even though she’s part of the core group. She’s quirky, gullible, naïve and less experienced than everyone else. But she’s more than a throwaway character, and as her impact on the “Girls” dynamic has broadened, her character arc has needed some tweaking. And although every “Girls” fan seems to have an opinion on what that tweaking should entail, very few agree.
Recently Margaret Lyons posited the question, “What is going on with Shoshanna?” Her premise was that Shoshanna, although never her favorite character, was even more on the outs thanks to her seemingly random and dimwitted actions in the first two episodes of season three. To understand what’s going on with Shoshanna, you have to examine her character in a wider context. She is the bridge for viewers who are, themselves, somewhere between the likes of “The Carrie Diaries” and the antics of Hannah and company. Shoshanna is the prequel.
A character like Shoshanna, Kramer, or even the lovable, laughable Joey from “Friends” serve as more than a punch line for their more sophisticated, worldly-wise compatriots. They offer a view of the world in which these characters live that is more than just another tired selfie. Yes, they are usually not the brightest bulbs in the tanning bed, and that simplicity is exploited and exaggerated just as the grandiose egos and self-involvement of other characters is made bigger than life. This is TV, and that’s what makes it fun.
Taking Shoshanna from sheltered virgin to a more self-aware, sexually awakened woman is tricky business and, just as in real life, will probably have some pitfalls along the way. The girl deserves some props for stepping out of her comfort zone, kicking Ray to the curb and dipping her toe into unknown waters. Drastic life changes like that can tip anyone’s crazy scales a little bit. Shoshanna’s seemingly uncharacteristic behavior looks like nothing more than a post-breakup, pre-breakthrough unraveling.
And when the person unraveling is already a bit off-center, their process is likely to be a little more tilted than many of us are used to. What might be off-putting to Ms. Lyons and others is that this character, whose very nature makes so many viewers uncomfortable, finally did something the rest of us would do. Her ballsy breakup made us start to feel her. But now, in true Shoshanna form, she’s falling down the post-breakup rabbit hole in her own, unique way and we’ve lost that tenuous connection.
Perhaps the willingness to dismiss Shosh as someone who can’t make medical decisions for herself is just a tactic to avoid honestly looking at this character and her motivations because she makes us uneasy. We like everything to fit into a nice box we can seal with a pretty, satin ribbon and when something doesn’t fit it’s easy to dismiss the ill-fitting item as wrong, rather than considering that maybe this particular box just isn’t big enough.
One of the best things about “Girls” is that it goes against the grain, whether it’s Hannah’s breast-baring ping pong game or Shoshanna’s urge to play truth or dare with her BFFs. In Ms. Lyon’s examination Shoshanna’s behavior is dismissed as not being a clue to her personality, but the total sum of it. A closer look might reveal that something as silly as a game of truth or dare is a last-ditch effort to recapture some of the comfort and safety of childhood before leaving its last vestiges behind, as Shoshanna is doing as her time in college comes to a close. Shoshanna’s essential wants are still something of mystery to Shoshanna, so how can we expect to know more than the character?
Part of being where Shoshanna is in life is figuring out who you are, what you stand for, what you want and what you will no longer put up with. She seems to be doing that. Her flattening out may just be part of preparing the canvas for what comes next. Is it likely to be an over-the-top coming of age lesson? Probably. Does that make it any less valid as a young woman’s journey? I think not.
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