I Keep Watching Girls Because it Keeps Making Me So Uncomfortable

TV therapy: Can Lena Dunham set me free?

I finally sat down and watched the most recent, much-discussed episode of Girls last night. I’ve been putting it off, not because I don’t like the show, or because I’ve been busy, but because watching Girls is painful. I’ve watched bodies dissolve in bath tubs on Breaking Bad, and a woman gouge her own eye out in The Following, and still, still, no show has been as excruciating to watch as Girls.

The agony, of course, is in the awkwardness. It’s a slow build. Take the latest episode: The scene opens, and Hannah is crouched in a jumper clearly meant to be summer pajamas. I raise an eyebrow. Ray has one of his weirdly heated confrontations with the strong-jawed Patrick Wilson. I scrunch my face. Hannah enters Strong Jaw’s house unceremoniously. I shake my head and quietly mouth “noooo … ” She assaults his mouth. I clench my scalp. He unbecomingly begs her not to leave; dirty talk ensues, a nipple appears, and I hit the pause button, because now I’m so uncomfortable that breathing is hard.

Every week, I sit down for this 25-minute dose of mortification, and while I get plenty of good chuckles out of the show, I think it’s become more an exercise in psychological stamina than leisure.

There’s a lot to say about our psychosocial response to Girls, and a lot being said. This last episode, in particular, with the naked ping-pong and all, has been quite the Internet bomb. Reactions to Girls, and the reactions to those reactions, are pretty pervasive at this point, and normally, when a show hits that level of over-analysis (read: Mad Men), I roll my eyes and declare myself over it.

But Girls has gotten too personal. I care less about naked Lena Dunham’s cultural significance to us, consumers of entertainment and social animals, than I do about what it’s saying to me every week. Whether I’m averting my eyes as Hannah’s breasts jiggle through a mesh jersey, or fighting back a tantrum of rage as aimless, pretentious, all-too-familiar Jessa pouts and prosthelytizes, this show probes my phobias, anger-triggers, and insecurities better than a therapist.

To me, watching Girls is sort of a psychiatric conditioning. After all, I don’t want to be the type of person who cringes when they see pubic hair on TV, or when someone says “hymen.” I want to fight the hand-to-shocked-mouth reflex that kicks in when Adam and/or Marnie is masturbating, and I don’t want to be the prim crank suggesting that a tasteful bra has never ruined a game of ping pong.

That’s not to say it’s all an exercise in humiliation. I chilled a little bit, last night, at the end of the episode, when Hannah tearfully speculated that “something inside [her was] broken,” only to watch Wilson’s character unceremoniously detach. And then she takes out his trash! Emptied his literal baggage and carried it to his front stoop, evicted from paradise. Catharsis is as much a part of this show as comedy and shock. For me, these moments offer clarity in the cringing.

So even though it’s weird, and maybe getting a little schticky this season, and may prove to be more of a 2012 hashtag, I’m going to keep watching Girls. Because I have something to prove to myself. And because it’s cheaper than therapy.