BBC wheels out Erica Jong to riff on Girls, and this is one of the things she says, of the characters:
Her heroines have been seen as ‘unlikeable’ — does anybody ever find a male hero ‘unlikeable’? Never! Whether it’s Tony Soprano or Philip Roth’s Zuckerman, or even James Bond, male protagonists are never subjected to such criticism.
If this were ever the case, it’s certainly not now. Out here in the real world (i.e., the internet) “unlikeable” is the standard, unapologetically tautological, go-to critique, not just of characters but of the works which contain them and the writers who wrote them. Why don’t you like it? Because it’s UNLIKEABLE. Case closed. Everyone’s unlikeable, everyone’s characters are unlikeable, everyone’s books are unlikeable, and you have to point it all out. “This guy is a jerk” is annoying as a would-be literary critique, even when it concerns characters in books I haven’t written. But it is our cultural standard. Check out Goodreads sometime. No, don’t.
I am a great admirer of the writing in Girls — it’s among the best writing ever in a TV drama, I think, and some of it has just knocked me flat and sparked actual applause in my living room. The moral and aesthetic ambivalence with regard to the characters is its greatest strength. But like it or not, the world doesn’t approve of moral and aesthetic ambivalence these days, no matter who you are. Which is to say, we are all Lena Dunham, innit?