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British actress Olivia Williams with sabre fish.
HBO’s “Girls” began its second season last Sunday night — on the same night it won all those Golden Globes — following a polarizing first season that was wildly adored by some (including me) and wildly despised by others. One of the major flashpoints, if not the major flashpoint, was race. The first season of “Girls” was very, very white — an issue that comes up in the first two episodes, with Lena Dunham’s character Hannah Horvath dating a guy played by “Community’s” Donald Glover, who we learn tonight is also a Republican. Jenni Konner, the show’s executive producer and co-showrunner alongside Dunham, spoke with me about black Republicans, the “Girls” backlash and the things that really worry her and Lena Dunham.
It feels to me like the show has gotten more comedic and broad as it has gone on.
I honestly think that Lena just got more comfortable writing comedy. But I also think — I’m not allowed to tell you anything obviously — but the end of the season gets really heavy. And we knew where it was going, and so part of it was just starting in a place that was like, “What happens when Hannah’s dreams come true?” And part of it was also just girding up for the end. But I think if you look at the first season, by the time we got to ten, things were getting pretty wild with the wedding and the car accident and stuff. So I think we were just going forward in that tone, not in a broader tone than that.
Was that broadening intentional?
We really made no corrections like that at all. I really think as we went along it’s that Lena just doubled her amount of knowledge with everything we shot. We got better at stuff, and it just got funnier, and we got to know the characters better. But we didn’t make any adjustments. Like, we had booked Donald Glover months before anyone started talking about the race stuff because we were talking about the race stuff. That’s why even during the first season people sort of quieted down about it because we started having more people of color in the show. And we were ahead of that, so I wasn’t surprised when everyone got upset because it’s about a bunch of white girls.
My sense at the time was that you guys hadn’t talked about it extensively.
We had definitely talked about it. We just weren’t going to be like, “Hey! We have Donald Glover coming! Oh, we’ve got a black guy coming up!” We hadn’t talked about it in the way the Twitterverse talked about it.
Donald Glover’s character is a Republican. Where did that come from?
There was always an idea of a Republican character, and we didn’t know where we were going to put him. Lena’s best friend Audrey, whom Marnie is based on, who also plays the character Audrey [Charlie’s new girlfriend], is actually in government. She works with Scott Stringer. And so we’ve always wanted to do a political story, and it just all came together. But we booked Donald Glover before we knew exactly who he was going to be just because I’m a huge fan of his. I was listening to him on the WTF podcast and I was like “Oh my God, this guy is so interesting, and he would be such a fun character to have.” But we also always wanted to put one of the girls with a Republican just to see how little they knew.
Did you want to make Glover’s character Republican almost as a way not just to put a black guy on the show, not just to do what there was pressure to do, but to add a twist?
No. We approach all the characters the same way, which is just [to ask], “what would be the funniest thing to do?”
Are you nervous about how people are going to react to that storyline?
Honestly, that’s the last thing I’m worried about. I’m worried about so much other stuff.
What are you worried about?
Well I can’t tell you. But we take on stuff at the end, tonally. We do two or three of those capsule episodes where we’re somewhere else doing something else with someone you don’t know. We get kind of heavy and talk about some other serious issues. I just feel like, that’s the thing I’m focusing on, and I don’t know, maybe people are going freak out about [the Glover storyline]. I don’t think so though. I would be surprised, but then, I was surprised the first time.
How much attention did you pay to the criticism?
I cared, but right when [the backlash] was happening, we had just started shooting, so I could do [only] so [many] Internet self-loathing searches, you know? And I didn’t hear that much of it. I was paying attention to it. If I hadn’t been in production on a show that we didn’t have all the scripts for, I would have had a lot more time to like sit around and torture myself, but I literally didn’t have the time in the day. We were shooting like 15-hour days. It was great. And Judd [Apatow] was just like, “Just don’t, just don’t, just keep your head down.”
Has it surprised you how strongly people feel about these characters?
No. One of the reasons “Boogie Nights” is one of my favorite movies is because it’s about people in this gross industry, but they actually treat each other kind of like family. And at the end of the day they’re really kind to each other, and I feel like, that is what we have. People say really shitty stuff to their friends, especially at that age, and depend on their friends for things they shouldn’t and ask too much of people and kind of hate their best friends and all of that. But, that being said, I just think at the end of the day any of them could call any of the others from a Mexican prison and they’d rescue them. Other than Elijah.
Willa Paskin is Salon's staff TV writer. More Willa Paskin.
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