A review of tonight’s “Girls” coming up just as soon as I pass you an STD but enjoy your quirky web presence…
HBO has a long history of sending critics three or four episodes of new series, and it’s generally paid off well. I wouldn’t have been able to make heads or tails of “The Wire” – let alone say whether I liked it – at the end of the first hour, but by the time I got to the fourth episode on those ancient VHS tapes, I’d gotten to know Bubbs and Kima, to understand the dynamics of the Barksdale crew, to watch McNulty and The Bunk communicate entirely through use of the F-word, etc. I didn’t know everything the show was capable of, but I knew enough to know how badly I wanted to see more.
With “Girls,” I liked the pilot episode, but it was the next two episodes – particularly the last few scenes of this one featuring Hannah and/or Marnie – that cemented how I felt about it. I’m not sure anything could have quite bridged the huge gap that many viewers felt between what they read in all the rapturous reviews and what they saw in that first half-hour, but I definitely think this is an instance where letting the entire world have access to the first three episodes at once might have been a wise strategy.(*)
(*) On last week’s podcast, Fienberg and I talked about whether the Netflix model of releasing an entire season of a show upfront might be something that pay cable channels try. Our feeling was that it’s not practical – if, say, you only subscribe to HBO each year for the three months that “Game of Thrones” is on, and you can get access to the entire season within a day, then HBO just lost two months’ worth of fees from you – but agreed it might be a worthy experiment for HBO, Showtime, etc. to put the first 3 or 4 episodes of a new series On Demand all at once, to give viewers on the fence a greater sample size to judge from.
But we’re going to leave aside the “Girls” backlash, the backlash to the backlash, the backlash to the backlash to the backlash, etc., going forward. “All Adventurous Women Do” was the episode that won me over for good for a number of reasons.
On a basic level, it’s the most consistently funny episode yet, starting off with Marnie and Hannah’s reactions to Charlie’s shaved head (and Charlie and Hannah giving it to each other in equal measure with the “hex on some popular girls”/”American History X”/”Go tweet that” exchange), moving through Adam’s gross behavior being more ridiculous than ever (the obvious lie about how he couldn’t have HPV because “my best dyke friend works for a dick doctor,” the furious upside-down bicycle twirls as a signal that he wants to be alone), the inherently amusing phrase “cellist with the loose joint disorder,” Jessa’s young charges being so precocious that one has written a “novel” that includes characters who attend AA, Hannah and Shoshanna discussing STD etiquette and the entirety of Hannah’s mortifying reunion with her college boyfriend Eli.
The Shoshanna and Eli scenes in particular were great examples of using comedy to drive character and theme. On the one hand, it’s funny that virginal, sheltered Shoshanna is the one presuming knowledge of what’s socially appropriate in “the STD world,” and that she continues to measure her own life experience from questionable sources (in this case, “Baggage”). On the other, the discussion of “Baggage” leads to a genuine connection between these two relative strangers, and some painful yet funny self-reflection from Hannah, who continues her pattern of bathroom cupcake-eating.
And though it wasn’t much of a surprise to us that Elijah had changed teams – Hannah’s earlier conviction that Elijah was still in love with her seemed designed for the opposite to be true, and as she notes to him, his new mannerisms and sense of style weren’t exactly subtle – Lena Dunham still did a terrific job at playing how hurt and angry and simply embarrassed Hannah was by this news. (Hint: when an ex tells you his move out of the closet was “very much inspired by you,” it is not the compliment it may have been intended as.) I liked that Hannah started firing back at him, and that, as in the Charlie scene, Elijah responded in kind. Whether we sympathize with Hannah or not in general, or in this specific instance, the show doesn’t let her off the hook easily, nor does it let her be the clever girl who’s always verbally getting the better of her opponents. Elijah makes a big deal out of getting the last word over her, and both Adam and Charlie do earlier in different ways.
The episode also did a nice job of expanding the show’s world through some smart guest-casting, including Andrew Rannells from “The Book of Mormon” as Elijah, Jorma Taccone from The Lonely Island as the artist who inspires feelings of lust(*) in Marnie that Charlie hasn’t made her feel in forever, and, in separate scenes, Kathryn Hahn and James LeGros as the parents of the girls Jessa is nannying for. Both the workaholic Manhattan mom and the mid-life crisis husband are stock types, but our limited glimpses of both Hahn and LeGros suggested shadings within the stereotypes, even though it’s clear LeGros could very well have made a move on Jessa if not for the intrusion of little Beatrix.
(*) I can’t remember which of the many, many Lena Dunham profiles I saw this in, but she acknowledged that the “I’m a man, and I know how to do things” move is the kind of thing that would totally turn her on if a character in a movie said it, but would seem incredibly gross if a guy actually tried to use it on her. There are very clear differences between what’s romantic in a movie and in real life, just as there are between what’s sexy in fiction and when it’s happening to you.
More than anything, what sold me on “All Adventurous Women” do, and on “Girls” in general, was the last scene of Hannah wrestling with what to tweet(**) about recent horrible developments before borrowing the Jessa credo that gives the episode its title, cranking up Robyn’s “Dancing On My Own” and living up to its title. It’s been a shitty day, one where nothing has gone the way Hannah wanted it to, and leaving her feeling very much out of control of her life. But she can control what she writes, what she listens to, and how she moves when there’s no one around to see, or even if Marnie’s there. And what Marnie admires about Hannah – and what makes Hannah oddly likable even though she’s a spoiled, self-destructive twit so much of the time – is the sense of joy and indefatigable spirit she expresses when she’s bouncing around in her room like that. Her spirit’s infectious in a moment like that, and of course Marnie would join in – in a lovely shot that shows the best friends through the doorframe to Hannah’s room, making us understand that we can see the moment they’re sharing without being allowed to be a part of it – before Hannah wraps her in a loving embrace.
(**) There is, in fact, a Hannah Horvath Twitter account run by Dunham, but she hasn’t posted anything on it yet. When I interviewed Dunham in January, she said she wasn’t sure if she’d be able to differentiate her own account enough from Hannah’s to make it worthwhile, and it appears that everyone has given up the ghost, just holding onto the name so no one else can use it.
What did everybody else think?