A review of tonight’s “Girls” – which HBO officially renewed on Friday – coming up just as soon as I punch someone who’s been on a Disney Channel show…
Last week, “Girls” acknowledged some of the criticisms hurled at the show with the very meta Sandy and Hannahs break-up scene. With “Bad Friend,” the show doesn’t bother going meta, instead making a case for the series value the more straight-forward way: with an episode expertly marrying the series’ comic and emotional sides.
For the bulk of the half hour, “Bad Friend” is pure farce, with Hannah and Elijah experimenting with cocaine in one storyline while Marnie gets reacquainted with Booth Jonathan (he of the infamous “I’m a man. I know how to do things.” speech from early last season) in the other. Hannah has an amusingly awkward encounter with her ex-junkie neighbor Laird(*), and then she and Elijah give in too deeply to the idea of what it’s like to use coke and go clubbing (including a reminder that Lena Dunham dancing will always be entertaining). Marnie, meanwhile, gets trapped in Booth Jonathan’s art installation, forced to listen to Duncan Sheik on a loop while assaulted by horrific TV imagery (in a scene made all the funnier by our glimpses of Booth checking his email and calmly puttering around his studio) until she’s so overwhelmed by the experience that she declares, “You’re so fucking talented!”(**) And in a hilarious, unexpected payoff to Booth’s last appearance, it turns out that his idea of “how to do things” is not in any way fun or arousing for Marnie.
(*) Played by Jon Glaser from “Delocated,” who’s also been popping up on “Parks and Recreation” this season as Councilman Jamm.
(**) As Fienberg noted on a recent podcast, Allison Williams generally doesn’t get a lot of comedy to play on this show, functioning more often as straight woman to Hannah or the others, but she was terrific here in a more overtly comic mode.
It’s some of the broadest, funniest comedy “Girls” has ever done – very much evoking Shoshanna’s crack freak-out last year (and suggesting that next season, Marnie or Adam have to use cocaine in an episode) – and yet all the hijinks effortlessly pivot into more serious territory when a coked-out Elijah decides to tell Hannah about his aborted hook-up with Marnie in the premiere. The episode doesn’t suddenly turn stone-serious – if anything, what’s most impressive is that those later scenes still have laughs (many of them coming from Laird) even as Hannah is tearing into Elijah and Marnie about the betrayal. There’s some very raw, ugly emotion bubbling up out of both Hannah and Marnie in those scenes – Elijah much less so, because he’s been established as a much more shallow, narcissistic character – but it fits into what happened earlier in the episode (and earlier in the series), and the tonal shift doesn’t feel jarring at all. It’s just two friends having it out – one beating up on the other, and the other eager to flagellate herself – over issues they’ve been dealing with for years, and will likely continue to for as long as they know each other. And ultimately, it’s that frustration over the strictly and perhaps unfairly defined parameters of their relationship – that Hannah must always be the bad friend of the episode’s title, and Marnie the good one – that gets at Hannah as much as it is the specific offense.
The episode opens with Hannah’s new editor smugly gesturing towards a wall bearing two slogans combining to promise that going outside your comfort zone is where the magic happens. The cocaine, and everything that follows it, does take Hannah out of her comfort zone, but her night is far from magical. (Though if Hannah’s every bit the confessional memoirist she claims to be, she can still get an article out of what happened.)
But the whole mess leads to a very strong, focused, funny, perceptive episode of “Girls.” The power of cocaine!
Some other thoughts:
* Elijah’s prominence in these early episodes has come at the expense of some of the regular supporting cast. No Adam or Ray at all this week, and Shoshanna and Jessa only appear briefly in the stoop sale scene. (Where we find out that Ray is a big “Ally McBeal” fan.) I’m okay with that, as I’d rather see a couple of stories told to their fullest extent rather than being constantly interrupted to service the other characters. (And without going into detail, next week is a big one for several of the characters sidelined tonight.)
* Jorma Taccone’s about 10 years older than Allison Williams, which seems about the gap between Booth and Marnie, based on their discussion about growing up in the ’80s vs. the ’90s. Every generation must insist that their formative popular culture is most important, which is why I’ll now insist that you watch the Very Special “Diff’rent Strokes” where a child molestor befriends Arnold and Dudley.
* More generational humor: a coked-out Hannah starts listing all the things she wants to do in life, like learn how to properly write a check.
* Laird has a turtle – “And I’ll never not have it.” Deep. Very deep, Laird.
Finally, an important programming note: because there’s a little television show called the Super Bowl airing next Sunday night, HBO is going to premiere the next episodes of “Girls” and “Enlightened” on Saturday night, Feb. 1, at 10 & 10:30 p.m., respectively. They’ll rerun in the normal timeslots, while everyone is busy talking about the brothers Harbaugh. I’ll be publishing my “Girls” review on Saturday at 10:30.
What did everybody else think?
Alan Sepinwall may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org