Review: ‘Girls’ – ‘The Return’

Senior Television Writer
05.20.12 58 Comments


A review of tonight’s “Girls” coming up just as soon as I am from New York, and therefore just naturally interesting…

“No, I really worry. What does a person like that turn into?” -Hannah’s dad

I first saw the “Girls” pilot around the time that “Smash” was about to debut, and I found it funny that Becky Ann Baker had somehow become typecast as the Midwestern mom who comes to New York City to tell her daughter how worried she is about her life. The angles weren’t exactly the same – “Girls” Baker was going there to cut off her spoiled, entitled kid, while “Smash” Baker mainly seemed worried that sweet, noble, innocent, magical Karen was struggling in this big, bad business called show – but I couldn’t help but watch “The Return” as the “Girls” version of that “Smash” episode where Karen went back to Iowa and sang “Redneck Woman.” This being “Girls” – a show that has a much clearer voice and stronger voice sense of who its characters are and the places they visit – it was vastly better. (Based on the Twitter/Robyn scene from the end of episode 3, I imagine Lena Dunham could have even pulled off the barefoot karaoke scene in stronger fashion.)

Hannah goes back to Michigan to celebrate her parents’ 30th anniversary and finds her hometown simultaneously bigger and smaller than she remembered. No one’s as sophisticated or snarky as the circles she moves through in Brooklyn – it’s all Hannah can do to keep from showing how lame and corny she finds the tribute to a missing high school classmate – but they’re also not as neurotic or uptight. (And their apartments are way bigger, because they haven’t been sucked into the New York fantasy.) She seems almost at a loss for how to be around Eric, the well-adjusted pharmacist (played by Lou Taylor Pucci from “Thumbsucker”) when he asks her out on a date, but she also recognizes how desperately she needs to spend time with a guy who doesn’t treat her heart “like it’s monkey meat.”(*)

(*) And it’s a nice touch that Hannah comes out and tells her parents why she’s ducking out on the anniversary dinner, and that her mom understands, rather than some sitcom contrivance where she lies and is later found out. Sometimes, human beings really do talk to each other. 

Hannah can’t entirely stop being a New York snob around him, and she vastly overthinks things in the bedroom after months of having sex with Adam, but the nice guy experiment mostly works for her – and not just because, in going all the way to Michigan, she finally manages to locate an Adam she might want to be with. We’ve heard Hannah insist to Marnie and the others that there’s a guy in there she likes with cause, but their phone call is the first time we actually get to see it for ourselves.

But for me, the most interesting part of “The Return” involved Hannah’s mom and dad, who essentially take the place of Marnie, Jessa and Shoshanna as this week’s supporting cast. Their decision from the pilot to cut Hannah’s pursestrings gets more shading. Not only has Hannah learned to stop complaining about it – she even lies to her mom about quitting the office job because she’d rather they be proud of her than give her some much-needed rent money – but at the anniversary dinner, we hear Mr. and Mrs. Horvath talk more about their hopes and (mostly) fears for their daughter. Just as Hannah is convinced her old classmate Heather is setting herself up for failure by moving to LA to dance, her own parents worry that Hannah might be over-selling her own talent and needs to start adjusting her expectations – that not everyone who moves to the big city gets to become who and what they wanted to be. And where Hannah’s mom was the tougher one in the pilot, yelling about her desire for a lake house, here she’s the one who’s more optimistic, or at least allowing for the idea that Hannah can have fun now, and learn later.

And with the regular supporting players absent, it’s up to the Horvaths to give America the explicit Becky Ann Baker/Peter Scolari sex scene we’ve all been clamoring for.(**) Their foiled night of passion stands in stark, amusing contrast to Hannah’s fumbling with Eric; we cut from Hannah having no idea what this guy wants to her parents having enthusiastic, happy sex in the shower before clumsiness and the frailties of advancing age turn a night of fun into a night for everyone to be mortified.

(**) My viewings of both “Freaks and Geeks” (and note that Judd Apatow co-wrote this episode) and “Bosom Buddies” may never be the same again.

A very different outing of “Girls,” and not just because Hannah mostly managed to stay out of her own way (even if she had to psych herself up with a hardcore pep talk in front of the mirror to do so), but among the most satisfying so far.

Some other thoughts:

* Liked the decor of Hannah’s room, including a vintage Mac and a poster from “Party Girl,” the Parker Posey indie comedy (and basis for a short-lived FOX sitcom with Christine Taylor) that would’ve come out when Hannah was a little girl, before she likely discovered it on a shelf at the local video store (back when such existed).

* I’ve been reading “Top of the Rock,” Warren Littlefield’s oral history of his stint running NBC in the Must-See TV era, and in the “Seinfeld” chapter, Jason Alexander repeats the anecdote about how he saw the script for the episode where Jerry and Elaine visit his parents in Florida – and which didn’t feature any scenes with George or Kramer – and told Jerry and Larry that either George would be in every episode from here on out, or none of them. I’m assuming Jemima Kirke and Zosia Mamet (or even Allison Williams, who only has a brief cameo at the start) wouldn’t pull a similar stunt, but it’s interesting to see that the show didn’t even bother trying to service the other three characters while following Hannah on her trip home.

What did everybody else think?

Alan Sepinwall may be reached at

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