A review of tonight’s “Girls” coming up just as soon as I enlighten you about how things are tougher for minorities…
“It wasn’t for me, exactly.” -Sandy
Hannah Horvath, like so many great comic heroes and heroines of our time, suffers from a severe self-awareness deficit. The show about her, however, does not, which is how we can get a blistering, funny sequence like Hannah and Sandy’s break-up, which is at once the most meta moment in “Girls” history and one that feels entirely true to what we know about Hannah.
“I Get Ideas” was written by “Girls” co-showrunner Jenni Konner, who said (in a wide-ranging, interesting Vulture interview) that Donald Glover’s casting was in the works even before the diversity backlash began. But you can’t watch that scene where he complains about her essay and not imagine that Konner had that critique of the show – and so many others – on her mind. In that sequence, Sandy gets to give voice to so many of the people who dislike “Girls” for so many different reasons, and what’s smart and uncomfortable and hilarious about the scene is that Konner lets him be right, more or less.
We don’t know the actual quality of the essay, but we do know that Hannah often thinks more highly of her talent than others do, and we know that “Girls” itself is a show very much lost in its own head – and that if you enjoy being inside that head, you’ll love the show, and if you don’t, it’s hard to tolerate. It focuses on problems that many would dismiss as trivial (though it’s far from the first comedy to do so, even on HBO). Even Hannah’s reaction to his criticism is itself a signal; she expected nothing but praise, like she got from everyone else, and is certain she can convince him of her genius if given a chance to have a dialogue.
(This is not how Dunham and Konner have reacted to criticism of the show, by the way, but that again illustrates the difference between a show about a spoiled and deluded person and one run by spoiled and deluded people.)
And as Hannah tries to grab any handhold available to her to win this argument – because her self-worth is tied up in her belief in her talent, and if she can’t convince this guy that she’s a good writer, then there can be no relationship with him – things go from bad to much, much worse. (For her; for us, it’s better.) Sandy accuses Hannah of viewing him as her token black boyfriend – in the way that, frankly, Donald Glover could be viewed as an easy two-episode nod to the diversity complaints – and Hannah gets hilariously indignant about the whole thing, claiming she wasn’t thinking about his race when she started dating him, when she cited prison statistics about black men to him, or when she quoted Missy Elliott’s “Work It” at him. Whether or not she dated Sandy because she wanted a black boyfriend – and I have to think it was more the Donald Glover of him, plus the anti-Adam of him – she was damn sure aware of his race. In real life, Dunham has since acknowledged that the show’s lily-white slice of Brooklyn was a mistake(*), but Hannah’s defensive reaction to Sandy’s complaint played as a wicked parody of the media portrait of Dunham as the backlash started, even as it felt exactly like the sort of thing Hannah would do.
(*) Would that the many other shows on television with their own diversity problems were so willing to regret (and address) the error.
And the episode’s Adam scenes make clear why Hannah would be so invested in making things work with a stable guy, even if he’s not a good match. Because as much as we grew to like Adam over the course of season 1, the guy is a lunatic. Their roles have on one level reversed from a year ago – he’s the one obsessed with her, and she’s the one treating his heart like it’s monkey meat – but on another, the roles can’t truly be reversed, because Hannah stalking Adam is uncomfortable but more harmful to her than him, while you can understand why Adam’s creepy sad bastard songs and unexpected appearance in the apartment might have prompted her to call 911.
Adam Driver was fantastic in those scenes late last season where we got to finally see the Adam that Hannah believed was always in there behind the creepy come-ons, but he’s just as much fun playing an Adam who’s set all of his filters aside. (His delivery of “You called the po-po!” was the funniest thing in the episode not having to do with Hannah denying knowledge of Missy Elliott.)
These two kind of deserve each other – and I imagine we have many more reconciliations and break-ups in their future – but I would say Hannah’s cumulative behavior in this episode (including her bogus offer to come by the police station later to check on Adam) probably nudges her into the disreputable lead for now. It’s amazing, in a way, that the show has been so willing at the start of season two to make Hannah even more selfish, even more of a screw-up, than she was at so many points in the first season. Clearly, Dunham, Konner and company are aware of the criticism they got last year. And clearly, they have adjusted the show in reaction to some of it. But in the most fundamental aspect of “Girls” – telling the story of a vulnerable, flawed young woman and not worrying about achieving some kind of theoretical, unattainable degree of likability – they not only haven’t wavered, but doubled down. Hannah’s a very difficult person in “I Get Ideas.” But she’s also fascinating, and deeply, deeply funny in the ways that she’s difficult.
Some other thoughts:
* Marnie gets a “pretty person job” hostessing in a club (Elijah’s very accurate critique of her new uniform: “You look like a slutty Von Trapp child”), which only increases the tension between her and Hannah when Hannah realizes that Marnie doesn’t think Hannah’s attractive enough to get the same kind of job. This will get worse before it gets better, methinks.
* The woman who rejected Marnie for a gallery job was played by Laurie Simmons, who in real life is a successful New York artist and is Lena Dunham’s mom. (And played her mom in “Tiny Furniture.”) Cue umpteenth accusation of nepotism. Cue umpteenth sarcastic response that having a mom who’s known in the New York arts scene is like being handed the keys to television. Lather, rinse, repeat.
* The show doesn’t run away from the consequences of Elijah and Marnie’s failed sexual encounter, as George dumps an incredulous Elijah upon hearing the news. Elijah, like Hannah, gets called on his crap by a lover, and doesn’t understand how he could be at fault with anything.
* Jessa gets some more screen time this week in the premiere, and continues to be insufferably smug about her quickie marriage to Thomas John, who’s in way over his head with this lady.
* Adam does accomplish one good thing with his visit to the apartment: he saves Hannah from what would have surely been the disastrous result of trying to cut her own hair with the help of YouTube.
What did everybody else think?
Alan Sepinwall may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org