This is a double-header post for Lena Dunham’s Girls, the show I keep rooting for to succeed despite its concerted effort to make me meh harder than I’ve ever mehed before. In brief: I like that it’s talking about ugly relationship things that don’t tend to get a lot of air time, I like that it’s generally sex-positive if slightly ambivalent about how it presents its leading men, though even that seems to be evolving over the course of the season.
I’ve never been a fan of the Larry David approach to comedy. Presenting a version of yourself as a colossal tool isn’t necessarily an act of honest humility/self-deprecation; more often than not it’s a stalking horse for continuing to place oneself at the centre of the universe (cf also R.Gervais) without having to think about how or whether the audience will enjoy it. Putting the last two episodes side by side is actually a pretty useful way of showing what works and what doesn’t about Girls: when Hannah is the main focus it gets dull quickly, when the spotlight’s on the full cast and they get to interact in unexpected ways it’s kind of a joy to watch.
So “The Return” is a pretty pedestrian effort: it kicks off with Hannah waving goodbye to Marnie as she heads back to Michigan to hang with her parents, who are the saving grace of the episode. I love their chemistry, the way they stick a big old emotional anchor in the middle of Hannah’s farting about, which is welcome relief. In short, the episode is a self-contained exhibit of how much baggage Hannah brings home (hint laundry in a rubbish bag hint) and how much she uses Adam’s tricks to establish a New Yorky personality for the nice, boybandish pharmacist who ‘just wants to have sex’. Besides that, a whole thread about a kidnapping benefit dance party kinda falls flat, largely because Hannah has no one interesting to bounce off, and the couple good lines about someone delusionally heading off to a big city to chase their dreams gets lost in the lack of tension. Props though for showing her parents’ (ultimately injurious) shower sex with squelchy directness, even if the show immediately puts them back in their place as OLD PEOPLE. Finally, this episode also gave us evidence that for better or worse Adam is going to be around for a while longer, creeper tache and all. Makes one question why bother with all the bluster and posturing of the last couple episodes, which now seem a tonal loose end with regard to Hadam’s relationship. Where are you going with this, Girls?
“Welcome to Bushwick a.k.a. The Crackcident”, on t’other hand, is a genuinely fun bit of television. It’s kind of a bottle episode in that it mostly happens within a (moderately-volumed) warehouse party, where literally every primary character has ended up. The great thing about this format is that the whole thing feels fast and full of possibility, and once the burden of quarter-life existentialism is off the table this can be a fun show that is finally interested in exploring its characters’ inner lives rather than just having them do things that will be great story material someday. In short, it might be becoming a TV show. With narrative and stuff.
The main threads are neatly summarised when Marnie looks around and sees all her friends in various stages of making-out. Like her, we’ll deal with one thread at a time, because of thematic unity of show and recap. After showing up in the best outfit of all time ever, Jessa gives occasion for the episode’s best line: “Okay, ‘Best Party Ever’ — to me, that’s like saying ‘Best Gym Ever’ or ‘Best Nature Documentary Ever,’ like how good can it really be?” She also finally hits critical mass with her creeper middle-aged boss when he comes to the party after she sends a text to an unknown number. After getting punched by a chap who takes umbrage at being reduced to a musical subgenre, he propositions her in the hospital with noseblood on his tache. She refuses, and presumably loses her job. Kind of a downer ending for her. Never be overly optimistic in this show.
This is further evidenced by Marnie’s attempt to be civil with Charlie after his gig, where after trying unironically to convince him that her primary motivation in dumping him was “for you to be able to find satisfaction outside of our relationship”, his new girlfriend leaps into view. Double awkward combo! Prizes for everyone, turns out Marnie was not being entirely honest. Charlie, to his credit, is torn between trying to save his own face and saving Marnie’s. Later, having misplaced all her friends and chased off anyone else who’ll listen, it falls Hannah’s ex-boyfriend to show Marnibus how self-centred she’s been, and how much like Hannah she sounds. This comes as a slight shock, and there’s a bit of a thread in this episode of dudes telling ladies their emotional business, but hey, character evolutions: 2/2 so far, and it’s not like it’s eminently more objectionable than anything else in this show.
Shoshanna picks up slapstick duty again by accidentally smoking the eponymous crack and being chased by Jay around Bushwick, who is trying to be her crack spirit guide. Some nice moments of physical comedy from these two, and when you add Hannah’s top-quality pratfall from a moving bike, it feels like a whole new ingredient in the show. Jay eventually catches a now-pantsless Shoshanna, and is promptly incapacitated by her self-defence training and ‘crack strength.’ Then the show hints in its own subtle way (groin massage) that there may romance between these guys in the future. I mean, fine, whatever, but it feels dreadfully sitcom already. Tread carefully, show.
Hannah is pretty shocked to spot Adam dancing with a bunch of lesbian friends, or at least women friends who someone identifies as being gay, sure why not: ‘I’ve never seen him out of his house before. I’ve never seen him with a shirt on before.’ His buddy Tako introduces herself by struggling to open a beer bottle with her teeth while maintaining eye contact with Hannah, which as another bit of comedy business is meritorious enough to secure her return as a secondary character. Fingers crossed. Anyway, she points out that everyone who really knows Adam knows he has been in AA since his teens, which raises an issue that Hannah doesn’t appear to have considered and of which she is forcefully reminded by Adam later in the episode: she knows very little about him beyond from his sexual habits. Does she want to? Does she want him to be her boyfriend? I guess so. She certainly wants him to pick up his little bike and shove it in the back of a cab along with her and Marnie. That’s one spacious cab! The cab is a metaphor.
So you know what? This was decent television. It’s not spectacular by any means but we seem to be done with the getting-to-know-yous and heading for Second-Phase Plotline Central. You Leveled Up! You earned the rank of Gentleman Recapper, and the perk Louis C.K’s Black T-shirt, which deals +1 damage while using levels of irony. Anyway, Jessa is still an excellently played character, but her story with Jeff was kind of uninspired, just a bit too tv-familiar. I’m also pretty optimistic about how Marnie might change or be affected by this whole experience, by which I mean getting karate chopped by Andrew Rannells. And how will Hannah H deal with a newly-secured boyfriend slash sense of empathy? Tune in next time.