Girls Females Only

Lena Dunham’s perennially popular and continuously controversial HBO series Girls is back, thanks to last night’s two-episode double-whammy, an entire hour of lady-centric television that reintroduces us to the lives, loves, and horrible horrible oh my god terrible mistakes of our eponymous girls-not-yet-women. And they’re not the only ones back for more! Yes, our own Rob Hunter and I have returned to discuss, dissect, and dismantle each episode of Girls as the season winds on – so let’s see get down to it while we’re still young.

The third season of the series picks up an indeterminable number of days? weeks? probably not months? since we last left off with Hannah (Lena Dunham), Marnie (Allison Williams), Shoshanna (Zosia Mamet), Jessa (Jemima Kirke), Adam (Adam Driver), and Ray (Alex Karpovsky), and while plenty has shifted in their lives, it doesn’t seem as if that much has actually changed. Hannah and Adam are playing house, Marnie is mourning the death of her relationship with the departed Charlie (Christopher Abbott), Shoshanna has dedicated her life to dudes, and Jessa is laughing hysterically at her problems (and rehab itself). Yes, this all sounds pretty damn familiar, but the world of Dunham and her cohorts appears to be on the cusp of something very new and very scary, and if everything appears to be surprisingly status quo, we’ve got a sneaking suspicion that’s going to change quite soon – and quite spectacularly. 

Kate: When we left off last season, Adam had literally run to Hannah’s aid when her newly-revealed OCD reared its ugly head, spinning the final act of season two into this weirdly traditional rom-com trajectory (albeit one with the looming specter of mental illness lurking over it), and season three opens with the pair living in what seems to be a state of happy domesticity.

Of course, their morning snuggles and pill distribution is soon interrupted by Adam’s ex Natalia (Shiri Appleby) and her totally unhinged and also totally awesome pal (Amy Schumer) screaming about all of his faults and flaws to an entire coffee shop (including Hannah and Ray), but this season has long teased a relationship with Hannah and Adam that at least attempts to approach normalcy. But is it really? How healthy can these two be with anybody right now? Will this possibly last? Are they already screwed?

Rob: The OCD storyline left things feeling very heavy at the end of last season, and I was curious how they’d tackle it here. The answer is they basically don’t aside from a couple asides to her medication intake, and I think that was probably wise. That said, will they let it creep back in once things stop going her way again and get too stressful?

I did think the bit with Natalia and Amy Schumer in the coffeehouse was a bit overdone. It starts fine, and Ray laughing in the background was fantastic, but it evolves into little more than a loud comedic bit. The Hannah/Adam dynamic has fascinated me for a while…well, fascinated is a strong word, but it’s intrigued me anyway. Sure it’s in part because I don’t know what he sees in her, but at the same time it’s clear that she’s the only one that fully 100% accepts him. I think that’s key, but as has happened in the past with these two I wonder if there’s a breaking point where that’s no longer enough for him.

Kate: I agree – things were heavy at the end and this is a bit light with still making obvious nods to what’s going on, from the pill-taking to the therapy. I think it seems likely to resurge yet again, especially now that we’ve discovered that Hannah is still due to write a book.

What I liked so much about the Natalia/Amy stuff was that it felt like wish fulfillment rooted in reality. The odds of all that stuff happening precisely as it does – the running into each other, Amy’s unhinged and fake revelations, that Hannah had to watch it – are incredibly low, but it comes from a place of honesty. Obviously Natalia has some stuff to say to Adam, and while most people would be forced to stew on those emotions forever, she gets them spouted to his face and his girlfriend’s face by her Amy avatar. Everyone wants to say something stinging and outlandish to people who have hurt them, but few people get that chance. I thought it was both awesome and horrifying that Natalia got to say her piece – and say it in a way that perfectly articulates all of Adam’s issues.

These two epsiodes really hammer home the point that Adam has no other friends, that all he has is Hannah. In  the second episode, “Truth or Dare,” when he tells Shosh that Hannah is his best friend, Shosh predicataly coos – it’s sweet to her – but that seems damn sad to me, because Adam doesn’t seem to have any other options in the friend department. And, also, I am terrified of all the baby talk coming out of Hannah’s mouth. Baby, baby, baby… It seems so inauthentic.

Girls Females Only 2

Rob: I can agree on the honesty regarding Natalia’s coffeehouse blowout, but I guess it just felt too sitcom-like. Albeit an R-rated sitcom. But do you think the scene revisited Natalia simply to close that story-line door? Or do you think we’ll be seeing her again? Regardless, and despite Adam telling Shosh that Hannah is his best friend, I think Adam has a life beyond Hannah. Does it involve friends? Probably not, but he strikes me as someone who’s more than content moving through life and only attaching himself to people/things on his own terms. I don’t see his apparent lack of friends as the sad negative that it would be with anyone else, or with any real person. His character construction is such that I fully believe his contentment is at peak level with the life he has now.

And I’ve said this in past seasons, but can we all acknowledge yet that Lena Dunham writes far better male characters than female? Maybe it’s just because I’m a guy, but Adam and Ray for that matter are consistently not just the most entertaining characters but also the wisest. Adam makes this show eminently quotable… “You’re too young to understand which thoughts are useless to you.” “Boredom is bullshit. Boredom is for lazy people who have no imagination.” It’s amazing stuff. And he’s also my favorite character to watch interact with others too. Just look at his scene with Marnie during the taco dinner, or his interactions with Shosh on the road trip. I think Dunham’s crowning achievement with “Girls” is, in fact, a boy.

But let’s talk about the mean-spirited and emotionally lost elephant in the room… Jessa. She’s always been the lead character I’ve been least interested in seeing, and I’m not entirely sure why. Jemima Kirke is a good actress, and her accent is always audibly titillating, but I just don’t give a goddamn about her.

Kate: I think that Adam definitely has a rich interior life that allows him to consisently spout off the most wise comments in the entire series, but he still has plenty of his own problems, and I think not having other friends is part of that. It’s not healthy. Of course, I would not be shocked if we soon discovered that Adam is super popular at AA (especially after inviting Jessa to join him) and has a whole wealth of friends there (and he just considers Hannah his best friend and she just never sees those other people because, yeah, they are anonymous). And maybe I just want to see him hang out with Ray more.

While I personally like Dunham’s male characters a whole lot more than I like her female characters, there is real honesty in her female characters. I know them, even I don’t like them (or the real people that I associate with them). I think Dunham is quite canny at letting us look in at the really boring, really petty, really stupid social lives of girls. Look at what Adam has to sit through! That insipid taco dinner! That Adam Levine-fueled road trip! No wonder he doesn’t want to hang out with them, they are so small, but they are also real.

Oh, God, Jessa. Jessa. I just…I don’t know. I think that Hannah is actually on to something when it comes to her reasoning why Jessa is in rehab – she’s addicted to life, she’s just addicted to experiencing things, and that often means messing things up big time. I wish Jessa was smart enough or wise enough to stay in rehab, but even that place is filled with people preying on her (no wonder she has daddy issues! the guy she tries to act her daddy issues out on tries to seduce her!). I don’t think Jessa is mean-spirited, but I think she’s terribly self-centered and without any kind of compass (emotional, moral, intellectual). Why else would she be friends with Hannah, who is only concerned with Jessa’s problems as they apply to her? Did you catch that? Not a word from Hannah asking Jessa how she is, just word vomit about how Jessa’s behavior makes her feel.

Rob: Hmm, well, I see our first three disagreements of the season here. Hooray!

In real life Adam’s apparent lack of friends would be unhealthy, but I think as he’s written, Adam is perfectly suited to this lifestyle. Meaning I just don’t agree that it’s sad in this fictional world of Girls. Of course he has outside interactions we’re not privy too, possibly with people who really like him as well, but his chosen focus is Hannah which works for him. At least until her negative traits overwhelm the appeal of being with someone who completely and utterly accepts him…

I won’t (can’t?) argue that Dunham’s female characters aren’t honest portrayals, but do they have to be so generally unlikable and/or annoying? Fine, they’re authentic and real, but why are their good/positive traits highlighted so infrequently? These less appealing traits exist in real life, and god knows I’ve experienced many of them in person, but they’ve never been the entirety of a girl. Maybe that’s why it rings false to me even knowing that it’s based in reality. I want to see some of their nicer, kinder characteristics from the four of them, or at least hear them say things that reveal they’re more than just self-centered, humorously quirky bags of flesh.

And Jessa is most definitely mean-spirited.

Girls Truth or Dare

Kate: Do you think she’s mean-spirited or just unaware? I think she’s too self-obsessed to see outside of herself, but I don’t think she means to be cruel.

Answer that – and then answer me this! How are you feeling about Marnie these days?

Rob: I think she’s both. Clearly she’s disinterested in other people in every regard except for what they can do for her, but I think she’s actively mean at times too. Perhaps I’m just not giving the immensity of her self-obsession the benefit of the doubt, but I don’t believe she’s so actively clueless as to be unaware that she’s causing pain.

And Marnie. Sweet, sweet Marnie. She’s lost, messed up, and as deluded as the rest, and she’s also mean. But her meanness is more believable to me because it’s balanced with acts of kindness. Sure they’re only kind at surface level, but there’s effort there which I can appreciate. She’s probably the most likable of the four in my opinion, and yes, I know by saying that I’m opening myself up to accusations that her likability stems from her physical appearance, but that’s not true. I just think she’s written as a bit more accessible and a bit less reliant on quirk.

Speaking of quirk… I really feel that sums up Shosh completely. She’s wonderfully entertaining, but she’s the sum of her “personality.”

Kate: At this point, yes, Marnie is the most likable of the four. I think she does have a well of sweetness in her that Hannah and Jessa just don’t have (Shosh might, but it’s pretty hard to see down into her soul right now). Marnie is continuing to struggle in a believable way, and also continuing to believe that she’s on some kind of right path when she’s so cleary lost. It’s relatable. It’s appropriate. I am into it.

I am also into the way they worked out Charlie’s exit – it should be sudden and strange and inexplicable, because that’s sort of how Abbott’s exit felt. And, yes, Marnie needed a shake up that would stick, because that last break up sure didn’t do it.

Shosh has regressed in my eyes – sure, she lost her virginity and dumped Ray and now it’s time to get some and “live it up” at “college” or “whatever,” but that needs to change and soon, because she’s giving us zilch right now.

Rob: And just like that we’re in agreement again! I was never a fan of Charlie and was happy to see him go, and I’m hopeful that Marnie can find someone good to latch onto next. Of course, I hope she takes time to work on herself before that happens. And agree on Shosh’s regression as it just feels like shtick at this point.

Any thoughts on where any of this is going this season? Obviously Hannah’s e-book is heading toward publication, but do we think that will make much a change in her life? Because seriously, it’s an e-book. The others son’t appear to be on the brink of anything as big or potentially life-changing.

Kate: I will be surprised if this damn e-book a) actually happens or b) happens and doesn’t land with a major KERPLUNK. Hannah is not on the cusp of literary success, but perhaps her work will finally pan out in some way and, hell, maybe that will come with some actual maturation and life lessons. Marnie also looks to be on the way to something big (fine, I already know she’s going to record a song and make a video, and that’s going to be awesome). Shosh and Jessa? I cannot even imagine what those two will get up to – and that really excites me.

Rob: Yeah, the e-book feels like somewhat of a non-starter, but I would welcome some maturation on her part. Do you really think Marnie will find success as a singer? I just can’t see her in that persona… she’s too proper and uptight to be a pop star. I’m with you in having no clue where Shosh and Jessa are headed, but I’m also far from excited about it. At this point I’d be happy to see them less and see Adam and Ray more.

Kate: I don’t think Marnie is going to become a pop star, but I definitely see her becoming an ironic YouTube sensation.

What did you think of this week’s Girls premiere?


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