March 24, 2014

THE SKED Season Finale Review: “Girls”


Throughout its third season, reactions to GIRLS seemed to depend to a large extent on the particular vision of the series that viewers had.  Season 3 of Lena Dunham’s show was notably less conceptual and experimental than Season 2 had been, with its standalone episodes, abrupt shifts in tone and focus, sexual frankness unusual even for HBO, and off-note finale.  By comparison, Season 3 was more narratively conventional, featuring workplace and relationship arcs for each of its main characters that (more or less) played out over the course of the season.  There are those who felt this was a step backwards from the more aggressive iconoclasm of the previous year, while others were glad for some tonal and emotional continuity.

Of course, whatever its level of craft or storytelling stability, Girls will always be polarizing.  For all its near-meta moments of awareness in Season 3 in which one character or another–most notably Shoshanna (Zosia Mamet) in the beach house episode–ripped into the others for their infuriating narcissism, selfishness, lack of empathy and sheer hatefulness, there are those who will continue to regard the protagonists of Girls as failed role models who aren’t nearly as much fun as the leads on Sex and the City, and Hannah (Dunham), in particular, as being no more than her creator’s alter ego, and her flaws therefore as being Dunham’s.  Ultimately, either you find these characters’ self-destructive failings and insecurities funny and sometimes surprisingly moving, or you don’t.

The season finale, written and directed by Dunham, was a reminder of how polished Girls is, notwithstanding its low-rent indie look and ethos, especially compared to rambling HBO dramedies like Looking and Dolly & Em.  (Now that Judd Apatow, an Executive Producer and mentor who co-wrote 3 episodes this season, has decided to direct another distinctive young writer/actress with Amy Schumer’s starring debut, it’ll be interesting to see whether Dunham has rubbed off on Apatow as much as he has on her.)  The major cliffhanger belonged to Hannah, who found herself accepted to the Iowa Writers Program (and, even better, with the apparent financial support of her parents, despite their tough-love financial discipline in earlier seasons)–and that may line up well with what looks like it could be the end (again) of her relationship with Adam (Adam Driver), who’s gotten to the point where Hannah just breathing around him puts him off his acting game.  Of course, if Hannah does decide to go to Iowa, it would mean a major reboot for the show.  That wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing, considering that despite Girls‘ urban milieu, the episodes in which Hannah has gone back to her midwestern home (this season for what turned out to be her grandmother’s fatal illness) have been some of the series’ best.

Marnie (Allison Williams), who’s been on–for her–an upward swing in recent episodes, seemed to fall back into her own self-destructive pattern with her crush on already-attached singing partner Desi (Ebon Moss-Bachrach), but the end of the episode suggested that his current relationship may not be all that strong.  Shoshanna finally had to pay the piper for her year of wild oats, both in not being able to graduate from college, and in dumping Ray (Alex Karpovsky), who appears to have moved on.  For some reason Jessa’s (Jemima Kirke) stories always seem to be the most uneven and underdeveloped (although her failed time in rehab, misery at working at a baby clothing store, and cocaine-fueled fall off the wagon gave Kirke lots of funny material this season), but it’s possible that her participation in an attempted assisted suicide of her photographer employer (played by Louise Lasser, herself an icon of an earlier era of off-beat comedy) will actually mean something to her moving forward.

The comedy of awkwardness and discomfort is everywhere these days, but few TV shows (or movies) pull it off better than Dunham, co-showrunner Jenni Konner, Apatow and the rest of the Girls writing staff.  Hannah’s awful tirades against her co-workers when she was actually pulling in a steady paycheck in the advertorial section of GQ, her emotionally flat responses even to the deaths of people she cared about, Marnie’s job interviews, Jessa’s disdain for her fellow rehab patients–it’s the unlikability of our “heroines” that allows the comedy in these scenes to pay off, because the show is very clear that they’re really not any better than the people they look down upon.

Wherever Girls goes creatively next season (it’s already been renewed), it has a unique comic voice, and a place in the zeitgeist that belies its overnight 18-49 ratings.  (Apparently the latter is because its viewers make full use of alternative HBO platforms for later viewing–and since HBO isn’t advertiser-supported, it truly doesn’t care how or when subscribers watch its shows.)  The series remains one of the most distinctive half-hours on the air.


About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."