January 13, 2014

THE SKED Season Premiere Review: “Girls”


GIRLS:  Sunday 10PM on HBO

GIRLS is coming off a notably rocky second season, one in which Lena Dunham seemed to take up and abandon narrative structures and tones with the same disregard for consequence that her characters often have with each other.  There were free-standing episodes stuck in the middle of serialized stories, characters who flew in and out of the season without convincing justification, and a sentimental finale that seemed to have been shipped in from another series entirely–and all this on top of the existing tension between the way Dunham is perceived as the show’s creative force and as Hannah Horvath, her self-obsessed, often self-destructive, and suddenly OCD-ridden character, but not necessarily her alter ego, considering that Hannah is struggling to make ends meet while Dunham is an incredibly successful multimillionaire and multimedia figure.  (This interplay is an inextricable part of the show’s complexity, as shown again this week when a questioner at the Television Critics Association panel complained about Dunham’s nudity on the series, which instantly became a debate about body issues, Dunham’s creative judgment and misogyny in general.)

It’s clear, watching the back-to-back premiere episodes of Girls Season 3 (both halves directed by Dunham, with the first also written by her and the second by Konner), that some of this criticism has resonated with Dunham and her team:  an early scene in which Natalia (Shiri Appleby), who featured in probably the most controversial and sexually explicit episode of the series, and her friend (played by Girls Executive Producer Judd Apatow’s newest protege Amy Schumer) verbally attack Hannah and Adam (Adam Driver) for their lack of regard for others, could have been copied down from online comments about last season.  Perhaps partly in response, the premiere returns to the series’ home base:  the relationships between Hannah and her friends Marnie (Allison Williams), Jessa (Jemima Kirke) and Shoshanna (Zosia Mamet), along with Adam.

That’s not to say that the characters are in the same places they were when we met them.  Marnie, deserted off-screen by ex-boyfriend Charlie (because actor Christopher Abbott decided not to return to the show), is a wreck, unable to eat a taco without dissolving and leaning heavily on her mother (Rita Wilson, just one of the episode’s terrific guest stars).  Previously virginal Shoshanna is now frankly experimenting with sex–although still unable to handle being in the same room with Hannah and Adam when they’re having it.  For their part, Hannah and Adam are now a real couple, and while he’s still rude and inappropriate to the point of being Asbergian, he clearly cares about her quite a bit, and among other things makes sure she takes her OCD pills each day.  (Adam may be, ironically for a show called and about Girls, Dunham’s most successfully realized creation as a writer.)  Hannah, her syndrome under control, is writing steadily.  Jemma is in rehab, where she’s committing acts of emotional terrorism against the other patients while trying as hard as she can to resist learning anything about herself (but not entirely succeeding).

The main action of the hour was the road trip (“It’s just so similar to other road trips I’ve seen in various media,” says Hannah) made by Hannah, Adam and Shoshanna to pick Jemma up from rehab after she’s been thrown out.  The strength of Girls lies in its very particularized yet thoroughly believable oddball moments, which here included Hannah and Shoshanna attempting to teach Adam to play Truth or Dare, Shoshanna earnestly quizzing Adam on what his favorite eating utensil is, and Adam’s impromptu hike.  The premiere gave Kirke much more to do than Girls usually does, and she was excellent, particularly in her scenes with a fellow patient played by Richard E. Grant, who was clearly a stand-in for her addicted, estranged father–her bonding with him, and then her inevitable disappointment when he just wanted to have sex with her, was small but crushing.

Season 2 of Girls suggested that Lena Dunham isn’t yet Louis C.K., who reshapes the conception of his show on a weekly basis.  Still, her show, like his, carries the enormous excitement of a creative enterprise that seems to flow out of an artist’s own bloodstream.  This is truly auteur television, for good and sometimes for ill, and it’s often laugh-out-loud funny even as it’s being infuriating.  HBO wasted no time, renewing Girls for Season 4 last week even before this season had premiered, and really, Girls is, as much as Game of Thrones, the definition of what HBO does.  The ratings are nowhere near Game‘s–strictly speaking, they’re not even very good (0.4-0.5 for most initial airings).  But Girls is a buzz machine, and buzz is what brings, and keeps, subscribers.  As long as people are talking about Girls, Lena Dunham will be able to feel her way toward her art on HBO’s 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."