Girls, Girls, Girls: "Don't Try to be Anything You Aren't"
Girls creator, producer, and star Lena Dunham has been, to say the least, a divisive figure in pop culture and feminism in the past year. As a writer who focuses mainly on pop culture and feminism—and an unabashed fan of Girls—I really wanted the opportunity to be able to write about the new season. Because whether you love it or hate it, there is not much like it currently airing on television. I'll be recapping each episode this season, so if you're watching too, get ready to talk female friendships, feminism, race, class, extremely awkward sex—which if, my 2012 was any indication, I'll be pretty good at discussing—and Dunham herself.
Late in this season's premiere episode, “It’s About Time,” Marnie (Allison Williams) and Elijah (Andrew Rannells) have an awkward, unfinished sexual encounter. Both are in tenuous places in their lives: Marnie has just lost her art-gallery job, and Elijah has ejected his much older boyfriend (who is bankrolling his life) from a housewarming party after he drunkenly baits the guests. After their clothes are haphazardly reassembled, Marnie tells Elijah, “You don’t have to try to be anything you’re not.” He snaps back, “Neither do you.”
When Girls premiered last year, so many pop culture–loving feminists had pinned hopes on the show that it disappointment was almost inevitable. As we know, the Internet is an intense place, and almost as soon as Girls bowed, there were dozens upon dozens of think pieces both critiquing and defending Dunham’s very white, not-so class-conscious portrayal of Brooklyn twentysomethings living in self-obsessed, middle-class squalor. In a raft of post–Season 1 interviews, Dunham hinted that many critiques of the show—chief among them the issue of its attitude toward race—would be addressed in Season two, so it's safe to say that there are more eyes on this season than ever.
Dunham has clearly grappled with those many critiques, and just within this first episode Girls feels like a more authentic and familiar show. The episode revolves around a housewarming party that new roommates Hannah (Dunham) and Elijah are throwing, and while it's slightly unnerving that a mere scan of the party scene reveals that Dunham took the race criticism, Girls' Brooklyn is noticeably more diverse than last season. Couple that with Hannah’s new don't-call-him-boyfriend, Sandy (Donald Glover), and it’ll be interesting to see how race relates to this season's plot development.
With the exception of Shoshanna (Zosia Mamet), last season the characters often felt pigeonholed with specific characteristics—Marnie as the type-A prude, Jessa the wild party girl, Hannah the needy-yet-selfish friend. Season two appears to be adding more dimensions to our characters. Marnie, with the loss of her job, is in a similar place to last season's Hannah—aimless, broke and lonely. A lunch scene with her mother (Rita Wilson, in spot-on casting), who gives Marnie such helpful advice as “you look thirty” and tells her not to be so prudish, adds to our understanding of the character, and encapsulates a complicated mother/daughter relationship brilliantly.
Hannah, on the other hand, seemingly has things a bit more together. She’s mildly employed, actually working on her writing, and has apprently grown some romantic backbone. As you may recall, Adam (Adam Driver) was clipped by a van at the end of last season; as this season starts, he's laid up with a full-leg cast, and despite their breakup Hannah is acting as his nurse. He, however, refuses to acknowledge the split, citing his love for Hannah and her one-time admission that he made her “whole body feel like a clit.” Tired of helping him pee, and continually having to justify her reasoning for not wanting to be his girlfriend, Hannah eventually breaks down, shouting “ I’m an individual. I feel how I feel when I feel it. And right now I feel like I don’t ever want to see you again.” Compared to last season, when she continually let Adam mandate the terms of their relationship, it was nice to see Hannah stand up for what she wants, on her terms. In this episode, those terms included a late-night visit to Sandy’s place.
Girls still has the qualities that made me love the show in the first place. The opening scene, in which Hannah and Elijah spoon sleepily in her bed, echoes the series' pilot scene with Hannah and and a retainer-sporting Marnie. It's a scene that ushers in now-typical but perfectly executed Girls moments of awkward sex and even more awkward post-sex interactions. At the end of last season, Shoshanna lost her virginity to the older, cumudgeonly Ray (Alex Karpovsky). When Shoshanna comes to Hannah and Elijah's housewarming, she describes herself anxiously as “deflowered but not devalued,” and the subsequent interactions between Shoshanna and Ray are perfect, with lingering looks, awkward hellos, and forced compliments abut cheese plates. Shoshanna, with her at-times ditzy persona, is a character who was easy to write off in Season One thanks to her Sex and the City obsession and the many "likes" peppering her speech, but she’s developing into one of the strongest and most lovable characters on the show, with complexity that hopefully continues to play a larger role in this season. (And her inevitable drunken kiss with Ray is executed with just the right amount of beer spillage.)
While this first episode stumbled in places, I'm looking forward to the next nine. Hints of a Marnie-and-Charlie reconciliation are obvious, and it'll be interesting to see if future episodes offer more insight into Jessa (Jemima Kirke)—in this one, we see her only briefly, rudely jumping a taxi line at the airport with new husband/tool Thomas John, back from their whirlwind honeymoon. Despite its problems, Girls is a womancentric portrayal of twentysomethings that may not represent the whole of a generation but, keeping critiques in mind, can feel pretty damn familiar. And that’s a good thing.
Hannah describes previous boyfriends as “dementos, slugs, and weirdos.” Preach.
Giddy new roommates Hannah and Elijah planning theme parties varying from a Gertrude Stein-esque salon night (Hannah: "Ive always suspected I'd be really good at cutting hair!") to a Japanese snack night. The latter idea may well have been a nod to Dunham's upcoming book, whose chapter on Japan has been roundly dinged for cultural insensitivity. Then again, if you've tasted Japanese Doritos or Kit-Kats before, you'll know this is a very appealing party theme.
Marnie and Elijah karaokeing Sarah MacLachlan's “Building a Mystery": Perfect.
Got your own Girls-related thoughts, insights, and frustrations? Leave them in the comments...
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