March 17, 2013

The Fall of Girls

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Disclaimer: This article contains Girls Season Two spoilers.

If you are fed up with HBO’s Girls like I am, you are also likely sick of those who write about Girls, too. Todd VanDerWerff from The A.V. Club is one of many in the vast Internet commentariat who basically subsists on churning out these think pieces (he once penned 2200 words under the headline, “How Girls challenges the masculine expectations of ‘good TV’”). So, it is with an ample dose of self-loathing that I now present my opinions on Season Two of Girls, which wrapped up yesterday.

I do not take Girls to be nearly as artful as many claim it is, but at least Season One provided engaging character dynamics punctuated by blissful song cues (Robyn’s “Dancing on My Own”) and hilarious, genuine moments (Shoshanna’s “crackcident”). Season Two darkened the colors, widened the distance between former friends and favored half-baked profundity over consistent entertainment. Of 10 episodes, there were three concept and/or “bottle episodes” where the main narrative arc simmered while Hannah (Dunham) traveled to somewhere or tried something new (Jessa’s dad’s house; cocaine; Patrick Wilson). These were, by far, the worst episodes of the season (though some, including VanDerWerff, will vehemently disagree), offering few laughs, platitudinous insight and way too much naked Dunham. Along with the abrupt introduction of Hannah’s OCD two episodes from the finale, Girls has taken an off-putting, serious turn. The first season worked because Dunham and co. embraced the trivial problems of not-so-rich but far-from-poor NYC twentysomethings; their attempts to validate their characters’ struggles with an added layer of angst and realism ended up fulfilling the narcissistic/detached/privileged criticisms that have followed them since even before day one.

But the season finale, “Together,” fell short because it actually disregarded the drama that led up to it. Perhaps that is hypocritical of me to say, because I don’t like most of Season Two’s narrative; however, what we are left with is an assortment of unearned reunions and break-ups. Charlie (Christopher Abbott) and Marnie (Allison Williams) get back together in the cheesiest, Jerry Maguire-iest speech this show has deigned to yet. Considering that Charlie is now the moderately wealthy CEO of a mobile app company, Marnie seems to have forfeited the three-episode-long dream of becoming a singer and resigned to being a housewife, wanting nothing but having Charlie’s “little brown babies” in the “eventual” future. As for Shoshanna (Zosia Mamet) and Ray (Alex Karpovsky) calling it quits, we have long known the former to be naïve and the latter to be cynical, so their outbursts at each other over these respective traits came not as a revelation but as a thud of dramatic irony. For the only lovable characters on the show, you’d expect a more fulfilling final straw, if there had to be one.

I just used the word “irony” and that is surely the defense those will use in favor of the scenes above as well as when Adam (Adam Driver) runs shirtless through Brooklyn to “save” Hannah from … well, herself? (I’m not sure.) Irony is a classic and healthy mode of humor, but there must be some foundation for viewer-character connection and narrative truth. Sure, Marnie’s devotion to Charlie may be a subtle indictment of our secret desire for an easy, dependent life, and perhaps Ray and Shoshanna were so infatuated with one another that they overlooked their obvious traits. But the direction of these scenes, with tearful close-ups and exacting musical cues, treats the romance as sincere. You can’t tell me the moral ambiguity of, say, Zero Dark Thirty also applies to a show that ends its season finale with a dramatic tracking shot of a boy cradling a girl in his arms and a song by Dunham’s boyfriend (that would be “Sight of the Sun” by fun.). To launch this defense would confirm that Girls navigates Inception-like layers and levels of irony that it expects the viewer to dissect and critique. We are either entering some intolerable, meta/postmodern/sublimely hipster 21st century territory or dabbling in sloppy character development. Either way, I call bullshit.

As it stands, the characters of Girls have regressed by the end of Season Two, and perhaps Dunham will kick off Season Three with a stark acknowledgment of the finale’s fake cheshire smiles. But right now, I only have the latest and prior episodes as texts before me, and the last 10 have meandered their way through quasi-profound and grating digressions. Let us hope Dunham reclaims the hope, humor and ecstasy of Season One and keeps her clothes on in the process. And let this be the last anyone writes about Girls until then.

Original Author: Zachary Zahos