This week on Dear Television:
- "Sticking to Snacks," from Jane Hu
- "The Other Shoe," from Lili Loofbourow
Sticking to Snacks
By Jane Hu
January 23, 2014
LET'S GET PERSONAL. When Girls aired two winters ago, I wrote this. The backlash-to-the-backlash was seriously trying to be RUDE. Critics were not feeling Lena Dunham’s show.
But I was.
Hannah Horvath was the same age as me, and I was thinking about joining some friends in Greenpoint for the summer (I did; would not do again). I concluded that first of many essays on Girls on a, what else, hopeful note:
Our responses are vital and urgent, but provisional, and we should remember that Dunham's show is still becoming what it is. Writing about Girls instantaneously on the internet, however, we might be chewing on a lot — and for a long time — before we get a chance to look down and really examine what it is that we've been digesting. Maybe we're afraid they'll take it away from us.
If Hannah is an Aquarius, then we are basically still the same age. But if the birthday episode this week was about growing up, I’m not so sure I’m interested in what the girls have become. Asked to pick one character I’d watch a spin-off on, I’d choose Marnie only because she’s the only one that continues to surprise me. What does a TV show do when it has matured too well?
Does it pick on guest cameos even CRAZIER than your regular cast? A sad gay man that is going to rediscover youth by becoming a complete caricature! Oh, we thought Adam was a mess? Check out his sister! Walk home to find her naked in the bathroom with a glass in her hand that — oh, yep, she crushed it. Girls has always been good on bodies, but I didn’t feel anything watching Caroline crush that glass until it bled in her hand. And were we supposed to be shocked by her pubes? I JUST DON’T KNOW ANYMORE. Lili is right: this show is “syncopated to a fault.” I don’t know how to follow it tonally anymore, and for something to be tonally chaotic or deaf in an interesting way, you need at least some kind of baseline genre to compare it against. Caroline’s bathroom scene felt like a horror film trying to push its way into a birthday party where already no one was communicating with anyone else.
Early on in the night, Hannah tells Adam that she never has good birthdays. But instead of walking home and bemoaning (as I thought she would) the falling out between her friends, or the brawl between her two employers, or the fact that Marnie made her do Nineties Musical Theater Karaoke, Hannah seems genuinely happy. Girl, how bad were your prior birthdays? Hannah doesn’t caaaaaaaare. She has a boyfriend and they’re about to have table sex! So why, or more to the point how, should we care?
Again, to quote Lili: “I worry sometimes that Girls’ superpower is turning critics into wacky contortionists.” Taylor Swift would call it exhausting. But when do we draw the line of never, ever getting back together? And while I find the Marnie-aka-Allison Williams Youtube bit all very meta-referential and clever (Girls! It’s self-aware!), maybe we should be worried that the video doesn’t contribute to the plot, so much as 1) focus on the fact of its self-consciousness without minding about how it plays into content or structure and 2) keep the long-departed Charlie in the ongoing narrative frame (even though we don’t know why or how Charlie and Marnie ever concocted this piece of work, but I would say if Charlie is enabling this kind of behavior either marry him or be glad he’s really gone).
(For what it’s worth, these lyrics are some LDR magic: "I was like, 'What?' He was like, 'Yeah, I called her. She’s excited.’”) What perhaps ails me most, though, is how Marnie’s video was the nugget of the episode for me. The thing that didn’t have any substance became the very thing I was most interested in. Maybe Girls should stick to snacks? Maybe growing up means you can still try new snacks? Or maybe — god forbid — I don’t want them to grow up, because no one really, well, does. The Fun. song never starts playing.
And besides Marnie, it was Ray that interested me most. Ray’s sad, slouched, borderline-alcoholic figure in all those positions of slouchiness (over the cafe counter, on the couch, sprawled on a table) that made me wonder if the show has decided it’s only interested in projecting its anxieties on the constantly projected body of Ray.
Or maybe it’s an episode/season three dip. I actually loved the road trip from last week, also known as that anxious, bored, in-between space where Hannah cannot stop snacking. That indeterminacy is what I love best about this show, but currently it’s getting stuck more than getting thrown.
You just need a good night’s sleep,
The Other Shoe
By Lili Loofbourow
January 23, 2014
I WORRY SOMETIMES that Girls’ superpower is turning critics into wacky contortionists. Phil called me out in the nicest possible way last week for my reading of the Season 2 finale, and I’m bound to say I’m coming round to his way of thinking. Endings are crucial, and the big question — when you’re trying to figure out whether a show plans to pay back the credit you keep extending — is whether, when the shoe finally drops, it drops where you thought it would. The trouble is that it’s hard to find that shoe. Finales, despite their names, are both endings and their opposites.
It’s especially hard to get your bearings with a show like Girls. Phil’s argument is that the finale, by ending on a Fun. song, appears to abandon its usual ambiguity and really commit to the silly rom-com ending. I concede this: the song is … a problem. (For my version of what the show was doing, anyway.) Again, one of the crazy-making things about this show is its protracted refusal to resolve. It’s syncopated to a fault. The question is whether Girls’ resistance to endings is (to get musical again for a second) A) the product of a totally stochastic compositional practice, B) an atonal approach to the sitcom that doesn’t care about conventional harmonies but has a vague internal structure, or C) a type of Schoenberg-y maniacally ordered twelve-tone serialism that you have to see on paper to really get. I was hoping for C). I think we’re actually somewhere between A) and B). I say that because I think — I think — a shoe finally dropped this week. We may have expected the Adam-Hannah relationship to somehow express or comment on the misery of its origin, but the tense happiness Phil observed is gone: Adam and Hannah seemed genuinely happy.
Now, the show has spent a lot of time on dysfunctional Hannah and it’s a relief to zoom out and let her bumble along functional, happy, well-adjusted. Her parents are delighted! Adam gets along with them! Marnie is ridiculous but also aware of her own ridiculousness, which is a kind of progress. Everyone is insufferable in their particular way. Unfortunately, when they’re all doing okay and we instead spend a weird amount of screentime with minor characters acting crazy, the effect isn’t especially absorbing.
What Does It Mean time. I suspect one of two things is happening.
Possibility the first: If Girls’ is more C) than A) or B), then this is a portrait of emotional fragility when it thinks it struck gold. We know this moment: it’s when a troubled friend rhapsodizes a little too intensely about the Thing That Changed Her Life. Maybe it’s gluten, yoga, keto, a book, a gym, a medicine, a girl, a boy: the point is, it fixed everything. And you know, watching her, that it’s marvelous and you also know that it’s brief. On the other side of that glorious plateau, that apparent peace, is the disillusionment we skin our knees on throughout our twenties as epiphany after epiphany falters and our investments finally tremble before the possibility that there might not be a panacea or even a thing worth winning. That’s where editor-dude and Ray are, and why they come to — um — blows.
The other possibility is that stuff is just kinda happening and Dunham/Apatow are enjoying watching these characters spin out in different scenarios without thinking about it too hard. Scenes, not episodes, are the fictional units in Girls; scenes — not episodes, barring exceptions like “One Man’s Trash” — are where we sometimes find resolution, or closure, or, frankly, meaning.
I hope it’s the former, because that would be a clever take on twenties vs. thirties; Hannah’s reluctance to sing “Take Me Or Leave Me” is a sign of this tilting perspective. Rent is what this kind of college kid thinks their twenties will be like. Is Hannah cruel for refusing to relive this moment with Marnie — a moment Marnie remembers as their happiest? Is Hannah maturing because she realizes she can’t demand that people take her as she is anymore? Is she reluctant because she can’t abide playing Joanne to Marnie’s Maureen any longer? Or is she just embarrassed that she once was really really into Rent?
I think it’s the latter. (Here’s hoping future shoes will drop.)
And now I have grown weary of you,
Lili Loofbourow is a PhD candidate at UC Berkeley working on Milton and 17th-century theories of eating and reading. She tweets at @millicentsomer, blogs at Excremental Virtue, and writes TV criticism over at Dear Television along with Jane Hu, Phillip Maciak, and Evan Kindley. You can sometimes find her at The Awl, The Hairpin, and The New Inquiry.
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