Guys on Girls, Season 2

Can You Like Girls Even If You Hate Hannah?
Talking television.
Jan. 27 2013 9:21 PM

Guys on Girls, Season 2

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Is it possible to like this show if you can’t stand Hannah?

Lena Dunham.
Lena Dunham.

Photo by Jessica Miglio/HBO

David Haglund: Bryan, you regularly joined our Girls chats on Brow Beat last season, but you were less won over by the show than some of us—which is why I’m glad we’re discussing what was easily the best episode of Season 2 so far. What do you think of the show now?

Bryan Lowder: My initial feelings last season are best described as annoyed—but I grew to respect Dunham’s project by the end of Season 1, and approached the new season hopefully, curious whether this thing has any legs—not as fodder for cultural studies papers and the representation police but as a television comedy. This episode really hit that mark. I laughed far more often than I was annoyed—and that’s saying something for someone like me, who really doesn’t care for the protagonist.

I have a controversial theory for why this episode was so funny—a total lack of Adam. In his absence, I realized how much he weighs down the show.

Haglund: We’re going to need to discuss that theory. But first let’s discuss Hannah, and the whole matter of not liking her. In this episode, we saw her at her worst: the eagerness to cater to a dreadful magazine editor (did JazzHate remind you of anything? I couldn’t quite place the satire); the obliviousness of asking a recovering addict for a drug hook-up; that self-righteous, coked-up diatribe about how Marnie was the bad friend, and she was the good friend—all these things painted as unflattering a picture of Hannah as we’ve gotten. But I don’t think Dunham & co. want viewers to turn against her, exactly. How much does not liking her interfere with your enjoyment of the show?

Lowder: Great question. I realize that her being kind of a mess is part of the point—so I wouldn’t dismiss the show for making that painfully clear. And I’ve become habituated to her awfulness, and can find the humor in it now. The increasingly ensemble nature of the show helps as well: Hannah’s baggage is less burdensome when it doesn’t take up all 30 minutes. Having Elijah around goes a long way, too. Plus, the coke storyline added more than standard drug humor—it prompted accidental self-reflection I haven’t seen from Hannah before. “My greatest dream is to have sex with myself. But it is also my greatest nightmare.” That’s her clearest admission of narcissism to this point, and it humanized her... even if she doesn’t remember it in the morning.

Haglund: As Elijah says, “It’s like a fucking therapy session in here.” And he addresses her narcissism, too: “We’re just all living in Hannah’s world,” he says, “and it’s just Hannah Hannah Hannah all the time.” I agree that the cocaine use was portrayed in a more sophisticated fashion than the crack Shoshanna smoked in Bushwick last season. I mean, it was for work—which is a joke, of course, but not entirely: Hannah’s genuinely desperate for the kind of “experience” she thinks a writer needs, and that magic-seeking JazzHate editor tells Hannah to “do a whole bunch of coke and just write about it.” By having Hannah get the coke from a recovering addict—Laird, played to hilarious effect by the great Jon Glaser—the show points up Hannah’s privilege: She’s dabbling in highly illegal, very mind-altering substances without any concern for the cost or the consequences.

Lowder: Exactly! I’m glad you brought up Hannah’s “work,” such as it is, because I’m increasingly interested in her status as a “writer.” We got a lot of development on that front tonight—despite the fact that no actual writing took place. It was a nice coincidence that Hannah took a freelance gig with a shock-memoir outlet just after we’ve had a lot of debate about that form thanks to Elizabeth Wurtzel, Hamilton Nolan, and Katie Roiphe. Hannah’s falling into the trap Nolan warns young writers against: exploiting their embarrassing experiences for page views at the risk of that well eventually running dry. The ironic thing is Hannah doesn’t need to do bumps off a toilet at Greenhouse to get good material. Her ex-boyfriend just invaded her house in the middle of the night! She’s in an emotionally co-dependent cuddle-relationship with her gay ex-boyfriend! In the hands of a real memoirist, that’s two pieces right there—she just needs to sit down and write. But like Hannah says in another bit of coke-fueled confessional, “I’m a writer and I don’t write things down!” I hope this season continues to press this issue, because to do the kind of writing she claims she wants to do, Hannah has got to become a heck of a lot more self-aware—and self-disciplined.

Haglund: Hannah’s decision to “write an article that exposes all my vulnerabilities to the entire Internet” does seem like a common contemporary trap—though some do that sort of writing beautifully and to everyone’s benefit. You’re right, in any case, that Hannah doesn’t grasp what’s material and what isn’t. She tells Elijah, “You ruined my article, you ruined my night.” I’m pretty sure neither of those things is true.

Let’s discuss this Adam theory. He was indeed absent from the best and funniest episode of the season so far. You really think he weighs down the series?

Lowder: Yes. David Plotz called Adam the most compelling character on television last year, and I can’t believe such a smart person could feel that way. Perhaps Adam just inhabits an aesthetic zone too far outside my very gay universe (out “where the magic happens”), and his dopey, Cro-Magnon, nearly pre-verbal masculinity is simply illegible to me. Even so, I’m not sure he’s of a piece with the rest of Girls—everyone else is confused and messy, sure, but they are at least striving for plausible goals and living some believable version of a young New York City life. Adam is a caricature lacking coherent motivation or interiority, and his bestial groans and grimaces are boring. Maybe that bumbling quality is funny to some, but it’s telling that this episode had so much levity without him. And anyway, Hannah is already disagreeable enough. Can one show really sustain two moderately hateful people at the same time?

Haglund: Ha! When you put it that way, it’s amazing you enjoy the show as much as you do! I’d describe both as flawed and foolish and subject to all the shortcomings that people of their ages and backgrounds are likely to be subject to. But I also think both have moments of wisdom and charm—like when Hannah, tonight, declared that she definitely, definitely doesn’t “care about putting on appropriate pants, because one could really go through one’s whole life wearing shorty shorts and offend almost no one.”

Hateful is a word I’d reserve for Booth Jonathan, “that smeej [???] of an artist,” who really is the worst—and who is, I think, held up for mockery more than the main characters are. Marnie appears to have been bludgeoned into admiration by his blasting “Barely Breathing” at her while she cowers before images of crying babies and animals being torn limb from limb. Though at least she laughed in his face after his bizarre sex game. “Look at the doll. Look at her. Describe her.” Horrific. And very funny.

Lowder: That doll was sassy: Marnie should not have let Booth control her like that! He is the cad of cads, and that clichéd video-installation tower was absurd. Marnie’s response (“You are so FUCKING talented”) confirmed that she’s not ready to be a curator. (Though given the dismal state of the art market maybe her taste is right on.) You may not be surprised that, of all the characters, I like Marnie the most, despite her obvious failings. Perhaps, like Emily Bazelon, I am “a Marnie,” and therefore, NOT A GOOD FRIEND. But that line of Hannah’s you quoted was indeed lovely, and the right response to some of Marnie’s more controlling tendencies.

But my enjoyment of Girls probably depends less on any particular character than on how and where they all collide. Exploring the weird relationship of fellow tenants through Laird the ex-junkie was brilliant—as was the trip to see Andrew Andrew at Greenhouse. That club—only a few steps away from our office, David—is a lot of fun. Though the bathrooms we saw were not accurate: The real ones are much cleaner and staffed with soap people.

Haglund: Interesting! You will perhaps not be surprised that I had no idea that the club even existed, let alone so nearby. I grew up with Reagan and 3 2 1 Contact and Teddy Ruxpin, and even in my younger days I never rocked out to brand consultants. (iPad DJs didn’t exist yet.) Though Icona Pop’s “I Love It” did get my toe tapping.

Lowder: The Reagan-Ruxpin ’80s! I don’t think I have memories from before 1991. But the DJs at Greenhouse in my experience are not so chichi as all that—just downtown club-kid types.

Haglund: Your point about the collisions of people in a city is a great one—Laird’s comment about Marnie and Hannah having different magazine subscriptions and different schedules and seeming like they probably shouldn’t be roommates cracked me up. And his compulsion to come up with a wi-fi network name to rival “MadameOvaries” is, I imagine, a specifically urban anxiety.

Lowder: I hope we see more of Laird: His wounded world-weariness was a pleasing balance to the self-absorption of these kids.

Haglund: I worry that Jon Glaser will join Chris Eigeman and Mike Birbiglia atop the pantheon of comic talents who have graced this show in just one episode; like you, I sorely hope that he returns. Maybe Hannah will bump into him while he sock-shops.

Is it fair to say you like the show more now than you did when the season started?

Lowder: I’m definitely committed to the show now, and hopeful that it will continue to mature. Maybe one day it will be as good as Enlightened. For now I’m going to pop by the club to grab a bottle of their best sauvignon blanc. You talk about work too much.

Haglund: I’m going home to relax with my turtle.

David Haglund is a senior editor at Slate. He runs Brow Beat, Slate's culture blog.

J. Bryan Lowder is a Slate assistant editor. He writes and edits for Outward, Slate’s LGBTQ section, and for the culture section.

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