Guys on Girls, Season 2

Lena Dunham Examines Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder on Girls
Talking television.
March 4 2013 8:04 AM

Guys on Girls, Season 2

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Are the characters on this show consistent? Should they be?

girls_adam_8a
Adam Driver.

Photo by Jessica Miglio/HBO.

Forrest Wickman: So did you bring the cookies?

David Haglund: Ha. I have two words for you, Forrest: Carol Kane! And two more: Bob Balaban. Two of the very best comic actors with alliterative names in a single episode. Anyway, let’s dive in. What did you think of “It’s Back”?

Wickman: Allison Portchnik herself! This episode centered largely on four developments, and I’m afraid all of them felt a little sudden to me. Hannah has OCD. Shoshanna totally cheated. Charlie sold an app. And Marnie wants to sing.

That last discovery was perhaps the least surprising—it was set up with drunken karaoke way back in the season premiere—though I was surprised that Allison Williams really could. And the suddenness of Charlie’s startup success was at least played as a joke—on Marnie. (“Oh my god, we totally forgot to talk about Charlie selling his app, Forbid.”) But, even knowing that Shoshanna feels trapped, did you buy that she would cheat quite so rashly, and with a hot doorman? And did I miss something that set up Hannah’s raging OCD? (I mean besides Dunham revealing her own past struggles, with remarkable timing, in her Rolling Stone interview.)

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Haglund: I was reminded of a comment Allison Benedikt made when we talked about the show on the XX Gabfest. She complained that the characters on Girls aren’t consistent, and contrasted them with the more coherent (though equally unstable) stable of characters on Enlightened. I think Allison may have a point there. On the other hand, one’s 20s can be a volatile time. I wanted to complain, e.g., that Questionable Goods, the memorable Ray-Charlie collaboration from Season 1, went unmentioned yet again—even in the scene where Ray critiques Marnie’s singing. On the other hand, I played in a band in my 20s. We gigged regularly. Then I stopped. And this is probably the first time it has come up in weeks (and as an example of something that almost never comes up).

Plus, consistent characters can easily become predictable characters, sitcom caricatures who provide variations on the same punch lines every week. Joey’s the dumb one, Phoebe’s the quirky one, Chandler’s the sarcastic one, etc. So I think Girls has a very particular challenge: creating realistically unpredictable characters in their 20s who nonetheless seem coherent and familiar to us week after week. And while last night’s storylines caught me a little off-guard, they all made some sense. Hannah’s been an anxious sort from the beginning, for instance, so her OCD didn’t come entirely out of left field, even if her symptoms haven’t appeared before now.

Wickman: Yeah, I don’t think any sharks were jumped. And at least we’re back in the flow of things. The last three episodes felt like they were procrastinating before the end-of-the-season cram—now we’re back down to business. In fact, this episode reintroduced the possibility that Hannah is still interested in Adam. His phone call first prompts Hannah’s OCD, and later she confesses that she “can’t decide if he’s the greatest person in the world or the worst.”

Are you still interested in Adam and Hannah? I’m an Adam-and-Hannah addict (fine, I’ll bring the cookies), but the relationship has begun to feel more teasing and manipulative, a bit will-they-or-won’t-they—Ross-and-Rachel territory. Is Hannah’s OCD relapse at all because of Adam, or is it just because of her deadline? This seems like a central question of this episode. Also: Will they, or won’t they?

Haglund: I was surprised that Adam’s phone call was Hannah’s first trigger, or at least the first that we saw. But I do think her anxiety is largely connected with the e-book, which does not seem to be going well, and with a more general feeling of instability.

What kept the Adam-Hannah situation out of Ross-and-Rachel territory for me were the parallels this episode set up between our two principals, which made their relationship seem both more inevitable and, perhaps, a little more dangerous. Just as Hannah’s OCD has returned, so has Adam’s need for a drink—hence that opening scene in an A.A. meeting. I thought of that A.A. meeting when Hannah’s mom reacted angrily to Hannah’s counting. “It’s not our fault,” Ms. Horvath said, to which Hannah replied, “Well, it’s genetic, which is sort of the ultimate your fault.” That’s a conversation an alcoholic might have with his parents—and I don’t think that analogy was a coincidence.

I was less interested in the lovely Natalia. Even though she was played by the very charming Shiri Appleby, I couldn’t help but think that, despite her protestations, she really is a decoy. I suspect (and hope) that she’ll be in at least one more episode, but I’d be surprised if she shows up in Season 3.

Wickman: Those parallels were certainly there—the title of the episode could refer not only to Hannah’s OCD, but to Adam’s struggle with drinking, which was first mentioned back in Season 1. And I don’t think it’s a coincidence that “It’s Back” ended with a perfect reversal of the last episode’s conclusion: “Video Games” finished with Hannah commenting on how lucky she is to have responsible parents who care for her. This episode ends with her complaining about the same. “I hate it when you look concerned about me,” she says.

We should at least touch on the two best parts of the episode, which were Adam Driver’s two monologues and the show’s send-up of Web 2.0 start-up culture, which was hilarious and (I imagine) spot-on. They could just as well have been running across the hall to BuzzFeed to do the “Harlem Shake.”

Also: Do you think it was a coincidence that they revealed Hannah’s (and Dunham’s) obsession with the number 8 on the 8th episode of the season? Spooky.

Haglund: Let’s hope that’s an in-joke and not a symptom. You and I seem to have enjoyed very different things from this episode. While Charlie and his cohorts—including Slate contributor Alice Gregory—made for amusing bougie nightmares, loaning out Jack Johnson albums and complimenting each other on being such great employees, the best scenes for me, hands down, were 1) Ray and Marnie’s conversation about pursuing one’s dreams and 2) Hannah and Dr. Balaban’s conversation about confronting one’s reality.

I wasn’t surprised Allison Williams could sing, having seen a video that went around a year or so ago of her adding lyrics to the Mad Men theme song. But I was surprised she and Alex Karpovsky (and director Jesse Peretz) could make that scene work so well. When was the last time you saw a character in a non-musical sing (and quite well, if maybe a tad too Norah Jones-y) without it seeming ridiculous?

And I loved Balaban’s model of the modern Manhattan psychiatrist—it was really a classical presentation. I’m interested in his books about the bionic dog who, in each installment, saves the world—books that Balaban actually wrote! Also, Hannah’s anguished account of her condition was, not surprisingly, heartfelt.

Wickman: Yeah, if I had any issues with this episode, they were with the writing—I’m beginning to suspect that Peretz is one of the show’s most reliable directors, alongside Dunham and the stylish Jody Lee Lipes. The cameo that I didn’t like was Judy Collins’, which for me felt almost like an OC-style tie-in for the Girls soundtrack, Vol. 2. Then again, the lyrics (about dark days returning) were at least relevant to Hannah’s situation, and Judy Collins really does perform at Café Carlyle. I doubt she breaks performance to call out anyone who gets up to go to the bathroom, though.

Haglund: That moment stuck out a bit for me, too—though I did love “Song for Judith (Open the Door),” and pretty much always enjoy the music on this show. (Apparently pop songs now get a bigger sales boost from Girls than they do from Glee.) And the lyrics were more than relevant, I think—they practically served as a commentary track. “You might have thought I was livin’/ But I was all alone.” Exactly.

If I have a complaint it’s that some storylines felt rushed. We’ve barely touched on the Shoshanna storyline, the most hurried of the four—and thus, perhaps, the hardest to buy into. Would the character we think we know really hook up with a hot doorman in a utility closet? I’m not sure. Then again, the emotional groundwork was laid, albeit quickly: She, too, is lonely, having abandoned her undergrad social life for Ray, with whom things have gotten complicated. It’s not much, perhaps, but it might be enough.

Wickman: Agreed. Though we didn’t get to what might be the biggest puzzler of that scene, at least for me: How does that braid work?

Anyway, you’re really easy to talk to. I thought this was going to suck ass.

Haglund: I’ve had to pee for the last 30 minutes.

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

Forrest Wickman is a Slate staff writer. 

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