GIRLS on Film: Secrets, Seduction and Reclaiming the Body on Camera

GIRLS on Film: Secrets, Seduction and Reclaiming the Body on Camera

null

Hannah Horvath’s constant nudity in Girls has been a point of discussion since the start of the first season; one of the reasons Girls has been successful has to do with the way it tackles our own attitudes regarding female overexposure. Recently, Howard Stern caused a minor stir when he called Dunham “a little fat chick” and likened her sex scenes to “rape.” Throughout the media, Lena Dunham is both heralded and criticized for filming her own naked body, in all its soft, unphotoshopped glory. In many ways, despite how ubiquitous it has become, female nudity on screen is directly linked to shame. It doesn’t matter what we look like. The most beautiful women in the world are subjected to criticism of their bodies, as well as their sexuality, when they take off their clothes.

The female body in photographs and film is still, at some level, considered to be public property, something that is intended to provoke, entertain, inspire or arouse the audience. We don’t often see women having agency over their own bodies and, indeed, much of the focus surrounding Dunham’s nudity has been on her insistence on placing her characters in a range of strange, unfulfilling, and sometimes humiliating sexual situations. But the scene I love most in Girls is the one of Hannah naked and happy, eating cupcakes in a bathtub. This simple image is strangely radical: a private moment where we see a woman enjoying her body just as it is, a naked woman who exists for no one else.

In many ways, 2012 has been the year of the female confession; great media attention has been given to women who are willing to tell all, unequivocally, all the time. We see this in the rise of female reality TV stars who share everything, ranging from their diet tips to their sex lives. We see this, also, in the burst of female success that has come from baring all, confessing painful past histories that include incest, eating disorders, drug use, depression, sexual liaisons, and all sorts and staples of traditionally “bad” female behavior. Perhaps there is nothing new about our constant and unwavering fascination with good girls gone bad, with hearing female sexual confessions, especially those that bear the marks of humiliation or risk. What is new is the attitude that confession, in all its messy and strange incarnations, will give women a true voice by highlighting the person behind the feminine façade, the creature who can see the outer objectified self with painful precision.

In many ways, talking about the sex on Girls leaves us in a double bind. On the one hand it makes sense to praise Dunham’s tenacity, her willingness to be nude on camera despite her “imperfections,” her determination to put her own experiences on public view for the sake of her art. On the other, it is arguable that the attention surrounding Girls is born from a kind of sensationalism that male artists, writers, and directors never have to struggle with. No one looks at Boogie Nights and considers the extent to which Paul Thomas Anderson’s own sense of sexuality helped influence his film. We assume that male auteurs are able to separate themselves from their projects in the same way that we assume the deep male voiceover, which is a mainstay in so many feature films, is the voice of “God,” omnipotent and all-knowing. Kanye West and any number of male recording artists can describe their sexual preferences and predilections, while artists like Rihanna are consistently stigmatized for doing the same.

Sometimes, as in the case of Rihanna, we conceptualize our tongue clucking as if it were borne out of concern, but the reality is a bit more sinister than that. Film, in particular, has a legacy of overt objectification of women; it is impossible to watch the camera linger on Hannah Horvath’s body, in any number of scenes in Girls, without considering the extent to which female bodies are looked at and the extent to which we still imbue the female body with meaning. The literary female confessor is still in some ways hidden—there is a separation between page and person. In her book, How Should a Person Be?, Sheila Heti can describe sexual situations and fantasies without provoking the same exact combination of excitement and ire that erupts when a female artist produces nude photographs to go alongside an artistic project. When Miranda July and Lena Dunham get naked on camera, the audience is often more obsessed with what this propensity for nudity says about them as individuals than with its contribution to their art.

While self-exposure is often intended to expose the male gaze, to illustrate how there is no blank slate that we can cast desire onto, that there is something unique and fundamentally human about being a woman and being a girl, exposure is not, in reality, always an empowered act. Nakedness, of course, can be freeing, but only if we are fully in charge of when, where, and how we are taking off our clothes. We are used to seeing young girls coerced into taking their clothes off for other people, whether in the fashion industry or in any number of films and music videos. Indeed, for many women in literature, film, and the arts, nakedness is the price we pay for attention and acclaim; for many, nakedness is the only pale shadow of acclaim we may ever really get. The female artist or writer who chooses to get naked is always seen as a naked woman first and as an artist second. The image of the naked woman, regardless of how SHE is using that image, is read into the fabric of our culture as an object we can pick apart, distribute, decimate, worship, or destroy.

The dialogue surrounding Lena Dunham’s naked body illustrates the ways that disentangling one’s self from one’s own history is still a struggle for the female artist, one for which there isn’t a single answer. The obsession with female confession is about the shapes and shades of female sadness, the ways the female body has betrayed us, the fear that our still strangely misogynistic culture has broken our collective hearts. Fifty Shades of Grey is marketable because the text ruptures nothing sacred in our culture; women are allowed to be sexual as long as they are an empty vessel waiting to be filled. We still view the connection between female sexuality and individual agency as incredibly tenuous.

Perhaps this is why, in many ways, I yearn for the partial exposure of the femme fatale to the overexposure of the ingénue. While the camera lingers on the body of vamps and vixens, their façade still seems one of power, rather than powerlessness. The femme fatale, unlike other kinds of sex bombs, is dangerous not because she is desirable, but because she has secrets. Her desires are wild and untamed, and her motives are private and unclear. The femme fatale is threatening because she is a free agent who operates according to her own moral code. Not giggly and coy like a Marilyn, not bouncy and bold like a Britney, not regal or refined like Grace Kelly, the femme fatale is blood and ice and grit. She is a hot throb of sex, naked but never exposed. Her drive is insatiable. She gives away nothing. She takes and takes and takes.

I have felt drawn to these types of female characters since I was a little girl. The minute I saw Jessica Rabbit walk onstage in "Who Framed Roger Rabbit?", all slinky red dress and deep-throated whisper, I thought, “This is what it means to be a woman.” Since then I’ve loved every femme fatale I’ve seen on screen. Marlene Dietrich. Greta Garbo. Barbara Stanwyck. Rita Hayworth. Lauren Bacall. Sharon Stone. Angelina Jolie. Dangerous, powerful, sexual women.  

In contrast, scenes of women exposed horrify and sadden me. I can’t watch Hannah Horvath lean over the couch and get told to “play the quiet game” while her obnoxious boyfriend may or may not be unwrapping a condom in preparation for anal sex without getting incredibly upset. The modern woman on film has been presented as a warrior (Katniss from The Hunger Games, The Bride from Kill Bill) or an ingénue (Bella from Twilight, any number of romantic comedies which fail the Bechdel test time and time again). Neither of these presentations of femininity gets us any closer to true personhood. Perhaps this is why my love for the femme fatale figure remains: if my only choice is to be a symbol then let me keep my secrets rather than confess them all away. Let me be fire and ice and blood.

The qualities I admire most about Lena Dunham are the ways in which she is pure steel. I love how she refuses to capitulate to the criticisms leveraged against her body, even though I feel this focus detracts from other important aspects of the show. Our fixation on female bodies highlights just how much we still need to be shocked into paying attention to young women’s wants and needs. Many times the bodies we are presented with are static—photo spreads, billboards, scenes of women posing, rather than actually doing anything purposeful at all. Images that illustrate the female body in motion, whether it's Jessica Rabbit sauntering on stage, or Hannah Horvath dancing around her room, are empowering precisely because they are about claiming ownership over one’s own body, about not being a metaphor or symbol or fantasy for anyone else.  They are about being a person in the world.

Arielle Bernstein is a writer living in Washington, DC. She teaches writing at George Washington University and American University and also freelances. Her work has been published in The Millions, The Rumpus, St. Petersburg Review, and South Loop Review, and she has twice been listed as a finalist in Glimmertrain's Family Matters Short Story Contests. She is Associate Book Reviews Editor at The Nervous Breakdown.

GIRLS RECAP 10: SHE DID

GIRLS RECAP 10: SHE DID

Did she ever—no matter which of the main she's on Girls you might mean. Marnie makes good on her end of her and Hannah's big fight in the last episode; uber-responsible (read: uber-controlling) to the last, she pays the rent up to the end of the month, and then she moves out, leaving Hannah to find a new roommate.

nullJessa also has a new roommate—her husband, Thomas John, a.k.a. the sad guy from the failed three-way. Apparently they went on a couple of dates; confused "new sexual partner, delirium caused by" with "lasting commitment, fitness for"; and invited all their friends to a party that's actually a surprise wedding. Everything about the event is quintessentially Jessa, from the idea that she'll mess with everyone's preconceived notions about free spirits to the "veil" that looks like she picked it out of the trash behind Beacon's Closet. Not only will the ensuing plots for Season Two write themselves (see: the months of material "Felicity" got out of this when Noel Crane married the Doritos girl), but a season-finale wedding is the perfect deus ex cake-ina for throwing characters together and stirring vigorously.

For example: Ray and Shoshanna. As predicted, Ray is really into Shoshanna; Shoshanna is really horrified that, not knowing that the party was a wedding, she dressed in white, and she's almost too preoccupied with that to overthink what she's agreeing to when Ray proposes taking her home that night. Later, in bed, Shoshanna's suffering from her usual logorrhea (observing that her aunt told her that losing her virginity felt like "scratching a sunburn" . . . wow, what?), but Ray is seemingly undeterred, and we're probably to assume that Shoshanna is relieved of her V card shortly thereafter.

Marnie, meanwhile, runs into Charlie at the wedding; he's sans new girlfriend—she's evidently live-blogging a tortilla-soup contest, or something?—and it seems like he and Marnie might go on a reunion tour together, but she isn't quite banged up enough on bubbly to go there . . . yet. The end of the night finds her draining yet another glass of champagne, eating cake with her hands, and making out with the Seth-Rogen-esque wedding emcee.

Even Elijah has moved on—to a new, older boyfriend named George, who's apparently hiding his relationship with Elijah from his homophobic teenage son. Elijah's having to live in an SRO until the kid graduates, which is the plot machination that allows Elijah to stay on the show: Hannah invites him to bunk with her, solving both their problems. (It doesn't hurt that he admits that he probably did give Hannah the HPV after all.)

But while it's a solution, it's also Hannah not moving forward, not growing up—staying stuck, facing backward. Marnie's moving out, without a plan, trying new things (or boys); Jessa's married, which is forward motion even if it's ill-considered; Shoshanna is dumping the virginity that keeps her a girl. Hannah is moving in with her gay ex-boyfriend from college, a known and safe quantity who won't challenge her. Adam has already suggested himself as the new roommate, pairing the proposition with a speech about moving on from toxic relationships without guilt, but Hannah just assumes he doesn't mean it, or that he just wanted to help. "Nobody does anything because they want to help; I did it because I love you!" he snaps.

Hannah doesn't know what to do with that information, and Adam doesn't sympathize at all, going off on her for following him "like [he's] the Beatles" for months and then giving him a "shrug" when he commits to her. The actor does a great job with a scene that, for Adam, is basically delivering an audience-proxy checklist of all the ways in which Hannah is an obnoxious, self-absorbed hypocrite: he yells that this is what Hannah wanted, and now she's not giving back. He bellows that she's pretty and a good writer and a good friend, but she doesn't believe those things about herself. Hannah tries to defend herself, to explain that she's scared, the most scared that anyone is, all the time, which I empathize with, and then Adam basically orders her to get over it, which I also empathize with. And then Adam gets clipped by a passing car, and he refuses to let her ride with him in the ambulance: "Don't let her in here. She's a monster."

The monster gets on the F train by herself.

Sarah: "Girlfriend is totally falling asleep and waking up in Coney Island with no purse, bet you a dollar."

Dirk: "No bet."

Sure enough, that's what happens—been there; walked home from that—and Hannah, who's lost her purse but managed to hold on to the slice of wedding cake, wanders out of the station and down onto the boardwalk as the light is coming up. Sunrise finds her on the beach, the Wonder Wheel behind her, sitting at the edge of the world eating cake. In a way, it's a reflection of her sitting in the bathtub eating a cupcake from the premiere—but everything's changed. But nothing has.

The finale showcases everything the show does well—which, I think, closely follows the list of reasons the show grates on people. Not everyone likes the girls of Girls, their self-absorption, their top-heavy ratio of theoretical to practical experience, their workshoppy ways of living, but Dunham and her co-writers have a perfect-pitch ear for how those people speak to and about each other. Not everyone wants to revisit the "thought we knew everything; actually knew fuck-all"-ness of their twenties, but Girls is a painstakingly researched document of that painful cluelessness.

The finale is also a great stage for the Adam character, who started out as a wince-inducingly accurate and familiar, but two-dimensional type of That Guy—dating around, waxing smug about wood craftsmanship while taking money from Grandma, not remembering where Hannah's from—and evolved into a nicely realized human being. He's also the embodiment of everything Hannah is afraid she'll never have, and at the same time that she will have—and then lose. She's still thinking like her high-school self. (And dressing like she doesn't own a mirror. I would love to know if this is intentional, because the problem is not Dunham's figure. It's that there is always always bunching. I'm just going to assume it's a character beat, because as such, it's quite effective.)

It's a strong end to the season; the writing feels confident, without the overworked or canned bits we got partway through. The show isn't for everyone, and it's about hardly anyone—and the niche appeal of/audience for what Dunham does is a legitimate reason not to watch the show or care about the characters. At the same time, though, you have to take the work for what it is. What's the expression—writing that tries to be for everyone ends up being for no one? Dunham's doing Dunham; she's doing it really well, and it's possible to hear some universals in it.

Sarah D. Bunting co-founded TelevisionWithoutPity.com, and has written for Seventeen, New York Magazine, MSNBC.com, Salon, Yahoo!, and others. She's the chief cook and bottle-washer at TomatoNation.com.

GIRLS RECAP 9: LEAVE ME ALONE

GIRLS RECAP 9: LEAVE ME ALONE

The climactic argument between Marnie and Hannah in "Leave Me Alone" is soooo satisfying—and it's not merely because Marnie is acting as the viewer's proxy in calling Hannah fully and completely on her bullshit. That's fun, but Marnie isn't even alone in that this week, because Hannah's finally gotten a semi-, sort-of, part-time coffee-shop job . . . and her manager is Ray. Ray not only sends Hannah home to change when she shows up in a stain-tempting white dress, ordering her to "forget all the BBC you watch at home with your cats" and put on something appropriate; he also advises her on what to buy at American Apparel, complete with hand gestures ("slim leg! slim leg!") (not for nothing, but a skinny jean is about the only thing that would be less flattering to Lena Dunham's figure than the dresses Hannah already wears).

null

Ray also gives explicit voice to the anxieties of young writers about their material—specifically, whether it's "serious enough." I had to accept years ago that I'd never make that cut, because when I was Hannah's age, the internet was considered the JV, at best, never mind writing about television on the internet, or telling funny stories about karate class or doing your laundry. I didn't have an agent, I didn't write literary fiction, and it didn't really matter, at all, but back then, if a guy like Ray had blown off my subject matter as frivolous—"How about divorce? How about death?  . . . How about death?"—I would have taken it to heart, and I would have tried to write a somber, well-researched, mindful, high-fiber piece about municipal politics, and it would have bombed, just like it does for Hannah at her reading. Hannah's former writing prof is very encouraging throughout, and seems to understand what Hannah's writing strength is, whether it's one that Hannah wants to own or not. (He's also played by Michael "Christopher Moltisanti" Imperioli. Imperioli has other, more recent credits, but I have to think the casting is meant to recall "Christophuh"'s struggles with the written word over the run of The Sopranos.)

But Hannah feels that snarky essays about dating a hoarder and spending the night on a stack of flattened Chinese-food cartons won't get you onto "Fresh Air." Of course, that very sort of observation by Dunham has gotten Dunham herself onto "Fresh Air," via "Girls"; the episode really nails the insecurity and toxic envy of starting out as a writer, although I'm not sure it's something Dunham has really experienced in that way. Maybe episode co-writer (and New Yorker cartoonist) Bruce Eric Kaplan helped shape the bits with Tally Schifrin, Hannah's creative-writing program-mate who already has a memoir out. Tally's a perfectly drawn cartoon of the non-fiction classmate we all despised, the well-connected mediocrity just clever enough to leverage a single incident or tagline into a hardcover deal. If you thought Hannah snarking that Tally's "lucky" to have a boyfriend who killed himself so she could write about it was too over the top, even for Hannah, you haven't spent that much time around writers. (And you shouldn't start. We are ruthless.)

Professor Imperioli is comforting, telling Hannah the thing every struggling, lost essayist wants to hear from someone in authority—that Tally's a "shitty" writer, and Hannah is good. It's more than Marnie has mustered; asked her opinion of the hoarder-date essay earlier, Marnie deemed it "a little bit, like, whiny." But when Hannah whines that Marnie could be a bit more supportive, Marnie sighs, "Hannah, I support you. Literally."

And when Hannah comes home from the reading and bags on Marnie for throwing clothes away instead of donating them to Goodwill, it sets off a very rewarding showdown. As I said before, it's partly because Marnie is ranking on Hannah for all her friendship sins: Hannah's selfish; she uses her self-loathing as an excuse to be a narcissist; she has no other subject but herself. Hannah gets a few good shots of her own off—Marnie is too focused on achievement and comparing herself to others; her woe-is-single-me routine is getting old (we haven't really seen that, but I'm fine with inferring it from Marnie's sad-sackishness last week); this is about Hannah having a boyfriend and Marnie not having one, because it throws off the balance of power. Now, Hannah doesn't use exactly those words, and it's a topic so nuclear that most women friends would never go near it out loud—but Marnie is used to having the boyfriend, feeling the pity instead of needing it, fitting into the size 6 (a fact she makes glancing reference to by saying that one of her old dresses might fit Hannah a bit snugly—exactly the right tone and wording for that kind of slight).

It's possible that Hannah isn't only selfish and lacking in empathy for Marnie; it's possible that, as the one who's feeling more settled emotionally for a change, she doesn't know how to support Marnie. But . . . it's more likely that, just as she herself says, being a good friend "isn't a priority for" her right now. Marnie's icy "thank you" when Hannah admits this echoes of the audience—because no shit, first of all, and second of all, it's not just Hannah. It's Marnie; it was me, I think, at that age. I'm not sure I had "friends," exactly, so much as "people I stood next to while holding a beer, in order to hate myself outside my apartment now and then."

All of Hannah's scenes, and the post-collegiate writing-competition stuff, totally resonated with me—and pretty much made up for a baffling plot "development" for Jessa in which Kathryn Lavoyt shows up at her apartment to ask her to come back as her daughters' nanny in spite of everything. It's unclear what Kathryn thinks happened, or how she found out about it—Jeff could have confessed, but it seems like something Jessa would do to quit and explain exactly why—but she takes the opportunity to share a very on-the-nose dream she keeps having about stabbing Jessa and eating her body while her mother is breastfeeding her husband. Kathryn gets a speech about how Jessa causes dramas like this, to distract herself from becoming who she is. Jessa looks intrigued by that possibility, and asks who she's becoming, then; Kathryn's response is more speechifying about how that person might not have a cool job or hair "like a mermaid," but might be happier than Jessa is now. Or . . . something. I really can't tell whether we're meant to hope that Jessa hears something for herself in these Now The Married Lady Will Tell You Your Life pearls of wisdom, or to think that Kathryn's condescending and out of touch. I have to go with the latter, although I don't think the scene came out the way it may have been intended.

And speaking of things that perhaps weren't intended . . . is that a jar of mayonnaise next to Hannah's bed? And do I want to know either way?

Sarah D. Bunting co-founded TelevisionWithoutPity.com, and has written for Seventeen, New York Magazine, MSNBC.com, Salon, Yahoo!, and others. She's the chief cook and bottle-washer at TomatoNation.com.

GIRLS RECAP 7: WELCOME TO BUSHWICK, A.K.A. THE CRACKCIDENT

GIRLS RECAP 7: WELCOME TO BUSHWICK, A.K.A. THE CRACKCIDENT

null

Was anyone else surprised that the crack in this week's episode title was crack cocaine, and not the crack of an ass? We've seen stunt penises, non-stunt pubic hair, and breasts of all ages; I figured that the crackcident would involve pants falling down somehow. And it did, sort of.

nullThe "Welcome to Bushwick" part is easy: it's the location of a big loft party where all of our main characters converge.  The crack is cocaine, which Shoshanna, of all people, ends up accidentally smoking, thinking it's pot. We don't see that mistake being made, but I hope that scene makes it onto the DVD outtakes, because what we do see is brilliant. Shosh leads off with a rant about her kick-boxing class, picks compulsively at her ear, and points a lot at Jessa; then Jessa, minutes after reassuring Shoshanna that she'll be Shoshanna's "crack spirit guide," reassigns that duty to Ray. Ray balks—"I'm not a fucking JAP daycare, absolutely not"—but Jessa says it's no big deal, just make sure Shosh doesn't jump off a roof "or get fingered by a beat-boxer." Jessa swans off. (More on that in a sec.) Shoshanna strikes a thoughtful pose.

Beat.

Shoshanna sprints off. Ray sprints after her. Niftily timed slapstick ensues: Ray runs one way, and Shoshanna runs past him the other way (waving her skirt over her head). Ray chases her down an alley while she dodges and weaves as if dodging gunfire. (Any other Archer fans here? "ZIG-ZAG, BABOU!") Ray gets a cramp and slows down; Shoshanna runs back up to him (skirt now MIA), orders him to quit chasing her, and fells him with self-defense-class moves. Ray is piqued by her freakish strength, which she attributes to the crack, although it's starting to wear off. Not entirely, though, as she's still got enough aggression in her bloodstream to offer him a "non-sexual" massage. Of his groin, in which she just kneed him. Typically, she learned massage in a sports-therapy class she took to "meet jocks." Shoshanna kneels beside Ray and massages his "area" as he eyes her speculatively. Has crack forged a love connection? If so, this is the show’s second couple brought together by bad-trip baby-sitting (see also: Charlie and Marnie).

Wait: don't see them. It's horribly awkward. Marnie is nervous because Charlie's band is playing at the party —she's not nervous to see him, mind you. She's nervous that he'll see her and feel sad. Marnie approaches Charlie after his band finishes playing and compliments him on the set, and happily comments that it's mature and pleasant between them, but then of course a girl in a headband (referred to later by Marnie as "a tiny Navajo") jumps right into Charlie's arms and starts raving to him and Marnie about the band. It's clear that "Audrey" is dating Charlie and that she has no idea who Marnie is, and Allison Williams makes Marnie's face work (beautifully) through confusion, sadness, and rejected rage, but Marnie herself is totally unsympathetic when she calls Charlie a sociopath for dating another girl, just two weeks after their break-up.

The rest of the party is a trial for her. Oh, excuse me—for anyone who runs into her. Her obsession with Charlie's two-weekrebound becomes an understandable, but obnoxious, refrain (I finally started calling Marnie "Money Pit"in my notes). First she bitches about it to a stranger, who punctuates her remarks by getting up and leaving while she's talking. Then she spots Elijah slow-dancing with his boyfriend and runs up to him to say hello—if by "say hello," you mean "complain about Charlie, and how selfish Hannah is." Elijah rolls his eyes so hard, he nearly sprains his neck, then notes that if anyone's selfish, it's Marnie, because Marnie made out with him sophomore year while Hannah had mono. Marnie snorts that it doesn't count because it was at Rent rehearsals, and besides, Elijah's the one who dated Hannah for two years and secretly liked boys the whole time. Elijah's like, not so much with the "secretly" part, sneering, 'RENT rehearsals!" It's not realistic to keep working this character into the scripts, but I don't care, because Andrew Rannells is perfect. Marnie sneeringly asks him whose dick he sucked to get a part, because his voice "sounds like a bag of dying babies," and I am so stealing that comment, even if it gets me slapped in the face like it does Marnie. (I don't know why the blocking on that smack is so amateurish and fake, either, but I assume it's intentional, and I know it's hilarious.)


On top of everything else, Marnie's now marooned at the party by herself, because Jessa has accidentally invited Lavoyt to the party and now has to deal with the inevitable ugliness. While explaining to Hannah why every party could be the best party ever, Jessa gets a text from an unknown number, asking what she's up to. Hannah tells her to ask who it is, but Jessa puts adventure above common sense once again and invites the mystery texter to the best party ever. The mystery texter is, of course, Lavoyt; the wife and kids have gone out of town to visit family, and he stayed home to work. Jessa wonders why he bothered, when he doesn't have a job. To try to get a leg over you, obviously, and as Lavoyt looks sadly down at the bottle of wine he brought to a Bushwick party with a reggae band playing, he has a realization: "Oh my God, I'm That Guy."

It's probably not a "realization," given what we see later; it's probably just another way of trying to get her to pity-fuck him. She tells him to "put a pin in [his] midlife crisis" and dance with her, but then she hurls the bottle of wine over the railing and hits someone, and that guy rolls up to them and punches Lavoyt in the face, and he and Jessa end up in the ER watching a junkie try to cadge Vicodin from the desk clerk. Lavoyt starts crying; what is he going to tell his wife? Jessa looks a little scared by the tears, and suggests telling Mrs. Lavoyt the truth. Lavoyt, facedown in her lap, wails through his bloody nose and (likely fake) tears, "Let's spend the night together," adding that they "won't do anything," and now it's Jessa having the realization. Hers is about playing with fire: "I can't do this kind of thing anymore." Lavoyt is apparently used to the sad-sack routine working, because his face hardens instantly and he calls her a tease. Jessa parries with a line she's clearly used to shut assholes down before: "I liked you better when you were being a good guy." "Ain't that the way," he grunts, and gets up to leave. Why pretend his bloody nose needs medical attention if his dick isn't going to get Jessa's? Jessa suggests they can stay friends, but he grumbles, "We were never friends to begin with. You work for my kids." Ouch: Lavoyt thinks he's cutting Jessa down with that line, but Jessa isn't the one trying to take it to the hoop with the nanny instead of finding a job or spending time with his own kids. Great job by James LeGros in shifting the character from "aimless and pathetic" to "entitled douche."

Hannah, meanwhile, has spotted Adam in a dance circle of the "best dyke friends" he's alluded to previously, doing a series of weird moves probably based in theoretical mathematics. Hannah complains to the others that, after the conversation in which he said he missed her, he hasn't responded to a text in two weeks. She also observes that she's never seen him outside his house: "I've never seen him with a shirt on." I'm not going to take credit for the insight; I'm just going to feel grateful somebody on the show pointed it out.

She hides behind a wall unit and spies on him, then flees rather than talk to him, but at the bar, she's approached by one of his "best dyke friends," Tako. (Tako makes sure to note that it's not spelled "Taco." Snerk.) Tako offers Hannah a friendly drink, but Hannah notes that she doesn't really drink after an incident with Brie and hurling on her cell phone. . . . Cute line, but it's really just to set up the big reveal for Tako, wherein she asks if that's how Hannah knows Adam—from Alcoholics Anonymous. Hannah is gobsmacked, and while Tako rambles on about how this is one of the things that defines Adam (the other, obviously, is his "love of books"—and that we've seen, at least), Hannah can't decide how to feel. Should she feel hurt, again, some more, by the fact that this isn't something Adam trusted her enough to share with her? Or should she feel even more attracted to what she sees as a new and tragic dimension of Adam?

Either way, it's Hannah making a dimension of Adam about herself, so she settles for "both." Adam invites her to join him on a dumpster-diving mission, to collect scrap for a boat he's building that's designed to fall apart as it goes along . . . in the Hudson. Instead of 1) notifying her friends that she's leaving or 2) refusing on the grounds that this nautical "plan" is excessively Alexander-Supertrampy, Hannah hops aboard Adam's bike handlebars, and off they go. But he's pedaling too fast for her, and when she wails at Adam to stop the bike and let her walk, he stops suddenly, and she face-plants. I really hope for Lena Dunham's sake that they got that on the first take . . .

…but I don't think they did, because when we cut back to the pair, Hannah's got a fat lip. She's also got a chip on her shoulder, ordering Adam not to talk to her while she sends Marnie her coordinates, and she blows up at Adam for not telling her he was in AA. He responds, gently at first, that it's been a big part of his life since he was 17, but when she won't let it go, he blows up, yelling that she never asked: "You never ask me anything!" Well, she does—but only about herself, how she's doing, does this feel good, does he like her skirt. Adam does have a great point: for a woman who wants to "rate" as his girlfriend, she hasn't done much to earn the spot. Marnie pulls up in a cab and orders Adam to get away from Hannah. Finally, Adam rounds on Hannah: "Do you want me to be your boyfriend? Is that it? Do you want me to be your fucking boyfriend?"

And then, in an episode full of them, the best cut yet: Adam, Hannah, Marnie, and Adam's bike all crammed into the back seat of the cab. Hannah is trying valiantly not to grin . . . and gloriously failing.

"Welcome to Bushwick" is the most sure-handed work we've seen yet from the show. The physical humor is edited flawlessly, including the credits sequence, a little send-up mash-up that includes Asian characters and rave-y touches. 

The one-liners are confident and don't over-explain themselves or veer into dorm-monologue territory (Ray snapping into the mic, "Don't bring a baby to a party like this"; Shoshanna responding to the crack revelation with "Don't tell my parents; don't tell me!"; the throwaway "Age of Innocence fan club" exchange between Ray and Jessa, which this Wharton nerd adored). Marnie's attempted kiss-off of Adam, "Enjoy going through life as . . . yourself," encapsulates the ep really well, because it's as though the show is doing that—enjoying itself, laughing with its characters, instead of trying to be capital-D definitive all the time. Don't get me wrong, I like the show's ambitions. But when it's "just" doing this, it does it well.

Sarah D. Bunting co-founded TelevisionWithoutPity.com, and has written for Seventeen, New York Magazine, MSNBC.com, Salon, Yahoo!, and others. She's the chief cook and bottle-washer at TomatoNation.com.

GIRLS RECAP 6: THE RETURN

GIRLS RECAP 6: THE RETURN

null

One of the things I liked most about The Return—and I liked a bunch of things—was its title. Nearly every series has an episode like The Return, in which the hero returns to his/her place of origin to find things much changed for the smaller; after years of recapping serial television, on seeing that title, I'd originally expected the customary uncreative variation on one of the plots sure to follow—"Going Home," for instance, or "Homecoming," or a pun on the idea that you can't go home again or it's where the heart is.

null"The Return" was written by Lena Dunham and Judd Apatow, who pick up the clichés that surround "home" and see what icky bugs run out from underneath by sending Hannah to her parents' house in Michigan for the weekend, for their thirtieth anniversary. The episode defines and redefines "home" as it applies to Hannah: as an oblivious twentysomething, as a New Yorker, and as an adult only child. And it starts with the "oblivious" part when Hannah's heading to the airport. Marnie—Hannah's mother hen by proxy—leans out the window to remind Hannah that rent is due next week, and admonishes her to "be nice to your parents. Okay?" "I'm the nicest!" Hannah chirps.


She tries to be, but not very hard. Hannah slogs off the plane, lugging the garbage bag full of laundry that's serving as her suitcase. (In what post-2001 fantasy-land would the Hefty luggage get past TSA? Marnie would have made her borrow a duffel bag, I think.) Mom and Dad are waiting over-eagerly at the curb (next to their Volvo, natch); Dad is holding a sign with a picture of bananas on it, and mentions on the ride back to the house that they couldn't think of a better way to spend their anniversary than with "our best friend, who we just happened to create." That idea, simultaneously sweet and inappropriate, comes up repeatedly in the ep; her parents seem to have always treated Hannah as a sort of peer, but now that she's a real voting adult, nobody quite knows how to deal with that reality.

Mom responds to Dad by mentioning local job listings; she's doing it because she misses Hannah, but Hannah is immediately defensive. Mom also mentions the "fun Netflix" they've got at the house, a spot-on parental detail that Hannah is too busy texting, then stomping out of the room when Mom suggests she's hungry, to appreciate. (The movie they're watching: Million Dollar Baby. Rimshot!) Hannah flops on her bed, stares at her Party Girl poster, ignores a text from Marnie asking if she got the rent money from her parents, and calls Adam's phone but hangs up after one ring—she's put herself in his mind, but can plausibly claim that she just butt-dialed him.

And Dad assumes that Hannah is going on their anniversary "date," but Hannah declines—not because it's kind of weird, although she does mention that, but because she has a date of her own. Eric , whom Hannah meets when her frantic mother sends her on a mission to pick up hot-flash meds, is a sideburned cutie who co-owns a local pharmacy with his father, and a stark contrast to Adam in every possible way: traditionally good-looking; makes good money in a non-creative field; reacts with disbelief when Hannah tries to put a finger in his poop chute during sex, then murmurs to him, "I'm tight like a baby, right?" The look on Hannah's face when he initiates no-kink missionary intercourse is almost pitying.

He's a pleasant, solicitous young man with a business-like, adult relationship with his father, and he's definitively Not Adam. He's also definitively Not New York, and the automatic, unearned superiority Hannah feels to her high-school classmates—one perpetrated by New Yorkers of all ages—is another theme of the episode. It's made explicit in the pep talk Hannah gives herself in the mirror as she's getting ready to go out: "You are from New York, therefore you are just naturally interesting, okay? It is not up to you to fill up all of the pauses. You are not in danger of mortifying yourself." The latest in a line of unbecoming vintage frocks would beg to differ on that last point, as would the moment where she mentions offhandedly to Eric that she gave up on vegetarianism because Adam had nothing to eat at his place except meat—and because she thought that, if she went out for food, Adam wouldn't let her back in.

Hannah's New York bias in favor of, well, herself is even stronger in her interactions with Heather, an old high-school friend. We've seen framed pictures of Hannah and Heather in Hannah's old room, but they haven't kept in touch; Hannah hasn't heard anything about "the benefit"—the fundraiser Heather has put together for her friend Carrie, who got Natalee Hollowayed on a spring-break trip. Hannah also hasn't heard that Heather's about to move to Los Angeles to pursue a dance career, and when she asks whether Heather has any contacts out there to help her get started, Heather shrugs airily, "I know enough to know that you don't really have to know anybody."

In a way, she's right, because based on the moves we see, no contact short of Alvin Ailey could get Heather a job that wouldn't involve a pole—but it's Hannah's attitude we're meant to look at, and she believes that she knows better than Heather simply by virtue of living in "the big city" herself. Heather's belief that she merely has to move to L.A. and go on auditions to "make it" sounds innocent, even silly, but we've seen that Hannah cherished the publishing-world version of that belief. (And may yet cherish it.) Yes, the "benefit" is low-rent (to underscore the point, Edwin McCain's obnoxiously ubiquitous "I'll Be" is playing when Hannah and Eric walk in), and when Hannah buries her face in her pint to keep from laughing, it's sad for Heather and her inappropriate booty-dance of tribute to Carrie. It's also sad for Hannah, who thinks she knows something Heather doesn't about how to make it in a creative field.

Hannah's rant to Eric afterwards is revealing; Eric concedes that Heather's show "was a little cheesy," and Hannah wails, "It was very cheesy, and nobody's telling her! She's gonna go to L.A. and live in some shitty apartment and feel, like, sad and scared and lonely and weird, all the time, but she's got a good life here. I would like her life." Noooo kidding—that speech isn't a prediction for Heather's life, it's a description of Hannah's. When Eric jokes that he knows the florist has a job opening, Hannah retreats to the safety of Gotham-centric condescension, saying she'd get "a real job, like a teacher or something." Eric, bless his heart, doesn’t point out that she'd need a master's or certification to do that, just asks what her real job in New York is. She snaps that she's a writer, like she told him. Eric is surprised: "That's how you make money?" Hannah non-answers, "I don't have any money." I had that "no no no, it's not what I do, it's what I am" conversation about my career several times. In those conversations, it’s impossible not to sound like a stubborn jackass who should suck it up and sit for the LSATs before she winds up in bankruptcy court, and that's exactly what Hannah sounds like. But I can relate.

So can her father, as it turns out, but his "relating" to Hannah is more like "projecting." He's filling the space she's left at the dinner table by worrying aloud about her. "What does a person like that turn into?" he wonders, adding that she's funny and likable, "but that and ten cents . . ." Such a dad-ly expression, that. Mom thinks his assessment is harsh, but it’s really about Dad's own disappointments: "At what point will she realize, she's not gonna get to be what she wants to be when she grows up?" Like Hannah's comments about Heather moving to L.A., this isn't so much about the subject of the remarks as it is about the utterer; apparently Dad's life didn't turn out like he'd dreamed. Mom is taken aback by his lack of faith, and asks how he knows. "You know that, you're the one who forced us to cut her off to help her realize that!" Interesting take on what we saw; Mom did force the issue, but according to her, she wanted to have a lake house. Now she's singing a different tune: "I cut her off so she'd have something to write about!" Dad grumbles that "we don't even know if her writing is any good." It's hard to tell if this is a comment on how Hannah doesn't produce much in the first place, or if her parents just don't read it (remember how they left the pages she'd brought them behind in their hotel room?), but Mom thinks that Hannah knows how to have fun, "and she thinks about that fun, and she learns from that fun." The pronouncement is completely irrelevant to what makes a good, or successful, writer—but it also shows exactly how parents misunderstand what a writer does.

Certainly her parents try to supply Hannah with material later that night. Dad, vigorously pumping Mom from behind in the shower, slips and hits his head on the bathroom floor. Hannah comes home to find them dishabille, Mom trying to revive Dad, Dad naked and worried about a back strain, and has to help Mom haul Dad off the floor and into bed, suggesting repeatedly that he put a towel or a robe on.

After Dad's safely tucked in, Mom makes a gentle "not Mr. Right, but Mr. Right Now" observation about Eric that Hannah's surprised to hear the truth in, then asks if Hannah's doing okay financially, admitting that they cut her off rather abruptly. But they're proud that she's "making it work"—and Hannah, after taking a moment to consider asking for rent money anyway, chooses to pretend that she is making it work. Or vows to actually make it work.

Later, Adam calls. When Hannah says she's at home, he duhs that he is too, but she clarifies "home home," at her parents' house. She tells Adam about Dad's "sex injury," and about her own Eric-scapade, asking if it's "weird" that she told Adam that she slept with someone else. She's hoping it is, and the fruitlessness of this attempt to arouse his jealousy is as familiar to her now as her old high-school life no longer is. But Adam—wearing black undies and a lacy green satin sleep mask—doesn't react, so she changes the subject to Eric's gigantic, cheap apartment, wondering why they kill themselves to stay in a city that doesn't want them. Adam misses her. She's pleased, because she misses him—but what she really misses is home, the city, her life. She asks Adam to tell her what's going on out his window, and as he narrates a neighborhood crackhead's perambulations, Hannah stands on her parents' silent, dark front lawn, listening.

The Return is well crafted, subtle and smart about that day in every adult child's life when she refers to "home" as college, or her current city, and her mom goes quiet. It portrays Hannah's New York tunnel vision accurately without expecting us to sign off on it, and it asks what the definition of "home" is without answering its own question. Nice work by the supporting cast, especially Becky Ann Baker and Peter Scolari as her parents (and Little Scolari, heh), as the show itself "returns" to the exact observations that make it work best.

Sarah D. Bunting co-founded TelevisionWithoutPity.com, and has written for Seventeen, New York Magazine, MSNBC.com, Salon, Yahoo!, and others. She's the chief cook and bottle-washer at TomatoNation.com.

GIRLS RECAP 5: HARD BEING EASY

GIRLS RECAP 5: HARD BEING EASY

More like "Hard Writing Consistently." What was that?
 

nullFor four episodes, Girls has stayed on the right side of believable. Not likeable or admirable, necessarily, when it came to the three leads and their behavior (I'll excuse Shoshanna from the discussion for the time being), but we don't have to like characters, or find them attractive physically or emotionally, to see something familiar in them and in the situations they move through. Our interest in a narrative isn't always about comfort, or escape. Sometimes, it's about recognition. I wouldn't characterize Girls as holding a pitiless mirror up to a generation or anything, but I think it gets at certain truths that lie underneath (and/or in) the pretension and self-absorption and unprofessional bumbling, or at least it tries to.

I don't know what "Hard Being Easy" was trying to do, besides annoy/baffle the audience. (Mission accomplished.) The episode has a handful of neatly observed moments, and the usual complement of too-awkward-to-watch bits . . . but the awkwardness didn't come from the characters this week. It came from Lena Dunham losing control of the material.

The Marnie/Charlie storyline picks up shortly after the end of the last episode, and it's well done—but it has to climb uphill from a ridonkulous beginning in which Charlie forces Hannah to read aloud from the journal in front of him and Marnie. Hannah goes along with this, despite the fact that 1) Charlie (well, mostly Ray, but whatever) violated her privacy, 2) Marnie threw a drink on her and called her a bitch, 3) neither of them apologized, and 4) whatever Hannah's involvement, the only credible action for any character would be to hole up elsewhere until the couple's storm blew over. And Hannah not only goes along with it, she corrects them, saying it's "notes for a book," not a journal, and asks for feedback on the writing. Yes, Hannah lives in her own bellybutton, but this isn't believable behavior from anyone.

The rest of Marnie's subplot resonates, though, from Ray overplaying the loyal-best-bud card, to the revelation that Marnie has never gone to Charlie's apartment (once there, she admiringly notes that it looks like "a Target ad"), to the flashback to college in which Marnie and Charlie meet. Marnie has taken an unknown drug at a party and is disappearing down a paranoia-hole. Hannah tends to her for a while, then heads off to dance with Elijah (to the Scissor Sisters, after Elijah "curates" Marnie's bangs with a flick of his forefinger. . . . Hannah really thought that guy was straight? For two years?), leaving Charlie to mind Marnie. The narrative pun on "high maintenance" aside, it makes perfect sense that this is how they met, that Charlie ministered to her from the beginning. (Charlie's wig, however, is inexplicable. I get why the actor is wearing one, but—that one? Did Charlie just come from an '80s-Stamos-impersonator contest?)

Their break-up/make-up/break-up talk the next day is dead-on. Marnie turns up in "my party dress and my sorry face," sure that she can change his mind. Charlie points out repeatedly that she isn't in love with him anymore; she asks repeatedly that he not break up with her. We've all had that convo, fumbling and protracted, desperate not to rip the Band-Aid off because "better the devil you know" and all that. This is where Marnie's at with it, refusing to admit the facts (and probably thinking she'd have been the one to do the dumping). Charlie purposely wounds her by saying he thought he recognized her at the party from a porn flick, Sophomore Sluts; she's shocked that he watches porn. (Ladies: they alllll watch porn. Even the Charlies. It's usually nothing pathological; please stop taking this personally. Thanks.) After she offers him the blowjobs she should be giving him anyway, they end up in his low-ceilinged bed nook, having sex, and he orders her to be nice to his friends and "act like [his] life is real." She agrees. He asks her to keep her face close to his. She does. Then he says either "say 'I love you'" or "stay; I love you"; either way, Marnie physically recoils, saying she can't, and whangs her head on the roof of the bed-nook. Immediately Charlie sits up to make sure she's okay: "I'm right here. I'm riiiight here." That's the problem, of course, and she whispers that she wants to break up.

And this is the least awkward sex in the episode.

Jessa gets it on with an ex-boyfriend, a subplot that seems to exist solely so the two of them can burst into Jessa and Shoshanna's apartment, pawing each other, before Shoshanna can announce herself or vacate. Shosh has to hide behind an Ikea curtain for the duration. The ex gets a high-dudgeon line about "a very tumultuous relationship in which one's Vespa gets destroyed for no reason" that I chuckled at; everything else flopped. Jessa finally notices Shoshanna and teases her for being a creeper, and Shoshanna, always talking at a high rate of speed prior to this point, doesn't say a word to contradict her. . . . What? We got the "virgin is both attracted and repelled" note last week, and we don't watch the show for slapstick—fortunately, since slapstick is demonstrably not its strength. What is this story doing?

Perhaps it's an effort to postpone the inevitable boinkfest between Jessa and Jeff Lavoyt—and that part of Jessa's story this week is sharp. Jessa's in the Lavoyts' bathroom, getting ready to meet the ex; Lavoyt's leaning boyfriendily in the doorway. Mrs. Lavoyt comes upon them there, chatting, and Kathryn Hahn is excellent in the scene, holding the awkward silence exactly the right amount of time, lying that it's okay that Jessa is using her lipstick ( . . . of course she is) because she doesn't want to come off like an unhip harridan.

It's also not really okay that Jessa, hearing about Hannah's boss's handsiness, suggests that Hannah "should hump" Richard "for the story." It's a hundred percent something Jessa would do, and most likely get away with, because she's a confident beauty who wears a kimono to her babysitting job. It's a hundred percent not something Hannah, as written to this point, would do, but, for reasons I can't fathom, she does it. Yeah, yeah, "for the story"—I don't see it. And based on the too-long, all-over-the-place scene that results, Dunham didn't either. Richard asks Hannah for a turkey sandwich; she tells him to cut the crap, because she knows he wants to fuck her. I write in my notebook, "Oh, this is a dream sequence." It isn't, and it's interminable, Hannah insisting that it's what Richard wants, Richard asking if she's high, Hannah switching gears and threatening to sue, Richard snorting that "there's no suing app on your iPhone" but adding that he's not going to fire her because she's "great," Hannah offering to forget about suing for one thousand dollars . . . it just. Keeps. Going. Richard is still trying to convince her to calm down and go back to work when Hannah whines, "I just tried to fuck you, sue you, and extort you! I'm fuckin' nuts, why would you want me in your office?" Perhaps that's Dunham signaling that she knows the twist is ridiculous, but the plot doesn't work, as farce or as commentary. (Hannah's big kiss-off line—"Someday I'm gonna write an essay about you? And I am not gonna change your name. And then you can sue me"—is just weak.)

Alas, the script isn't finished taking an idea over the top and then not knowing how to get back—but like others in the ep, this week's Hannah/Adam sequence starts from an interesting premise about the things we choose to hear. Hannah goes over to Adam's house to find him wearing a shirt. . . .  Just kidding. He never, ever wears a shirt. At this point, I know that guy's nips better than I know my own. When Hannah tells him what went down at work (sort of; she says "there was a sex scandal"), he grunts, "Sometimes you say shit that sounds made up"—an on-point comment, since she's also "made up" the idea that her straight talk in the prior episode (and their ensuing intercourse) has bonded them into a couple. "Surprise": Adam didn't hear it that way. What he heard is her saying they shouldn't have sex anymore. But then you kissed me, Hannah points out. "Because you were sad," Adam shrugs. And then we had sex, she points out. "Because we were kissing," Adam duhs, before telling her, "These things have an expiration date—six months or until you stop having fun," and Hannah isn't.

That 100-monkeys-typing brand of observation, simultaneously precise and insensitive, is one of the things that makes the Adam character ring true for me. Hannah, trying to make Adam jealous by over-sharing that she "almost" fucked Richard, buys time with a trip to the bathroom, and as she sits on the toilet, her eyes well up. She's wearing another dress that doesn't suit her—she looks like a hacky-sack with bad posture—and all of that rings true for me too.

But then she comes out to find Adam in his bedroom, jerking it. That he's doing it while Hannah's still there, after turning her down for sex, is galling, as she notes, but it's still in character for both of them—and it's still in character that she can't make herself get angry and/or leave. But then Adam prompts her to verbally abuse him as a turn-on, and she goes along with it, and the scene is once again too long and too aimless, and Dunham’s direction doesn’t illuminate why Hannah is doing this or what she's feeling about it, and when Hannah demands cab fare as part of the "you're a bad boy" stroke-fest, it loses me completely. I don't buy Adam as the masochist when he's gotten off on degrading dirty talk in the past, I don't buy Hannah taking control in this fashion, and the editing is a hash, but the primary problem is a flatness. The scene feels calculated to provoke, theoretical.

That's the ep as a whole. The plots begin with recognizable situations, but veer into almost academic explorations: what if we said this, what if we made her do that, wouldn't it be funny if the other thing. It's not the lack of "realism" (realism isn't always good storytelling, vis. the sixth season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and the accurate but repetitive downward spiral of its heroine). It's that I can't relate to these situations, or these characters in them, and based on the faltering humor and tempo of the episode, I'm not sure Dunham could relate to them either.

Sarah D. Bunting co-founded TelevisionWithoutPity.com, and has written for Seventeen, New York Magazine, MSNBC.com, Salon, Yahoo!, and others. She's the chief cook and bottle-washer at TomatoNation.com.

GIRLS RECAP 4: HANNAH’S DIARY

GIRLS RECAP 4: HANNAH’S DIARY

null

I hoped the title of this week's episode wouldn't imply what I had a feeling it implied. I hoped we'd just see Hannah writing in her diary, or hear snippets in a voice-over—something, anything besides another character reading Hannah's diary and getting information s/he didn't want, while I watched, cringing, from behind a pillow.

nullNo such luck. The information we don't want, the things we can't un-know, the facts we already have but can't face: these form the contents of "Hannah's Diary."

Shoshanna's virginity is the most obvious example; it looks like she's found a likely prospect for dumping it when she runs into an old summer-camp acquaintance, Matt Kornstein, on the street. The flame rekindles with a quickness . . . er, "dork-ness": Matt speaks admiringly of "the most intense kitchen raid" that Shoshanna led as a junior counselor back in the day; she fondly remembers how he saved a camper stuck between two kayaks. Summer-camp nerdery is an easy target, but it hits its mark here; no dummy, Matt avails himself of their mutual raptness by suggesting a hang that very night.

It's still going well as they watch a movie—Matt isn't put off by the trademark Shoshanna hail of verbiage, and smooves his leg onto her lap with an excuse about how it gets achy if he can't stretch it. Next thing you know, he's peeling off her clothes (to reveal the fancy and fairly risqué lingerie she wore for a garden-variety movie date; atta girl) and diving between her legs. The overhead shot that comes next is a deft run of faces by Shoshanna: he's doing his thing, and she's simultaneously ticklish, intrigued, and unable to enjoy it because she's fixated on whether it means she can oust her hymen.

When he surfaces to rave that "this is so chill, the way this is happening, I love it," that's Shoshanna's cue to ruin it with the information that she's a virgin. Matt didn't want to know that: "This is . . . really not my thing. Virgins!" She didn't want to know that, and tries to correct her mistake by protesting that "except for the fact that I haven't had sex I'm like totally not a virgin." Shoshanna's description of herself as "the least virgin-y virgin ever" is the line everyone's going to seize on, but the "except for the fact" line is more striking—not because it's nonsensical, but because it's such a tidy nutshelling of the idea that, until you're not a virgin anymore, you have only a theoretical grasp of these distinctions.

Matt's not going to put too fine a point on it, though: "Virgins get attached. And they bleed. You get attached when you bleed." Thanks for . . . not sugar-coating it? I think this is a widely held belief among both genders (minus the blood part), but the bluntness is bracing. And non-negotiable: Shoshanna's assertion that she's "totally not an attached bleeder" doesn't change Matt's mind. Later, Shoshanna plaintively asks Jessa if she'd fuck a virgin, and when she's told Shoshanna means herself, Jessa sweetly says, "Oh, Shosh. If I had a cock, it's all I'd do."

By that time, Jessa's spent most of a day confronting what she doesn't know yet. She has a power over men, which she exercises effortlessly when she runs into her charges' dad, Jeff Lavoyt (James LeGros; took me a while to track down the character name), and his just-out-of-rehab brother Terry (Horatio Sanz, and you have to wonder where that casting is going) on the street. Terry is gobsmacked that Jeff scored a caregiver who looks like she's from "the back page of the Village Voice," but what they don't know—and Jessa hasn't admitted to herself yet—is that she has no idea what the eff she's doing, or talking about.

Chilling with the other nannies on the playground—mostly women of color who "thought she was an actress with some baby," not a babysitter—she bonds with them by complaining that Lola is acting like a "C U next Tuesday," then assures the others grandly that "I'm just like all of you." The "girl, please" faces pulled in response don't stop her from sitting on the picnic table and delivering a well-meaning but obnoxiously ignorant sermon to them about unionizing, and she's only pulled up short when the Caribbean nanny wonders where Lola and Trixie have gotten to. They're located (by the other nanny) under a gazebo, but Jessa can't make them come out, and she can't stop Lola from immediately tattling to her parents when they get home that Jessa lost them.  

The parents just assume Lola is lying, and it strikes a chord in Jessa. Not only does she know the truth about what happened in the park, she knows another truth—about Lola, and then about her own overlooked childhood.

Jessa confesses to their father that she did lose the girls. Lavoyt sighs that "we've all done it," that he lost Lola at a green market years ago, and Jessa admits that she "would run away and tell lies all the time" at Lola's age—like that her mom was awesome and they were best friends. This conversation puts the first chink in Jessa's armor of pretension; Jessa may not know how to take care of Lola, exactly, but she knows Lola.

Hannah has known for a while that Adam is a pig; it's just not something she can admit to herself without it meaning something negative about her—not when he sexts her a picture of his dick, then follows it up immediately with a bone-chilling "sorry, meant to send that to someone else" text; not when Marnie calls Adam "a noted psychopath"; not when Hannah sends him a picture of her breasts in an attempt to play along, and he doesn't respond.

It takes a conversation with her co-workers at her temp job to get the light bulb to go on. It's great that Hannah landed a gig, except that she's in over her head with building charts in Windows, and her boss, Rich (the reliably excellent Richard Masur), is a creeper. After he "demonstrates his Reiki technique" on her as an excuse to handle her boobs, Hannah is concerned and grossed out, but during a bathroom powwow lit to resemble a prison documentary, Hannah's colleagues explain that she'll get used to it, and besides, in exchange, Rich buys them iPods and looks the other way on tardiness and "sick" days. This leverage-based view of sexual harassment is interesting (and/or depressing) on its own, in light of the current economy and Hannah's specific predicament within it; it's even more interesting (and/or depressing) that the co-workers have no problem letting Rich's fingers do the walking, but all-caps demand that Hannah "have a little self-respect" when it comes to Adam. Hannah does ask why the Rich fondling is different, but they don't really answer. (Another instance in which the show presents a complex argument or hypocrisy, then doesn't draw an explicit conclusion about right or wrong. Possibly Girls feels overmatched by untangling complicated motivations; more likely, it's that real-life situations — the emotions surrounding an abortion; the compromises women may make to keep jobs—don't resolve in a narratively neat way, and Dunham doesn't want to force them to.)

After their intervention on her patchy eyebrows left her looking like Frida Kahlo as drawn by a kindergartener, Hannah probably shouldn't ask those two for the time, much less for advice about her personal life. But something in the conversation forces her to see that the only thing she "gets out of" her relationship with Adam is self-loathing and dashed hopes. And she tells Adam exactly that, standing in his doorway and cutting him loose: the dick pic made her feel "stupid and pathetic," which is how she's trained him to treat her, and she really likes him, but she can't anymore, because it hurts too much. "I just want someone who wants to hang out all the time, who thinks I'm the best person in the world, and who wants to have sex with only me." I stop taking notes to stitch that on a pillow, but Hannah's not done—Adam doesn't hear her, and he's not going to change, so sayonara. Adam doesn't say much of anything, but when her lip starts to tremble towards the end, he hooks a finger into the front of her sweater. Ohhhh no no no no no, don't do it! Walk off before he can suck you back i—dammit. Passionate making-out. She stops to say that she can't take "serious" naked pictures of herself, "it's not who I am." "Just be who you are," he says, oh so sweetly, and it's a moment Hannah is going to take out and look at with brimming eyes for months after he goes back to his regular shitheel self. Been there, done that, bought the t-shirt, and "forgot" it at his place so I'd have an excuse to come over again.

Hannah meets up with the others at Charlie and Ray's open-mic performance. She's all aglow (maybe Adam finally found her clit), but that won't last long, because the scales have fallen from Charlie's eyes. Earlier, doing some daytime song-writing with Ray at the Hannah/Marniehaus, Charlie notes that Marnie's "been completely on edge lately," but doesn't connect this with their relationship. He wants to make her something nice to cheer her up. Ray: "Like a coffee table made out of street garbage?" Actually, Ray, in Brooklyn we prefer the term "found materials," but he's right that Charlie is in denial—although Ray's assertion that Marnie needs to be fucked hard, chained to a post, and whipped "until she fuckin'—whatever" is perhaps more about Ray's hostility issues.

The snooping that follows is definitely about Ray's boundary issues, as he examines Hannah's holey undies, then holds Marnie's vibrator aloft. "That's a shared tool," Charlie sniffs. "You're a shared tool," Ray and I say in unison. But the mother lode is sitting right out on the bed: Hannah's diary, which Ray begins reading and snarking on. Then he falls silent and is suddenly super-eager to get back to helping Charlie build the table. Charlie doesn't understand that ignorance is bliss, and insists on knowing what Ray read.

And he can't un-know it, so he puts it into a song, Kathy-Griffin-on-Seinfeld-style. After dedicating the piece to "my G-friend Marnie" and Hannah, he angrily strums and sings lines from the diary: "What is Marnie thinking / she needs to know what's out there / how does it feel to date a man with a vagina." All things we know, all things we've seen, several things Hannah and Marnie have already discussed in the bathtub and elsewhere. Shoshanna, confused, asks if it's a love song as Ray whips out the diary itself and Charlie begins to read directly from it. Hannah is turning a shade of mortified spearmint; from her right comes the bubbling sound of Marnie's blood reaching a boil. Charlie finishes and storms off-stage, and Marnie, unwilling to accept that this is everyone's fault but Hannah's, dashes her cocktail down Hannah's front and calls her "such a fucking bitch." Or perhaps calls herself that. Not the most realistic burst of plot I've ever seen—but that relationship had to end, so why mess around. It also reminded me of that great line from the Toni Pavone character on Felicity, when she tells Felicity that honesty isn't as important as kindness; every writer has to decide, usually more than once, whether it's more important to nail the description or protect the feelings of those described. Granted, Hannah didn't intend for anyone to read her diary—but it can't be un-read. After Marnie storms off, Jessa chuckles, "That was awesome," and Hannah says glumly that she's going to puke, and both comments are probably accurate assessments of how it's going to feel for Hannah to have to think about someone besides herself going forward.

Sarah D. Bunting co-founded TelevisionWithoutPity.com, and has written for Seventeen, New York Magazine, MSNBC.com, Salon, Yahoo!, and others. She's the chief cook and bottle-washer at TomatoNation.com.

GIRLS RECAP 3: ALL ADVENTUROUS WOMEN DO

GIRLS RECAP 3: ALL ADVENTUROUS WOMEN DO

nullRemember those Cosmo-ish "Which Sex & the City character are you?" quizzes that every single editorial outlet featured during that show's run? Of course you couldn't take the results seriously; you can't "be" one of those people, because those people weren't people. They were slices of people, meant to illustrate (and easier to write than) the composite, contradictory whole.

nullIt was reductive to say that I "was a Miranda" (a workaholic who ate cake from the trash) ( . . . What? It was still in the box!), and it's just as reductive to say that I'm in large part a Marnie (controlling, responsible, paralyzed, gorgeous) (just kidding; I'm not that responsible). But I do relate to Marnie's rigidity, self-righteousness, the frustration and fear of change that manifest as meanness, and maybe that's why I completely hated Marnie's story in "All Adventurous Women Do."



I hated Marnie during it at times, for sure. Charlie surprises her with a stubbly new haircut, and it's actually an improvement over the previous floppy style, but Marnie's face falls straight off her head (nice work by Allison Williams, here and throughout). She hates it, sneering that he looks like "Mickey Mouse without the ears." She's basically mad that he didn't clear it with her first, and she's even madder when he reveals that he shaved his head to support a woman at work who has ovarian cancer, because now Marnie looks like a total bitch. That’s because she is a total bitch here.

We didn't need another illustration of the idea that Marnie and Charlie should split up already, but the show moves the ball at least a few feet later . At an opening at the gallery where Marnie works, Marnie's inappropriate boss (she reads as tipsy, but you get the feeling she's always like that; kitted out in a low-cut blouse, she sends another assistant to get her "tit tape," and nobody in the scene even flinches) introduces Marnie to a snotty artist, Booth Jonathan. The "introduction" takes the form of the boss yelling at Booth for sleeping with some other lady of a certain age, and noting that Marnie says she has a boyfriend, "but I've never seen him." Marnie, flustered, shares that she's a big fan of Booth's; Booth sizes her up and advises her to "try and give less of a shit." My immediately saying, out loud, "The correct usage is 'try to," means I'm not in the demo for Booth's cocky whatever, but Marnie is intrigued. Flirting. She feels obligated to inform him that she's not going to kiss him. More flirting.

And here's where I get annoyed. Booth gets right up close to her and murmurs, "But I want you to know: the first time I fuck you, I might scare you a little, because I'm a man, and I know how to do things." He walks off to enjoy being That Guy and wearing his blazer collar turned up. Marnie rushes inside, locks herself in a bathroom, and masturbates. . . . Girls, please. It's not that a line like that has never worked, but the entire sequence felt, to me, like a man's take on what Marnie needs, i.e., "That filly wants breaking to harness!" Yes, people should stand up to Marnie, but 1) I don't care for the idea that that's a result of her gender, or that the opposite gender is what's required to "take her down a peg"; and 2) snideness and pat line delivery do not a man make in the first place. Maybe I'm overthinking this, but the cure for uptight-bitch-itis is not necessarily cock.

We're seeing more than enough peen-alization on the show as it is. Hannah puts on war paint (high five on the tights-and-Chuck-Taylors wardrobe choice, though) and goes over to Adam's house, where he's lifting weights (natch). The next morning, in bed, he's making her tummy fat "talk," which she's both charmed and terrified by; he asks whether she's "tried a lot to lose weight." Mildly irritated, she tells him she decided to make other things more important in her life, but I liked the way the scene highlighted that the average straight man's cluelessness about matters lady-weight is exactly that: cluelessness. He doesn't mean to be hurtful, because he absolutely has not noticed whichever five-pound pocket his lady friend thinks is flagrantly hideous, unless it is a third breast, which he thinks is rad.

The tickly, teasing development of their bond is rudely interrupted by a call from the clinic, informing Hannah that she has HPV. Lena Dunham kills it here: Hannah is near tears as she relays this to Adam, and he continues to earn points by hugging her and saying he's sorry. Think it's all about to go pear-shaped? Correct! Hannah grumps, "Are you sorry because you gave it to me?" Adam is promptly and completely offended, claiming that he got tested recently "and I don't have that." Even if there were a screen for HPV for men, which there isn't, his claim to have gotten tested would smell like bullshit just because he’s the one making it. Hannah promptly backs down, though: she's sorry, she's only slept with two people (down from "two and a half" in a previous ep) and she doubts it's her college boyfriend, surely he can see how she might assume Adam is the source, is he mad at her? "Will you still have sex with me?" Adam, coldly: "When it's appropriate, sure." What a prince. When Hannah asks for a hug goodbye, he's too "busy" doing a shoulder-stand and cycling his legs.

Water having found its insensitive level once more, Hannah goes outside to call Marnie, who starts crying about how it's so unfair because Hannah is so careful with condoms. They discuss whether Hannah could have gotten HPV from the college ex, Elijah, and do a dead-on riff on the stupid details you inevitably have handy about your exes' exes—viz. Elijah's previous girlfriend, a cellist with a "loose-joint disorder," who annoys Hannah by "liking" her Facebook statuses. Hannah assures Marnie that she's fine, so Marnie reminds her that rent is due in a week, and asks about Hannah's job hunt. Hannah's not that fine. "I have pre-cancer!" she snaps, and hangs up on Marnie. Looks like Hannah is putting her theory from last week—that an STD is a great excuse not to bear down on looking for a job—into practice.

Hannah heads over to Shoshanna's to change clothes. Shoshanna is still kind of a cartoon at this point in the series, but Zosia Mamet is doing a great job with the broad strokes she's given. This scene doesn't do much for Shoshanna's depth, but it's still kind of fun: she's cuddled up on her couch, eating cereal, stroking a furry décor pillow in a Blofeldian manner, and watching Baggage. Baggage is apparently a real show, hosted by one Jerry Springer, in which contestants put their emotional baggage in various suitcases, and then their partners have to pick one, or something . . . . I mean, what it really is script-wise is an excuse to shorthand some background info about Shoshanna (she has IBS, unsurprisingly), and also to address the etiquette of STDs.

Shoshanna's practical inexperience doesn't hinder her here, as she shrugs that Jessa has "a couple of strains" of HPV (the Parisian and Balinese strains, I presume), and Jessa's typically self-mythologizing take on it is that "all adventurous women do." Hannah doesn't want to have to tell/ask Elijah what's going on, because she doesn't want to see him, because she thinks he's still in love with her (. . . oh, dear), but Shoshanna thinks she has to: "In the STD world, I think it's like kind of courteous." She also thinks it's totally fine if Hannah and Elijah end up having sex (. . . ohhhhhh, dear) because they both already have HPV. I know Shoshanna only has two dimensions, but I love both of them, and the insane clown logic that prevails therein.

The adventurous woman, meanwhile, is on a babysitting job, clad in a transparent floor-length white dress with neon-pink underthings. The mom, rushing off to a shoot, suggests the kids do their "mosaic work," or maybe the older one could let Jessa proofread her (ten-page) novel. Jessa is a natural with the girls, listening attentively to Trixie's grammar-school masterwork while eating string cheese in a makeshift tent in the living room. Dad (James LeGros, a casting decision I found all-caps delightful in my notes—love that actor) comes home to find Jessa snoozing on the couch; something about Jessa's artless report that she accidentally kicked one of his kids in the head appeals to him (or perhaps it's the visible hot-pink brassiere), and they smoke pot together and talk around their shared aimlessness. One of the kids wakes up and wanders into the kitchen before it Goes There, but LeGros isn't generally a throwaway-cameo guy, and the dialogue set his character up as a man who's not working and resents his hard-charging wife's blah blah justified in his own mind to fuck the babysitter blah, so! Expect these two to get it on.



Elsewhere, the Elijah talks break down in a matter of minutes. He thinks Hannah's confronting him because she heard about his emergence from the closet, but she's stunned by the news. What follows is a Horvath's Inferno-esque tour of all the insecurities women have, or could have, about ex-boyfriends who "turn out to be" gay—that they were always attracted to men, that they thought about Doing It with men during the relationship, that they could feign an attraction to a woman because she had mannish traits. Elijah confirms all these things, commenting that "there's a handsomeness to" Hannah, and Hannah snaps that maybe he could have figured his attracted-to-dudes shit out before passing her a disease. Elijah goes to DefCon 1 at that point. It's not clear where all his hostility is coming from; she's just accused him of giving her an STD, then claimed that he's affecting a "fruity little voice," but now it seems like he's been lying in the high weeds for other reasons. In any case, he hotly denies he's the carrier, informs her that Adam is full of shit about testing negative, and snots, "You were always like this." Hannah notes that he was not always like this, or she would have known he was gay. Elijah: "We're only as blind as we want to be." Then he throws a low blow he's obviously been saving: her dad is gay. Elijah cites the stud in Dad's ear, and I totally noticed that on Peter Scolari in the pilot, so it's nice that it gets a callback here. After failing to convince Elijah that her dad is straight, she passive-aggressives that she's going to ask people if they're gay before she sleeps with them from now on. Elijah wishes her a sarcastic good luck with that—"and don't be surprised if people ask you if you keep dressing like that." I agree that Hannah doesn't always dress to flatter her shape, but again, the bile seems unrelated to what's actually going on here. Hannah has had it and announces that she's going to get the last word in. Not so fast! Elijah snaps, "It was nice to see you, your dad is gay," and leaves.

Back at the Hannah/Marniehaus, Hannah is over-thinking a tweet that ends up reading, "All adventurous women do." She gets up to have a solo dance party to a song with on-the-nose lyrics ("I keep dancing on my own"). When Marnie gets home, Hannah does not stop frugging to announce to her that Elijah is gay, which she probably should have known since he "only ejaculated 30 percent of the time. And . . . he seemed gay." Marnie laughs, because you kind of have to. They dance together, but Hannah's determination to hide her hurt feelings in dance soon flags, and we fade to credits on Hannah giving Marnie a huge, almost desperate hug—making the connection she's sought all episode.

 

Sarah D. Bunting co-founded TelevisionWithoutPity.com, and has written for Seventeen, New York Magazine, MSNBC.com, Salon, Yahoo!, and others. She's the chief cook and bottle-washer at TomatoNation.com.

GIRLS RECAP 2: VAGINA PANIC

GIRLS RECAP 2: VAGINA PANIC

http://www.hbo.com/bin/hboPlayerV2.swf?vid=1250877

 

"Vagina Panic" is an attention-getting episode title—but nobody's really panicking in the second episode of Girls except Hannah, whose takeaway from a childhood viewing of Forrest Gump is an obsessive fear of contracting AIDS from "stuff that gets up around the sides of condoms." "Vagina Denial" might cover the subject a bit better.

nullHannah is, of course, still in denial about Adam's potential as a nurturing whatever-mate. We open with another awkward-because-it's-completely-on-point Hannah/Adam sex scene, in which our favorite graduate of Berlitz's porn-talk immersion course is jackhammering Hannah while carrying on about how she's a tween junkie in an alley carrying a Cabbage Patch lunchbox. Hannah plays along with "you're a dirty whore and I'm going to send you home to your parents covered in come"; and with Adam sort of clumsily choking her out with a cat-steps-on-your-face-at-6-AM maneuver; and with him ordering her to call him for permission to have an orgasm if she's touching herself at home. "You want me to call you?" she asks, touched; this is the part she chooses to hear, not the submissive role she's supposed to play for him . . . and does play, more or less. After Adam finishes, she sighs, "That was so good. I almost came," and instead of making sure she does come, he takes the comment as a compliment, and offers her a Gatorade.

It's utterly obvious to everyone but Hannah that Adam is not and will not become the guy she's telling herself he is, but kudos to the script for giving Adam's character a moment that explains why women tolerate that type for so long. During a grim convo that makes it clear Adam is 1) sleeping with other women and 2) not using condoms with them, he muses that Hannah's insistence on rubbers must be why it takes him forever to "nut" with her. Hannah's face collapses like a Vegas building demolition, but Adam catches his snap for once, saying she has "total freak-out face" and quickly reassuring her that he's "fine" with the sex they're having. And that's how Adams keep you on the hook, too—that one moment of acknowledgment, every few weeks, that you're doing a rockin' job as VP of Doormats.

Marnie's assessment of this situation is sugar-free. She informs Hannah that Adam isn't allowed to say the little-whore stuff to her: "He's not your boyfriend." Leaving aside the idea that apparently hooker-john role-play exists only in the privileged relationship space, the "not your boyfriend" nerve is the raw one.

Not that Marnie's interested in any truth-telling about her boyfriend, who she can't bring herself to look at during sex. That sex scene opens with Charlie suggesting that they stare into one another's eyes when they come; Marnie has her head turned away and eyes screwed shut. Her next move is to propose switching to doggie-style, so she's not even facing him, but it's still Charlie back there, and he seems to have confused "thrusting" with "continental drift." The next day, Marnie bitches at Charlie to . . . well, act more like Adam, to get pissed at her and not care what she thinks: "It's what men do." Then she mocks his testicles.

Hannah, eating a yogurt, observes that it's okay if Marnie is just bored. Marnie defensives, "That is a really simplistic explanation of what's going on." It's also . . . the actual explanation of what's going on, and Marnie should just break up with Charlie, but she doesn't want to be the kind of girl who breaks up with The Most Solicitous Man In New York, so she tells herself it's more complicated than that.

Jessa is also in denial, to a degree. She's moody during the first half of the episode, broodily smoking pot with her headphones on, then lashing out at Hannah and Shoshanna when they have the gall to defend a The Rules-ish self-help book about dating. (Hannah doesn't defend it so much as laughingly admit that she "hate-read" it at the airport, which is exactly what I did with the actual The Rules.) After bombasting that she's "offended by 'supposed-tos'" like those the author posits, Jessa bitches at Hannah for studying her face for "one of [her] novels," then announces that she wants kids someday, and she's going to be "amazing" at it. Of course you do, Hannah says, and of course you are—but Jessa's not done: "I want to have children with many different men of different races."

This United Jessa of Benetton declaration seemed random at first, and I didn't know how to react to it initially, other than to conclude that a character who considers her future offspring multi-racial-chic accessories should absolutely not have a baby right now. But I think that's the point—and it's touched on elsewhere in the episode, too, when Adam and Hannah discuss the abortion. Adam deems it "kind of a heavy fucking situation," but Hannah wonders if it really is: "I mean, I feel like people say that it's a huge deal, but how big a deal are these things actually."

Hannah then gets concerned that Adam thinks she's too flip about the issue, because of course it's a big deal—but the dialogue raises some interesting, sticky questions about how our culture and our narratives treat abortion. Specifically, I mean the tendency of many, many films and TV shows to classify an abortion as an incomparable trauma, as Marnie does in so many words; Hannah's raised eyebrows note, sans dialogue, that she can think of more traumatic situations—sexual assault, for example, or the death of a partner. And this is on the few occasions when the script goes through with it, versus having the character miscarry or otherwise sidestep the issue (see: Julia on Party of Five, et al.). Is that appropriate? Or do writers default to that position because it's the least likely to cause offense? Of course an abortion is a game-changer for some women, and not a positive one—but for others who avail themselves of that choice without regrets, I think there's a pressure to suffer, to grieve, to be seen as paying somehow.

The show is not necessarily equipped to answer these questions, and wisely doesn't try. Certainly Jessa isn't delving into them; she's dressed for the procedure in harem pants and complicated lace-up heels. She's also late for the procedure because she's in a bar, drinking White Russians, pontificating about the sinking of Venice (of course she is), and making out with a stranger who borrowed her cell phone—which is how she finds out she won't need the procedure in the first place, because her period is late too, but now it's here. Menses ex machina!

Everyone else has gathered at the clinic, though, to support Jessa and/or get tested for STDs. Marnie is incensed that Jessa is late, except she actually loves it, because she gets to feel a better, more responsible martyr than Jessa, which is what her whole relationship with Jessa is about. But when Hannah goes in for her appointment, Shoshanna can't maintain her denial any longer, confessing to Marnie that she's a virgin. Marnie is taken aback, but shrugs that it's no big deal and sex is "overrated" anyway. She assumes that Shoshanna has given BJs, right? "Yes! . . . No!" Maybe it's because we just saw Chris Eigeman in last week's ep, and he's a lead in Kicking and Screaming, but that put me in mind of the running gag with Otis in that movie. "Is that a pajama top, Otis?" "No! . . . Yes."

We end the episode with Hannah facing one fear head-on as she slides into the stirrups. This is Hannah, so she's babbling more or less uncontrollably to the GYN about how having HIV does in fact have its up sides: it's a great excuse to bail on your job hunt, say, or get really mad at the guy who gave it to you. (She should do that anyway, of course, but: you know. Denial.) Maybe she's not afraid of getting AIDS, she says; maybe she actually wants to get it. The GYN informs her that that's a ridonkulous thing to say, and disgorges a PSA's worth of stats about women's infection rates, and that response is no doubt the result of a network note to the effect of "please make it clear that we're not expected to think this is funny." (It put me in mind of the My So-Called Life pilot, and Angela Chase observing that Anne Frank was "lucky" because she was stuck in an attic with a boy she really liked.)

I didn't think we needed the prod, because the episode keeps coming back to a question about certain charged topics and conversations, namely: How much of what we do, of our reactions, is what we think we "should" do? It's in Adam's "little-whore stuff," which is cast as goofy rather than threatening. It's in Hannah’s wondering if abortion is always a really big deal every time, for everyone, and her frightened Googling about rogue semen. It's in Marnie’s not wanting to come off like a bitch, and coming off like an even bigger bitch as a result. And it's in that disastrous job interview Hannah goes on, when she starts out acing it on a vibing-with-the-interviewer level, then unfortunately feels comfortable enough to make a date-rape joke and shoots herself in the foot. She's supposed to feel that that isn't an "office-okay" topic or tone, because obviously it isn't—but why will she censor herself and her disappointment with Adam, then push the "humor" envelope in an interview? Why does what she "should" do, the idea of "being good," pertain more in this farkakte romantic relationship?

I don't know the answers; I don't think the show does either. But in spite of some kludgy, on-the-nose dialogue in spots this week, the episode successfully showed that issues and people are complicated, and don't resolve in 30 minutes. Or ever, sometimes.

Sarah D. Bunting co-founded TelevisionWithoutPity.com, and has written for Seventeen, New York Magazine, MSNBC.com, Salon, Yahoo!, and others. She's the chief cook and bottle-washer at TomatoNation.com.

GIRLS RECAP 1: PILOT: ONE FINAL PUSH

GIRLS RECAP 1: PILOT: ONE FINAL PUSH

I liked creator/star Lena Dunham's Tiny Furniture, but Jesus H. with the royal-wedding-level coverage of the lead-up to the Girls premiere: how it's totally not like Sex & the City at all, except when it is, and only portrays the quark-width Caucasian-Ovarian-Oberlinian-American slice of the New York City experience, except when it's jumping into the universal. It's brilliant, and it's tl:dr, and Dunham has done every interview from here to the auto circular, and enough already, so thank God it's finally underway. Short verzh: yeah, it's niche and occasionally obnoxious. It's also super-watchable and good (in that "extractions portion of a facial" way at times, but still). Give it a chance. Now let's get to it.

Fade up on Hannah (Dunham) shoveling pasta into her mouth at a fancy restaurant. Cut to her parents on the other side of the table, her father (Peter Scolari) also chowing like he rows heavyweight crew, her mother (Becky Ann Baker) watching them with amusement. Girls got me on board two seconds in with that casting; I can't swear the meta-commentary is intended, but Baker is likely best known as the benign, clueless mom from exec producer Judd Apatow's alienated-youth dramedy Freaks & Geeks, while Scolari starred in the pioneer gender-fuck sitcom Bosom Buddies, which traced the increasingly blurry edges of what it means to be fema— HA HA HA, no, it didn't do that at all. BB is best and rightly known today as "that thing Tom Hanks did to pay rent," but the concept, of course, is that Hanks's and Scolari's characters would do whatever they had to do to make rent in big bad Gotham—including dress up like ladies for a spot in a women's residence hotel.

This is about to become relevant. Hannah brings her parents up to date on work—it's going well, and her boss has agreed to look at her book "when it's done." It's a series of essays; she's only finished four, but the larger work is a memoir, so she has to "live them first." Ahhhh yes, the old "hard work is no substitute for experience" mistake so many writers make at that age, usually halfway down the fourth pint, and Hannah's fakely chuckly tone suggests she's spun that line dozens of times. At a prompt from Mom, Dad hems and haws from "you're doing so great at work" to "it may be time for one final push," and eventually to the bomb they've come to drop, where he hands off to Mom: "We're not going to be supporting you any longer." "See, I wasn't gonna phrase it like that," Dad mutters, stricken. Hannah promptly objects: her "job" is an internship and may never turn into a paying gig. Mom counters: Hannah graduated from college two years ago; she and Dad are professors; they "can't keep bankrolling your groovy lifestyle." Hannah's counter-counter re: the shitty economy and how she could be a drug addict—"Do you realize how lucky you are?"—doesn't play with Mom, despite a super-anxious Dad undercutting her in the conversation. Neither does Hannah's snotty monologue about insidious pill addiction, or the next one about how close she is to the life they want for her. "No. More. Money," Mom snaps, adding that they can discuss the details tomorrow. Hannah doesn't want to see them tomorrow: "I have work, and then I have a dinner thing, and then I am busy, trying to become who I am." The line clanks, but Dunham's rendition of Hannah's misery as she stares into her plate, stuck pre-check at a table with people she feels betrayed by and trying not to cry in front of them, almost saves it.

Title card.

Hannah's bed, where she's spooning with roommate/BFF Marnie (Allison Williams). Marnie is wearing a bite guard and grinding her teeth. Someone's cell rings, and the girls groggily rifle through the covers looking for it.



Cab. Jessa (Jemima Kirke of Tiny Furniture) is snoozing on a pile of Louis Vuitton luggage. "Miss. We are here." Jessa looks out at a Chinatown storefront. "Already?
" 


Hannah/Marniehaus. Marnie's boyfriend Charlie (Christopher Abbott of Martha Marcy Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch) is pouring coffee in the kitchen. Marnie asks why he didn't wake her—she didn't mean to sleep with Hannah—but he says they looked too angelic to disturb. "Victoria's Secret Angel," Hannah says, hiking a thumb at Marnie, "fat-lady angel." Pro-forma protests from Marnie and Charlie; Hannah whatevers, "Please avert your eyes," while absconding from the kitchen with a cupcake for breakfast. Atta girl. Marnie hands Charlie her bite guard in exchange for a cup of coffee. Charlie asks if they fell asleep "to Mary Tyler Moore again"; Marnie admits it, but seems like she's lying. "Comin' atcha; here it comes," Charlie croons, leaning very slowly and gently in for a kiss on the cheek. Marnie barely moves, her smile slowly melting off.

Bathroom. Marnie shaves her legs on the edge of the tub; Hannah sits in the tub, eating her cupcake. Badinage about whether Marnie's going to take her towel off, and she jokes that she only shows her boobs to people she's having sex with. Hannah real-talks, "You literally slept in my bed to avoid him," and Marnie cringes, then says she's "turned a corner," and Charlie's touch now feels like "a weird uncle." Marnie thinks she needs to end it; Hannah believes that that will make Charlie either "stand outside [their] window with a boom box," or kill himself. Charlie then bursts in, is all awkward about seeing Hannah naked, and is way too nice about saying goodbye and offering to get wine for later. Marnie cringes again. Hannah asks what it's like to be loved that much. Marnie can't feel it anymore, and then she nails it with this line: "It makes me feel like such a bitch, because I feel him being so nice to me and yet it makes me so angry." Yep. Exactly. Gives you hand massages; actually likes Tori Amos, possibly more than you do; you feel like screaming all the time. Flawless, "makes no sense"/"makes all the sense" encapsulation of the frustrations of dating that particular type of guy—who, as Hannah then notes, "has a vagina."

Jessa hauls her crap up a flight of stairs to a red door, out of which bursts her pink-sweatsuited cousin, Shoshanna (Zosia Mamet, Mad Men's Joyce Ramsay), with a very intense "bonjour, roomie." Jessa parries with a "ça va?" but Shoshanna kind of doesn't even hear her, murmuring about Jessa's chic hat, how she's the only one of her girlfriends to have a British cousin, Jessa's skin is so beautiful, etc. Jessa's all, "So, about putting my bags down?"

Walking to work. Marnie orders Hannah to ask to get paid at her job; if Hannah can't make her half of the rent, Charlie will have to move in. "You're dumping Charlie," Hannah reminds her. "I didn't say that," Marnie snorts. Hannah then relates that she texted Adam "about tonight" but he didn't text back. Marnie tells her impatiently that Adam "never, ever" texts her back, so Hannah bargains that maybe she should call him: "Didn't you say texting is like the lowest form of communication on the pillar of chat?" "The totem of chat," Marnie corrects her, and Facebook is the lowest, "followed by Gchat, then texting, then email, then phone; face-to-face is of course ideal, but it's not of this time." Agreed on the merits, but the "it's not of this time" takes me out of the episode a little bit; the "totem" is clearly a pet harangue of Dunham's, and sticks out as such. Hannah asks how she's supposed to get Adam face-to-face if he won't text her back. Well, you accept that he's a horse's ass and don't bother, but we'll get back to that. Repeatedly, because that's how that goes.

In a deli, exposition on Jessa; Hannah thinks Jessa will appreciate the welcome-home dinner, but Marnie is pre-annoyed by Jessa's inevitable tardiness and out-hip-wardrobing of the rest of them, plus Hannah goes on benders when Jessa's in town, and then Jessa leaves and Marnie has to deal with the fallout. Jessa also apparently sleeps with other people's boyfriends. Not Marnie's, Hannah points out. Only because he was in Prague that semester, Marnie points out in return.

Shoshanna's. Shoshanna rambles about her rent, and then we get the specific callout to Sex & the City via the S&TC movie poster Shoshanna has on her wall. Jessa never saw the film and didn't know it was a show; nor is she on Facebook. Shoshanna's response to this is a dreamy "You're so fucking classy." Hee. Shoshanna proceeds to analyze Jessa and herself re: which S&TC character each of them represents. We also learn that, before France, Jessa was in Amsterdam, and before that in Bali, where she was "shucking pearls." Oh. [eye-roll]



Hannah's internship. She gathers up her eggs and walks the three feet over to her boss's desk. Alistair is played by Chris Eigeman (of, among other things, the non-Will-Farrell Kicking and Screaming), and I get very psyched about this, then disappointed when Hannah's announcement that she needs to start drawing a paycheck is more or less met with, "Well, you don't know Photoshop, and I get 50 internship requests a day, so . . . good luck at your next job, Sassy," which means he's not a recurring character. And Alistair totally isn't going to read her book, either, because it would go in the slush pile . . . and Hannah is the slush-pile reader. Well, "was." As she's leaving, the other intern who recently got a paid gig asks her to pick up a Luna Bar, a Smart Water, and a Vitamin Water. Love that—the joke's a little too cheap until that detail about both kinds of water.

Hannah uses the bad news as an excuse to call Adam (Adam Driver), lying that she happens to be in his neighborhood. He answers the door shirtless. She's angling for sympathy by relating that she got fired, but he's doing that thing guys sometimes do, where they're giving you solutions when you just want to bitch for a while and then be told you're pretty. Adam's an actor, apparently, but shrugs that he's "doing this woodworking thing right now—it's just more honest," and as a Brooklyn resident who works with young musicians, I have heard many variations on that line uttered in seriousness, and it did have the desired effect of making me think he's an asshole. But it's a bit played and a bit "inside," and the script does go to that well pretty often. It's very effective here overall, though, in creating a quick but deep sketch of Adam as that particular breed of douchecanoe—thinks working with his hands makes him better than other people, seeming so evolved and sophisticated in his "simple needs" when he's actually just arrogant and tactless.

Hannah invites herself to sit down and confesses that, prior to yesterday, she'd gotten all her money from her parents. Adam remarks that he wouldn't take anything from his parents, "they're buffoons," but of course he's fine with taking eight hundo a month from his grandmother (who is, presumably, not a buffoon, but rather "retro"). After some more unconsidered rhetoric about not having to be anyone's slave, they start making out, and he pulls a move he obviously thinks is super-hot, biting Hannah's lower lip and stretching it like four inches off her face; Hannah's expression in response is equal parts "henh?" and "I guess I have to pretend I like this so that he'll like me back." And that is how guys can keep getting away with doing and saying goofy shit they saw in pornos: because girls who really like them will play along and not mention how Smurfy it is, and hope they get boyfriends for their trouble. And they never do. You, reading this: he's not different. He'll keep not caring about you until you get fed up (or he turns 30). Then he'll marry a 21-year-old who doesn't need a bra or call him on his shit. Save yourself months of energy and neg him now.

Adam flips Hannah onto her back on the couch. "I like you so much; I don't know where you disappear to," Hannah says, and it sounded great in her head, but naturally he doesn't connect with the attempt at lyricism: "What are you talking about, I'm right here." But Hannah has a wicked case of nervous/psyched pre-sex logorrhea, blathering about how it's still light out and the special-skills section on her résumé. Adam grunts while yanking her boots off that he hasn't applied for a job in a really long time (of course he hasn't), then says he has something she can put down as a special skill (of course he does), but he'll have to see if she "fulfills all the requirements," which apparently is going to involve her letting him put it in her butt. He's also trying to porn-talk her all, "I know what you modern career women really want," and Hannah's all, "O . . . kay?" He tells her to get on her stomach and grab her legs; he's going to get some lube, and when he gets back, he wants everything off her bottom half. He will "consider" getting a condom also.  . . . Yep, totally had a folie a duh with this exact type of asshat back in the day.

It just goes on like this, Hannah asking too many times if she's doing it right, Hannah overanalyzing her overreaction to his almost putting it in her poop chute, Adam dickily saying "let's play the quiet game," yours truly both laughing in recognition and muttering at her to kick him in the slats and leave.

In the kitchen before the dinner party. Charlie shyly proposes just getting freaky right there in the kitchen; Marnie seems into it, in theory, and Charlie asks what would turn her on the most. She asks what would turn him on the most. Predictably, turning her on is what would turn him on. She's starting to stumble through a "what if you acted like a stranger" scenario—i.e., stop being an Ani DiFranco fan and pop some fuckin' buttons already—but the buzzer rings. He mentions that he invited his friend Ray, but even though Marnie wants Charlie to do things of his own volition and not check in with her constantly, she's immediately pissed that he didn't ask her first.

Adam's, postcoital. Adam is asking about Hannah's tattoos. He kind of shoves her to and fro to look at them like she's a piece of furniture. They're mostly illustrations from children's books, which Adam isn't impressed with; when he asks why she got them, she explains that it was "this riot-grrl idea" of taking control of her shape after she'd gained a lot of weight, and he isn't impressed with that either. He gained a lot of weight in high school but he "didn't go drawing all over [himself]," he snots, adding that she's "not that fat anymore" so she should have them lasered off. Hannah finds this cute instead of tone-deaf at best, and I'm pretty sure it's not a post-orgasm haze, because: that guy. When she realizes she's late for the Jessa dinner, there's an awkward leave-taking where she's trying to prompt Adam with "this was really nice," it was just what she needed, and so on. No bet. "So I'll see you soon?" she says hopefully. "Yeah, just text me." Yeah. That.

Dinner thing. Ray (Alex Karpovsky) is hilariously expounding on his "rules," which include no women under 25 and no women who have "been penetrated by a drummer." I also have A Rule About Drummers (to wit: "no") and it's amazing to hear that a man has the same rule, even if it's 1) by transference and 2) a fictional man. He's also raving about his girlfriend's lashes, and they play-fight, and Marnie and Charlie, seated at opposite ends of the table from each other, look unhappy and uncomfortable. Marnie complains that Hannah didn't show up; Charlie wonders if they should call someone, but Marnie's like, no, I know exactly where she is: "She's having gross sex with that animal." Ray cracks that Charlie would like to at least hear about some sex. Marnie is busted, and not happy about it.

Jessa finally shows up. Cut to her spreading a peacock fan of pretention before the assembled: Francophilia, calling herself a "live-in educator," on and on. Ray, my new favorite character, wonders if her account of her travels isn't actually "the plot to The Sound of Music." Hannah arrives, full of apologies; big hugs with Jessa; Jessa sniffs Hannah and announces to the room that "she smells like sex." Cut to Hannah in group therapy with the room about her financial situation. Jessa promises to get her a job "worthy of her talents," but Hannah will run out of money in a week. She sighs that she'll have to work at McDonald's, and Ray launches into another one of the script's semi-unfortunate pet-subject dorm-dialectics monologues, this one about how McDonald's isn't that bad: they feed millions every day, they make a consistently taste and affordable product, and all Ray's college education got him was 50K in student loans. Ray's stir-'n'-rant on McNuggets in Nigeria is below:

Well, that's not all; he also garnered some practical knowledge re: brewing opium pods as a tea. He assures everyone it's legal, but Charlie has to ask Marnie sotto voce if it's okay for him to try it. Jessa blares that she hates opium, and every time she does coke she shits her pants, but Hannah is intrigued by the tea. "What does it taste like?" "Twigs," she's told. Marnie doesn't think it's a great idea, as Hannah is "super-sensitive to drugs," but Hannah's not hearing it. She also didn't hear "twigs" correctly — she thought Ray said "Twix" and gets a nasty surprise when she sips it, but chugs the rest.

Bedroom. Marnie moms that Hannah can't disappear like that, and advises her to ask her parents to support her for a little longer, until she finds a job. Enter Jessa to ask if Charlie has a girlfriend. "Yes," Marnie snaps. Jessa doesn't understand why Hannah can't "just tell them you're an artist." "Just . . . tell them you'll get a job, that's much more convincing," Marnie says. Jessa: But Flaubert! Marnie: Please don't "help." Jessa: Rappers who sold their tapes in the street! Hannah: I need to go. Marnie: You're high. Hannah: Love you both, mean it, "when I look at both of you a Coldplay song plays in my heart," but I'm outtie. She leaves. 

Hannah goes to her parents' hotel. "Mom? Papa?" Dad: "Did she just call me 'Papa'?" An out-of-breath Hannah has brought them her book to read (it's like ten printed pages). She hands it over and asks if they're "boiling" in there, and her mom's like, great, we'll . . . read it on the plane, and Hannah says they have to read it now, and starts doing that thing drunk people do where they focus very hard on one point so the room doesn't start spinning.

Bathroom. Marnie comes in while Jessa's peeing, and let me take a second to mention that I love the show's approach to personal-space boundaries between the female characters — namely that they're really porous, where they exist at all. I went to all-girls' school until college, and to see that sense of being almost littermates with your female friends, kind of living in a puppy pile with them, stepping on each other's faces, sleeping in each other's armpits, and having almost no locked-door activities or smells or whatever, is really interesting. The puppy pile isn't a universal, and I do have close friends who flee the room when I'm changing because OMG BOOBS PRIVATE, but I also had a high-school friend who wrote up most of her junior-year bio labs using my ass as a desk because it was "so nice and flat."

So anyway, the show. Marnie is not having it with Jessa's speech to Hannah. Jessa thought Hannah "seemed ready," and Marnie points out again that Hannah had just gotten high. Jessa: "I'd like you to see a real high person." She tells Marnie she shouldn't mother Hannah; Marnie edits that to say she's "literally preventing a disaster from happening," while maternally and unconsciously handing Jessa toilet paper. "Have you even read her novel?" Jessa asks, wiping, and Marnie's thrilled to correct her that it's a memoir, and of course she's read it, Hannah is her best friend. Jessa is all over that in a mocking tone; Marnie shoots back that Jessa doesn't stay in one place long enough to commit to best friendship, then cuts off Jessa's condescending response to bitch at her for showing up to her own dinner party two hours late, and then there's the predictable "who eats at seven o'clock"/"this isn't Barcelona, sorry" back-and-forth. Marnie is pissed that Jessa acts like she's uptight, because that makes her uptight, and oh my God how many times have I had a version of that discussion with chronically late friends. I mean, I am legit uptight, but still. Don't aggravate the sitch by not owning a watch, God. Jessa Godwin's-Laws the criticism by announcing that she's pregnant. "On purpose?" Marnie asks. "What do you think?" Jessa mutters. So, I guess not. Charlie comes in and tells them they're both "so beautiful." Marnie shoos him out. Jessa: "That's a high person." Rimshot!

Hotel. Hannah's parents, put on the spot, enthuse that it's "very funny stuff." Hannah makes her pitch: "to finish this book," eleven hundred a month for the next two years. Her mother deems that insane, and Hannah interprets "insane" as referring to trying to live in NYC on $1100 a month.  "Why don't you get a job, and start a blog—you are so spoiled!" Mom shouts. Hee! Starting a blog fixes everything, totes. "Yeah, well whose fault is that, Mom?" "Your father's!" "Papa" is freaking out with the fighting, but Hannah swoons to the floor before they can basically cut her off a second time. She explains the opium-pod tea, and Dad is yelling about ordering coffee, and Mom is yelling that he's getting played, Dad hates watching Hannah struggle, Mom works hard and wants to sit "by a fucking lake." Hannah: Flaubert, garret, "don't look at me."

The next morning. Hannah wakes up alone in their bed. She calls out for them, then immediately grabs the phone to get room service, which makes me side with her parents—and they're one step ahead of her, checking out and closing their account so she can't charge anything. She gathers her things, and finds two envelopes on the desk: one addressed to her, which contains $20, and the other addressed to Housekeeping, ditto. (Also left on the desk, which I found very sad: the pages of Hannah's memoir.) She snags both twenties and leaves. Down on the sidewalk, a panhandler tells her to smile—a city peeve that's a little on-the-nose here—and we pan up over Hannah disappearing into the midtown hugger-mugger as an even more on-the-nose music cue sings, "Everyone's got a mother and a father / everyone's sure they'll go far."

So that's our pilot — a strong outing that doesn't get bogged down in the usual "hey, this is how everyone knows each other and feels about things" dialogue dumps, and dispensed with the S&TC comparisons ASAP. I'm looking forward to seeing how Hannah deals with her financial and Adam situations; how Marnie deals (or doesn't) with the Charlie situation; and how everyone else deals with Shoshanna, a nationally-ranked up-talker whose character is even more fascinating once you notice how many of Lindsay Crouse's facial features she passed to Zosia Mamet intact. …Dang, now I want to see Shoshanna in a subplot about a card-game short con like House of Games. Just me, then? Okay. 
 
 

Sarah D. Bunting co-founded Television Without Pity.com, and has written for Seventeen, New York Magazine, MSNBC.com, Salon, Yahoo!, and others. She's the chief cook and bottle-washer at TomatoNation.com.