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

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

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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 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).

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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

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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

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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 4: HANNAH’S DIARY

GIRLS RECAP 4: HANNAH’S DIARY

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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 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.

VIDEO ESSAY: Doris Wishman: The First Lena Dunham

Doris Wishman: The First Lena Dunham

In just a few short years, Lena Dunham has quickly made a name for herself in the indie film scene.  In 2010 she caught everyone at the SXSW Film Festival by surprise with her detached but deeply personal debut Tiny Furniture.  She was heralded as the Woody Allen of our generation (or rather, of a generation), and landed at the top of the so-called Mumblecore movement.  Two years later Dunham returned to SXSW with the first three episodes of her new HBO series, Girls, which premieres April 15th.  The event also marked the release of Tiny Furniture on DVD, which could be considered to be the ultimate accomplishment for Dunham or any fledgling filmmaker: acceptance into the Criterion Collection.  (For more insight on the topic Dunham gave a very revealing interview with IndieWire's own Nigel M Smith.)

When Criterion first announced that Tiny Furniture would be in the collection, the decision to include Dunham with such esteemed filmmakers came as quite a surprise to many (who troll the Internet), and even more surprising was the announcement that Dunham was developing a series with HBO, and beyond that, Judd Apatow would serve as producer.  Although it may have seemed to some as if Dunham sold out, Girls is very much a continuation of Tiny Furniture.  Dunham's style is indicative of what independent film has become in the new century:  personal character studies, naturalist, improvised performances in sometimes aimless narratives, all produced on a micro-budget level.  The term Mumblecore itself may be irrelevant at this point, but that label certainly helped a lot of filmmakers get more exposure in a market that relies heavily on categorization.  Dunham has had a privileged upbringing, but her films remain grounded and self-aware.  Dunham is also aware of the implications of setting Girls in New York City, the old stomping grounds of Carrie Bradshaw in Sex and the City.  The story revolves around Hanna (played by Dunham) and her friends as they try to make do in the big city.  Although Dunham's Girls may have been influenced by Sex and the City, it is much more in tune with the generation it portrays.  Playing with the cultural cliché of a girl coming to NY to seek her fortune, Girls might just be the antidote to Bradshaw's artificial quest for love and fame.

Now that I've got your attention with something currently relevant, I'd like to talk about another woman whose films closely resemble Dunham's work and (forgive me) the Mumblecore aesthetic.  Doris Wishman was one of the most prolific female directors working in the sexploitation genre in the 1960s.  In fact, she may have been the only woman working in the field at that time, at least behind the camera.  She began her career making "nudie-cutie" films like Nude on the Moon and Gentlemen Prefer Nature Girls.  Set in Florida's nudist communities, Wishman's early films were loosely tied narratives, haphazardly thrown together for the sole purpose of showing semi-clad (and usually middle-aged) men and women sitting around a pool, playing volleyball, checkers, and other mundane activities.  Like most nudist films, the mere fact that they are partially nude does nothing to make the films more exciting.  In fact, the majority of the films in the nudie-cutie genre are completely unwatchable.  What makes Wishman's films exemplary is her seemingly complete disregard for narrative structure and continuity.  Appropriately regarded as “The Female Ed Wood,” Wishman's work was so poorly executed that it amazes me that she was able to continue for nearly half a century.  But there is a genuine innocence in her work, and a strong visual style that makes her work distinctive.  Albeit unintentionally, her films almost reach levels of paracinematic genius.  She worked cheaply, using non-professional actors (or anyone willing to take their clothes off in front of a camera), shot repeatedly in her own home, dubbed most of the characters with her own voice, and produced completely without outside investors.  Wishman was always able to conform to the shifting demands in the sexploitation market, relying on gimmicks to keep audiences coming (pun intended).

In the mid-sixties Wishman relocated to New York City, which marked a drastic change in her work.  Known as her "roughie" period, these films became much more ambitious but also entered into much darker territory.  Harmless titles like Diary of a Nudist and Hideout in the Sun were replaced by Bad Girls Go to Hell and Indecent Desires.  These films usually centered around a guileless sylph who spirals down to sexual degradation and shame.  The first film in her Roughie Cycle, the wonderfully titled The Sex Perils of Paulette, focuses on an innocent country girl being corrupted by the big city.  In many ways the film is allegorical to Wishman's own life; she left Florida's sunny beaches after a messy divorce forced her to seek out her new life in NYC.  Paulette arrives in the Big Apple with dreams of finding love, success, and becoming a better person.  Once there, Paulette falls into a bad crowd of sexual deviants and sadists.  Like Carrie Bradshaw, Paulette finds her Mr. Big in Tony Lo Bianco, but denies herself the happiness of a normal relationship because NYC has turned her into a "bad girl."

Much like Dunham, Wishman frequently shows us scenes of women inexplicably standing around in their underwear (black lace, a Wishman trademark).  When we are introduced to Tracy (the incomparable Darlene Bennett), Paulette's new flatmate, the camera starts on her face, then slowly moves down to show off her body.  In the film, Wishman abruptly cuts from images like these to images of various knickknacks that happen to be nearby, or sometimes the camera will just sort of meander away.  Although the film was obviously made for men to rub one out in a dark grindhouse theatre, Wishman seemingly avoided all the 'money shots' by inserting images of feminine desires, or as in this case, by showing off the interior of her house.  Scenes are often cut out of sequence, much like Jean Luc Godard's Pierrot le fou, which coincidentally was released the same year as Sex Perils.  Although it is highly unlikely that Wishman was aware of Godard's work and the distancing techniques of the nouvelle vague, Wishman seemed to have tapped into the creative consciousness at that particular cultural moment and interpreted them in her own unique way.  Wishman made her narratives even more complicated than those of the New Wave style.   Since Wishman used silent film stock, she often relied on reaction shots, so that she could dub her own voice in afterwards, seemingly improvising the voice-over narration after she edited the footage together.  The result is a bizarre, almost surreal exercise in anti-erotica, completely composed of reaction shots and random cutaways.  Wishman didn't seem to have much interest in sex. Instead she focused on potted plants, radios, beauty accessories, and lots of foot shots, with just enough accidental yonic imagery to validate its cinematic worth and allow film students like Lena Dunham to keep turning in term papers. While it might amuse some film students to ironically distance themselves from Wishman's work, it could be just as rewarding to simply accept Wishman's bizarre world view like that of any other auteur.

Doris Wishman had 30 films to her credit, although the exact number is uncertain, since she used multiple aliases, and in some cases disowned certain titles that she wasn't happy with.  She would also rerelease her films with different titles to make a quick buck.  She eventually dipped into hardcore in the late seventies (although Wishman was adamantly opposed to it, supposedly leaving the room whenever hardcore scenes were shot).  When hardcore pornography became too extreme, Wishman gave up her career as a filmmaker and returned to Florida, getting a job at a cosmetics store.  Her career comeback came long after the sexploitation market had dissolved.  Thanks to the home video market, Wishman was able to enjoy a brief return to filmmaking with Dildo Heaven in 2002.  Sadly, Doris passed away while making her final film, Each Time I Kill later that same year.  John Waters helped to release the film posthumously in 2007 and has a cameo as well, as does B-52's frontman Fred Schneider, but no DVD is available at this time.  Criterion should just release all the unedited footage as a supplemental feature, much like Charles Laughton Directs Night of the Hunter—it would be an outstanding document of a genius at work.  Wishman's legacy needs proper recognition if we are to truly appreciate Dunham's Girls and the evolution of the girl-in-the-city subgenre.  An Eclipse set of Wishman's Roughie Cycle would be an ideal starting point for Criterion, followed by a set dedicated to her nudie-cutie films.  Should Criterion decide to include Wishman in the collection for a mainline release, The Sex Perils of Paulette would be the perfect choice.

Robert Nishimura is a Japan-based filmmaker, artist, and freelance designer. Born and raised in Panamá, he then moved to the US, working at the University of Pittsburgh and co-directing Life During Wartime, a short-lived video collective for local television. After fleeing to Japan, he co-founded the Capi Gallery in Western Honshu before becoming a permanent resident. He currently is designing for DVD distributors in Japan and the US, making short and feature films independently, and is a contributing artist for the H.P. France Group and their affiliate companies. All of his designs can be found at Primolandia Productions and his non-commercial video work is at For Criterion Consideration.