HBO's 'Girls' Is Back… And As Refreshingly Unlikable As Ever

January 13th, 2014 11:30am EST

Girls Detractors of "Girls" aren't going to be moved to sudden adoration for season three, which premiered as a double-feature installation last night on HBO. Hannah is still full of taxing self-pity. Shoshanna is still vacantly detached from reality. Jessa is still blunt and nonplussed. Marnie is still gallivanting through a pesky post-breakup stratosphere. Business is usual in Williamsburg. And for initiated and dedicated viewers, that's good news. Sort of. I guess.
The thing with "Girls" is that it requires a certain suspension of the typical norms of television watchability. There's nothing particularly happy or likable or uplifting about the show, even when the gals hit a stride. We know there's something torturous looming in the distance. That's the show's constant: brutality. But for as arduous as it can be to watch Hannah spiral into OCD tantrums or Jessa defile a stranger, there's a certain beauty to the breakdown. And it's that cocktail of strife and bliss that makes the show so damn intoxicating.
Take Hannah and Adam, for instance. Their relationship is textbook nightmare status. Together, they create a vortex - a powerful center with a torrid, destructive path. They're together again, sharing a bed and apartment, best friends and cohabiters. And even though we know the foundation is wobbly, it's still refreshing to see Hannah in a better place than where we left her, and it's Adam's presence that shifted gears. She's writing more, and better than ever according to her editor (who is suddenly obsessed with her mental affliction). She's attending therapy with regularity. Her friendship with Marnie is back on solid ground. And despite the occasional argument and run-ins with ex-girlfriends (that Natalia scene is pure torture), she and Adam coexist pretty harmoniously. (And boy is it fun to return to their dynamic. Take for instance their brief exchange in Grumpy's: "Hi, what are you doing here?" Hannah asks when he shows up randomly. "I dropped my keys down a subway grate," he says, in an odd and charming cadence that only Adam Driver could deliver.)
Not so harmonious is poor Marnie, deflated after the random departure of Charlie. (Christopher Abbott, who played Charlie, infamously left the show last season because he wasn't feeling the character's progression.) She's sleeping on her mom's couch and crying randomly when she thinks back on their good times. This development is recycled material from last season, Marnie again the victim of terrible life circumstances. It'd be nice to see her catch a bone. Her mother, played by Rita Wilson, isn't helping matters. She's there to nit and pick at her daughter in the most nagging and immature of ways. (Her potent description of Marnie's new apartment: "It smells like kimchi in here.")
And then there's Jessa, who disappeared without a trace last season. She's been in rehab, it turns out. A rehab called Sheltering Winds (the cleverest oxymoron). Firm to her characterization, she's having trouble not being a terrible, toxic presence there. Take her scrutiny of fellow patient Mindy (played, in the most random of cameos, by Kim Gordon): "Mindy enjoys wearing scrunchies. No one has addressed that." "Scrunchies? I've never worn a scrunchie in my life," says Mindy. "You want to wear them, though." She's dismissive, rude, even outs a sexually abused black lesbian (Tastee!). So, you know, typical Jessa territory. I have to admit that for all the turmoil she dredges up, I really enjoy Jessa. There's a crudeness to her that's so rarely seen, a sort of affirmative truth that exists in many but doesn't make for good, sympathetic television. I hate her, but I appreciate her unflinching honesty, and feel strange pangs of both sadness and vitriol for her.
That's all episode one. Episode two centers on Hannah, Adam and Shoshanna's trek to Woodstock to retrieve Jessa (who gets kicked out of rehab for performing oral sex on the aforementioned closeted lesbian). It's a lesser episode than the premiere, in that it's really just resurfacing character beats with which we're already familiar. Adam can't really stand Shoshanna's material obsessions, Adam and Hannah like to have inappropriate sex (with Shoshanna in the room this time), Hannah uses her need for creative expression as an excuse to be claustrophobic and insufferable, which is even worse on long car rides. Pretty standard. (Although we are treated to several great Shoshannisms, like her assessment of Hannah and Adam's relationship: "I mean Adam was there for you when you went totally batshit insane and decided to cut your hair like a little boy on a fancy cookie box." Or, on boredom: "I will never be bored as long as there's Halloween.") Oh, Adam has never played Truth or Dare. He doesn't even know what it is.
They rescue Jessa eventually, from the facility and a creepy fellow addict who tries to have sex with her last minute. Hannah has the opportunity to call Jessa out on her selfish antics, like disappearing without a word and only calling when she needed help. But Hannah recedes after Jessa compliments her new haircut, because Hannah is forever obsessed with Jessa's whimsical and delicious mythology, and they're back to Brooklyn, to the tune of a great new Jenny Lewis anthem.
I have a lot of hopes for this season. Mostly, that the girls start learning more about themselves from a perspective of self-realization instead of through the ponderings of some sageish man. Adam and even creepy rehab guy get prolific monologues about the nature of life and love, bestowing advice that's meant to better or at least evoke a personal reaction out of their listeners. This is good and all, but for once I'd love to see Marnie work things out for herself, or for Jessa to take some initiative without an older other's persuasion. It's an odd trope in a show that's otherwise very female positive. For all the flak it gets, I still think it's revolutionary for positing women in natural circumstances and allowing them to be broken, blundering messes. It may not be fun to watch, it may not delve into every topic it should or appeal to the masses or acknowledge that, you know, not every Millennial is poor and miserable – and those are major issues, certainly. But it's still a show that's examining the complex and meandering minds of women, written for and by women, with women leads and women producers and women in mind. I just hope it'll start letting its own women (I say women instead of girls because they're growing, dammit!) win within the boundaries of their own agency every now and then.

Related: Girls, Starpulse Exclusives, Recaps, Television, Comedy, TV Networks, HBO

Photo Credits: HBO

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