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Girls: “Boys”

(For the next several days, some of our writers will be swapping duties on some of our most popular shows. Some of them will like what they see, but for different reasons. Some of them will have vastly different opinions from the regular reviewers. And some of them won’t be all that different. It’s Second Opinions Week at TV Club.) 

One of the beautiful aspects of Girls is that it’s easy to have an opinion about it, whether or not you watch the show. Internet trolls and grandparents alike spout off about whether a girl like Hannah could land a hot, Patrick Wilson-like doctor or whether the show’s realistic, narcissistic, or both. The show—and Dunham’s work in general—is polarizing, but I think that’s entirely intentional. Dunham recognizes and reflects in the show the universal truth that people—and young people, more intensely—are both judging and being judged, forming their lives and selves around the thoughts other people have about them and the thoughts they have about others. And that’s okay. While we, the audience, are sitting at home on our Midwestern couches watching these characters acting out in New York, we’re thinking, “What a bunch of assholes,” while simultaneously reassuring ourselves “but I’m not like that.”

Girls works for me because it’s an intensely personal show. Not personal in the sense that I know what Lena Dunham’s boobs look like in graphic detail, though I do, but more that I can see myself in the characters, or see other people I know. Like Hannah, I moved to New York after growing up in the Midwest and attending college in Ohio. I had friends with rich parents, friends with no visible means of supporting themselves, friends who worked their asses off for $12,000 a year, or friends like Booth Jonathan’s assistant who, after getting fired, just took off to be with their boyfriends who were “doing lights for Carly Rae Jepsen,” or the equivalent of the time. And while the characters on Girls can certainly be despicable, that doesn’t mean they’re not real. Exaggerated, probably, but still real.

This week’s episode, “Boys,” is especially rough because we see the characters spiraling downward, telling themselves that everything is great and perfect when nothing is. While Marnie seems perfectly content sleeping with Booth Jonathan, she’s crushed when he tells her they are, in fact, not dating and that she doesn’t know him at all. Hannah gets an e-book deal from Pumped Magazine (cough Vice cough) courtesy of hilarious guest star John Cameron Mitchell. While she tells everyone she’s churning out the chapters, she’s not. She has nothing to write because, gasp!, she hasn’t actually lived much of a life. It’s like the idea that maybe she’s not that great and not that smart has her petrified.

Jessa’s depressed and sleeping in Hannah’s bathtub, and Shoshanna is trying to turn Ray into someone he’s not even sure he wants to be. Adam’s convinced himself he never wanted Hannah, likening her to a carnival Tweety Bird he’d just have to lug around after he won it, but it doesn’t seem entirely genuine, especially considering he had to steal a dog for a little company. And Ray, who tries to return the dog to Staten Island with Adam, talks a good game but even he’s tired of insisting he’s okay with his failures.

Having moved from New York something like six or seven years ago now, I don’t know the intricacies of Greenpoint real estate or whether or not Booth Jonathan’s art party was realistic, but I do know that, like the people I knew when I lived there who may have grown up or figured their shit out, there are new people stumbling faux-confidently into the city every day. New York is a river that never stops moving. The vast majority of people in New York—and everywhere, really—think their lives are fascinating and important and busy and rich, but like Jessa points out to Hannah, no one really matters all that much. It’s a nihilistic view, but it’s cruelly true. Whether Hannah writes her “book of shit,” whether Marnie gets her shit together, it’s not going to change anything. New York—and the rest of the world—will continue to spin, no matter how important these girls think they are. And what makes this week’s episode so sad is that all the characters are really starting to realize that and to join Jessa in her pit of despair. As Ray says on the ferry, “It’s hard to tell someone so young that things don’t always turn out the way you thought they’d be.”

All this negativity doesn’t mean the Hannah and company don’t matter, of course, or that we don’t matter, but that’s kind of the point of the show. This season, it feels like all the storylines are building to some big blow-up or, more optimistically, some of these knuckleheads getting their shit together. Neither of those things will probably happen, because that would be dramatic, and Girls isn’t really all that dramatic. Instead, each of the characters will probably move, in their own ways, toward being happy. Hannah will have to figure out whether her goal of doing everything is really her goal, or if she’d rather just get married and live in a big house with a doctor and a massive closet. Marnie will have to figure out what she is, besides pretty. Shoshanna will have to figure out whether she really loves Ray or just loves the idea of him, and Ray, well, he’ll have to figure out everything. They’ll all also have to figure out their relationship to each other, and, like Booth Jonathan asked, whether they’re “even friends.” Then again, maybe they won’t have to figure out anything, because while other TV shows require neat resolutions and dramatic storylines, Girls doesn’t, really, and that’s what makes it so great.

Stray observations:

  • Hey, thanks, HBO. I always wanted to get a rear view of Jorma Taccone’s balls.
  • Hannah throwing up in front of all those people is so cringe-inducing. That’s like my worst nightmare. Vomiting is so violent and personal, but that’s probably why it worked.
  • “Does she think you’re a Marmee or an Amy?”
  • That Staten Island girl was horrible. A fucking monster, really.

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