“You don’t need to pretend to be anything you’re not.”—Marnie
“When you love somebody, you don’t have to be nice to them all the time.”—Adam
One of the things that can be irritating about Girls is the way that it’s a show about performance. The things that Hannah and her friends do are as much for the benefit of looking like they’re kind or considerate as anything else. When they do something nice for someone, they want to appear as if they’re good people. That’s a tough thing to determine, sometimes: What is it that makes someone genuinely good, and what it is that just makes them someone who’s putting on the air of being good to look good? And, ultimately, does it even matter?
The characters on Girls are still young enough that they think they can change their fundamental selves simply by willing some new self into existence. That’s present throughout this episode. Hannah denies her attraction to Adam. Elijah tries not being gay. Hannah tries not to fall too heavily for Sandy, her new boyfriend (played by everybody’s favorite, Donald Glover). Marnie tries not to be jealous of Charlie and Audrey. Shoshanna tries to deny her feeling for Ray. And on and on. The only regular who seems at all comfortable with her current lot in life is Jessa, who’s making her way back home after what was certainly a magical honeymoon with Thomas John. And we all know Jessa well enough by now to know that some part of her is detached and already plotting her escape.
It’s that fundamental lack of honesty that can drive you crazy when you’re watching this show. One of the reasons Shoshanna and Adam, especially, can be so refreshing is because they simply put everything on the line. They (almost) always say what they feel, and they push others to respond in kind simply through their sincerity. The first season of the show was a build-up to a bunch of moments when the central three characters—Hannah, Marnie, and Jessa—were called on their bullshit, and in the case of the first, at least, Adam was the most effective vehicle for doing so. He’s almost painfully earnest about the way things should be, and that makes him a bit of an open wound he covers with a bandage made almost entirely of awkward rage. Shoshanna, grafted onto the first season at sort of the last minute, seems more integrated into the proceedings this year than she sometimes did last year. But her honesty served much the same function last season with the other characters. She’s a tilt-a-whirl, saying everything that’s on her mind, so that you can sort of discern just what it is she’s really interested in by what she’s not saying. And she’s, of course, drawn to painfully blunt Ray (whose portrayer, Alex Karpovsky, has newly been made a series regular—hurrah!), so you can sort of discern what she values in a person.
“It’s About Time” isn’t the world’s most graceful season premiére. There are some wonderful sequences within it—particularly everything at the party—but there’s also a certain breathless quality to it, as Lena Dunham and her collaborators strain to catch up with everybody the first season established. It’s great that the show aims to keep expanding an already pretty stuffed world with characters like Sandy, but the scenes before that party are sort of all over the place in trying to get viewers all caught up on what’s happened since season one ended. Hannah hasn’t just taken up with Sandy; she’s also caring for Adam, thanks to her guilt over him getting hit with a truck. Marnie gets laid off after a lunch at which her boss forgot to lay her off because the two of them got to talking so much. Shoshanna is trying to get over Ray. Jessa doesn’t pop up until the very end. The opening montage that establishes all of this is beautifully executed and perfectly paced, a great reintroduction to this world. But much of what follows has a bit of flopsweat.
Don’t get me wrong. I enjoyed all of these scenes as individual units, but the show’s tonal veering—which I like most of the time—becomes even more evident when scenes are smashed up against each other like this. Hannah rotates among Sandy, Adam, and Elijah, filling in bits and pieces. Marnie has a lunch with her mother (a perfectly cast Rita Wilson) that’s meant to remind us Marnie is the most fundamentally serious one of the group. A season premiére is one of the hardest episodes in all of television to write—particularly for a comedy—and this one falls into many of the pitfalls such episodes often fall into. It’s overstuffed, rushed, and a little too unwilling to just hang back and let us hang out in the world it established last season. (Hanging out in the world of a show you like that’s returned is one of the chief pleasures of a season premiére, after all.)
Once the party starts up, though, the episode really hits its stride. If much of the show is about performance—or, I suppose, posturing would be more accurate a term—then this is a sequence positively full of that quality. George, Elijah’s older boyfriend, seems at once irritated by how little fun the young people in his life seem to have, while also amused by their tempests in teapots. Dunham realized as the first season went along that conveying her point of view on her characters was easier when she had characters there—usually Adam or Shoshanna—to point out how idiotic they were being. But in the party scene, that character shifts from scene to scene. It’s most consistently George, who’s eventually kicked out of the party for the offense of bringing everybody and particularly Elijah down. But it also might be Shoshanna, reeling off a flurry of words to everybody about how she doesn’t care about Ray, very much letting us know how much she does (but also just how much Hannah hasn’t gotten over Adam, her protestations to the contrary). It might be Marnie, telling Elijah after their furtive sexual encounter that it’s okay to be himself or sharing a quiet moment with Charlie. There are moments that cut through the posturing—sometimes from the main characters, which lets you know they’ve matured by iotas—but then everybody’s right back to pretending they’re not what they are.
That’s why Adam’s notion that you don’t have to be nice to the people you love all of the time struck me so much. This is a show that’s about people faking it, yeah, but it’s also about how they’re seeking out people they can be honest with. And honesty hurts. Honesty means you can get your heart broken or get into a giant fight with your best friend that reverberates even months later. But honesty is also the hardest thing in the world to find, because most people are going to blow smoke up your ass or butter you up (or, alternately, be mean for no particular reason). The characters on Girls very often run from those who see through the posturing to the scared, trying-to-figure-it-out people underneath, but then it’s staring them right in the face and they can’t look away. Until they start running all over again.
- Welcome back to the Girls reviews. I’m sure this experience will be an absolute delight for all of us.
- Hannah may still have a thing for Adam, but she’s doing her best to make this Sandy thing work. She winds up at his house at the end—to borrow his copy of The Fountainhead, of all things—and she lays out some ground rules that are, yes, ridiculous but also sort of a good series of rules for someone like her who wants to avoid another something like Adam.
- The karaoke choices were all perfect. Shoshanna performing “Beautiful Girls” and Marnie’s “Building A Mystery” were my favorites.
- Shoshanna’s hat, incidentally, is one of the greatest things to happen to America’s sartorial sense in quite some time. I hope everybody starts wearing hats like that.
- “I came. You came hard. We all laughed.” Adam really knows what matters in a relationship.