Of the many ways I’m a bad wife, one is that I’ve made my husband Mark watch “Girls” with me. But no show does a better job showing the disaster of our modern sexual ethos. After loving season 1, we went ahead and got HBO recently and binge-watched seasons two and three. Much of it was horrible. We’re now in season 4, episode 3. Last night’s episode was so much better than episode 2 because things actually happened to the characters this week. Last week Mark told me, “Even the worst, most obvious, Urkel-saves-the-day sitcom has level of craft that was missing from this.”
In this episode (“Female Author”), Hannah Horvath (Lena Dunham) continues to adjust to being in a writing program at Iowa, Marnie (Allison Williams) becomes frustrated about being the other woman, Shoshanna (Zosia Mamet) takes advantage of a prospective employer and Jessa (Jemima Kirke) continues to be self-centered. Here Mark and I walk through this week’s episode.
Mollie: OK, I know we’re not supposed to talk about this because of the thought police or whatever, but when the advisory announced nudity, I noticed you groaned. And I groaned, too. At this point, I feel like I’ve somehow seen more of Hannah’s naked body than I have my own. Prior to watching “Girls,” I held a deep belief that all women were or could be sexy when naked. Lena Dunham’s character Hannah has shaken me to the core on this belief. But I thought this week’s nudity was refreshingly different. We saw Jessa’s bum during a Skype chat with Hannah. I would totally moon my sister on Skype this way if I didn’t care about NSA pervs watching. And the gratuitous display of breasts at a house party at least showcased interesting ta-tas and tied them to a light joke. We also had a reprieve from Dunham’s lack of affinity for being clothed or penchant for wearing really ill-advised clothing. Last week’s episode probably had a point to having Hannah in ill-fitting pajamas in public, but that didn’t make it funny or fun or interesting. I actually had no problem with all this in season 1 but I’m still recovering from last season’s green bikini episode, in which she never changed out of a bikini no matter where she was or what she was doing (and got mad if anyone commented on it). And then not just Hannah got mad but also Lena Dunham got angry for good measure, too. It’s all so emotionally exhausting.
Mark: Like you say, it’s not that Dunham isn’t conventionally attractive, lots of people aren’t attractive and they have something going on that makes them compelling or desirable. It’s the fact the nudity is so often aggressively gratuitous. It’s like the writers of the show (that includes Dunham, obvs.) think they can somehow normalize nudity. But this isn’t Sweden; for those of us that grew up watching The Facts of Life or whatever it’s damn near impossible to stop asking ourselves, “Is there a compelling reason she has to be eating cereal without her pants on?” The answer is always no.
Mollie: So I continue to enjoy Ray (Alex Karpovsky) for his brutal honesty but I thought one of his lines this week wasn’t true to his character. He and Marnie are having a conversation about her musical partner and lover Desi (Ebon Moss-Bachrach). Desi’s in a supposedly committed relationship with Clementine (Natalie Morales) and Marnie is hopeful that he’ll leave her. Ray is giving her the truth — that she’s a mistress, that he’ll never leave her, and that she already knows he has a character flaw. Now, I’m hoping he’ll say the character flaw is that he’s an adulterer. A liar, a cheat. Someone who can never be trusted because he’s not truthful with those closest to him. Instead he says it’s something like “he hasn’t chosen you.” Come on. Marnie has very little going for her in the good personality department. Yes, she’s hot. But so is Clementine.
This type of line — where every girl wants to believe she’s unique and desirable, regardless of the facts, is just a sort of female porn. Men get into porn in part because it tells them women should always find them irresistible no matter their behavior or appearance or personality. It’s a false delusion with some really negative consequences for human relationships. Same for this. Women need to have more going for them than being pretty and we haven’t seen much of that from Marnie. What’s so special about her that Desi should find her more desirable as a long-term partner than Clementine? I can think of a lot that makes her less desirable.
Mark: First off, I want to give a big shout out to the dude who plays Desi. He’s a near perfect amalgamation of about half-a-dozen guys my sister dated in Ashland, Oregon, in the mid-’90s. (One of those dudes actually did end up a big TV star, though thankfully neither he nor most of my sister’s suitors were cretins.) But anyway, the man deserves an Emmy. Secondly, it’s pretty fascinating that Desi is sort of a lone exception to the show’s unwritten rule that all the straight boyfriends are the only decent people on the show. Ray and Adam (Adam Driver) have had some growing up to do, but they were always more confused than selfish. Even Marnie’s boyfriend from the first two seasons, it was just bizarre how they started talking about him as a jerk and reveling in the failure of his company in flashbacks when he didn’t return to the show. Marnie didn’t deserve him and treated him terribly.
So, yeah, insofar as porn is about the desire to selfishly fuel one’s fantasies and desires through objectifying the opposite sex, I guess the comparison is apt. At the very least, what’s going on with the men in “Girls” is the inverse of the long-suffering girlfriend/wife archetype that tames men through understanding and patience. But it’s unfair when women are portrayed this way, and it’s not any better when you look at men through the same funhouse mirror.
Mollie: So, any thoughts on Shoshanna?
Mark: Shoshanna is the only female character I actually like more as the show has progressed. But considering how annoying her mannerisms are and how awful everyone else is, we’re clearing a low bar. But Zosia Mamet is clearly a good actress.
Mollie: Yeah, although I do find it sad how the writers are giving her the exact same selfish trait that the rest have. She goes on a job interview, nails it, then tells the manager she wouldn’t take the job if offered and had just used her for practice. It’s not exactly cutting edge to have a half-hour comedy based around a group of friends being awful human beings, but at least “Seinfeld” had more jokes.
Mark: I loved how in this episode Jessa said, “This whole thing is why I hate relationships between white people.” That could be an epitaph for the whole show. I hate that woman. I hate her. She’s never done a single selfless thing this whole show other than be attractive, foreign, exotic, or whatever makes people like her but she’s horrible and deserves to be arrested. As she was this week for urinating in the street.
Mollie: One thing that was evident in this episode is that each of the female characters finally and plainly gives voice to her real thoughts. So Hannah goes off on her writing workshop colleagues, Shoshanna is honest about what she’s doing in the job interview, and Marnie tells her lover she doesn’t like the way their relationship is structured. Jessa for the first time admits she needs someone to be her friend — in this case, Adam. That’s something, right?
Mark: Yeah, shows typically need THREE TORTUOUS SEASONS OF NAVEL GAZING before the characters show any growth whatsoever. It’s as if the learning curve for millennials is indistinguishable from the line on the horizon.
Mollie: OK. It’s a real testament to the weakness of this season that gay NYC friend Elijah is still inexplicably in Iowa. But I’m thankful he’s there. I usually find his humor far more worthwhile but I still liked his epiphany this week about how he’d gotten so good at taking selfies that he didn’t find them challenging anymore and so he was turning the camera around and taking pictures of other people.
Oh, and I also enjoyed his statement about Hannah just being uncomfortable in her own skin and blaming everyone else for that discomfort. Most of my close friends are harsh critics, but I wouldn’t describe them as judgmental. They’re frequently confused for each other. Critics are those who care deeply about beauty and excellence and point to failures to achieve them, but judgmental folks usually just hate themselves and try to tear others down to make themselves feel better about it. After Elijah makes that comment, Hannah sort of transitions briefly from self-loathing judger to trenchant critic. She goes after each of her fellow writing workshoppers at a party — e.g., Chester (Jason Kim) is a tragically hip Gaysian whose story was basically just a winking-eye emoji followed by a poop emoji. I could have done without Hannah’s freshman-level groupthink discursion on sexism in literature and the belittling of women as hysterical. Mostly because it wasn’t well executed, though.
Mark: As the recipient of a Kidd Tutorial Fellowship for Creative Writing when I was an undergrad, I’ve spent far too many hours in a room with creative writing MFA students, and the show is pretty much nailing the faux-sincerity and competitive atmosphere. To what end, I do not know. As shows drag on, writers often like to throw the characters into new settings to clean off the narrative dross. But nothing ever happened on this show except shallow people being insufferable, and there were no encumbered storylines to deal with.
But even with the move to Iowa, they couldn’t bring themselves to completely reset things. So instead of getting to meet any of her seemingly interesting fellow grad students, the gay friend shows up to chew some corn-fed scenery. He is an enjoyable presence, insofar as you can stand the reinforcing of so many gay cliches. (His character really speaks to your thesis Dunham is some sort of culture war double agent.)
Mollie: Heck yeah! Did you notice Ray’s speech when he bails Jessa and Adam out of jail after they stupidly got arrested? He said something like, “We live in a civil society that’s buttressed by decency and respect. We don’t resist arrest, tackle police officers or urinate on a sidewalk. You cretins owe me three grand.” It’s like Edmund Burke and G.K. Chesterton are right there in the writing room.
Mark: That was good. But why would anyone who really believes that be friends with these women? He’s already a bit of an outcast from the social group, being so much older. Yeah you’re right, “Girls” is evocative of “Seinfeld” in some ways. Everyone on that show was also venal and basically immoral beyond being loyal to their narrow network of friends. But they were all knowingly, self-aware people and the horrible side of humanity was exposed in genuinely hilarious ways. “Girls” revels in everyone being terrible and never rises beyond New Yorker cartoon funny. So, why again, would I want to spend half an hour contemplating these people’s lives? If they’re all such selfish, unilluminating characters, I want to know what’s in it for me.
Mollie: I know this is painful for you so thanks for watching with me.