A Guy on “Girls”: Derrick Rose, Geographical Woes, and Birbiglia, Bros! (S1/E2, “Vagina Panic”)

What in the the name of Dolores was going on in that cold opening? Full blown boning from the word go is not a problem. But on what planet is the go-to fantasy of Adam (Adam Driver) to have Hannah (Lena Dunham) role play as an eleven year old crack whore? This is not the Brooklyn I know and love, where the nights are long and the truffle oil flows like wine. Look: I’m not here to tell people what’s acceptable or unacceptable in their own bedroom. And I get that this guy is sheer pestilence who Hannah will almost certainly dump soon enough.  But I do think that when it comes to child rape scenarios, there’s maybe a line drawn in the sand.  And here comes Adam, whistling and tap dancing over that line, so that he can go take a piss on the grave of modern masculinity.

In what universe is Hannah not punching him in the teeth and doing an arm-pumping sprint out of the room? Or – at the very, very, very least – telling him to maybe, you know, switch gears? Instead, Hannah puts up no fuss, pats him on the back, and quickly dismisses it as “Daddy stuff” during gossip time with her BFF. But for a show called Girls, I feel like thus far I’ve learned more (or at least been caught off guard) by the show’s treatment of my side of the aisle: dudes. To date all of the show’s guys have been in some way crazy. Weak boyfriend, neurotic boyfriend with a terrible voice, nebbish dad, sociopathic boss, overzealous homeless man. But the Adam character – seemingly meant to evoke an impassioned response from viewers as the worst man in the world with whom Hannah could still want to have casual sex – has not only stuck rock bottom, but has done so in such a baffling manner (in episode numero dos no less) that I now have to ask you, Our Brave and Level-Headed Readership, straight and gay and all points west: do many of my fellow dongsmiths actually talk and think like this dunce? If so, are such terrifying creeps so common as to actually merit relatable yuk-yuks here? If the answer is no, then I breathe a sigh of relief. If the answer is yes, then what the hell is going on here? And this is par for the course, will someone please tell the eleven year old girls to start rocking mace like they were a cop in Oakland?

Cutting directly to the “porridge is too cold” sex of the painfully timid Charlie (Christopher Abbott) and the not-interesting-enough-to-be-this-obnoxious Marnie (Allison Williams) was a telegraphed false dichotomy. But their subsequent conversation about self-respect had the ring of truth, and the follow-up revelation that they’ve been dating since they were nineteen is pretty crucial backstory that puts their problems into perspective.

Hannah’s job interview scene was another miss. Any Birbiglia is good Birbiglia, but the namedropping vapidity of his and her “hitting it off” conversation was truly strange. Fucking up the location of both Weather Up and Washington Commons felt wildly unnecessary, and neither bar needs more dinguses pursuing the authenticity that they’re killing with their very presence. You budding screenwriters out there just keep your damned teleplays off the haunted sawdust-and-vomit dives at which Papa does his solo “me time” drinking.

Speaking of cheap shots at indie cred or lack thereof: it’s also interesting to me that these characters are being written off as hipsters, yet they often dress terribly. The music’s mostly lousy as well, but let’s crawl before we walk. Dunham spent most the episode in a beige skirt, grey tights, and a cheap rainbow flannel that sucked on their own, and were then separated around sternum with a giant cheap belt of magenta pleather and comically large buckle. It was enough to make that timeless old-school adage zip through my head: it was either Bing Crosby or Poly Styrene who said that if you don’t want to be treated like an eleven year old crack whore, don’t wear her accessories.

Performance-wise, this week’s first MVP was Jessa (Jemima Kirke), the devil-may-care Australian who refers to texts as “word alerts” and rounds out the show’s core quartet (Core-tet?). The resolution to her problem this week felt abrupt and ho-hum, but her facial expressions while smoking a joint and suffering her foolish cousin Shoshanna (Zosia Mamet) were particularly delightful. And Mamet herself deserves points for getting in some funny moments in the waiting room scene that helped branch her characters out of a cheap parodic stereotype. In fact, Marnie redeemed herself in the same scene, going from “She Think She All That But She Not” to “She May On Further Review Be Some of That”.

But the second All-Star of “Vagina Panic” after Kirke was Dunham herself, who this week again proved her own show’s best advocate. She has some genuinely good actorish moments here. A likely forthcoming slag of her performance will stem from it often looking effortless. In the arts we often fail to credit the way in which “effortless” sometimes genuinely means natural. By comparison, no one faults Derrick Rose or Jon Jones for failing to let us see them squirm. Two examples: first, Dunham’s casual explanation to her nurse that her concern over getting AIDS is “a Forrest Gump-based fear” because “that’s what Robin Wright Penn’s character died of”. Second, her parting conversation with Adam about abortion had shades Woody Allen in both the composition of the shots and Dunham’s joke delivery mode, which falls in some unique middle distance between distracted and self-impressed. In an episode that advanced little action and even reduced the big themes of last week’s “Pilot” to dust, Dunham’s odd cadence and wry smile were highlights that make her well worth watching in spite of some pretty shaky structure and characterization. Still, at the risk of grading on a lame curve that denies Orson Welles and Keats and everyone else who produced killer work young: did we mention that she’s only twenty-five? Surely no one has mentioned that anywhere yet, right?

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  1. I think back to a Dan Savage column on kiddie porn (http://bit.ly/b6I5pK). While the making of child porn equals the mistreatment of children, well-compartmentalized fantasies involve the ids of adults and that is all. One commenter on that installment wrote, “Abusing children is evil. Wanking to pornography which required the abuse of children to make is illegal. Fantasies about children, while unnerving, are not in and of themselves harmful.” 
    Eleven year old with a crack pipe is pretty effed up in reality, but at the same time strikes a piece of reality that is so unanimously “bad” that it could be hot. In the end, better to not ask “why” and focus more on the “how:” Safe word? Yes please.  

    In another life as a sex columnist, I’ve always encouraged men to be the scumbags that they very well know they are. You would be doing your innermost desires a disservice in attempting to behave any differently for two important reasons: it would come out eventually and end up pissing off the sugar-spun partner who had come across the shame-shrouded kink, and you probably would have missed out on stumbling upon somebody who actually gets off on what you do. Embrace the scumbag, and the mensch, and do what you do with the harm principle in mind. So to answer your question, “In what universe is Hannah not punching him in the teeth and doing an arm-pumping sprint out of the room?” in a universe where Adam can be the kinky bastard he is while avoiding assholery. 

  2. The problem with this show is that it’s specific in way I think only 20-something year old girls in New York can relate to, but tries so hard to be “real” that those who understand the references can’t help but resent the caricatures. For instance, does the older, out of work artist type who fetishizes younger girls as “little girls” as some sad result the exorbitant porn habit that fills his days of unemployment actually exist in Brooklyn? In every friggin corner. Does he go so far as to fetishize them as eleven year old crack whores? I fucking hope not. Do we all relate to strangers by name dropping our favorite coffee shop with swallows painted on the wall or quirky local bar that serves craft beer in mason jars? Every goddamn day. Does it seem cheap and self masturbatory when I see it played out on screen? Yes, to the point where it makes my brain itch. I think this show only appeals to a niche market that’s already too self aware to forgive it for it’s over-exaggerated archetypes and geographical inaccuracies. 

    In conclusion, I don’t understand how there’s already been two episodes of a show called “Girls” on HBO and I have yet to see any tits.