A Guy on Girls: Lena on Two Stations, Newfound Elations, and Laughably Bad Penetrations (S2/E1: “It’s About Time”)

First thing’s first: the decision to kill off Shoshanah in that meth lab explosion will go down in TV history as one of those “Where Were You?” moments, like when Sammy Davis, Jr. kissed Archie Bunker, or when Cliff Clavin died in that angel dust lab explosion.

I kid, I kid! All in the name of enticing you, the recap-starved community! It’s been seven months since you, me, and our esteemed partner-in-crime, Emily Goldsher-Diamond, last gathered together around the warm glow of a laptop to watch the mis(sus)adventures of Hannah and her she-gang. Unless you’re one of these one-percenters who can afford cable, in which case you’re dead to me. Yet season two’s premiere was bookended by two moments of note on network TV. Lena Dunham won her Golden Globe for Best Actress in a Television Comedy about five minutes before the start of last night’s episode. The show won Best Comedy Series about five minutes before the episode ended. It’s tempting to play armchair shrink and parallel the new confident Hannah alongside Dunham’s own confidence in the series’ success. So tempting, in fact, that I totally just did?

We open on Hannah (Dunham) and her gay ex-boyfriend Elijah as spooning roommates, so snuggly that their affection almost seems a flashback. Despite best pal Marnie (Allison Williams) angrily moving out of the Greenpoint abode they shared last season, Hannah by all accounts is walking tall. All the way into Spoonbill and Sugartown Booksellers, where she makes out with new beau Sandy (Donald Glover) near the shelf where they keep all the European photo books of horses and nude Swedes splayed against bombed-out factories. Glover has unique tempo and timing, but like many an actor diving into guest-stardom during his day job’s offseason, in this episode he seems to be sleepwalking through the gig.

“It’s About Time” ably conveys the swelter of an underpaid Brooklyn summer, for those who can’t escape to the Hamptons or Fire Island. The discomfort, insecurity, and lethargy spliced with compulsion: the goddamned heat and desire to be anywhere else. Hannah, despite her new air of confidence, blames herself for the accident that has left Adam – the endearingly deranged man-child she dumped at the end of last season – with an extremely broken leg. She brings over Bye Bye Birdie to cheer him up, and like so many dumb-dumbs, he fails to appreciate its genius. Soon after, Elijah tells Hannah he wants to throw a party with a “French salon” theme, which Hannah appreciates because she’s always felt she would be good at cutting hair. To avoid the deathtrap of explaining comedy to death, simply put: Dunham remains ever willing to play the fool. Hannah’s new swagger is a joy to watch largely because half of it is the hubris of a twenty-five year old who’s perpetually reinventing her own wheels.

In our first look at Shoshanna (Zosia Mamet), she is flailing about a burning bush of incense likely to make her father proud. She thanks unnamed “higher powers” for her “fairly fast-growing hair”. Mamet goes on to have her standard high-quality performance: she is the comedic relief in what is already a good comedy. Shoshanna’s excellence is that of Kobe Bryant, Tom Brady, and other beloved sociopaths: so consistently great that we take it for granted. Her listless karaoke performance of Reggae fusion burner “Beautiful Girls”. Her assurance regarding her lost purse: “It’s pretty shiny, so I’ll probably find it soon.” Yet subsequent episodes this season suggest that she is not yet risking the oversaturation of Kramer Country or Rhodaville: she is still being used in small doses to great effect.

Marnie’s intro, lunching with her mother (Rita Wilson, escaped from Tom Hanks’ S&M dungeon), was uneventful and went for the cheap gag of having a middle-aged sexpot intrude with TMI, but did articulate an important measuring stick for this show to date. When Wilson suggests that Marnie wouldn’t criticize her friends the way she does her mother, Marnie replies, “I talk to my friends much worse than this.” Something within Marnie’s mom correlates with what we later see of George, Elijah’s middle-aged drunken party monster of a boyfriend.  They’re frustrated with the younger generation for not being as care-free as these vice-seeking baby boomers in arrested development might hope that we are. The love expressed among Marnie’s crew flows in blunt honesty, albeit rarely used as a weapon. Still, there was something magical in the way that Wilson flippantly uttered the phrase “cater-waiter” to classify her new lover’s occupation.

The less said about Jessa’s return at episode’s end, the better. Her character remains a boondoggle, and seeing her and her impulse buy of a husband Thomas-John (Chris O’Dowd) serves as a queasy reminder of the season finale’s wedding contrivance. Despite being positioned as “the wild one” who teaches the other Girls to be more fun through nu-boho platitudes, Jessa remains too deluded and cynical to be fun. Even if we’re supposed to be seeing through her veneer – and the show’s first few episodes do suggest that the character is on the verge of a breakdown and subsequent rebuild – Jessa is still the drama queen from high school who talked a big game but was ultimately too scared to ever get real. A variant of Cecily Strong’s “Girl You Wish You Hadn’t Started a Conversation with at a Party”.

Though speaking of parties – much of this week’s show took place at one! Dunham remains adept at showing the compulsion of young Brooklynites to pack like sardines into the kitchens of acquaintances, drink, and possibly mate. Here there’s a particularly great moment that is great because it is particularly subtle. When Hannah is changing clothes in the company of Marnie, she tears her old dress off and grabs another. For a considerable series of on-screen seconds she is one of the most typically discussed brands of Dunham: half-naked in questionable white underwear, unashamed of a body that some of our lousier societal influences would (and do) shame. Marnie asks if they are okay, acknowledging the unspoken tension between the two of them. In a moment of denial, Hannah shrugs it off, while making sure to cover her junk with her hands and the front of her new dress. What was moments ago a place of confidence (albeit via revision and indecision) becomes a bind in which she sharply goes from exposing herself to covering everything up, just as she is doing so verbally with her former confidante. It is minor, very understated, and one of the truest and most combustable moments in the next month of this show.

Marnie and Elijah’s unexpected round of flirtation and sexual misfires was fantastically performed and executed on all counts. Girls pulls off a rare achievement for a thirty minute comedy: every once in a while, Dunham writes a sex scene that’s actually pretty hot. The sheer forbidden quality of Hannah’s BFF and former BF, coupled with their kindness toward one another and sharp sense of both as eager-if-not-outright-desperate for affection all rang true. They go from bickering to shoving to fucking in short order. Neither has ever looked better, or better played a moment. Much as was the case last season, and all the moreso in subsequent episodes of season two to come, Marnie becomes more charming when humbled by her baffled predicaments of loneliness and self-doubt. As a title, “It’s About Time” is as much about the past catching up to Marnie and Jessa as it is about the brightening futures of Hannah and Shoshanna. Yet even in this first outing, Dunham impressively seems better equipped than ever to keep four plates spinning at once.

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