A Guy on Girls: Dressing Like Rachel and Monica, Race Relations Tragicomica, and a Puppy Named Hanukkah! (S1/E2, “I Get Ideas”)

Girls falls into veritable venn diagrams of comment board criticism. It lives where “I Could Do Better Than That” meets “Not Accurate to My Experience”. Between “Products of Nepotism” and “Acknowledge Your Privilege”. “Trifling” and “Oblivious”.

But let’s consider the show’s influences. Whit Stillman. Nora Ephron’s saltier moments. Mike Leigh’s warmer ones. Clueless. The setpiece scenes of Seinfeld and Curb. All of it comedy emerging from self-absorbed characters who are often in the wrong. I would even compare Lena Dunham as Hannah – particularly the newly confident Hannah of season two – to Tony Soprano, a oft-repugnant brute who audiences cheered, because his faults were laid bare even when he was failed to see them. Like Tony, Hannah is introspective and self-aware of certain flaws while delusional about others. She’s a goldmine for comedy and drama precisely because she isn’t always likable: “thin-skinned like a little baby”, as Elijah says in this week’s episode.

Last night, another influence was added to the pile: Dunham wrote herself a Louis C.K. scene. Really she wrote herself a Lena Dunham scene, but the breakup/breakdown with Sandy (Donald Glover) smelled like a moment from Louie in its pursuit of candor at all costs, defiance of what we think we know about the census boxes we check off, and conflict born of pride and a failure to articulate. Dunham may have been responding to critics who brand Girls an obliviously white-washed view of Brooklyn, a dig that’s both fair and hard to pin on a show about sheltered Oberlin grads living in Greenpoint. Yet Hannah and Sandy’s terse breakup only comes in the moments after he dismisses her essay. The surface tension of race and how to talk about it is broken after he deems her writing trite. Sandy also being an Obama-era Republican seems another nuance in place to defy expectations. It’s something that Hannah defends while she’s enamored with him, yet quickly attacks as soon as he criticizes her. She shows ignorance and behaves terribly. We like nuance and bipartisanship in our fellow Americans, so long as they agree with whatever we think.

The show is also entering a groove where it no longer has to explain who these characters are, and can instead spend that time throwing them into goofy situations. Work and the pursuit of a living wage were major themes of last season that may fall by the wayside now that Hannah is making all of $40 a day at Cafe Grumpy. Ambitious drive is taking a back seat to enjoying the moment, or in Marnie’s case, making bank off your looks at a gig you can sleepwalk your way through, for as long as you can endure the sexual harassment. Her work attire recalls early episodes of Friends, when Jennifer Aniston rocked her Central Perk uniform on what seemed to have been the world’s coldest sound stage.

The unexpected show stealer of the season has been Andrew Rannels as Elijah, showing more range than most of his co-stars. His mercurial love-hate chemistry with Marnie continues, his face turning on a dime from boyish eagerness to seasoned wrath. He seems fun to live with, and an unexpectedly rounded character after serving as a metaphorical catapult last season for Hannah’s string of bad luck in romance.

As for the other supporting cast: Chris O’Dowd’s impression of an American douche works as a goofy impression, but listening to it for several minutes as an actual character’s voice is the wrong kind of absurd. If this was 1990, he’d be in Dick Tracy while everyone else is in Metropolitan. Jessa’s passive-aggressive resistance to the idea that her sudden marriage to a tool may have been hasty encapsulates everything that makes her loathsome, yet her dialogue with Hannah did have a lived-in ring of truth to it. And Shoshanna and Ray’s seemingly post-coital convo about bathing pigs at summer camp charmed me, their faces close and beaming in morning-lit awe of one another.

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