A Guy on Girls: Observing Cousins Kissing, Cafe Grumpy, and Pizza Money for the Dissing! (S1/E5, “Hard Being Easy”)

We open moments after last week’s conclusion, still in the throws of post-diary discovery. Charlie (Christopher Abbott) throws a table after reminding us that he built it. This is a hallmark of what is to come: exposition that shows his character to be both brimming with Feng Shui and sporadically mental. The reaction of Hannah (Lena Dunham) to Marnie and Charlie’s spat – asking with shallow oblivion whether they would enjoy the journal entry as literature if it wasn’t about them – smacked of early Curb Your Enthusiasm and The Larry Sanders Show, when writers had not yet articulated how self-absorbed and dense a character can be while still cementing their comedy. Hannah’s behavior here is beneath what we know of her, and feels out of place. Yet each week I admire Dunham’s willingness to play the fool: an earnest effort. She is unafraid to look downright Costanza when the chips are down. Yet the daringness of that aim often belies the genuineness of her character, and our wish for her as an anchor. I find myself most enjoying Hannah Horvath when she’s calling bullshit, not cultivating it. Girls is still in the process of balancing our best hopes for these characters versus the lessons they are to illustrate. They will at times fail to meet our expectations of them in pursuit of drama. The true milemarker for the success of this show is to what degree we both cheer and boo these women with equal passion and ardor. To what degree their hopes become entangled with our own. And if that sounds melodramatic, go watch some Almodovar and get your head in the game.

The episode’s title, “Hard Being Easy”, can be read in a few immediate ways. For one, it’s nigh-impossible for Marnie to even roleplay subservience for a man she doesn’t respect. For another, Charlie’s meekness has taken a stiff toll on his psychic well-being. Yet it’s also comedically applied to Jemma (Jemima Kirke) – increasingly, awkwardly written as the Samantha Jones of the bunch – and even the erect arousal Adam (Adam Driver) achieves at being put in his place by Hannah. It could even – if you’d bare with us for a moment – extend to the dressing down of a customer by Ray (Alex Karpovsky) during his shift at Cafe Grumpy, in which he mocks a mild-mannered gal’s “awkwardmarine” sweatshirt, frail eyes hidden behind oversized spectacles, and face-concealing bangs. She quickly crumbles at his mockery-veiled-as-veritas, and suddenly an abrupt throwaway gag tells us more than we bargained for about certain Greenpoint day laborers.

Mind you, this entire scene is set up to justify Marnie asking Ray for Charlie’s address. Which she apparently does not know. Even though they’ve been dating for four years. Because she’s never been to his place. Or had even a passing conversation about the matter. This was one of those moments that’s so ridiculous in the midst of other ridiculous shit that you’re compelled to just let it go.  At least that’s what our hotshot teacher “Teach” taught us in TV recap training at Cape Canaveral.  And so I do let it go, in no small part because something in me doesn’t want to see Dunham’s oft-superb writing be cut to ribbons for every minor slight. But wow, the idea that Marnie does not have even a cursory idea of where her boyfriend of several years lives is an odd choice, far-fetched in the kind of way that makes fans (and lo, we are fans!) guffaw rather than take the amused ride down a Sunday night path of premium cable gum drops. If nothing else, we got a pretty funny flashback scene in which we see the gang behaving incorrigibly, watch the moment Marnie and Charlie meet, and are reminded that in 2007, The Knife and Scissor Scissors felt like steaming hot synth shields repelling our war-torn Dubya phase.

On the Jemma tip, the only real positives were a) more of my main squeeze Kathryn Hahn (of the mighty Step Brothers and the Parks and Recreation I’m finally watching) and b) Shoshanna’s harried upstairs/downstairs servant facial expressions at the sight of watching her cousin fornicate. The rest felt like an abject step backward in character development, from Jemma’s misdirection of Hannah into sleeping with her boss “for the story” to her needling, search-and-destroy sexcapade unleashed upon her gross, Bowler-donning, mustachioed buffoon of an ex-boyfriend. Kim Cattrall could have stumbled out of the bathroom wagging a vibrator in the air, bellowing “Oh, honey…” without anyone batting an eye.

Hannah’s non-seduction of her boss Rich was a reminder that Dunham often rightfully gives herself the best lines in the series. Cut her a break: she’s written (or at least been credited with) every word of it to date. Still, you’d be hard-pressed to fine a better, more encompassing line in Girls entire run than Hannah’s overconfident go-ahead to Rich: “It’s OK to act on this fantasy, because I am gross, and so are you.”

That impulse segues nicely into the suddenly flipped power status of Adam and Hannah, revealed in one of those scenes that Zosia Mamet’s dad David would croon for in one of his appraisals of Aristotle. It was a moment at which its characters arrived, one that made all their prior scenes feel at once validated and inevitable, and made believers of suspicious infidels such as myself. Hannah’s wide eyes at the realization of her own control of the moment was vivid, and the shift in Adam’s voice into something at once more passive and imaginative – relinquishing yet hopeful – gave new life to his character. More than anyone on the show, Hannahshows more guts and acting chops with each passing week. If it were 1974, I’d say she’d earned a spot in The Night Porter, Liliana Cavani’s fable of concentration camp-induced Stockholm Syndrome, or at least playing one of the more domineering wives in The Godfather, Part II.

I also thought the show made one of it’s better soundtrack decisions (possibly its first good one at all, aside from Robyn’s largely infallible “Dancing On My Own”) employing the silky smooth “I Don’t Love Anyone” from Belle and Sebastian’s Tigermilk to sync up Adam and Hannah’s post-splooge revelry. It’s springtime in New York: sing out, reckless lovers!

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