Guy on Girls: Shilling Gourmet Condiments, Gross Parental Opulence, and Breaking Up Incompetence! (S2/E4, “It’s a Shame About Ray”)

The internet recapping game, being a new and feral animal, is ever-evolving. Last night, the ever-loving Super Bowl rolled into town. You’d be a true blue nerd to have watched this week’s episode of Girls live in favor of at least feigning an interest in America’s national holiday. There’s probably a way in which HBO would have made more money premiering Nooni Rapace in the titular role of Seen You Around: The Jesse Camp Story, or whatever the network’s latest yearning for gold statues entails. Yet we live in a DVR culture in which no one is asked to make choices, so here we are.

It didn’t help that “It’s a Shame About Ray” was this season’s first clunker. Not a disaster by any means, but the only episode of season two thus far in which little was accomplished, and the writing often failed to sustain the action. The most enjoyable scenes – the dinner party before and after Audrey’s implosion, Ray and Shoshanna waiting for the L – felt like rehashes of superior season one incidents. Too much was devoted to the plotting out of Jessa and Thomas John’s breakdown, when “Ray” could have been a pretty solid facsimile of Jean Rouch’s Chronicle of a Summer: get the characters on the living room floor and watch them converse. Thirty minutes of Marnie comparing what she’s achieved to Audrey’s artisinal mustard business (“Nothing. Nothing with condiments.”) could float for a half hour with ease. As could Hannah’s compulsive self-confidence and audible assurances that her dinner party is going fantastically when the opposite is so (“Everyone, continue to have a ball… I love what I made… I think I have three or four really great folk albums in me”).  The coined phrase “Nothing Bundt Trouble” was worth the price of admission.  Even Marnie and Charlie’s rooftop kiss, while predictable and redundant, did serve the intriguing purpose of having Marnie say out loud to her ex that she’s seeing Booth Jonathan, likely as much a delusion of self as it is a throwing off of her scent.

In stark contrast, Jessa and Thomas John’s dinner with his parents felt transported from the kinds of shows people dismissive of Girls use to lump the show into a catalog of drivel. Carrie Bradshaw or Blair Waldorf should have been dressing down these caricatures of aged wasps, not Jessa. I’m sure there were some who enjoyed Griffin Dunne’s over-the-top creeperdom simply because it’s nice to see him in anything, but that was a truly lousy scene in a show that seems to dump most of its worst stuff on Jessa. The character’s inherent fatal flaws of hubris and smarm-over-substance couple with Jemima Kirke’s seemingly limited range to create the latest in a series-long bout of a tedium. Whether she’ll emerge from the tub a more compelling figure – more honest, kinder, more self-aware, or failing all that, more amusingly wicked – is unknown.

I’m often quite hard on Jessa and Kirke by proxy in these reviews, and in the interest of fairness it seems be worth acknowledging that she may just be doing a bang-up job at playing a character who I am in fact supposed to think vapid, materialistic, listless and distant. But based on the creedence the other Girls and her various older men give to her faux-profundity, it seems equally likely that Dunham is simply smitten by Kirke and Jessa alike. Despite her reptilian nature, Jessa’s crying jag did not read as a soak in crocodile tears. There is hope yet for Jessa to develop more than one dimension, but actor and director alike must seek moments that don’t reduce her to a shrill, grubbing shrew with vainglorious hippie habits.

In keeping with the “Keep it Simple” strategy that seemed most effective here, the strongest material of last night came in an a capella rendition of “Wonderwall” likely to play at next year’s Emmys, and in Alex Karpovsky’s queasy realizations that he’s entering into a loving relationship.  Zosia Mamet proved an equally sharp scene partner in her stark realization that her boyfriend is homeless and incidentally living under her roof full time. Both Karpovsky and Mamet have the minor facial frenzies to pull off tightly wound material, and they pull off this moment of actualized-full-on-romance with all the simultaneous uncertainty and joy of that instant. May we see more moments of such candor at the Bedford Ave stop post-haste.

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