|Girls, "It's Back"
||[Tuesday, March 5th, 2013, 11:56 PM]
It may be by design, but Girls is never the best show at creating a completely realistic world. As I said last week, its world is similar to our own, but heightened just a touch in order to more easily create comic scenarios. What Girls is great at, however, is capturing the rhythms of everyday life. Don't get me wrong - that doesn't always make for great television. I adore Treme, especially when it comes to emulating the feeling of real life, but its deliberate, often low-key pacing is certainly not for everyone. At its best, Girls can create mostly self-contained episodes like "One Man's Trash" and "Boys" that feel true to life: sometimes you get entangled with someone else and forget about your friends and job for a couple of days, and sometimes a series of coincidences leads you make a connection with someone who until then was a stranger to you. But when it comes to long-term plotting, modeling your show after real life isn't usually the best idea. That sort of thing does well for a particular sort of serialized drama (like Treme, or Luck), but it'll lead your show to feel slow at best and boring at worst. Making it work requires committing your show fully to its ongoing plotlines, and giving over a lot of running time to the moments in between the big ones, where not very much is happening. For a half-hour show like Girls, especially one that also deals in those standalone episodes, you have to skip those in-between moments. This leads the plots to feel choppy, like the ones at the beginning of the season did. Only the important moments are shown, so it seems as though you're just racing through plot points with no real purpose. But that's what life is like! You feel your way through new scenarios, and not everything that happens follows from what happened before. "Plot arcs" in real life unfold in fits and starts, moving unbearably fast one week and not at all the next. And in the end, when you're done dating that kinda weird dude or when you leave the crappy job you had for barely a month, you don't really have much to show for it. Not everything that happens in life means something in the end. But that's what we want from our TV shows.
So, sure. The characters on Girls grow and change and react to what happens to them, but surprisingly little of it will matter a few episodes later. Do you still care about Hannah's old boss who sexually harassed her? What about Shoshanna's brief fling with her old friend from camp? Did you even remember that they both took place in the same episode? At the time, they felt like big developments for both characters, but now they're just things that happened in the past. The plots are over, the characters reacted, and we're on to something else. But while Girls is a show that often frustrates with its plotting choices, there's always a reason for them. They emulate real life, even if doing so results in messy TV. And this has been a messy season of television. "It's Back" is one messy episode out of many. But it was also kinda lovely, even as it didn't match the heights of the season's midsection. The reason for this, and this is something that I would complain about in any other show (and probably have complained about for Girls as well), is that it doesn't bother building to its new arcs. They just kinda happen. But the fact that they happened is important.
I mentioned before that I love a season with a good shape to it, and now it's obvious that we're getting back into Girls in serialized mode for the season's last three episodes. And for now, at least, these ongoing stories look pretty good. But the show mostly pulled them out of thin air. Now, that's not completely true: Hannah's OCD was hinted at a couple of times before now, and it's obvious that she's been stressed as hell the past few weeks; Shoshanna was clearly getting more and more fed up with Ray's stodginess; and Adam's been moping over Hannah all season long. Now, Shoshanna's friend Radhika may have never before been referred to, and maybe Charlie's impossibly hip new app startup appeared a little too quickly, but hey, stranger things have happened. What makes these plots work is that while they mostly appeared out of nowhere, they have repercussions. Marnie seems to have more of a handle on her hopes and dreams, and Shoshanna is hinting toward taking her romantic life into her own hands. But what really worked here were Hannah and Adam's stories. Both of them matched the feeling of real life well, and both did it in different ways.
In Hannah's side of things, her OCD flared up just as her parents were in town, and took over their time together. This story could've easily been a misstep, but I actually enjoyed it at lot. It's a nuanced look at mental illness, and it's clear that it came from a place of knowledge: indeed, Lena Dunham has struggled with OCD herself. But besides being a (seemingly) realistic portrayal of OCD, it also did a great job of having Hannah and her parents react to it in a way that made sense for them. In her wonderful therapy session, Hannah, of course, has to feel unique and special, angrily detailing her (pretty typical) history with the disease. But the new revelation also adds a lot of shading to her personality. The show doesn't take the easy route of having it explain away all of her personality flaws (and, really, that's too big an "all" to be possible), but it does colour a few of them in. Most importantly, it gives us a greater understanding of her interactions with her parents. When Hannah's mother exploded at her over the phone last week, it seemed to just be a funny mom moment; in hindsight, it's easy to see why that side of her came out so quickly. Hannah's illness has obviously weighed on the three of them for a long time, and the way her parents react to seeing the symptoms again - a mix of seriousness, sympathy, contempt, and resignation - just feels so loving and so human all at once. It's the most fleshed out Hannah's parents have ever felt, and, as a result, is the most they've ever felt like real parents.
Meanwhile, Adam's story feels just as monumental despite little actually happening. While we got a glimpse of Adam's life through someone else's eyes in "Boys," this is the first time we're seeing his world outside of Hannah's influence. Adam is a rich character, but of the main cast he's the one who's been most clouded by Hannah's point of view. Just seeing him waking up and going to an AA meeting felt unprecedented. We're finally getting to see him as a person on his own terms, and it's kind of adorable. His relationship with Hannah was marked by constantly fluctuating power dynamics, even when either side was at their most vulnerable. But here, he's just a regular guy living his life. He calls a girl to ask her out on a date, and is actually awkward and endearing while leaving a message. We've seen him laugh at things before, but we've never seen a grin as big and as goofy as the one he gives the girl's very forward mother he meets after AA. And that date he finally goes on was just perfect - both parties pleasantly surprised, the two hitting it off right away. It was enjoyable the whole way through, and though the relationship will inevitably turn sour, the show just nailed how much fun the beginnings of these things can be. It's nice to finally see Adam just fully happy. As often as it doesn't seem like it, he kinda deserves it.
Of course, I did say "It's Back" was a particularly messy episode of Girls. Just like most episodes this season, the highs have been wonderful but the lows have been quite suspect. While Hannah and Adam got great showings this week, Shoshanna and Marnie's stories were a little more of a mixed bag: Charlie's whole side of things was pretty shaky, and I kinda felt icky watching the (very handsome, to be fair) doorman put his PUA-style moves on Shoshanna. But both stories had some great moments mixed in, whether it was the party monologue Shoshanna gives Radhika or the very Ray-like advice Ray gives Marnie. And while "It's Back" was certainly a messy episode of Girls, it was messy in a far more satisfying way than the early episodes this season. It's modeled on the rhythms of real life, but just to a point. Sure, developments can come out of nowhere, or have the boring parts skipped over, but for once, they seem to have larger repercussions than before. The stories kicked off in "It's Back" seem like bigger ones than usual, and at this point I'd say we're in great shape for the last two episodes of the season.