There is something oddly compelling, even addictive, about HBO’s Girls. I was sure I would have no interest in the show but I tried the first episode, then stopped there, having no need nor interest to see the next episode. This same feeling repeated with each episode until I had blitzed through the entire season on HBOgo.com in one week. Just one more episode. Just one more.
The second season of Girls, beginning 13 January, brings much of the same complex appeal that last season held. In short, the story and the characters are not very interesting on their own… but I can’t stop watching.
The show’s appeal has been attributed to its being a more down-to-earth version of Sex and the City, with the fashionistas replaced by the less glitzy friend circle of our frumpy, slightly overweight lead character of Hannah (played by series creator, producer, writer and often director Lena Dunham). The show has also been criticized for its all-white main cast in a New York City that is definitely more diverse. Dunham’s response to this criticism was “these issues will be addressed.”
To be fair, Hannah does address this in her own (rather obvious) way in the first two and one half minutes of the first episode of Season Two (entitled “It’s About Time”) as she has great sex with her new African American love interest named Sandy (Donald Glover), who is a Republican. Is this an organic evolution of the storyline, or is this a pandering attempt by Dunham and her producers Judd Apatow and Jenni Konner to say, “Yes, we are diverse, too. Look, Hannah’s in an interracial relationship!”?
The answer is not immediately clear. What is clear is that while Hannah and Sandy are sharing intimate moments, Adam (Adam Driver), the object of her affections and pursuits throughout the entirety of Season One, is still bedridden with a badly broken leg. This injury is due to Adam’s loss of a disagreement with the business end of an oncoming truck in last season’s finale. Hannah feels responsible and plays caretaker to Adam while her patient remains blissfully ignorant to the existence of Sandy and convinced for all he is worth that he’s still in a relationship with Hannah. In Adam’s own quirky, aloof style, he explains his continued coldness to Hannah with the words “When you love someone you don’t have to be nice all the time.”
Lest we forget that Girls is an ensemble show (or else it would be called “Girl”), Hannah is also sleep-snuggling with her new roommate and old boyfriend Elijah (Andrew Rannells), who is now openly gay and proud. Hannah’s old roommate Marnie (Allison Williams) is fired (or “downsized”) and takes dubious comfort in the advice of her mother (Rita Wilson). Free-spirited Jessa (Jemima Kirke) returns from her surprise-honeymoon with her surprise husband (who is incredibly rich) Thomas-John (Chris O’Dowd). Jessa’s over-verbal cousin Shoshanna (Zosia Mamet) is dealing with the ups and downs of having recently lost her virginity to Hannah’s (most recent) boss Ray (Alex Karpovsky). Incidentally, most of this ensemble is introduced at Elijah and Hannah’s housewarming party, which Elijah’s boyfriend George (Billy Morrissette) is invited to, but to which Hannah is “really glad Sandy is not coming.”
Curious. Dunham claims to have taken the continuing diversity questions seriously, but the moment Hannah has a big party with everybody invited, her African American boyfriend Sandy is not only left at home, but she’s “glad” he won’t be coming along.
The remainder of the episode reveals flips in relationships that raise questions about loyalty and identity, as the girls debate who gets the right to call whom a “Bad Friend.” While the dialogue still pops, it often serves to cover over plot holes and character inconsistencies. In each story, people make the most selfish possible choices and show themselves to be just as spoiled and selfish as those other, more fashionable people, to whom they are so frequently compared.
Just as Hannah spends part of her time working to make her mundane “personal essays” interesting, so does Lena Dunham seem to be pushing to make her personalized, lifelike dramedy as compelling as she can. And she does. Unfortunately, “compelling” isn’t always the same thing as “great.” What Girls does right is remain convincing even in its unrealistic moments. After all, good television, even nitpickable good television, doesn’t have to be realistic. It’s enough to tell stories well, Girls may be telling the stories of a bunch of pampered, elitist, self-absorbed individuals, but it does tell these stories very well.