Late to the Party: Josh Reviews Girls Season 3
Judd Apatow’s involvement piqued my attention in the first season of Girls. My wife and I enjoyed that first season, and even though I read many critics who felt the show took a downturn in season two, my wife and I enjoyed that season as well. We’ve had the third season sitting in our DVR for almost a year, but for whatever reason we kept putting off watching it until just a few weeks ago.
I seem to be somewhat in the minority in that while I enjoyed seasons one and two, I had a tough time getting through season three. The season starts off strong and, thank goodness, ends strong. But there is a rough stretch of episodes in the middle that I found very off-putting. The central problem, for me, was just how unlikable I felt all four of the main girls became, and how little interest I found I had in any of their stories. An unlikable character or characters can certainly anchor a series, but it’s tough for me to remain engaged if I have zero affection or empathy for any of the main characters.
It’s funny to look back, now, on the first season, in which I liked all four of the girls but thought that the show’s biggest weakness was how terribly the guys were all depicted. The three main guys — Adam, Charlie, and Ray — were all such weirdos and morons that I felt it made the show a little too off-balance. I’d have preferred to see the girls interacting with slightly more “normal” guys.
Cut to season three. I’m amazed (and pleased!) at how the show has rehabilitated Adam, and Ray has become the most normal character on the show. The four girls, on the other hand…
As I wrote above, the season started off strong. The first three episodes were great, with the show funnier than it’s ever been. I really enjoyed the new dynamic of Hannah and Adam as a relatively healthy couple. I loved the road trip in the season premiere (watching Shoshanna and Adam interact was gold), and the third episode, “She Said Ok,” was one of the show’s best. My biggest complaint about season two was how the four main girls spent most of the season separated and estranged, so it was great to see them all together at Hannah’s birthday party. (The episode was filled with great moments, from Marnie’s crazy youtube video to Adam interacting with Hannah’s parents to David kicking Ray’s ass.)
But things turned sour for me with the fourth episode, “Dead Inside.” In this episode I felt Hannah wasn’t just unlikable, she was sociopathic. Her trying to get help on her e-book from David’s widow at his funeral was teeth-grindingly awkward. (Though I must admit that the interaction in and of itself wasn’t unforgivable. Though this episode stressed the painful awkwardness of the moment, I could see George Costanza having done the same thing and the moment being played more for laughs.) But it was pretty horrible behavior, even by Hannah’s standards. But then there was that moment at the end, in which, to get sympathy from Adam, Hannah parrots the made-up story that Adam’s sister Caroline had just told her about her dead cousin Margaret. I couldn’t believe that scene, it really seemed like one of the craziest (and stupidest — wouldn’t Adam easily see through this lie?) things Hannah had ever done.
This bad behavior continued in future episodes, from Hannah’s totally ignoring her Dad’s mentioning that he’d recently undergone a procedure (in episode 5, “Only Child”) to Hannah’s oblivious, horrible treatment of her GQ co-workers (in episode 6, “Free Snacks”). That Hannah assumes that only SHE is a special artist, that only SHE is a real writer… ugh. Hannah’s sulky behavior when out with Adam’s fellow actors (in episode 11, “I Saw You”) was pretty embarrassing to watch as well.
Things come to a head in episode 7, “Beach House.” At first I was excited to finally have all four characters together for a full episode, but, wow. Watching how horrible all the girls are to one another was painful. From Marnie’s control-freak flipping out, to Hannah’s blithely ignoring Marnie’s clear desire for the four of them to spend some time alone together, to drunk bitter Shoshanna, to everyone ignoring how Jessa was theoretically just out of rehab… again, wow. These four are really not friends anymore! I suppose that makes for good drama, but at the end of this episode I found myself asking, why am I watching this show about these four small, petty, hateful people?
I decided to at least stick out the season, and thankfully things got a little better towards the end. I really liked episode 9, “Flo.” I like when the show does these periodic stand-alone stories, and this look at the other women in Hannah’s family (her mom, her mom’s two sisters, and her cousin) was great. The show got back to a better balance between drama and comedy here. My favorite scene was the moment mid-way through the episode in which Hannah’s mom (played by the great Becky Ann Baker — Mrs. Weir from Freaks and Geeks!!) suggests that Hannah lie to her dying grandmother by telling her that she is getting married. It’s a refreshing change when Hannah Horvath is the LEAST crazy person in a scene!
The season ended on a strong note (with episode 12, “Two Plane Rides”). It was train-wreck-time watching Hannah break the news to Adam, just before his opening night, that she might be moving away because she just got into an Iowa writers’ workshop. Predictably, Adam reacts poorly. But I really loved the episode’s final moment. As Hannah returns, alone to her apartment and picks up her acceptance letter, I expected her to throw it away. But instead she smiled and clutched it to her chest, while the song “Good Girl Down” played on the soundtrack. It was a great moment, and nice to see Hannah actually doing something that seems healthy and smart.
A few other thoughts on the season:
Another major weakness of the season was that it seemed to me like the show really struggled to know what to do with Marnie, Jessa, and Shoshanna. Marnie’s fling with Ray was funny, but felt a bit like the sort of let’s-pair-up-the-characters move than many comedies do in their later seasons, rather than something I can believe happening between those two characters. Jessa’s failed bid in rehab should have kicked off a major story for her, and when we see her steal from the shop where she works so that she and Jasper can buy drugs, I thought we were really heading somewhere interesting for the character. But it’s as if the show then forgot about that entirely, instead giving her a random assisting-an-old-woman-with-suicide story for the last few episodes. That too could have been a meaty story-line for Jessa, but winds up instead feeling very out-of-left-field and not that fleshed out. Meanwhile, we’d go long stretches without seeing Shoshanna at all, and when we learn at the end of the season that she hadn’t graduated, I felt the show hadn’t earned that moment.
I loved that we learned in the finale that Caroline had gotten together with weird Laird! Amazing!
I loved Marnie’s reaction after Hannah discovers she and Ray have been having sex: “He made me!”
Patti Lupone’s scenes were fun.
I liked seeing Jessica Winslow (from The Daily Show) as one of Hannah’s GQ co-workers.
I liked seeing Elijah again at the end of the season.
I dunno about this show. There is still a lot that I like about it, but I also find it very frustrating. I wish that I cared more about any of the main characters. Right around the time of “Beach House” I decided that I was done with the show after this season, but they might have won me back with the season’s final episodes. I know that season 4 is in production, I am curious to see if I find myself interested in it when it airs later this year. We’ll see…
For now, I am about to dive into Louie season 3!