End of Season Report: Girls, Season 3

26 Mar

The Girls

Thankfully, the controversy that overwhelmed Girls has mostly (albeit certainly not entirely) died down by the third season, meaning viewers can concentrate on its merits as a show rather than as a stand in for any larger piece of our culture. For the most part, people who like it watch it and people who don’t stopped bothering to criticize it at every turn and moved on to something else. There’s still more talk about Girls than all but a handful of shows on TV, but compared to the first season, it’s nothing.

Underneath that mostly lack of controversy lays yet another promising but somewhat uneven season. Girls has a shot at being a great show, but it generally continues to come up a little short and merely be a good show. That may sound like an insult, but I don’t mean it to be.  Good shows are still relatively rare and Girls does indeed have a unique voice all its own. It doesn’t feel like every other or really any other show on TV in particular, which is one of the highest compliments I can give a show.

That said, the little things Girls struggles with are particularly frustrating, because with those problems eliminated, Girls could be be a truly great show. This is still absolutely possible; Girls’ flaws are not at all fundamental to its premise. It’s certainly worth highlighting both sides, which parts of this season went right and which went wrong, and I’ll navigate that character by character.

Overall, Hannah has and continues to receive the best, deepest, funniest, most complex, and most interesting arcs on the show. This is not particularly surprising as Dunham is the show’s creator and primary creative force, but it continues to be true to an overwhelming extent, which says in equal parts both how generally strong her stories are and how much they outrank everyone else’s. Hannah had lots of great, funny, and awkward moments. While the writers seem intent on making sure you don’t like the characters too much with moments like Hannah’s painfully awkward conversation with her editor’s wife at his funeral, there were also plenty of moments when Hannah was, by Girls standards, relatable. Her quitting GQ, or rather causing herself to get fired, irked me, especially since she seemed to have made her peace with her current position in an earlier episode, only to then come around again to how she was feeling just a couple of episodes before that (if that’s confusing, fine – I was confused watching it). However, most of her season long plot worked, particularly her relationship with Adam which I’ll get to next. I really enjoyed “Flo,” the episode in which Hannah went home to deal with her grandmother’s illness. “Flo” felt less exaggerated and more real and down to earth than most of Girls, which typically marks its ground as being one degree away from greater relatability.

Next, Adam. Adam and Hannah’s relationship was a very important part of season three, and Adam was the second most developed character of the season, moving past any of the other Girls. I liked Adam much more this season than I had in the previous two, both in terms of sheer likability, and as a character. I think that’s because we got to know him a lot better and he was significantly deepened and filled out. In previous seasons, we had either seen his dark sides or his overbearing obsessiveness, for good and for not so good, and here we finally got to see him just be. In addition, his career success made Adam feel like less of a weirdo – he found some people he actually seems to genuinely get along with and something he’s passionate about, both attractive qualities. Earlier, it had always bothered the hell out of me that not only could he not seem to stand Hannah’s friends to the point where he couldn’t even tolerate them in small doses, but he didn’t have any of his own. Adam and Hannah’s relationship overall was a highlight of the season, and it produced plenty of moments that showcase Girls, and TV relationships generally at their best, by putting characters in situations of conflict without either side being obviously right or wrong. Both Adam and Hannah consistently had valid points in their arguments, even when one or the other was self-serving. When Hannah’s mother confronted Hannah endearingly but overbearingly about Adam, both she and Hannah were right. He’s an exceptionally caring person with serious issues who offers a great deal of both positives and negatives.

Now, everyone else.  Marnie’s plot changed completely when the actor who played the on again off again sad sack boyfriend Charlie with whom she had finally reunited in season two’s finale, Christopher Abbott, announced he wouldn’t be returning. I was glad upon hearing the news, because Abbott’s Charlie was one of my least favorite characters on the show. Unfortunately, his departure led to Marnie’s continual decline. She was inconsolable for the first half of the season, and was just starting to have a couple of things go her way by the time the season ended. Marnie’s faults were also in full display all season; full of herself, controlling, haughty, and judgmental. Although we peeked through that occasionally to see someone struggling and hurt who was used to life going her way and unsure what to do when it wasn’t, we just didn’t get enough of Marnie on the whole to go any deeper than that. More time with Marnie would have highlighted this struggle, and while some of her constant judging of everyone else in her life is pretty indefensible, other of her more negative qualities would have come out as symptoms of her current situation in life making them more palatable and understandable.

Of all the characters short on screen time this season (everybody but Adam and Hannah), I probably enjoyed Jessa’s plots the most, which surprised me, because Jessa’s been my least favorite character through the first two seasons of the show. What made them work in this season is that, given the lack of screen time for Jessa, Girls didn’t even seem to attempt a coherent arc for Jessa. Instead there were little vignettes that were entertaining and instructive individually. In terms of the big picture, I’m not sure I really buy it; Jessa’s a drug fiend, and then she kind of just isn’t because well, it’s not really clear. But in terms of single episode stories, Jessa’s are compelling, particularly her discovery of an old party buddy who had faked her death to get away from Jessa’s negative influence. While Jessa’s very different negative qualities are as evident as Marnie’s, at least Girls has done a much better job digging in to the root causes and the pain behind Jessa’s fuck-the-world facade.

Shoshanna is the least well serviced character this season. She has been for the entire series, but this season even more than ever before. She doesn’t get a whole lot to do, and she seems dafter than ever. Even school, the one area in which it seemed Shosh was ahead of the curve, betrayed her. Her role in this season, rather to be a character, so often seemed to be to point out what the viewer was thinking about a situation, particularly in the first episode and “Beach House”. I’m not sure we’re ever going to get more from Shoshanna, and unlike Marnie and Jessa, instead of having a story that wasn’t really fleshed out, there just wasn’t much of a storyline for Shoshanna at all this season.

Ray is my favorite character and the favorite character of just about all my friends. He’s the only person on the show who seems to be able to figure out what issues everybody on the show is dealing with, himself included (outside of Shoshanna’s occasional savant-ish moments). He doesn’t always have the most to do but I enjoy just about every moment he’s on screen, even when he’s being kind of an asshole.

Two standout episodes this year were the aforementioned “Flo” and “Beach House.” It was great to see the four girls interacting after they really hadn’t all season in “Beach House”, and though it showcased all of their worst qualities, there was a lot to like about the episode. It helped take stock of where everyone was at that moment; everybody progressing in some ways and unchanging in others. The dance scene at the end was well done and a well-deserved warm moment after the constant fighting that came before, showing that their friendships are stronger than one fight, no matter how vicious. “Beach House” also reintroduced Elijah, who was quickly brought back into the fold for the rest of the season. I greatly enjoy the humor his character brings especially when the other characters are tense and stressed out. He’s welcome back into the world of Girls anytime.

Here’s where Girls stands after three seasons. It’s a good show, which is absolutely worth discussing and talking about in significantly more positive than negative ways. It’s a flawed show as well, but one that has a potentially perfect season in it. Girls, even not at its best, is noteworthy enough to remain canonical television, and while its flaws prevent it from being great to this point, it’s not so far away.

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