My boyfriend of eight years and I had a memorable late-night conversation on a summer night out on our deck after watching Lena Dunham’s feature film Tiny Furniture. I had already watched all 10 episodes of the 26-year-old’s hit HBO show Girls. And, much to my surprise, he later burned through them on his own, with equal enthusiasm, inspiring more discourse. Whether that’s because he’s closer to Dunham’s age (he’s 29) than to mine (I’m 38), or simply because the show inherently elicits visceral responses from all its viewers, I can’t be certain. In any case, I decided to keep the conversation alive during Girls, Season 2.
Creator, writer and star Dunham brings us up to speed quickly after the season finale in which Jessa got married, Shoshanna lost her virginity, Marnie ended up single, Hannah’s boyfriend Adam got hit by a truck and Dunham’s character Hannah was last seen alone on a beach, eating cake. Hannah now lives with her ex-boyfriend Elijah, who is gay, or maybe bisexual. The episode opens with them spooning and later, discussing the themed parties they will host as enthusiastic roommates in their apartment. Hannah is having relations with a young Republican. Marnie loses her gallery job, and Shoshannah wants nothing to do with Ray, Hannah’s coworker at the Grumpy Cafe, to whom she lost her virginity.
- “When you love somebody, you don’t have to be nice to them all the time.” (Adam to Hannah)
- “I mean I love perogies, but on the other hand, I love perogies.” (Elijah)
- “Can I borrow The Fountainhead?” (Hannah to her new lover)
He said, she said, after the episode:
She said: My dad always used to get so annoyed with my brother and me swooning over and laughing at John Hughes’s films because he took offence to the way adults were portrayed in all of his movies. Adults are idiots in The Breakfast Club and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. I feel like adults are also the idiots in this episode: Marnie’s mom, Elijah’s older gay boyfriend. I don’t know. It’s in the same vein.
He say: I don’ think so. The late Nora Ephron was a big fan. And she wrote a book called I Feel Bad About My Neck, so the adults aren’t idiots, they’re just drawn in an extreme way. In a quaint way, this episode really brings you up to speed. I forgot Adam got hit by a truck. I forgot Shoshanna had sex with the guy with the big face…
She said: The big face? What do you mean? Do you mean Ray?
He said: I guess so. God, Mamet is incredible.
She said: When she was karaoking Beautiful Girls? Who decides that wonderful detail? Is that Dunham? That song is just so perfect. And then Marnie sings Building a Mystery. My god.
He said: I didn’t realize how profoundly funny Bobby Moynihan was until seeing this show, and I was really disappointed they didn’t bring him back in this episode.
She said: Who is that?
He said: From Saturday Night Live. Don’t you remember? He married Jessa and what’s-his-face in the season finale and he attempts to flirt with Marnie. He’s not nearly as funny on SNL as he was in that episode.
She said: You know what I wonder? If Dunham cast this new lover of Hannah’s as an African-American Republican on purpose; like a big f–k you to all the critics that accused her of not being inclusive of minorities in her casting. So she delivers up a black Republican.
He said: That’s what the guy in the National Post said. It’s a real “f–k you”, I think.
She said: It’s got to be!
He said: This episode felt like a slow start. Not a bad start, just…measured.
She said: There were some really lovely little bits, like Tom Hank’s wife as Marnie’s mom telling Marnie that she looked so terrible that she could be mistaken for being 30 years old, like that’s the worst thing ever she could tell her daughter.
He said: And outside of the Cynthia Rowley shop after Marnie get’s “downsized”–what does her boss say she wants to go find?
She said: She wants to go try on pants that are made of scuba material and she wants Marnie to tell her if she looks crazy or not in them.
He said: That was wonderful. She is very funny.
She said: You know what? Even after season 1, I still get a thrill out of seeing her body. The shock of seeing something that normal makes me tingle. Is that weird? I mean, all the flesh, the tattoos–and the comfort by which she throws herself around. It’s so disarming. And perfect. And raw.
He said: And Adam’s body is so perfect.
She said: Do you think she did that on purpose? Do you think she cast an extremely fit and lean male to serve as a contrast against her own body, which is just such an atypical physique on TV and film? When you see Adam’s body, do you feel bad about your body?
He said: I think it’s a great body. And that it’s as good as mine.
She said: [Silence]
She said: Christ, the level of selfishness in this episode hit too close to home in this one. It made me squirm. Like when Marnie is complaining to Hannah about not having seen her in so long and Hannah says, “Marnie, I’m right here,” like it’s Marnie’s fault that the two haven’t connected.
He said: That’s the essence of the show, and what’s so good about it. You have these bubbles of selfishness and I think that’s what makes it enjoyable for everything to watch. I mean, from you, who is 38, to my 50-year-old female coworker. They just really nailed it.
She said: When did people start being so selfish?
He said: Maybe after World War II? The Beats? That’s the first generation where the primacy of your pleasure and your own experiences trumped everything else. As a creative person, and this is obviously a show about a person who is creative, it is so boring to have nothing to go to besides your own selfish experiences. But that’s not true about Hannah. That’s all she has. That’s the great artistic thrust of everyone who’s ever had a creative impulse.
She said: Maybe that’s why I feel so uneasy about it. It’s self-actualizing is too close to home. I mean, look at us. We’re self-actualizing right now, just talking about this with the purpose of sharing our conversation with others, like what we have to say on the matter is important. That’s an ugly irony.
He said: Don’t remind me. [Pause] Do you know that the year I graduated high school was basically Year One for Google. So you and I both went to high school pre-Google and pre-Facebook. My younger brothers didn’t, but I think they and most of their friends wouldn’t have had cellphones. But the kids just one year behind them would have. And two years behind them, every single kid at that high school would have had a smart phone. So you think about Marnie’s mother in the show, who is probably in reality 55, saying her daughter looks 30. I mean, you’re talking about a black hole type of a generational suction where literally the disconnect between somebody who is 26 and somebody who is 29, is so great–and it’s so great because of the technology and how the technology effects the culture–that you and I are closer generationally speaking than I am to Dunham.
She said: It’s a sort of perfect summation of a culture’s absolute self-obsession. I want to give Dunham as much credit as is due to her. But Hannah writes personal essays! You wonder if she’s laughing at that herself. The idea that Hannah is trying to make a go of it in one of the world’s most expensive, competitive cities, writing personal essays.
He said: She’s got to be. I mean, she wants to express herself. There’s no doubt about that. It’s just very interesting–and so negative. This is why the show is so good and so fresh: I think comedy since Larry Sanders and The Office, you have these characters that behave badly and that’s the source of all the humour and it is the source of all the humour in Girls, but it’s not like a sort of Kenny Powers–”I’m the best, f–k you.” These are characters who are behaving badly in a way that is so genuine to the way in which we live. And this sort of baseline bad behaviour is so prevalent today.
She said: You just have to take public transit once to know that this is exactly the condition of the generation we’re living in and it’s not like–and I haven’t seen it–but it’s not like a quirky Parks and Rec, or Community episode where people are quirky and behaving like assholes and being self-aware and looking at the camera after every example of someone saying something stupid or behaving badly.
He said: Exactly. The characters in Girls behave badly, but without judgment. And it’s so different from everything that is going on in comedy. Like you said, when Tim looks at the camera in The Office, for example, as if to say, “Did you see how stupid that was?” And of course the audience knows and sees how stupid something was. That’s the essence of the joke. But in Girls, you know that the character Hannah genuinely believes she’s not selfish.
She said: And that’s precisely why it’s so funny.
Read Colin Horgan’s take on the first episode of season two right here.