Monday, February 25, 2013

"Girls" - "Video Games": Continue?

     Hannah (Lena Dunham) and Jessa (Jemima Kirke) enjoy a
     home-cooked meal on "Girls".
     Photo Credit: HBO

Okay, let's run through some of the contradictory things I've written about "Girls" over the past few weeks:

I claimed "One Man's Trash" to be my favourite episode of the series, citing a preference for "Hannah Show" episodes like "The Return" from season 1. The week after, I praised "Boys" for putting new characters together like Adam and Ray, and I finally considered the cast to be an ensemble the show would be best served to use. Not only did I write that I preferred a sort of "all or Hannah" approach to the cast, but this week's episode featured Hannah and one other main cast member, like most of the episodes this season have, and I thought it was terrific.

And a few weeks back, I wrote about the ultimately toxic relationship between Hannah and Jessa, even if they have their moments of clarity and understanding. And now after Sunday (February 24) night's episode "Video Games," I'm going to revise that statement if not rescind it completely.

Hannah and Jessa are in very few ways similar people. As Hannah points out when first arriving, Jessa and her father speaking in their heavy accents made her feel like they were speaking different languages. When Jessa offers Hannah supposed words of wisdom about how her life will never get any better than it is right now, it's clear how little Jessa understands Hannah and an episode like tonight proves how bad Jessa is at showing Hannah she cares about her. Jessa has never had a good relationship with a parental figure, as we saw in her breakdown with her dad (Jemima Kirke. Emmy nomination. Now please.), so it's not surprising that Hannah yelling "slow down!" from the backseat of their speeding car is off-putting to her. The last thing Jessa wants in a friend is another parent. But the things that bring the two of them together are not just straws they grasp at to keep their friendship alive - Jessa is not the kind of person who would pretend to be friends with anyone -  they're reminders why they are friends and why they enjoy each other's company when they can spend a lot of time not having the time of day for each other. As Aimee Mann's "How Am I Different?" plays over the end credits, I'm left wondering why I ever thought this relationship was on life support.

We had spent the early part of the season seeing only glimpses of Jessa, and I convinced myself we were ramping up to crazy Jessa/Thomas John antics late in the season. Thomas John is gone, but Jessa and Johansson family insanity were in full swing tonight. With a character like Jessa, a good origin story (not exactly the correct use of that term, but you get what I mean) is essential but almost guaranteed to be a letdown. Because Jessa leads such a ridiculously misguided life, a plot synopsis describing a visit to her parents makes me think, "Oh wow, Jessa's parents! She's so screwed up, this is gonna be good!" And surprisingly, it really, really was. Ben Mendelsohn and Rosanna Arquette (playing "Petula," which is a pretty funny name but not as good as Murjashiway) brought some hilarious quirks to their roles and I had no reservations believing those three as a family. On a side note, actor Nick Lashaway played Frank, and I spent most of my viewing being very frustrated that I couldn't place where I knew him from. (The IMDB tells me I recognize him as one of the teenage boys at the health clinic that Steve Carell takes Kat Dennings to in "The 40 Year Old Virgin" and as one of Michael's co-workers at his telemarketing job in the "Money" episode of "The Office".) Note to self: attempting to mentally cut a character's bad haircut isn't very helpful in trying to place the actor in a previous role.

Like "One Man's Trash," "Video Games" was a "Louie"-esque short story that ignores any sense of continuity from episodes that precede it. But what "Girls" does so well is it does use episodes like that to establish continuity for later episodes. I have no idea where we're headed next with Jessa, and I won't be surprised if we don't see her again this season.

I'd like to say this is my new favourite episode of the series, but I feel like I will say that three to five times a season with a show like this. So just know that I actually preferred this to "One Man's Trash," and I won't replace my favourite episode week after week. If "Louie" won't be back for another year, then I am perfectly happy to accept short film episodes of "Girls" as a worthy placeholder.

Monday, February 18, 2013

"Girls" - "Boys": Giving up the gun

     Here's an image that aired for 1/24th of a second on HBO
     tonight. Ezra Koenig (Ezra Koenig) and Booth Jonathan
     (Jorma Taccone) admire great art on "Girls".
     Photo Credit: HBO

It seems I will never settle on what kind of "Girls" episode I prefer. I loved last week's "One Man's Trash" just as I loved season 1's "The Return," Hannah-only stories that forwent the other main characters for the duration of the episodes. Sunday (February 17) night's episode "Boys" featured the entire main cast, most of them (save for Jessa) with significant roles, and I loved it just as much.

Like a lot of premium cable half hours, "Girls" walks a fine line between comedy and drama, but I found tonight's episode to be the funniest of the season. Shoshanna is always funny, and I loved her great throwaway line about being the friend from "Twilight". I'm not sure how long it will take for me to not laugh at Hannah typing out the phrase, "Her name was Murjashiway," which is maybe the greatest sequence of jibberish I have ever seen in my life and perfectly encapsulates just how Hannah will fare trying to write her e-book in a month. Adam had some great lines during his even greater scenes with Ray, like his analysis of the ideal ages of women to date. Along with the full use of the ensemble (and I've never really though about the "Girls" cast as an ensemble) came interesting new pairings like Adam and Ray. I had naturally assumed from the title "Boys" that this episode would be more focused on the male characters, and Adam Driver and Alex Karpovsky really nailed the unlikely bonding thing that can so easily be a poorly executed storytelling crutch.

Booth Jonathan still being a thing caught me off guard a little bit. There was no closure to his previous horrifying encounter with Marnie, but the character feels like such an aimless drifter that I'm surprised their theoretical relationship, whatever that really entails, survived over those three or four episodes. As batshit crazy a character he is, even his opening scene where he berates his assistant for eating his ice cream (props to Jorma Taccone for having apparently just as few reservations about nudity as everyone else on this show) was enough to make me chuckle, especially the assistant's line about her boyfriend working lights for Carly Rae Jepsen - those kind of ridiculous, lack of self-awareness, Jenna Maroney-esque lines are what makes "Girls" what it is. And don't blink or you'll miss Vampire Weekend's Ezra Koenig tell Booth exactly how many times he's seen him cry! (Those fifteen seconds would have been enough to put this into the positive column, really).

Overall, it was not a night in which any of the characters really knew what they wanted, or felt like they should be wanting something even if it's going to make them miserable. Adam and Ray are both uncertain about their relationships - Adam goes from zero to a hundred in about two seconds when Ray criticizes Hannah, despite complaining about how bad their relationship was and how much he disliked her, and Ray isn't doing so well facing the reality that there's basically nothing to his relationship with Shoshanna. Hannah's dream is to write and publish a book, but now that it's an actual possibility, the grind of the job is proving to be overwhelming (if not funny - I mean, come on - Murjashiway - funny names are funny). And despite terrifyingly realizing how Booth views their relationship, Marnie is still tricking herself into thinking that he's brilliant and that he's some sort of opportunity of escape for her that she'll regret if she doesn't pursue.

It was a pretty spectacular episode for on screen talent. I wouldn't be surprised to see this one brought up a lot around Emmy time, even if it seems unlikely that anyone but Lena Dunham will get a nomination. While I've been enjoying the second season, there does seem to be something missing and I think the show would benefit by using more of the ensemble more of the time and in newer combinations as they did tonight. "The Hannah Show" has proven its greatness, but otherwise, I'm hoping it's go big or go home in the next four weeks.

Friday, February 15, 2013

"The Office" - "Moving On": Lord, beer me strength

     Destined to be together. Too bad they apparently stopped
     listening to each other say stuff.
     Photo Credit: NBC

14 year old me probably never thought I would say this, but tonight's episode of "The Office" was horrible. A complete and total mess on every level.

An episode of "The Office" in the 2010s was bad? Stop the presses. Yeah, this show has been a complete mess for about three years now, but never in a way that I felt, or that made me finally realize, I needed to sit down and pen an essay about why I hate so much about the things "The Office" has chosen to be.

Monday, February 11, 2013

"Girls" - "One Man's Trash": Hannah, Hannah, you're gonna die

     Hannah examines Joshua on "Girls".
     Photo Credit: HBO

Every summer for 13 weeks, FX lends out a half hour of its schedule to a stand-up comedian so he can basically televise his insanity. It's a half hour of whatever the hell Louis C.K. feels like telling a story about, and sometimes that's a homeless man being decapitated. But whatever it is, week in and week out, the subtext of "Louie" is its creator taking a sledgehammer to the current television landscape.

And man, if Sunday (February 10) night's episode of "Girls" wasn't the "Louie"-est episode the show's ever done.

The writing for "One Man's Trash" is credited solely to Lena Dunham, and I'm not surprised at all to see that. For as much as the specificity and emotion is what makes "Girls" what it is, this felt extremely personal on a level even this show hasn't fully explored yet. Its second cousin from the first season, "The Return," was also an episode that pulled Hannah out of whatever comfort zone she can claim as her own and shone a light on a really unhealthy relationship of hers. That time, it was the fact that she cheated on Adam and he didn't even care. Here, it's that she completely fabricates a relationship with Joshua basically because he has a nice house and some nice stuff, so she ignores the fact that she means basically nothing to him and views him as security she's never felt before. And yet, she's still Hannah Horvath. As much as you might think her having to return to reality would be devastating, she doesn't much show it. She's too used to it by now - it's not a match, and the board goes back.

"The Return" was my favourite episode from the first season, and though I have trouble thoroughly explaining why, this is my favourite episode of the series so far. Because "Girls" is as deeply personal as it is, the more that it's essentially the singular expression of Lena Dunham, the better it is. Which makes me conflicted, because while I like Jessa and Shoshanna and am finally warming up to Marnie, an episode like this just makes me want to watch "The Hannah Show". If we get to watch that show once a year, I'm okay with that, but only because the rest of the show around Hannah is so good as well. So now that we've spent a little time in Crazy Town, it's time to join Hannah in her walk back to reality.

Sunday, February 03, 2013

"Girls" - "It's a Shame About Ray": Oasis

     Jessa (Jemima Kirke) and Thomas-John (Chris O'Dowd)
     share a (final?) meal on "Girls".
     Photo Credit: HBO

In last week's review, I commended "Girls" for telling a kind of story they don't usually tell. But I was also sure to point out that I wasn't implying that I was tired of those stories or that I thought they were doing a bad job with them. And Saturday's (February 2) episode, thanks to some non-Bears Super Bowl Shuffling, shone a pretty great spotlight on two previously unexplored (at least at this depth) couples in Shoshanna and Ray, and Marnie and Thomas-John.

For the better part of a week, I was trying to hypothesize why this episode was called "It's a Shame About Ray" (the series of tubes tells me it's also the name of a 1992 song and album by The Lemonheads) - the best I had settled on before watching the episode was that we would learn Ray would have some embarrassing accident or disease or etc. But it turns out instead that in a move both simultaneously sadder and funnier, Ray is technically homeless when he's not living with Shoshanna, with Zosia Mamet giving a great reading of the line "Are we living together?"

That probably would have been the line of the night had it not been for Jessa saying "Wish there was a lord, but I know there isn't!" at the brilliantly uncomfortable (it feels redundant to continue to refer to events on this show as "awkward" or "comfortable" - it's basically a given) dinner with Thomas-John's parents, which also included some delightful conversation about the difference between the snorting and injection of heroin, among other horrors.

It was a rough night for fancy dinners on this show, but it was a particularly rough night for the men of "Girls". Between Thomas-John's meltdown (a good, twisted performance from Chris O'Dowd), Charlie calling Marnie the dreaded C-word, and Ray's big revelation, it was a rare occasion when the pain and trainwreckery (a word I'm inventing) of the guys managed to exceed the girls. What's more, they managed to do it without one glimpse of the gentleman known as Adam Sackler. It also has me very intrigued that an upcoming episode is titled "Boys," which would seem to indicate we're going to see an episode presented from their point of view.

I thought during the episode that even though I'd been looking forward to seeing the full-fledged return of Jessa after three weeks of glimpses, I had kind of forgotten who she was as a person. I of course knew that she was the most full-of-it of the four girls, claiming a worldliness that in no way aligned with her maturity, but I kind of forgot about her fragility and that she's still a human being. So I really loved the ending scene where Jessa climbs into the bathtub with Hannah, and she just breaks down crying. No one has to say a word - Hannah just knows. Despite the fact that Jessa completely misunderstands Hannah and her life, as we saw two weeks ago in the absolutely horrible advice she gave her, there is a weird connection between those two where sometimes, their screwups can still serve as a bonding touchstone.

Hannah and Jessa are each other's wonderwalls - I don't believe that anybody feels the way they both do about the other at that very moment, where they're able to sit in the bath and splash snot back and forth at each and other. It's a nice, weird moment, even though it seems very doubtful that they will be the ones to save each other.