Two Brown Girls Talk 'Girls' - Season 3, Episodes 1 & 2

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by Zeba and Fariha of Two Brown Girls
January 13, 2014 4:24 PM
15 Comments
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In recent years, HBO’s Girls has sparked some fruitful conversations about body image, sex, feminism, and race. Last year, it also sparked the idea for the podcast Two Brown Girls, where we (critics Zeba Blay and Fariha Roísín) discuss film, television and pop culture from the perspective of two women of color. We started the podcast initially as a reaction to the lack of PoC representation on Girls, a show that (perhaps unfairly) was purported in its first season to represent an entire generation of 20-somethings. With the show now in its third season, reportedly set to feature its first black female characters including Danielle Brooks (Orange is the New Black) and Jessica Williams (The Daily Show), we’re now starting a weekly critique of the show in effort to unpack what does and doesn’t work. Below, we discuss the good, the bad, and the ugly in ‘Females Only’ and ‘Truth Or Dare’.

Zeba: Can I just start off by saying that last season of Girls was really bad so my expectations are already pretty low for Season 3? No shade. Actually, all shade.

Fariha: Last night's double episode was so depressing. And, also, not very good. Unlike you, Zeba, I did enjoy S2. I thought it was so much better than S1. It was tighter and the writing, I felt, had matured and developed. You could see that Dunham was trying to apply the feedback, or mostly criticism, that was so readily given to her for S1, and I appreciated that. However I felt the first two episodes of S3 to be vacuous and uninspiring.

Zeba:  Do you really think so, though?

Fariha: Yes. I definitely think on some level she is trying, yes. And maybe I want to give her the benefit of the doubt, throw her a bone, or whatever.

Zeba:  Because I think for me last season was a real slap in the face, as far as criticism concerning the lack of diversity on the show goes. The Donald Glover cameo was a joke. Dunham doesn't seem to care what her critics think and I actually appreciate her more when she doesn't pander to critics. I mean, the whole "Hannah suddenly has OCD" and "Adam Saves the Day!!" things felt really forced.

Fariha:  I felt as if the last episode of S2 was kind of supposed to be a rom-com-esque "Nora Ephron" meets "Woody Allen" you know, like, very When Harry Met Sally. There was that ludicrous sentimentality that I on some level enjoyed and I think it was supposed to be grotesquely quaint and at the same time uncomfortable, because we *know* how bad Adam and Hannah are for one another. But, okay. Let's start with the Adam and Natalia Meet at Grumpy's (while Hannah and Ray watch) situation.

Zeba:  I know we talked on the podcast last year about how problematic the sex scene with Adam and Natalia was in S2, and how we hoped it would be addressed. I wasn't totally satisfied with this follow up... The tone just seemed off. Maybe it was the annoying friend?

Fariha:  The annoying friend needs to go away. But, I'm glad it was addressed. I guess what do you want out of a scene where it *is* addressed?

Zeba:  I guess I wanted Adam's behavior to not be addressed as a weird quirk in the awkward ravings of a disgruntled ex-girlfriend. The scene I guess was really all about how Hannah and Adam have basically moved on, how they're in a "good place." But let's move on to another topic. Let's talk about Marnie in all her beigeness.

Fariha:  Marnie is my least favorite character on the show, mainly because she's just so uninteresting. I want to be able to root for her because I do connect with her confusion and I do understand her inability to know what it is that she wants from life. Her directionless-ness is ubiquitous and I think that it's interesting for that to be characterized in someone that seems, outwardly, so together; she's like a tightly woven knot that's slowly unravelling. But Alison Williams is not the right person, maybe, to properly captivate and navigate Marnie in the way she needs to and therefore it doesn't quite translate, or resonate, and just ends up being lame.

Zeba:  Yeah. I do think it's significant though to see how Hannah and Marnie's places have kind of changed. Hannah's the one with a boyfriend and a somewhat budding career (the whole e-book thing is still hilarious), and Marnie's just been left by Charlie (wonder how things would have gone had Chris Abbot not peaced out). I think Marnie is an interesting character in her uninterestingness - she's that wack girl we all know who seems to have everything going for her with very little effort, and it's only when she loses it all that you start to realize none of her good fortune was of her own doing. It'll be interesting to see whether or not Marnie can pull it together. I will say the scenes with Rita Wilson were hilarious, though. The taco dinner scene was also pretty good. Shoshana is growing on me

Fariha:  Definitely. Marnie really is the one that should, as society dictates, be in a "good" place and I think having that critique of "none of her good fortune was of her own doing" is a really cool thing to be discussing on a TV show. It’s a progressive and smart anecdote -- and, also, a compelling way to look at the structure of “adulthood” and “success.”  We're not used to being told that we can't have it all, and I think Marnie is definitely not the type of girl to expect not to have it all. Yet, here she is -- boyfriendless and out of work --  drifting through confusion and obsessing over the failure of her relationship with Charlie, which from experience, definitely acts as a conduit to disengage with the proverbial “larger issues.”

I really liked the taco dinner too. I love Adam's weird and surprisingly insightful perspicacious advice. He seems so resentfully helpful and his aloofness is endearing. I really liked the shot of him talking to Marnie about his "Colombian girlfriend" that went to "Columbia."

Zeba:  Thing is though I should have added to my previous statement "that wack white girl we all know" because true tea, this show is most fascinating in how it (probably unintentionally) takes down some of the privilege that goes with being a white girl just trying to "find herself" in this so-called structure of adulthood and success. To keep it all the way real, as a black girl watching this show, I can't relate to any of these characters. Maybe that's part of what makes it fun to watch. They're very well crafted archetypes of people (including some friends, yes) who I can easily identify in real life. It's fascinating. Speaking of which - so, now we know were Jessa went. She's in rehab! With Richard E. Grant! Who was oddly sexy?

Fariha: Richard E. Grant is so sexy. I found it also very smart that although you could recognize that Grant's character was a total asshole there were those drawn out moments that you were hoping that he would prove to be redeemable, which in the end -- he didn’t. But there was that tension built that established a sense of anything goes, that sense of an unformed dubiousness, and that makes for good writing and good entertainment. Nothing is good when it’s predictable.

Zeba:  I found his scenes with Jessa to be by far the most engaging thing about the two-episode premiere. You could see the fact that he was actually an asshole coming from a mile away, with the effortlessly disheveled hair and all those fatherly pieces of wisdom that didn't actually make any damn sense and what not. However. We should probably talk about the Black Girl in the Room.

Fariha: Or, as Jessa likes to refer to her as the "Fat, Black Lesbian."

Zeba:  Let me just say that this is exactly what I knew would happen. It's frustratingly predictable. Last year, it was announced that Danielle Brooks, who we all loved on Orange is the New Black, would be on S3 of Girls. But the role and how big it was supposed to be was pretty much unknown. But I knew it was going to be a minuscule role designed solely as a prop to move along the story of a white character. So Danielle was there to show us how messed up Jessa is, and ultimately get her kicked out of rehab. I'll just say it: Girls does NOT know what to do with black characters (or gay characters, for that matter).

Fariha:  And therein lies our frustrations with this show. It is entertaining, and for the most part it is "good," however, it's inability to write for, and about, a large proportion of society proves to be very problematic. Judd Apatow recently shared this piece of timely wisdom: "I don't think there's any reason why any show should feel an obligation to do that. In the history of television, you could look at every show on TV and say, 'How come there's not an American Indian on this show?' 'How come there's not an Asian person on this show?' It really has to come from the story and the stories that we are trying to tell." And it's like, the fact that you're a privileged white male who has consistently demonstrated to not understand the very ethos of what representation and what it asks for, i.e. that it's identical for wanting "more women" in TV/Film, is not only condescending, but it is down right disgusting. And the fact that Lena Dunham is, for all intents and purposes, the isomorphic Apatow, makes me very continuously frustrated with this whole venture.

It shouldn't be something that's hard to understand. It's very simple. People of Color don't want representation because they're greedy (as I feel sometimes we're relegated to that, as if it comes from a place of insidiousness) but it's more: PoCs want representation to facilitate positivity in the way we view ourselves, and how society sees us. If you're happy that Lena Dunham, a woman with a normal body type, is on television and therefore seemingly paving and ushering the way for women of all shapes of sizes to be on TV/Film too, then you should most definitely understand that it's necessary for PoCs too.

Zeba:  Apatow is basic and his movies are basic. Here's the thing though - you have this black character who you refuse to even own her own identity. Jessa tells her she's a lesbian and boom! She's a lesbian. Who doesn't like sports! I guess the whole scene was supposed to be funny but for me it just felt really forced. I realize more and more though that, like, I don't know if I want to even see any black characters on Girls because they're always badly written, they're always there for an episode an a half. You never feel like Dunham & co are actually taking in the criticism. It's like, "See! Here's a black person! And she's gay!!! Now shut up!!" That's not how it works. So until they get a consultant or something (like me) I'd say, you know, stick to the beige white girls.

Fariha:  No, I'd say: HIRE BLACK WRITERS.

Or, hire us? We’ll write for you, Lena. We can help you. Girl, let us help you.

Zeba:  Or better yet take those flawless black writers and have them write their own amazing show about black people in their twenties. Shout out to Issa Rae and Lena Waithe. At this point any PoC on Girls will be tokens. So let's watch it for what it is and go make our own things. That's where I'm at right now.

Fariha:  Also a good sentiment! Being allies to the cause is important, food for thought Apatow! So, overall, how did you feel about it Z?

Zeba:  As season premieres go, it was pretty bland, but it had seeds of possibly interesting things to come (Hannah and Adam's codependency, Jessa's impending breakdown, Marnie's...everything). Weak writing, super problematic treatment of a QPoC, but I found myself liking Hannah more than I ever have. So, that's something. You?

Fariha:  Dunham's fleshing out the characters and as a writer I appreciate that, for obvious reasons. It was definitely a lack-lustre premier but you're right, there's plenty places to go with each plotline. Adam's still a great character study and probably my favorite, despite his issues, and Hannah has grown on me also. I currently find her abundance of quirks thoroughly endearing and I identify them in a lot of people I know. Dunham has really started to explore her in the most interesting ways and that's going to be fun to watch. She's evolving, as are all of them. So, I'm staying positive, regardless.

Zeba:  Well, can't wait to hate-watch episode two next weekend!

Fariha:  Here's to hate-watching! And here’s to cool celebrity cameos. Kim Gordon, girl, you cannot act, but I really enjoyed you in it anyway. See y’all next week.


Fariha Roísín is a Montreal based writer and cultural critic. One day she wants to be really funny. Follow her on twitter @Mofafafafa

Zeba Blay is a Ghanaian-born film and culture writer based in New York. Follow her on Twitter @zblay.

To find out more about Two Brown Girls go to twobrowngirls.co, or listen to the podcast here: https://soundcloud.com/twobrowngirls

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15 Comments

  • Rocket | January 15, 2014 11:19 AMReply

    If black people are willing to "hate watch" this show then why should they put any POC on the show? They already have your attention. They can keep you watching, keep you writing articles about a show you "hate", and keep the PR machine going.

    The producers of that show are winning keeping things they way they are.

  • Carl | January 16, 2014 12:06 AM

    JAZZ

    " Us POC just wish we could get the same opportunities as Lena Dunham has."

    Then stop clucking like a chicken, get off your azz and make those opportunities. This post is bullchit. Again, these chicks need a life.

  • JazzBelle | January 15, 2014 11:00 PM

    I'm pretty sure that's what one of them stated in the review. Us POC just wish we could get the same opportunities as Lena Dunham has. Maybe you could support POC Web series and pilot presentations like Lena Waithe's Twenties then us POC would stop "complaining" and things in television/film would actually change. If your not going to support than maybe you should stop complaining and hating on articles that does not support your opinion : )

  • CareyCarey | January 14, 2014 10:26 PMReply

    Hey y'all, I've found a serendipitous reward in this brouhaha. Well, many of Zeba Blay's "reviews"/post sit in a sea of idleness, many receiving little to no comments. I know why but I won't go there today. And that's unfortunate (and a damn shame) because she's a very good writer who is fast becoming one of my "must read" writes here at S&A. But today, hip-hip hooray, many have arrived to voice their opinions... and that's a good thang.

    But, having said that, I have to admit I too was wondering why we were spending time on "Girls"? But again, I found another serendipitous reward (occurring or discovered by chance in a happy of beneficial way) from reading this post. Well, I've often said I do not necessarily enjoy reading the reviews of professional film critics. I have a few that I follow, but for the most part I believe they (most) write for other critics, not the general public. Now I won't list the particulars of their "critics speech" that I abhor, but in general, in their "reviews" they just don't give me enough particulars about the films, or whether or not they truly dislike or like said film. And, I have to say it, many of the reviews smell like "payola" and politics. So this post was just what the doctor ordered.

    Although this post wouldn't be classified as a review, I now know exactly how the Two Brown Girls (Zeba & Fariha) feel about the series "Girls" and why they've come to their conclusions. They said so without the pretentious, ambiguous and boring critic speech that many film critics use as a way to impress other critics and the artsy-fartsy crowd.

    So I found myself reading this entire post (as if I was eavesdropping on two BFF's chatting on the phone) about a subject/issue/series in which I had NO invested interests whatsoever. So hat tip to the two brown girls for a job well done... I guess :)

  • Carl | January 14, 2014 9:40 PMReply

    This read like two chickens clucking in a chicken coop. Get a life! Hate-watch? You watch a show JUST to complain about it? Stupid much?

    This post was as useful as a screen door on a submarine.

  • JustAGirl | January 15, 2014 10:49 PM

    Then why waste your time to read this and then complain about it? It's a review from two people perspectives. Not everyone is going to like the show, some are going to love it and some are going to hate it. It is what it is. #kanyeshrug

  • CareyCarey | January 14, 2014 10:36 PM

    Carl, we seldom if ever agree, but that screen door on a submarine line is something I will use in the future.

  • deecreative | January 14, 2014 8:17 PMReply

    I miss 'How to Make it in America' which had a diverse cast and a story people wanted to watch. Still mad at HBO for canceling that show.

  • bb | January 14, 2014 12:56 PMReply

    Who are these folks commenting? Ignorant as all get out.

  • stp | January 14, 2014 10:21 AMReply

    Indeed! It's not our show so who the hell cares if they have a black cast member. We have to be in everything eh? How about creating our own content. I think the SNL thing is an embarrassment. First black female writer on SNL. Super! For a show no one watches.

  • D.C. Kirkwood | January 14, 2014 10:51 AM

    I agree. Who gives a damn. I think the controversy behind us not being "accepted or represented" on this show and the SNL thing is an embarassment and make us look desperate. Next!!!!!!!!!

  • politicallyincorrect | January 14, 2014 2:02 AMReply

    Why are black women online so pressed about Girls, frankly I rather watch a Living Single re-run. This is not our story so change the channel. Black people get mad they aren't there, and when they are hired its oh no they are tokens

  • Token | January 14, 2014 2:07 AM

    Black women seem to want and feel entitled to every thing white women have. As if the privilege of existing in a certain sphere for white women is a slap in the fast of black women.

  • Miles Ellison | January 13, 2014 8:31 PMReply

    Another season of exhibitionist millennial failure porn. Yay.

  • moorrese | January 13, 2014 7:09 PMReply

    to be fair Fairah, Jessa never refers to her as BLACK, just a fat lesbian, im pretty sure b/c i was literally waiting to see how long before she said it and make note of her tone, but it never happened.

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