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Review: 'Girls' Unfortunately Stumbles Into Sitcom Territory

Photo of Kevin Jagernauth By Kevin Jagernauth | The Playlist May 6, 2012 at 11:00PM

As we mentioned in our review of the season premiere, "Girls" came out of the gate strong, exhibiting a fresh approach and confidence that many shows don't often have in their first season. Navigating the complexities of sex, relationships and friendships between women in Manhattan, Lena Dunham's effort seemed to sidestep the usual structure and expectations of the half hour format for something a bit more direct and honest. And while we figured "Girls" would stumble at some point, or perhaps deliver an episode below the standard set thus far, we didn't expect it to be so soon, or done so sloppily.
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Girls Lena Dunham
Season 1, Episode 4: "Hannah's Diary"

As we mentioned in our review of the season premiere, "Girls" came out of the gate strong, exhibiting a fresh approach and confidence that many shows don't often have in their first season. Navigating the complexities of sex, relationships and friendships between young women in Manhattan, Lena Dunham's effort seemed to sidestep the usual structure and expectations of the half hour format for something a bit more direct and honest. And while we figured "Girls" would stumble at some point, or perhaps deliver an episode below the standard set thus far, we didn't expect it to be so soon, or done so sloppily.

As the title suggests, the plot of this episode surrounds Hannah's diary, and more importantly, what's discovered inside by Charlie (Christopher Abbott) and his friend Ray (Alex Karpovsky). It's a bit of a cheap narrative device, one that has been used in countless other shows, including, it should be noted, executive producer Judd Apatow's "Freaks & Geeks" (though to much better effect). Anyway, the two are at Hannah and Marnie's apartment where Charlie is building his girlfriend a coffee table as a surprise and doing some rudimentary rehearsals for his band's upcoming show, when Ray uses the opportunity of both girls being out of the house to start snooping around. One thing leads to another and soon he's found Hannah's diary....

....meanwhile, Hannah suddenly has a job this episode despite three straight shows chronicling her increasingly frustrating search to find employment. It's in a drab, almost outdated office, and while the position isn't exactly the kind of creative work Hannah would like to be doing, the problem she faces is the wandering hands of her boss, Rich. An older, married man, he likes to hand out massages to the women in his office and grabbing their asses when has a chance, all done in the kind of old fashioned, boys-will-be-boys way that wouldn't be out of place with the dudes on "Mad Men." Hannah's co-workers shrug it off, as Rich is essentially harmless and also, the job provides great benefits.

But before she can even tackle the issue at work, Hannah has a bigger problem on her hands. Adam (Adam Driver) opens the episode by texting Hannah a picture of his penis, only to quickly follow it up with another message saying cryptically, "SRY that wasn't for you." This later leads to a particularly brilliant showdown (one of the best dramatic moments of the series so far), in which Hannah attempts to break up with Adam, explaining quite clearly what she needs out of a relationship. She wants to be loved, to be important to somebody, to be exclusive -- and yet, saying it out loud embarrases her because it makes her seem like a girl "who wants to go to brunch." It's a near-genius encapsulation of the fine line between dating and a relationship. But of course, they end up back together anyway, with Hannah unable to wrest herself free from Adam's charms, as repulsive and attractive as they are.

However, that's the one moment of pure honesty in an episode that feels particularly contrived. Jessa (Jemima Kirke) and Shoshanna (Zosia Mamet) get little mini-subplots, with the former losing the kids she's babysitting, while their father Jeff (James LeGros) becomes increasingly attracted to her (yawn). Meanwhile, Shoshanna randomly hooks up with an old friend from camp and just when things are about to get hot and heavy, he backs out when she reveals the news that she's a virgin. The latter scenario would seem like one that would be particularly devastating, but by the climax of the show, she seems more or less fine, meeting with the other girls at the bar where Charlie and Ray's band is playing.

Charlie unveils his "new" song, titled "Hannah's Diary," which is essentially a verbatim excerpt over some sadly strummed guitar: "What is Marnie thinking of. She needs to know what's out there. How does it feel to date a man with a vagina. Doesn't she want to feel an actual penis? Marnie has stop whining and break up with him already. Of course, it will be painful but she's already in so much agony, stuck in a prison of his kindness. Just because someone is kind, doesn't mean they're right. Better to end it now and cut off the limb and let the stump heal. He'll find someone else, someone who appreciates his kind of smothering love." Ouch.

And while the moment is emotionally charged, it's not quite believable. Until now, Charlie has been rather meek and the idea that he would take this passive/aggressive route doesn't seem in tune with his character, especially for a guy who is so concerned with talking things out. But really, it's endemic of this episode as a whole, creating situations -- discovery of the diary, the kids getting lost, virginal hookup, sexual harrassment -- and then having the characters react against them, rather than it being built the other way around, out of an organic situation. It's the first time the show has truly let down Hannah and her pals, and looking ahead, this dichotomy will play out over the next couple episodes as well with mixed results. But hopefully before the season is out, the ship will be righted once again. [B-]

Songs in this episode: Juvenile "Who's Ya Daddy; Jake Rabinbach "Same Mistakes"

This article is related to: Television, TV Reviews, Girls


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