Sunday, March 3, 2013

Sins of the Father: A Moment of Truth on "Girls"

Jessa's dad (after Jessa has listed the ways in which he's failed her): "You think I can rely on you?"

Jessa: "You shouldn't have to. I'm the child. I'm the child."


As much as I've come to enjoy and appreciate the HBO dramedy Girls over the course of 1.7 seasons, we still have our issues. For one, the highly unlikely rampant sexual escapades of a girl like Hannah. While I appreciate her quirky charm and Lena Dunham's attempt to inject a bit more glamor into her visual presentation this season, I'm not buying that every cute guy who enters her orbit (not just her on-and-off ex Adam, but the drugstore worker last season, the 19-year-old almost-virgin, the hot doctor played by Patrick Wilson, who, despite the flop that was A Gifted Man, ought to be on my TV screen every week) eventually ends up wanting to get inside her panties.

Yes, I get that Dunham is comfortable with onscreen nudity, and she might be doing wonders for the self-esteem of women with "normal" bodies everywhere, but in a TV universe where her decidedly hotter friends Jessa and post-break up Marnie keep attracting average-looking dudes, if Hannah is going to get around as much as she does, she probably should be doing it with a few more guys who look like her coke dealer/neighbor from several episodes ago..

Second, with the exception of her two-episode token black boyfriend at the beginning of the second season (I'm still dying to know how they got together -- and while they're at it, how she got home from Coney Island -- since we entered their short-lived story mid-story), Hannah still seems to exist in a world of colorless color.

Third, the last three episodes have felt like tangents veering off from the central story of Hannah and her mid-twentysomething girlfriends in New York City. The Patrick Wilson episode seemed like it belonged to an entirely different series, and in the end, was just an excuse to show Wilson naked (a diversion I'll take any week of the month) and to get Hannah to admit that she wants to be happy.

The next one, was even more of a curiosity, with Hannah mostly on the sidelines. I should probably relate more than I do to Ray since he's closer to my age than the rest of the regular cast, but the character hasn't been given enough redeeming qualities (I'm still shaking my head at his treatment of Dr. Dreamy) or back story for me to care about him. Now is not the time for his tears. I have no interest in them -- not with Marnie's far more interesting and sympathetic ex, who also happens to be Ray's best friend and bandmate, MIA for episodes at a time (currently three and counting).

Then there was the trip to visit Jessa's dad in the February 24 episode, the seventh of the second season. My biggest problem with it wasn't the terrible parenting of Jessa's dad (played by Ben Mendelsohn, the Aussie actor whom I loved in Animal Kingdom), the skimpy screen time for Rosanna Arquette (who looks fantastic and also should be on my TV screen every week), or even Hannah's quickie sex with Jessa's soon-to-be (maybe) stepbrother. My No. 1 gripe with the episode -- and all of the recent Jessa-heavy episodes -- was Jessa herself. I'm still not sure how we're supposed to feel about her.

Obviously, she's masking a lot of personal pain with her blase free-spiritedness, and we finally got a glimpse of that inner turmoil. Now that we know where her terrible attitude comes from, I'm still having a hard time believing that real-life girls, who can be so demanding and critical of their female friends (see The Real Housewives of... anywhere), would ever put up with Jessa.

It would be easier to handle her insouciant bitchiness, and she'd be more sympathetic as the product of bad parenting if she were occasionally being called out for her insensitivity, but the other girls seem almost oblivious to her lapses in courteous behavior. Had Marnie done to Hannah what Jessa did at the end of the last episode, there'd be so much hell to pay. But if Jessa does get scolded for it by Hannah, it will no doubt happen offscreen.

The great beauty of Girls, though, is that despite its flaws, the sharp writing always manages to pull me back in, whether it's Hannah's break-up conversation with her token black boyfriend, her moments of naked honesty with Dr. Dreamy, or Jessa's conversation with her father, the best part of the February 24 episode, during which they started to pick at the scabs of the wounds they'd inflicted on each other. For once, I found myself on Team Jessa, though I would have been more in the other Girls girls' corners had one of them been the one having the same conversation with her dad.

As someone with a complicated father-son relationship, I found the exchange difficult to sit through but worth the extra effort. It should be required viewing for every parent who sits around passively, harboring great expectations of their children. If only Hannah would be so honest with her own parents (her phone conversation with them was also excellently written and acted), rather than shrugging and playing victim in her own head, maybe she'd be getting somewhere.

She'd probably get even further professionally if she wrote about her loving yet difficult relationship with her parents -- so unique yet so universal, making it ripe to plunder for literary purposes -- instead of random cocaine binges. But then, we still don't see Hannah doing much writing -- or much of anything, for that matter. It begs the question: How exactly is she making enough money to spring for Jessa's $11 whiskey craving while paying double rent now that her rent-paying gay ex has moved out and the presumably free-loading Jessa has moved in? From mopping floors at Ray's coffee shop? From "inking" her e-book deal?

Oh, details. They just get in the way. Which kind of sounds like something Hannah would say.