Tuned In

Girls Watch: Don’t Tell Me You Love Me

The night Girls picks up a Golden Globe as Best Comedy, a scene-setting season premiere shows that there's a fine line between being in love and obnoxiousness.

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SPOILER ALERT: Before you read this post, turn off that karaoke machine and watch last night’s season premiere of Girls. 

“You are not a sweet girl at all!” “I am a sweet girl!”

Maybe the most essentially Girls moment of the second-season premiere of Girls involved Jessa, who was in the episode barely a minute. She and Thomas-John are getting back into town from their honeymoon, and in a whirl of giggles and kisses, they jump an entire line of people waiting for a cab at the airport, as Thomas-John halfheartedly pretends not to know English.

Ha ha! Isn’t it cute? They’re so in love! Except, of course, it’s not cute at all if you’re one of the people standing in the taxi queue–it’s just a jerkwad move, unredeemed by the joy and insouciance of the self-absorbed couple in their little bubble of romance. You, as a newlywed feeling like you’ve discovered love for the first time, may feel you’re in the applause scene of a romantic comedy. To the rest of the world, you’re just another d-bag stealing a cab.

This is not a criticism of Girls. It’s one of the things that make this show distinctive: it’s empathetic and understanding of its characters yet unsparing of their self-absorption. As a show about people in their twenties, enjoying various levels of support from parents and/or sugar daddies, it’s largely about the gradual discovery that there are other people outside your experience–or about the failure to discover that.

(This, by the way–the addition of Donald Glover as a guest star notwithstanding–is why I think that the lack of people of color in Girls’ cast is both worth comment and totally believable. Yes, Brooklyn is full of people who are not white. But I’m not sure that these specific characters’ Brooklyn is—and that they do not seek out a lot of people outside their cultural or class experience seems entirely, if unfortunately, believable for them.)

Girls is about friends, lovers, people with connections. But one of its great themes is also insularity, and in “It’s About Time,” it’s not just the central characters who are so wrapped up in their personal narratives that they forget the people around them.

We kick off Marnie’s story, for instance, by having her lose her job over a lunch with her boss, who’s so distracted by other things that she actually forgets the purpose of the lunch was to lay her off. She then ends up hooking up with Elijah, though “hookup” is probably the wrong word, since they’re both so clearly wrapped up in their own business: he’s dealing with trouble with his boyfriend (and maybe some residual issues over his sexuality), she’s flattered by his attention. After which, she shows up at Charlie’s, saying she doesn’t want to sleep alone tonight, even though–or more likely because–he’s just shown that he’s trying to move on from her with a new girlfriend.

As for Hannah, she’s having a good old time with her new boyfriend, Sandy, but at the same time has declared to him that she does not want the word “love” getting anywhere within a 500-foot radius of them. She’s taking it slow for him as much as for her, she says. But from the way she talks to him in and out of bed to the episode title itself—”It’s About Time”—I get the sense that it’s really more for her. It’s about time—her time, Hannah Time. She deserves this, she feels; she’s earned this.

That earning comes in the form of Adam, who was exhausting to date and is now–bedridden and peeing in a pan–exhausting to have broken up with, though Hannah feels obligated to nurse him after he was hit by a truck as she dumped him. Injury has regressed Adam—he too is wrapped up in his own thing, becoming sour and petulant again, though at least he has an explanation for his behavior: “When you love someone, you don’t have to be nice to them all the time.”

If so, then this premiere episode was full of love. (Even the most conventionally romantic subplot, Shoshanna and Ray’s, was, as Shosh put it, about insults followed by compliments.) “It’s About Time” felt largely like a scene-setter overall, catching us up with characters and quickly establishing premises for the new season. But it also showed that Girls is confident in its unsparing themes about young adulthood: that when most of your attention is on trying to figure yourself out, your relationships with other people aren’t going to be pretty.

Hannah and her friends, in moments and in bits, can connect with each other and be deeply supportive. The first image, Hannah spooning in bed with Elijah reminds us of that; but it also reminds us that a year ago it was Hannah and Marnie. Girls’ characters are not, I would argue, horrible people. But are they sweet? It depends who you ask.

Now a quick hail of bullets:

* “What is wrong with emojis?” “A panda next to a gun next to a wrapped gift?”

* On a show with as much nudity as Girls has, judging by how quickly and artfully Alison Williams’ hair managed to cover her breasts in the hookup scene on the couch, I am guessing she is part mermaid.

* “You wouldn’t talk to your friends like this.” “I talk to my friends way worse than this.” Let it never be said that Marnie lacks self-awareness.

* A nitpick: not that Girls is exactly a medical drama, but was I the only one who watched the season one finale and thought that Adam was hit in his shoulder and not his leg? (See around 3:00 in this clip.)