Mar 27, 2015

TV Retrospective: "Girls" - Season 4 (Part 1)

There's a lot of impressive things that can be said about Girls after fours years on the air. For starters, the backlash has only created rich subtext for the series and has caused such memorable moments as this season's brief but memorable trip to Iowa in which topics such as rape culture and authentic artists were discussed with open candor. Even the supporting cast began to get risque, opening with an infamous scene of Marnie (Allison Williams) receiving sex in an odd fashion - within a week of the polar opposite Peter Pan Live! special on NBC. Everything about the show remains as stark and exciting as ever, save for the fact that its irresponsible characters remain that way. Some could argue that the show's biggest frustration comes in its inability to evolve. However, the show both did and didn't do it this season in fascinating ways that may make it the most uneven season of the series, but also the most truthful.
The one notable shift in the entire series wasn't that Hannah (Lena Dunham) moved to Iowa for school. While it allowed for a great break from the New York culture by following the literary side of her, it also proved to be frustrating when she inevitably snapped and returned to New York halfway through the semester and not even halfway through the season. The notable shift came with the introduction of Mimi-Rose (Gillian Jacobs), whose existence as Adam's (Adam Driver) replacement girlfriend proved to be conflict. She had her life together and gave lectures on love. In a moment from "Ask Me My Name," Hannah and Mimi-Rose have a conversation at a launderette in which she confesses that she is insecure about being loved and that she doesn't wish to just be pictured as a misnomer by being called a "girl." This feels relevant to the series, which shares that in the title. If the HBO series hadn't exist, would we care about these girls? Most of them had faded to obscurity by the fourth season and the grander theme began to make more sense.
Yes, there's some odd conflicts in which Tad (Peter Scolari) becomes gay in one of only two episodes that Elijah (Andrew Rannels) isn't in. However, the main drive of the season is how Hannah moves on from Adam, the latter of whom seems initially disinterested in their relationship at the start of the season. If season two ended as almost a reboot of the series where everything returned to the same plot as "Pilot," this is quite the evolution. In the midst of characters falling apart and getting arrested, this break-up is the crucial piece to the show's future. As charming and moderately successful as Adam has become, the series has been predicting for awhile how unnecessary the Adam/Hannah dynamic is. It even comes up in "Triggering" momentarily. 
Still, by the finale, it is made abundantly clear why they weren't right for each other. Think of all that Hannah has done in the momentary absence of Adam. Thanks to Mimi-Rose, she finds purpose in her life while becoming a substitute teacher. Unlike most every other job depicted on the series, she has been involved with it consistently. Yes, she is still a questionable role model with an unfortunate incident with student Cleo (Maude Apatow), but by the series' end, she has done something unthinkable. She has become responsible for her actions. If the whole season has been about slapping these characters in the face, then this moment is the perfect conclusion. Even in "Home Birth" when new parents Caroline (Gaby Hoffman) and Laird (Jon Glaser) are forced to give up their ridiculous ideals for reality, there is a sense of maturity. It is clear in the way that everyone else thinks. It also explains how Hannah has evolved.
Though there lies a bigger question in the midst. Has anyone else changed over the season? Argument can be made that everyone has in the finale. However, that doesn't excuse the nine episodes prior to that. The most problematic remains Jessa (Jemima Kirke), whose negligent ways and desire to urinate in the street makes her one of the least consistent characters. She is also a train wreck who seems to exist more than progress. While everyone around her is succeeding, she is going to A.A. meetings simply to court Ace (Zachary Quinto). It is the biggest reason why I have felt for most of the season that the series has run its course. While it would be impressive to ends its run on the integral Adam/Hannah break-up that has fueled all of the series, it feels also like the series also has dovetailed the antithetical in the finale. Everyone has matured, even if in the most minimal ways. Jessa most notably has been sidelined for most of the season only to have her conclusion be that she's going back to school. Speaking as she hasn't been a reliable force in the past, this isn't the most hopeful thing to claim. However, it does make her have importance.
Even the supporting players including Marnie and Shoshanna (Zosia Mamet) have felt oddly pointless at times. While Shoshanna has become more responsible and interesting over time, she has been conflicted more than interesting and more reliant on trying to rekindle friendship with Ray (Alex Karpovsky). She has evolved so impressively that any mistakes throughout the season can be forgiven, as she has become one of the more useful girls after starting off as a comic folly. Meanwhile, Marnie hasn't been interesting in some time with almost all of her scenes being expendable largely because her relationship with Desi (Ebon Moss-Bachrach) was a meandering lull most of the time choosing to contemplate music gear than a career. Despite all of this, to see Marnie perform int he finale on her own successfully is a big triumph considering how she butchered Kanye West's "Stronger" the previous season to an embarrassing result.
So the question is more if the series has run its course. Yes, the season ended nicely with an impressive reminder of what the show can be. In general, Girls' biggest flaw this season was that it forgot that it wasn't singular. It felt methodical in only progressing one character's plot some weeks and only tuning into others to remind us that they existed. When a show reaches that level, it feels like it is basically trying to write others off. Unfortunately, there's only a question on if everyone else will use their new found responsibility for good or if the series will resort to playing the same old card like they did this season. With the Iowa plot line, it suggested that Hannah had grown. By the end, she resorted to an old way of living. I fear that this is what the show will become next season and nothing interesting will happen.
However, with Hannah now dating Fran (Jake Lacy), who is a completely different type of character for her, things may turn around. Maybe this show will turn into a more successful portrait for the New York characters. However, there's still the need for conflict and the inability to grow up. I feel like Jessa will continue to be inconsequential and everyone else will give up on their dreams like Hannah did. It sadly makes sense and I don't think will make the fifth season all that interesting. As much as this show still gets a lot of solid points for ambition, it just doesn't have the momentum of interest as it once did. Its Girls need to become women. I don't see the show lasting much longer, which may be for the best. Still, for a season that continued to expand the universe and give a ridiculous amount of guest stars, its still got enough heart and effort to make something unlike anything else on TV. When it leaves, it will provide an odd insight into mid-to-late-20-somethings that will become an interesting time capsule of this era. For that, the show remains successful. However, I just wish it did more with its characters in the meantime.

Overall Rating: 3.5 out of 5

*Stay tuned for Part 2 tomorrow in which I rank all 10 of the season four episodes.

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