I liked creator/star Lena Dunham’s Tiny Furniture, but Jesus H. with the royal-wedding-level coverage of the lead-up to the Girls premiere: how it’s totally not like Sex & the City at all, except when it is, and only portrays the quark-width Caucasian-Ovarian-Oberlinian-American slice of the New York City experience, except when it’s jumping into the universal. It’s brilliant, and it’s tl:dr, and Dunham has done every interview from here to the auto circular, and enough already, so thank God it’s finally underway. Short verzh: yeah, it’s niche and occasionally obnoxious. It’s also super-watchable and good (in that “extractions portion of a facial” way at times, but still). Give it a chance. Now let’s get to it.
Fade up on Hannah (Dunham) shoveling pasta into her mouth at a fancy restaurant. Cut to her parents on the other side of the table, her father (Peter Scolari) also chowing like he rows heavyweight crew, her mother (Becky Ann Baker) watching them with amusement. Girls got me on board two seconds in with that casting; I can’t swear the meta-commentary is intended, but Baker is likely best known as the benign, clueless mom from exec producer Judd Apatow’s alienated-youth dramedy Freaks & Geeks, while Scolari starred in the pioneer gender-fuck sitcom Bosom Buddies, which traced the increasingly blurry edges of what it means to be fema— HA HA HA, no, it didn’t do that at all. BB is best and rightly known today as “that thing Tom Hanks did to pay rent,” but the concept, of course, is that Hanks’s and Scolari’s characters would do whatever they had to do to make rent in big bad Gotham—including dress up like ladies for a spot in a women’s residence hotel.
This is about to become relevant. Hannah brings her parents up to date on work—it’s going well, and her boss has agreed to look at her book “when it’s done.” It’s a series of essays; she’s only finished four, but the larger work is a memoir, so she has to “live them first.” Ahhhh yes, the old “hard work is no substitute for experience” mistake so many writers make at that age, usually halfway down the fourth pint, and Hannah’s fakely chuckly tone suggests she’s spun that line dozens of times. At a prompt from Mom, Dad hems and haws from “you’re doing so great at work” to “it may be time for one final push,” and eventually to the bomb they’ve come to drop, where he hands off to Mom: “We’re not going to be supporting you any longer.” “See, I wasn’t gonna phrase it like that,” Dad mutters, stricken. Hannah promptly objects: her “job” is an internship and may never turn into a paying gig. Mom counters: Hannah graduated from college two years ago; she and Dad are professors; they “can’t keep bankrolling your groovy lifestyle.” Hannah’s counter-counter re: the shitty economy and how she could be a drug addict—”Do you realize how lucky you are?”—doesn’t play with Mom, despite a super-anxious Dad undercutting her in the conversation. Neither does Hannah’s snotty monologue about insidious pill addiction, or the next one about how close she is to the life they want for her. “No. More. Money,” Mom snaps, adding that they can discuss the details tomorrow. Hannah doesn’t want to see them tomorrow: “I have work, and then I have a dinner thing, and then I am busy, trying to become who I am.” The line clanks, but Dunham’s rendition of Hannah’s misery as she stares into her plate, stuck pre-check at a table with people she feels betrayed by and trying not to cry in front of them, almost saves it.
Hannah’s bed, where she’s spooning with roommate/BFF Marnie (Allison Williams). Marnie is wearing a bite guard and grinding her teeth. Someone’s cell rings, and the girls groggily rifle through the covers looking for it.
Cab. Jessa (Jemima Kirke of Tiny Furniture) is snoozing on a pile of Louis Vuitton luggage. “Miss. We are here.” Jessa looks out at a Chinatown storefront. “Already? ”
Hannah/Marniehaus. Marnie’s boyfriend Charlie (Christopher Abbott of Martha Marcy Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch) is pouring coffee in the kitchen. Marnie asks why he didn’t wake her—she didn’t mean to sleep with Hannah—but he says they looked too angelic to disturb. “Victoria’s Secret Angel,” Hannah says, hiking a thumb at Marnie, “fat-lady angel.” Pro-forma protests from Marnie and Charlie; Hannah whatevers, “Please avert your eyes,” while absconding from the kitchen with a cupcake for breakfast. Atta girl. Marnie hands Charlie her bite guard in exchange for a cup of coffee. Charlie asks if they fell asleep “to Mary Tyler Moore again”; Marnie admits it, but seems like she’s lying. “Comin’ atcha; here it comes,” Charlie croons, leaning very slowly and gently in for a kiss on the cheek. Marnie barely moves, her smile slowly melting off.
Bathroom. Marnie shaves her legs on the edge of the tub; Hannah sits in the tub, eating her cupcake. Badinage about whether Marnie’s going to take her towel off, and she jokes that she only shows her boobs to people she’s having sex with. Hannah real-talks, “You literally slept in my bed to avoid him,” and Marnie cringes, then says she’s “turned a corner,” and Charlie’s touch now feels like “a weird uncle.” Marnie thinks she needs to end it; Hannah believes that that will make Charlie either “stand outside [their] window with a boom box,” or kill himself. Charlie then bursts in, is all awkward about seeing Hannah naked, and is way too nice about saying goodbye and offering to get wine for later. Marnie cringes again. Hannah asks what it’s like to be loved that much. Marnie can’t feel it anymore, and then she nails it with this line: “It makes me feel like such a bitch, because I feel him being so nice to me and yet it makes me so angry.” Yep. Exactly. Gives you hand massages; actually likes Tori Amos, possibly more than you do; you feel like screaming all the time. Flawless, “makes no sense”/”makes all the sense” encapsulation of the frustrations of dating that particular type of guy—who, as Hannah then notes, “has a vagina.”
Jessa hauls her crap up a flight of stairs to a red door, out of which bursts her pink-sweatsuited cousin, Shoshanna (Zosia Mamet, Mad Men‘s Joyce Ramsay), with a very intense “bonjour, roomie.” Jessa parries with a “ça va?” but Shoshanna kind of doesn’t even hear her, murmuring about Jessa’s chic hat, how she’s the only one of her girlfriends to have a British cousin, Jessa’s skin is so beautiful, etc. Jessa’s all, “So, about putting my bags down?”
Walking to work. Marnie orders Hannah to ask to get paid at her job; if Hannah can’t make her half of the rent, Charlie will have to move in. “You’re dumping Charlie,” Hannah reminds her. “I didn’t say that,” Marnie snorts. Hannah then relates that she texted Adam “about tonight” but he didn’t text back. Marnie tells her impatiently that Adam “never, ever” texts her back, so Hannah bargains that maybe she should call him: “Didn’t you say texting is like the lowest form of communication on the pillar of chat?” “The totem of chat,” Marnie corrects her, and Facebook is the lowest, “followed by Gchat, then texting, then email, then phone; face-to-face is of course ideal, but it’s not of this time.” Agreed on the merits, but the “it’s not of this time” takes me out of the episode a little bit; the “totem” is clearly a pet harangue of Dunham’s, and sticks out as such. Hannah asks how she’s supposed to get Adam face-to-face if he won’t text her back. Well, you accept that he’s a horse’s ass and don’t bother, but we’ll get back to that. Repeatedly, because that’s how that goes.
In a deli, exposition on Jessa; Hannah thinks Jessa will appreciate the welcome-home dinner, but Marnie is pre-annoyed by Jessa’s inevitable tardiness and out-hip-wardrobing of the rest of them, plus Hannah goes on benders when Jessa’s in town, and then Jessa leaves and Marnie has to deal with the fallout. Jessa also apparently sleeps with other people’s boyfriends. Not Marnie’s, Hannah points out. Only because he was in Prague that semester, Marnie points out in return.
Shoshanna’s. Shoshanna rambles about her rent, and then we get the specific callout to Sex & the City via the S&TC movie poster Shoshanna has on her wall. Jessa never saw the film and didn’t know it was a show; nor is she on Facebook. Shoshanna’s response to this is a dreamy “You’re so fucking classy.” Hee. Shoshanna proceeds to analyze Jessa and herself re: which S&TC character each of them represents. We also learn that, before France, Jessa was in Amsterdam, and before that in Bali, where she was “shucking pearls.” Oh. [eye-roll]
Hannah’s internship. She gathers up her eggs and walks the three feet over to her boss’s desk. Alistair is played by Chris Eigeman (of, among other things, the non-Will-Farrell Kicking and Screaming), and I get very psyched about this, then disappointed when Hannah’s announcement that she needs to start drawing a paycheck is more or less met with, “Well, you don’t know Photoshop, and I get 50 internship requests a day, so . . . good luck at your next job, Sassy,” which means he’s not a recurring character. And Alistair totally isn’t going to read her book, either, because it would go in the slush pile . . . and Hannah is the slush-pile reader. Well, “was.” As she’s leaving, the other intern who recently got a paid gig asks her to pick up a Luna Bar, a Smart Water, and a Vitamin Water. Love that—the joke’s a little too cheap until that detail about both kinds of water.
Hannah uses the bad news as an excuse to call Adam (Adam Driver), lying that she happens to be in his neighborhood. He answers the door shirtless. She’s angling for sympathy by relating that she got fired, but he’s doing that thing guys sometimes do, where they’re giving you solutions when you just want to bitch for a while and then be told you’re pretty. Adam’s an actor, apparently, but shrugs that he’s “doing this woodworking thing right now—it’s just more honest,” and as a Brooklyn resident who works with young musicians, I have heard many variations on that line uttered in seriousness, and it did have the desired effect of making me think he’s an asshole. But it’s a bit played and a bit “inside,” and the script does go to that well pretty often. It’s very effective here overall, though, in creating a quick but deep sketch of Adam as that particular breed of douchecanoe—thinks working with his hands makes him better than other people, seeming so evolved and sophisticated in his “simple needs” when he’s actually just arrogant and tactless.
Hannah invites herself to sit down and confesses that, prior to yesterday, she’d gotten all her money from her parents. Adam remarks that he wouldn’t take anything from his parents, “they’re buffoons,” but of course he’s fine with taking eight hundo a month from his grandmother (who is, presumably, not a buffoon, but rather “retro”). After some more unconsidered rhetoric about not having to be anyone’s slave, they start making out, and he pulls a move he obviously thinks is super-hot, biting Hannah’s lower lip and stretching it like four inches off her face; Hannah’s expression in response is equal parts “henh?” and “I guess I have to pretend I like this so that he’ll like me back.” And that is how guys can keep getting away with doing and saying goofy shit they saw in pornos: because girls who really like them will play along and not mention how Smurfy it is, and hope they get boyfriends for their trouble. And they never do. You, reading this: he’s not different. He’ll keep not caring about you until you get fed up (or he turns 30). Then he’ll marry a 21-year-old who doesn’t need a bra or call him on his shit. Save yourself months of energy and neg him now.
Adam flips Hannah onto her back on the couch. “I like you so much; I don’t know where you disappear to,” Hannah says, and it sounded great in her head, but naturally he doesn’t connect with the attempt at lyricism: “What are you talking about, I’m right here.” But Hannah has a wicked case of nervous/psyched pre-sex logorrhea, blathering about how it’s still light out and the special-skills section on her résumé. Adam grunts while yanking her boots off that he hasn’t applied for a job in a really long time (of course he hasn’t), then says he has something she can put down as a special skill (of course he does), but he’ll have to see if she “fulfills all the requirements,” which apparently is going to involve her letting him put it in her butt. He’s also trying to porn-talk her all, “I know what you modern career women really want,” and Hannah’s all, “O . . . kay?” He tells her to get on her stomach and grab her legs; he’s going to get some lube, and when he gets back, he wants everything off her bottom half. He will “consider” getting a condom also. . . . Yep, totally had a folie a duh with this exact type of asshat back in the day.
It just goes on like this, Hannah asking too many times if she’s doing it right, Hannah overanalyzing her overreaction to his almost putting it in her poop chute, Adam dickily saying “let’s play the quiet game,” yours truly both laughing in recognition and muttering at her to kick him in the slats and leave.
In the kitchen before the dinner party. Charlie shyly proposes just getting freaky right there in the kitchen; Marnie seems into it, in theory, and Charlie asks what would turn her on the most. She asks what would turn him on the most. Predictably, turning her on is what would turn him on. She’s starting to stumble through a “what if you acted like a stranger” scenario—i.e., stop being an Ani DiFranco fan and pop some fuckin’ buttons already—but the buzzer rings. He mentions that he invited his friend Ray, but even though Marnie wants Charlie to do things of his own volition and not check in with her constantly, she’s immediately pissed that he didn’t ask her first.
Adam’s, postcoital. Adam is asking about Hannah’s tattoos. He kind of shoves her to and fro to look at them like she’s a piece of furniture. They’re mostly illustrations from children’s books, which Adam isn’t impressed with; when he asks why she got them, she explains that it was “this riot-grrl idea” of taking control of her shape after she’d gained a lot of weight, and he isn’t impressed with that either. He gained a lot of weight in high school but he “didn’t go drawing all over [himself],” he snots, adding that she’s “not that fat anymore” so she should have them lasered off. Hannah finds this cute instead of tone-deaf at best, and I’m pretty sure it’s not a post-orgasm haze, because: that guy. When she realizes she’s late for the Jessa dinner, there’s an awkward leave-taking where she’s trying to prompt Adam with “this was really nice,” it was just what she needed, and so on. No bet. “So I’ll see you soon?” she says hopefully. “Yeah, just text me.” Yeah. That.
Dinner thing. Ray (Alex Karpovsky) is hilariously expounding on his “rules,” which include no women under 25 and no women who have “been penetrated by a drummer.” I also have A Rule About Drummers (to wit: “no”) and it’s amazing to hear that a man has the same rule, even if it’s 1) by transference and 2) a fictional man. He’s also raving about his girlfriend’s lashes, and they play-fight, and Marnie and Charlie, seated at opposite ends of the table from each other, look unhappy and uncomfortable. Marnie complains that Hannah didn’t show up; Charlie wonders if they should call someone, but Marnie’s like, no, I know exactly where she is: “She’s having gross sex with that animal.” Ray cracks that Charlie would like to at least hear about some sex. Marnie is busted, and not happy about it.
Jessa finally shows up. Cut to her spreading a peacock fan of pretention before the assembled: Francophilia, calling herself a “live-in educator,” on and on. Ray, my new favorite character, wonders if her account of her travels isn’t actually “the plot to The Sound of Music.” Hannah arrives, full of apologies; big hugs with Jessa; Jessa sniffs Hannah and announces to the room that “she smells like sex.” Cut to Hannah in group therapy with the room about her financial situation. Jessa promises to get her a job “worthy of her talents,” but Hannah will run out of money in a week. She sighs that she’ll have to work at McDonald’s, and Ray launches into another one of the script’s semi-unfortunate pet-subject dorm-dialectics monologues, this one about how McDonald’s isn’t that bad: they feed millions every day, they make a consistently taste and affordable product, and all Ray’s college education got him was 50K in student loans. Ray’s stir-‘n’-rant on McNuggets in Nigeria is below:
Well, that’s not all; he also garnered some practical knowledge re: brewing opium pods as a tea. He assures everyone it’s legal, but Charlie has to ask Marnie sotto voce if it’s okay for him to try it. Jessa blares that she hates opium, and every time she does coke she shits her pants, but Hannah is intrigued by the tea. “What does it taste like?” “Twigs,” she’s told. Marnie doesn’t think it’s a great idea, as Hannah is “super-sensitive to drugs,” but Hannah’s not hearing it. She also didn’t hear “twigs” correctly — she thought Ray said “Twix” and gets a nasty surprise when she sips it, but chugs the rest.
Bedroom. Marnie moms that Hannah can’t disappear like that, and advises her to ask her parents to support her for a little longer, until she finds a job. Enter Jessa to ask if Charlie has a girlfriend. “Yes,” Marnie snaps. Jessa doesn’t understand why Hannah can’t “just tell them you’re an artist.” “Just . . . tell them you’ll get a job, that’s much more convincing,” Marnie says. Jessa: But Flaubert! Marnie: Please don’t “help.” Jessa: Rappers who sold their tapes in the street! Hannah: I need to go. Marnie: You’re high. Hannah: Love you both, mean it, “when I look at both of you a Coldplay song plays in my heart,” but I’m outtie. She leaves. Hannah goes to her parents’ hotel. “Mom? Papa?” Dad: “Did she just call me ‘Papa’?” An out-of-breath Hannah has brought them her book to read (it’s like ten printed pages). She hands it over and asks if they’re “boiling” in there, and her mom’s like, great, we’ll . . . read it on the plane, and Hannah says they have to read it now, and starts doing that thing drunk people do where they focus very hard on one point so the room doesn’t start spinning.
Bathroom. Marnie comes in while Jessa’s peeing, and let me take a second to mention that I love the show’s approach to personal-space boundaries between the female characters — namely that they’re really porous, where they exist at all. I went to all-girls’ school until college, and to see that sense of being almost littermates with your female friends, kind of living in a puppy pile with them, stepping on each other’s faces, sleeping in each other’s armpits, and having almost no locked-door activities or smells or whatever, is really interesting. The puppy pile isn’t a universal, and I do have close friends who flee the room when I’m changing because OMG BOOBS PRIVATE, but I also had a high-school friend who wrote up most of her junior-year bio labs using my ass as a desk because it was “so nice and flat.”
So anyway, the show. Marnie is not having it with Jessa’s speech to Hannah. Jessa thought Hannah “seemed ready,” and Marnie points out again that Hannah had just gotten high. Jessa: “I’d like you to see a real high person.” She tells Marnie she shouldn’t mother Hannah; Marnie edits that to say she’s “literally preventing a disaster from happening,” while maternally and unconsciously handing Jessa toilet paper. “Have you even read her novel?” Jessa asks, wiping, and Marnie’s thrilled to correct her that it’s a memoir, and of course she’s read it, Hannah is her best friend. Jessa is all over that in a mocking tone; Marnie shoots back that Jessa doesn’t stay in one place long enough to commit to best friendship, then cuts off Jessa’s condescending response to bitch at her for showing up to her own dinner party two hours late, and then there’s the predictable “who eats at seven o’clock”/”this isn’t Barcelona, sorry” back-and-forth. Marnie is pissed that Jessa acts like she’s uptight, because that makes her uptight, and oh my God how many times have I had a version of that discussion with chronically late friends. I mean, I am legit uptight, but still. Don’t aggravate the sitch by not owning a watch, God. Jessa Godwin’s-Laws the criticism by announcing that she’s pregnant. “On purpose?” Marnie asks. “What do you think?” Jessa mutters. So, I guess not. Charlie comes in and tells them they’re both “so beautiful.” Marnie shoos him out. Jessa: “That’s a high person.” Rimshot!
Hotel. Hannah’s parents, put on the spot, enthuse that it’s “very funny stuff.” Hannah makes her pitch: “to finish this book,” eleven hundred a month for the next two years. Her mother deems that insane, and Hannah interprets “insane” as referring to trying to live in NYC on $1100 a month. “Why don’t you get a job, and start a blog—you are so spoiled!” Mom shouts. Hee! Starting a blog fixes everything, totes. “Yeah, well whose fault is that, Mom?” “Your father’s!” “Papa” is freaking out with the fighting, but Hannah swoons to the floor before they can basically cut her off a second time. She explains the opium-pod tea, and Dad is yelling about ordering coffee, and Mom is yelling that he’s getting played, Dad hates watching Hannah struggle, Mom works hard and wants to sit “by a fucking lake.” Hannah: Flaubert, garret, “don’t look at me.” The next morning. Hannah wakes up alone in their bed. She calls out for them, then immediately grabs the phone to get room service, which makes me side with her parents—and they’re one step ahead of her, checking out and closing their account so she can’t charge anything. She gathers her things, and finds two envelopes on the desk: one addressed to her, which contains $20, and the other addressed to Housekeeping, ditto. (Also left on the desk, which I found very sad: the pages of Hannah’s memoir.) She snags both twenties and leaves. Down on the sidewalk, a panhandler tells her to smile—a city peeve that’s a little on-the-nose here—and we pan up over Hannah disappearing into the midtown hugger-mugger as an even more on-the-nose music cue sings, “Everyone’s got a mother and a father / everyone’s sure they’ll go far.”
Sarah D. Bunting co-founded Television Without Pity.com, and has written for Seventeen, New York Magazine, MSNBC.com, Salon, Yahoo!, and others. She’s the chief cook and bottle-washer at TomatoNation.com.