In its third season, premiering this Sunday, January 12th at 10pm with two back-to-back episodes, “Girls” ventures boldly into material it has never attempted before: happiness. After dabbling in drugs for the sake of journalism, spending a weekend having sex with a stranger and relapsing into Obsessive Compulsive Disorder due to writer’s block last year, Hannah Horvath (Lena Dunham) begins season three, stunningly, in a place of relative stability and contentment. She’s living with Adam (Adam Driver), who came to her rescue at the end of season two, she’s taking her meds and making real progress on the memoir ebook she’s still working on with editor David Pressler-Goings (John Cameron Mitchell). The awful haircut she gave herself has even grown out into a fetching boy cut — everything’s coming up Hannah.
Well, Hannah is still poor, still prone to blurting out terrible things and still a slob (“Did you leave in a rush?” someone asks on first meeting her), but the new and undeniably better place she’s in represents a significant shift in a series that’s so often been fueled by her failures and humiliations. And it recenters a show that in the latter half of its uneven last season felt more like a collection of very special episodes — the Patrick Wilson installment, the Staten Island installment, the Jessa’s (Jemima Kirke) dad installment and the sudden appearance of the aforementioned OCD — than any coherent whole.
More so than in earlier years, season three feels oriented around Hannah and her weirdly functional relationship with Adam, as they attempt to navigate various pitfalls of cohabitation, the trickiest of which is the arrival of Gaby Hoffmann (who’s been on an awesome tear lately) as Adam’s disastrous sister Caroline. This means more of Driver, which is excellent news, as the actor continues to flesh out Adam’s charming strangeness, his tendencies to be caught up in strong feelings he can’t articulate and the transparent effort he puts into meeting his sometimes difficult girlfriend halfway.
Commitment looks good on “Girls,” at least via Hannah’s storyline. The show began as one about terrifying untetheredness of one’s early 20s and about the giddy, erratic search for identity, a place in the world and a means of making money that the period can demand. But with the exception of Zosia Mamet’s Shoshanna, these characters have been out of school for a while now (“It’s really amazing how little you have accomplished in the four years since college,” she observes of her slightly older friends), and while that doesn’t mean they have to get their shit together (a lifelong process for some of us), it’s fitting that their problems have become more specific to them and less representatives of a certain age.
Hannah’s doing well, though she’s still prone to socially faceplanting — a scene at a funeral is one of the show’s more excruciating — but her friends are having a harder time. Marnie (Allison Williams) is adrift after a sudden offscreen breakup with Charlie (Christopher Abbott left the show due to creative differences early in the filming of this season), Shoshanna is taking advantage of her newly single status by partying hard every other night and Jessa — well, I’ll leave where she turns up a surprise.
But at this point in its life, “Girls” feels like it’s shaken free of the burdens of being about what life is really like for a certain subsection of young women in New York and is just about a group of characters struggling toward adulthood, a journey that isn’t always easy to complete, as storylines featuring Adam and Ray (Alex Karpovsky) attest. Like Hannah herself, it no longer feels like it’s trying quite so hard to experience edgy things just for the sake of material, so that both its shocks and its missteps come across as earned.