You know what I’m obsessed with? That new HBO show GIRLS. If you are reading this, that means we are very likely friends in real life, and if we are friends in real life then that very likely means you are just as obsessed with GIRLS as I am. Must one always capitalize GIRLS when referring to the show’s title, I wonder? I kind of like it in all-caps. GIRLS. POW! GIRLS. BAM! My vagina is wearing Everlast shorts and a mouthguard! GIRLS!
So, because when I get obsessed with something I like to talk it to death, which is why all my relationships work out, I have set my secretarial minions here at TCB HQ to work recapping episodes of GIRLS. In case you are curious, my secretarial minions are Cynthia and Tess from Working Girl, and yes, that makes me Katherine Parker. We will begin with last night’s episode, the sixth of the first season. These recaps will mostly be a journal of my emotional reactions to the show, so it’s probably best if you stop reading now.
The episode opens with Hannah taking the garbage out. Marnie calls down to her from the window in that way that only ever happens in television shows and Shakespeare plays. You just don’t get a second-story street-front window as a twenty-two year old living in New York. You get the air shaft. Or if you have a street-front window it’s on the sixth floor of a six floor walk-up and in order to make yourself heard to anyone on the street over the din of trash trucks and traffic helicopters and passing motorcycle brigades and the general hum produced by eight million people you’d have to be using an industrial bullhorn. Although it seems Marnie and Hannah live in some tree-lined, far-from-the-subway part of Brooklyn which makes the reality of their real estate more plausible. Marnie reminds Hannah that rent is due in a week. This is the second or third time in the series that Marnie has uttered such a reminder. You’d think that people wouldn’t need reminding about rent being due because, you know, rent is often paid on a monthly basis and months often have four weeks and you learn about the how the calendar works in first grade. Yet in every roommate situation there is always one person who reminds the other about rent being due. I have never been that person. I have always been the Hannah. Which is reason number one I am obsessed with this show.
Something I love about GIRLS is that the show often takes the viewer’s assumptions about something– a character, a line of dialogue, a prop– and flips those assumptions on their heads. The bag of trash you thought Hannah was carrying out of the house, is revealed, in the next scene, to be her suitcase; she’s carrying it when she arrives at the airport in her hometown. (It also shows that, judgmental and elitist as Hannah can be, she is also no better organized than Snooki, who famously arrived at the Jersey Shore set with all her belongings packed in trash bags.) GIRLS used this same trick a few episodes back when Hannah interviewed for a position at a trade magazine. She is seemingly sort of sparking with the guy interviewing her, and you begin thinking, “Oh, this is a meet cute, this is going to be her new love interest, and this nice guy, and after much vacillating and bad judgement on her part, is ultimately going to rescue her from her toxic fuck buddy and teach her the meaning of true love in the mode of romantic comedies” and then BOOM! GIRLS! She makes a date-rape joke and the whole thing is just utterly fucked forever. Because that’s the way it works in real life. In real life you spark with the guy making your latte and then when you go to pay you accidentally pull a pantyliner out of your pocket and then you never fucking go to that coffee shop again. (No! No, this has never happened to me, personally.) And when you do meet someone you want to start dating, you don’t meet them because you were crossing the street and stumbled in front of a car and he was coincidentally also walking by and ran out and saved you. You probably met online or were set up by someone middle-aged and your first date was kind of awkward and filled with all sorts of doubts and when you drove home you sang to Katy Perry or Kelly Clarkson to reassure yourself, like you used to sing loudly while going up the stairs to your bedroom after dinner to scare away the monster in your closet. Romantic comedies are toxic in their own way, toxic for poisoning our expectations with their rose-colored love trajectories in which the “bad guy” is always really easy to hate and the “good guy” is always unconditionally obsessed with you and yet somehow his niceness and availability is not a turnoff, probably because he is an insanely attractive movie star. Randy Jackson says Nah dog. In real life Rachel McAdams would’ve totally gotten married to Bradley Cooper in Wedding Crashers because, not in spite of, the fact that he was an asshole. And anyway, they had already put a deposit down for the reception at the country club.
In real life it just ain’t that simple. It CAN however be that joyful– movie joyful– if you let it.
Anyway, Hannah is visiting her parents for the weekend. In the car on the way home from the airport she seems like an asshole, because Hannah always seems like an asshole whenever she is in a scene with parents. I didn’t really like the show after watching the first episode, which heavily featured her parents, because Hannah acts so rude and spoiled and callous towards them. But, that is the second reason I am obsessed with GIRLS: it doesn’t put a typical television gloss on much of anything. This is how middle class American white kids act around their adoring parents: so fucking ungrateful. I can name at least five times when, as a full-grown adult, I have legitimately thrown a temper tantrum while visiting my parents. In fact, on a recent visit, my mom and dad recently told me that my worst faults were my moodiness and my sensitivity to criticism. I thought about explaining that it was only around them that I let myself behave so, but then thought the better of it, and instead just acted all pissy and offended, so as not to disappoint them.
Hannah and her parents watch a movie but Hannah is texting and not paying attention to the film. Her parents complain. If I am within a five hundred foot radius of my parents house and send a text, you can be sure my dad will comment on the fact that I “have my nose in my phone”. Hannah responds bitchily. Hannah’s dad says “you’ve got a mood on.” My dad has literally said those exact words to me. Hannah storms moodily off to her room, flops on her bed and stares existentially up at the ceiling and mopes and aimlessly plays with her phone. Sometimes I wonder how much more I could’ve accomplished in my life if I had done something productive with all the time I’ve spent doing the above sequence of activities. She calls her toxic fuck buddy Adam and then hangs up without even waiting for him to answer. The whole episode is chockablock with Sixteen Candles references: the sloping attic ceiling and the garrett windows of her bedroom, how she blows frustrated puffs of air up into her fluffy bangs. Later she even tries on lots of outfits in front of a floor length mirror and gives herself a pep talk.
Hannah goes downstairs and stands in front of the fridge and pigs out on leftovers. Hannah does a lot of eating in this show, in an almost performance art, Brad-Pitt-in-Ocean’s-11 kind of a way. I’m not sure if they are trying to show that Hannah “eats her feelings”, or if they are trying to counter yet another television cliche, one specifically from Sex and the City: that New York women only eat tiny salads in groups of four at the hottest new restaurants this side of Stefon. Lemme tell ya where and how and when New York women often eat: alone, from a cardboard box, in front of a screen, on the couch, with a view to the airshaft. It’s all very Brave New World up in this bitch. I mean, people eat like this everywhere in America but especially in New York where sometimes all you want to do is hide, and where it blows to even microwave oatmeal in your teeny tiny dishwasher-free, roach-heavy tenement kitchen.
Also, the music on this show is really awesome. What is the song that was playing when Hannah was rather hypnotically gorging herself on spaghetti noodles? I could have Shazaamed it but sometimes I like to be old-fashioned and ask other human beings, instead of my phone, for useful information.
The next day Hannah’s mom wakes her up and screams at her to go get her menopause medication. Why can’t Hannah’s mom go get the medication herself? Surely she can drive? In this scene, Hannah’s mom seems as childish and whiny and un-self-aware as Hannah sometimes does. I didn’t get it, except as maybe some kind of genetic explanation of Hannah’s flaws, but that didn’t seem to be the point. Hannah goes out on the town and visits an old friend, Heather, at her job in the local coffee shop. Heather tells her that their mutual friend Carrie recently disappeared on a Mexican vacation a la Natalee Holloway. So basically, the first character to die on GIRLS is someone named Carrie, i.e., the main character from Sex and the City. I didn’t think of this myself; a piece on Slate pointed it out. A lot of people seem to think that GIRLS is a sort of response to Sex and the City, and maybe it is, and maybe it isn’t, but whatever the creators intended, I myself hugely enjoy comparing the two. By doing so one can come to a full understanding of the expression “it’s the singer, not the song.” The two shows have essentially the same framework but completely different approaches to it: what Sex and the City glamorizes, GIRLS grubs up; what SATC makes aspirational, GIRLS avoids, what SATC revolutionized, GIRLS takes for granted. I don’t know if Lena Dunham is driving around in a car that has a KILL YOUR CARRIES bumper sticker on it but the show does seem to continually be making subtle nods to SATC that are at once eye-rolling and appreciative, the way you subtly nodded to your mom in the bleachers at your high school soccer game because your crush was also sitting in the bleachers and you didn’t want him to think you were nodding at him and you definitely didn’t want him to notice your mom’s insanely hideous grey pleated trenchcoat and Monet umbrella ensemble.
Heather, who seems to have once been one of Hannah’s very best friends, is that type of hot blonde girl that is always mewling at whatever guy has come to prostrate himself before her vaginal altar. There are two kinds of beautiful women in this world: those who use their beauty and those who pretend to ignore it. Some attractive women make it their mission in life to man-eat– see Heather, in her cooey voice and her push-up bras– they laugh at your jokes, they give you a nickname, they put their hand on your leg under the bar. While other attractive women go don’t go out of their way to seduce anyone, but their cool indifference to the world has the same, perhaps even more powerful effect, and they spend their lives shooting side-eye at the hoards of mouth-breathing men hypnotized by their Pied Piper-style wake of pheromones. See Jennifer Lover Hewitt’s (although I hate to use her as an example for anything) character in Can’t Hardly Wait.
Hannah is apparently one of those plain girls that always has a hot girl as a best friend. I have been one of those plain girls for most of my life. I like the way I look very much– don’t worry, I’m super-duper vain!– but my best friends have always been tremendous hotties with amazing breasts and a propensity for walking around topless (yes, gentlemen, that really happens) or professional-grade makeup application skills or a jeans size I haven’t fit into since the third grade. I love that Hannah is never shown moping about the way she looks. I’m not saying she SHOULD mope about the way she looks, but she doesn’t have a “television body”. She certainly does not have as “good” a body as any of her three costars, and that’s just a fact of societal brainwashing. I read an interview with Lena Dunham where she said something like, “I wanted to create a character who has a whole lot of problems, none of which have to do with her imperfect body.” As someone who has wasted just as much of her life obsessing over her body and its imperfections as she has lying on her bed and idly playing with her phone, I WANT TO SHOUT THIS SHIT FROM THE MOUNTAINTOPS. LIFE IS TOO FUCKING SHORT TO HATE YOURSELF. As Cheryl Strayed said in her awesome, amazing advice column:
“Stop worrying about whether you’re fat. You’re not fat. Or rather, you’re sometimes a little bit fat, but who gives a shit? There is nothing more boring and fruitless than a woman lamenting the fact that her stomach is round. Feed yourself. Literally. The sort of people worthy of your love will love you more for this, sweet pea.”
This is the third reason I am obsessed with this show: I hope that Hannah’s attitude toward herself, her naked confidence, and moreover the fact that she gets butt-ass naked so often on screen, starts a body revolution in America. I hope tiny-breasted, full-bellied, heavy-hipped women start making a comeback TODAY. And usually when you throw something up on a screen people start unconsciously and ruthlessly emulating it, so my hopes are high.
Heather tells Hannah that she is moving to L.A. to pursue dancing. Heather sounds fairly idiotically naive about the whole thing, and Hannah listens to her friend with kindly repressed skepticism. Hannah goes to the pharmacy to get her mother’s prescription, and while she is there the pharmacist asks her out. The pharmacist is petite-ish and has long shaggy blonde hair and is soft spoken and is basically, as my friend Derek put it, “the opposite of everything I like in a man.” In order to ask Hannah out on a date, the pharmacist follows Hannah out to her car under the guise of suggesting that Hannah’s mother might find vaginal lubricants helpful, because menopausal medications tend to dry out women “down there.” This joke smacked of Judd Apatow, seemed almost like a joke for Jason Segel cut from Knocked Up, but treasured by Apatow and thus now awkwardly inserted, sans lube, into the much more subtly sexual humor of GIRLS.
Hannah tells her parents she is not going to dinner with them for their anniversary– the whole reason she is visiting for the weekend– and is going on this date instead. Asshole! Hannah Horvath is an ASS-hole! Yes, that is the second Can’t Hardly Wait reference in this post. Hannah’s explanation is as follows:
“I have been dating someone who treats my heart like it’s monkey meat. I feel like a delusional invisible person half the time. So I need to learn what it’s like to be treated well before it’s too late for me.”
Listen hon. It’s great that you recognize that the guy you are “dating” (and referring to your toxic fuck-buddy as someone you are “dating” is itself a form of delusion for which you have no one but yourself to blame) is a selfish cruel person who makes you feel like crying even when you’re on the toilet, but you know what ain’t gon’ fix it? Relying on some other guy to teach you what “nice” is. Fuck that. You know what nice is. You go over the moon when your toxic fuck buddy throws you a scrap of nice. Suggesting you need to be “taught” what nice is is like suggesting that a stray dog needs to be taught about the delicacies of leftover hamburger meat. You know exactly what nice is. You just haven’t found anyone who will give it to you on a regular basis. And this mealy mouthed pale-skinned waif who never left home and who doesn’t want you to put your finger in his butthole is only going to make you long, make you absolutely keen, for your asshole lover in New York. Pain is addictive in its own way and trying to substitute kindness for it is like trying to chew wet lettuce as a nicotine replacement. The only cure is going cold turkey on that ass. Trust me. Momma knows.
Hannah and the pharmacist go to a benefit for the missing Carrie. At the benefit the song “I’ll Be Your Crying Shoulder” by the Goo Goo Dolls is playing. I think this epsiode nailed Middle America. The Goo Goo dolls, the girl gone missing at a Caribbean resort (which is totally tasteless but perfect nonetheless), the old Volvo with the ridged rubber headrests, the snail mail Netflix references.
At the benefit, Heather the Blonde sings an original song in tribute to Missing Carrie. The song, and Heather’s choreography, is in the style of the Pussycat Dolls. There’s lots of flatironed hair and ass gyrating and sexy pouting and abdominal glitter and absolutely horrific lyrics, including the word derriere split into two different lines of song (you can practically hear the hyphen) and the phrase “sweeter than a Swisher” which made me giggle for like five minutes. You can see Hannah judging and wincing at the terribleness of it all (this is something that happens when you live in New York City even for a little while; you become unable to enjoy the simple pleasures of aforementioned Middle America, like bowling, and fast food, and velvet pants, without cringing in charitable embarrassment or reaching for some sort of I-know-I’m-going-slumming ironic pose) as she watches, and then sort of realizing that perhaps she, too, is delusional about her own talents. She, too, has moved to one of the big coastal cities to achieve her slightly nebulous dream of being a published author, and who is to say she’s not the literary equivalent of a poor man’s Nicole Scherzinger? Who’s to say her dreams aren’t equally equally as evidently futile to everyone else? She and the pharmacist leave the party and as they sit in his car, she says she’s worried about the fact that Heather is talentless and “nobody’s telling her”, and she’s going to move to L.A. and “live in some shitty apartment and feel like scared and sad and lonely and weird all the time.” Yeah, that basically sums up my whole experience of living in New York City in my early twenties. Her parents nicely state this same fear in the next scene, at their anniversary dinner sans Hannah, where her father says, “One day she’s going to realize, what if she’s not gonna get to be what she wants to be when she grows up?.. We don’t even know if her writing is any good… What if she wakes up and she’s thirty? What does she know how to do?” Yeah, that basically sums up my whole experience of legitimately trying to be a writer for the second half of my twenties. I don’t even know if my writing is any good, but you know what I do know? I may be a chain-smoking waitress with nary a book publishing contract in sight, but if I wake up and I’m thirty, I’ll count myself fucking lucky. What’s the point of being sad about birthdays? The only people who don’t have to deal with birthdays are dead people.
They’re so, so much fun, but a lot of fucked up things happen in your twenties. As my friend Gin and I used to say: being in your twenties is just like being a teenager all over again, except nobody’s buying you toilet paper or cooking you dinner, and everybody’s on harder drugs.
Hannah and the pharmacist go back to his place and bone. Again, I love Hannah’s confidence. I love that she has a mini-meltdown about being delusional, but then still has the balls to say, when the pharmacist asks what she does in New York, “I’m a writer!,” and then when he asks if she wants to go back to his place, she says yes with nary a flicker of hesitation or coyness. I never tell people I’m a writer unless pressed. When people ask what I do I always say I wait tables. Cause you know momma don’t get paid by TCB, although perhaps if momma took some HTML classes and learned how to monetize her blog she could hire some real, non-imaginary secretaries.
Hannah and the pharmacist have kind of gross sex. Hannah is too aggressive and freaky for the milquetoast pill dispenser. She tries, as I mentioned before, to put her finger in his ass. She asks if she should keep her boots on. She pulls his hair. He hates all of this and does some kind of bland missionary with bland accessory neck sucking. Barf. Don’t fuck me like that unless I’m asleep. (Too soon?) Finally, Hannah tries one last time to liven things up by saying, “I’m tight like a baby, right?” Oh, Hannah. That is the worst fucking thing I’ve ever heard. Maybe Adam IS ruining her. Or maybe she has always this “adventurous” in bed. Or maybe she’s just doing what she thinks she “should” be doing in bed as the cool ironic New Yorker who left town in order not to have to fuck guys like the pharmacist.
Meanwhile Hannah’s parents are having sex in the shower. How often do you see an oldish married couple having graphic doggy style shower sex on television? Approximately never. My mouth was hanging open in shock during this scene and if you know me you know that is saying something. Also, I would like to have the tits of the actress playing Hannah’s mom. Confession: I kind of like that word, tits. Can we say tits now? Can we make tits a thing?
Then Hannah’s dad falls out of the shower and throws out his back and we also see his penis. Male full frontal on film of any sort is also always pretty shocking. These are two brave actors. Hannah comes home from her date and of course has to help her mom help her butt-ass naked dad get up from the bathroom floor. It’s pretty funny. And you really realize how fugly Hannah’s date outfit it is when she is standing next to her naked parents in the bathroom.
Hannah is sweet and kind to her injured father and her freaking-out mother and you see that she is not, in fact, an asshole to them all the time. She and her mother chat in the hallway and her mother offers her financial assistance and Hannah turns it down. Yay! Hannah is growing! Really, though, this did make me cheer. Even if Hannah is an asshole, she’s an asshole you root for. (Unlike the actual asshole of the pharmacist, which clearly needs to have a finger stuck straight up it ASAP.)
Hannah ends the conversation with her mom to go to bed because, she says, her flight is so early. But then when she gets in bed, Adam, her toxic fuck buddy, calls, and of COURSE, she wakes up to talk to him. Their phone conversation completely nails the ways in which besotted girls will go to great lengths to look “like they don’t care” and “cool” and “unattached” to the bad boys with whom they are smitten. Hannah pretends not to know it’s Adam when she answers the phone. (HELLO. WELCOME TO 2012. WE ALL KNOW HOW CELL PHONES WORK AT THIS POINT.) (And yes, I have tried to pull off the “oh hey! it’s you!” many times.) Adam thinks she is in Ohio, when she’s really in Michigan, and his ignorance of his life clearly bugs her, but then she blesses the ignorance by saying “it’s okay, I don’t even care when people get my name wrong”. Come on now. You know that ain’t true; you want to be a writer! She tells Adam about how she had just had sex with the pharmacist, for whatever reason (she doesn’t think before she speaks? she wants to make him jealous? she genuinely wants him to be a platonic friend that can give her man advice?), but this action serves to give the same stamp of approval to the very behavior she despises in Adam. Hannah asks if it’s weird that she’s told him about the pharmacist. Adam says, “Why would that be weird?” You don’t want to be with someone who responds to that question in that way. Trust me. Momma knows. And when Hannah asks Adam to get up and describe what he sees out his window, he grunts and complains. You also don’t want to be with this someone, because if he’s complaining now, before you’re even sick of each other, how the fuck’s he going to be treating you in two years?
But (again) of COURSE, Adam also throws her some of those picked-over bones of affection I was talking about earlier. He calls her “kid” (just like Big called Carrie in Sex and the City!) and tells her he misses her. Hannah’s suppressed joyful reaction to this information is perfect. Just perfect. Her happiness made me so ineffably sad, because you know it could be such a bigger happiness. Because you know you yourself have so many times chased after a small gratification at the cost of that bigger happiness.
And that is the fourth reason I am obsessed with this show: it’s all ha-ha-funny or annoyingly privileged until it sneaks up and actually touches a twanging nerve inside my white-girl heart.