It’s easy to characterize the range of opinion regarding “Girls” in generational terms, but like a good deal of the coverage devoted to the show, that’s simplistic. There are peers who find Lena Dunham’s ode to twentysomething angst irritating, and elders who think it’s profound. What it clearly isn’t doing, based on season three’s opening salvo, is progressing much – yielding interesting moments, but also a sense of monotony. Indeed, even for admirers of this HBO series – which pays dividends to the network in media buzz well beyond its ratings – it’s difficult to think of a program less suited to binge viewing.
Although Dunham’s Hannah, our de facto tour guide through the lives of a quartet of female pals and their extended relationships, has reunited with her eccentric, misanthropic boyfriend Adam (Adam Driver), season two’s happy ending hasn’t resolved their issues. So Adam still chafes at being exposed to Hannah’s friends, and while her obsessive-compulsive disorder is in check (thank the stars), her self-absorption continues to run amok, especially with the up-and-down prospects of finally publishing her writing in e-book form.
Not surprisingly, things aren’t much more settled with the rest of the gang either, with Jessa (Jemima Kirke) doing her best to alienate everyone at rehab, Shoshanna (Zosia Mamet) experimenting with becoming a bit more free-spirited, and Marnie (Allison Williams) still an emotional wreck over a failed relationship.
Good actors pop in and out of their lives (including Richard E. Grant as another rehab patient, and Bob Balaban as a shrink), but Dunham’s narrow field of vision doesn’t accommodate much beyond her core. That’s fine, in most respects, except that as played, it tends to sap the reality from situations, from Hannah’s shock that others toiling at a magazine where she’s taken a job might actually harbor their own broader ambitions, to a funeral that Hannah, naturally and uncomfortably, manages to make all about her.
Dunham’s unflinching portrayal of everything from post-college paralysis to awkward sex and unglamorous nudity still possesses a rawness that can feel bracing – or at least seem a welcome alternative to the perfume commercial view of such things – but because of the show’s eccentric impulses, viewers have to do a lot of heavy lifting to make it relatable. Similarly, it would be easier to care about the characters, and details like whether Hannah can endure the ticking time-bomb that is Adam, if she was merely occasionally tone-deaf and clueless, instead of consistently so.
After its premiere with back-to-back episodes, “Girls” will be sandwiched between two new series, the intoxicating drama “True Detective” and intriguing half-hour “Looking.” As a result, this over-appreciated series instantly becomes HBO’s least compelling program of the night.
That’s not to say these episodes won’t scratch an itch for those who have become invested in “Girls,” but like a lot of shiny objects in the current media ecosystem, one suspects the show – having successfully launched Dunham far beyond her indie-film roots – might have crested.
“You can’t make things that mean nothing mean something,” the brutally honest Jessa says at one point during rehab.
Despite all the deeper meaning that’s been read into it, at times that feels like “Girls” all over.