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TV Review | HBO’s ‘Girls’ grows up — kind of

Published: Monday, February 3, 2014

Updated: Monday, February 3, 2014 08:02

“Girls” is back. As her comedy continues to follow the turbulent lives of four 20-something women in New York, Lena Dunham — the show’s tour de force creator, writer and star — delivers a third season with as much raw and unrefined comedic flair — and heart — as ever.

Dunham plays Hannah Horvath — a college graduate with a liberal arts degree and a desire to write — who is striving to live without support from her parents. To pay the bills and pass the time, she works at a coffee shop in Brooklyn. Her former roommate and best friend, Marnie (Allison Williams), is recuperating from a painful breakup, longing to find purpose in her life. Shoshanna (Zosia Mamet), an NYU student with a scarf collection and obsession with “Sex and the City” (1998-2004), is the group’s innocent anchor. Shoshanna’s cousin, Jessa (Jemima Kirke), a free-spirited, drug-addicted British Bohemian, continuously finds herself shifting from place to place; we’ve seen her weather a failed marriage, a few odd jobs and — in season three — rehab.

The first two seasons enjoyed, and suffered from, a range of critical opinions. The show’s lack of diversity coupled with its self-entitled, privileged tone earned some negative reviews, while its unapologetic content and unlikely protagonist had others raving.

In season three, however, “Girls” appears ready to tackle some, if not most of its woes. The characters may not be all that likable, but they are wonderfully messed up — which makes them real. The show catapults them into new situations, and new struggles.

The first episode of the new season opens with Hannah and her boyfriend, Adam (Adam Driver), asleep in bed. Any loyal watcher can see this as the first hint that “Girls” is taking big steps towards growing up. The unpredictable, slightly abusive and discomforting foundation of their relationship has matured into a healthy partnership.

As the episodes roll on, the four friends develop as characters as they confront their problems. As Hannah turns 25, she dons her “Birthday Bitch” hat and watches as unexpected events overrun her birthday party. David (John Cameron Mitchell), Hannah’s flamboyant eBook editor, shows up uninvited and starts a bar fight. In typical “Girls” fashion, chaos ensues, including a dancer who bites and a failed karaoke duet.

Hannah — who behaves obsequiously towards David in hopes of being published — discovers in the next episode that he is dead, found face down in the bank of the Hudson River. Her first reaction is to question to the future of her eBook. What follows is one of the most triumphant episodes of the season to date. As Hannah confides in her friends about David’s death, we see an array of answers. Some criticize Hannah for her selfish reaction, while others sympathize with her loss. Regarding death, Jessa responds, “It’s something that happens. It’s like jury duty or, you know, floods. They happen.” Ray (Alex Karpovsky), Hannah’s coffee shop employer, has a more critical approach to Hannah’s reaction to death: “Why don’t you place just one crumb of basic human compassion on this fat-free muffin of sociopathic detachment?”

As Hannah cartwheels through graveyards and tells stories of fake deaths, she grapples with loss in her own way. Whether or not it’s the best method is an ever-present question in her life as she moves further into adulthood.

Her friends do the same. In episode five, Jessa announces she is going to apply for a job at a children’s clothing store — a declaration that Shoshanna, citing her cousin’s criminal record, loudly protests. Elsewhere, Marnie adopts a kitten and Hannah meets with a new editor hoping to resuscitate her ebook.

So, for now, the unapologetic “Girls” is growing up. The show is self-aware — and for that we can be grateful. Now we’re allowed to laugh at the blatantly entitled, selfish characters as they witness life and its unpredictable moments.

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