There's no doubt that Lena Dunham's HBO series Girls is one of the best shows on television. The performances are spot-on, the writing is witty and biting, and the overall direction is confident and assured. Season 3, in particular, highlights the show's ability to portray characters that are simultaneously endearing and despicable. Still, critical viewers are left wondering why a show about financially struggling twenty-somethings in New York City airs on HBO, one of the most expensive pay television services in the United States.
For the creators of the series, a partnership with HBO guarantees a level of respectability. HBO is known for its sophisticated programming, and any showrunner would dream to be associated with the established brand. Moreover, Dunham maintains creative and artistic freedom with HBO, as she can fill her show with nudity and profanity without fear of censorship. On the surface, HBO is a dream employer.
However, if we probe deeper, we start to realize that the audience who would benefit most from Girls most likely cannot afford to watch it. Although there are exceptions, young adults are more inclined to subscribe to Netflix than cable, and those who do have cable are not likely to have HBO. The exceptions, of course, are wealthier individuals who can spring for the monthly payments. Speaking from personal experience, I see more Facebook status updates from recent graduates about House of Cards than Girls, and these graduates live in the same neighborhoods as Hannah Horvath and company. Further, those who do watch the series typically use their parents' HBO GO passwords. In any event, there's clearly a disconnect here.
When critics debate the type of audience Girls is aimed at, and when Dunham herself stresses that she's developed the series to "illuminate what it feels like to be a young woman in America right now," one has to wonder if she's reaching her audience through HBO. Girls, like the recent film Frances Ha, portrays a specific kind of youth culture: the young city-dweller who is highly educated, incredibly narcissistic, and desperately unemployed. Unlike Frances Ha, which is available on Netflix streaming, Girls can only be viewed on HBO or DVD for a much higher price. Dunham acknowledges on Charlie Rose that her show isn't trying to speak to every woman, but how can it even speak to the struggling twenty-something when most struggling twenty-somethings in America don't subscribe to HBO?
Girls indeed has a loyal following of fans and critics, but as its ratings indicate, more people in popular culture talk about the show than actually watch it. Some may attribute this to Dunham's polarizing feminism, and others may suggest that the show's content and execution aren't mainstream enough. But neither is House of Cards, Orange Is the New Black, or Breaking Bad.
The problem, ultimately, stems from the fact that the type of audience who would enjoy watching Girls the most can't afford to do so, and unlike Hannah Horvath, they're willing to sacrifice important artistic and cultural products for food and rent.
Before we get started with the recap of the latest episode of Girls, let's begin with what you all really came here for: trying to find the name of that incredibly catchy tune Hannah and Elijah were dancing to at the club was. It's Icona Pop's "I Love It" and you're about to listen to it on an endless loop over the next few days. Have fun, kids.
Alright now that that's taken care of, let's get to the episode, titled "Bad Friend", which took both Hannah and Marnie (sadly, both Shoshanna and Jessa only made one brief appearance at a sidewalk sale) to unexpected, uncomfortable places they'd never really been before. When Hannah gets a freelance assignment from a kooky online editor (played by Angela Featherson) to take "a bunch of cocaine" and write about it, she doesn't think twice about it, despite the fact that she'd have to find the cocaine herself and would make just $200 for the whole ordeal. But, hey, she's living the dream, right?
Hannah recruits Elijah to be her partner in cocaine after scoring some for their former junkie downstairs neighbor Laird (Jon Glaser), who in true New York fashion, she has never met or talked to before. Ignoring the rules of "human decency" Hannah and Elijah begin their cocaine adventure at 4 in the afternoon and quickly descend into drug-addled hysteria of coming up with life goals ("I would like to visit a prison!") and writing them on the wall. That's the least troublesome thing they'd do.
After picking out just the right power clashing, high-on-cocaine outfit, Hannah and Elijah hit the club to experience (real-life DJ duo) AndrewAndrew, dance, and do loads more cocaine in a sweaty, grungy bathroom. Unfortunately, neither of them wound up "staying out til 5 am and one of us definitely punches someone who has been on a Disney channel show."
They did, however, (and by they I mean surprisingly excellent dancer Lena Dunham and the fantastic Andrew Rannells) give one of the best comedic performances in recent memory. Playing high is always a gamble, as it either comes off as way too over-the-top or too gimmicky (think: just about every stoner movie ever) but Rannells and Dunham found the perfect balance. From her irrational high person behavior (she switches shirts with a guy in the club, who just happens to be wearing a mesh tank) to his hysterical reactions and one-liners ("Is this a bank?") it had all the humor and annoyances of watching a high person from the outside.
So it's really too bad it might be the last we see of Elijah/Rannells since a very upset Hannah told him he was moving out after he revealed he slept with Marnie because it ruined her relationship with her. Marnie, meanwhile, was dealing with her own tripped-out, bizarre experience after bumping into first-class pretentious art douchebag Booth Jonathan (The Lonely Island's Jorma Taccone, reviving his role as the sexually confident tool.) Yes, that very same guy that got her to do this, finally got her back to his place. I don't get it. Who hooks up with someone who tells you that you are part of a culture of youth that "is passionate about something and then give up the moment they have to struggle"?
Back at his place she experienced his "best work" (a complete nightmare video installation of graphic images) and sex that was so strange (he kept making her look at a doll and then asked her, with almost no time to spare to answer, if she was on the pill) she couldn't help but burst into laughter when it ended. I honestly think I was more tweaked out by Marnie's storyline than Hannah's. Though, if nothing else, Girls just once again reinforced that the twenties are a long, strange trip whether you're tripping or not.
Not to be outdone, as to be expected, was Hannah, who wound up hooking up with Laird, despite the fact that he'd followed her all night to "protect" her and that she thought he looked like he had leprosy. While the Dunham-penned episodes of Girls tend to be on the more uneven side (not to mention the show tends to work better when it's all four girls, though "The Return" is the exception to the rule) this one was pure comedy. There's a reason it won Best Comedy at the Golden Globes, even if it does scare the living hell out of your parents.
But what really stuck out with this episode is realizing that with this week marking the end of Liz Lemon era, Dunham's Hannah Horvath could be ushering in the new one. No, Liz would never do cocaine, have that much adventurous sex, or be involved in any kind of "hipster nonsense" that Hannah and co. take part in so willingly, when a coked-up Hannah declared that she wants "to get married wearing a veil and… taste like 15 cakes before and I know I said I was against the industrial marriage complex, but thats what I really want", it had traces of "princess" bride Liz from earlier this season. The existence of Girls may just soften the blow of the exit of 30 Rock. Lemon out, Horvath in.
Here are some of the other best moments and line's from "Bad Friend":
- "Ray only wants to watch old episodes of Ally McBeal all night"- Shoshanna, on why she's so tired
- "All the junkies in my building totally hang out by the mailboxes" -Shoshanna, please come back next week
- Hannah's wifi networks have included "muffins are tasty" "madame ovaries"
- "I'll never not have it" - Laird, on his turtle
- While high, Hannah worries about the fact that she can't write a check properly. Elijah's main worry: that someday he'll hopefully get to raise show dogs.
- "It is my greatest dream to have sex with myself, but also my biggest fear"- Hannah
- "She's very rib-y"- Elijah, on having sex with Marnie
- "Her mouth tasted like non-petroleum lip balm and Trident layers"- Elijah, on having sex with Marnie
- "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Loud"- Laird's title for Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, which Elijah hasn't seen but heard is "so sad"
- This interaction: "When did you eat jerky?" - Elijah, to Hannah after she kissed him…"That is not any concern of yours!"- Hannah. Elijah, please come back next week.
- "We might do coke in front of you, so no more crying"- Hannah's warning to Laird
- "It's a Wednesday night, baby, and I'm alive" - Hannah's declaration to Marnie, right before her other declaration that she is the "good friend" after all, and Marnie is the bad one for intentionally hurting her.
[Photo credit: HBO]
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The Sorcerer’s Apprentice had a shot at being really good. With magical mythology sleek special effects and powerful players at the helm it could have been the beginning of a brand new blockbuster franchise for Walt Disney Pictures its billion-dollar producer Jerry Bruckheimer and long time director Jon Turteltaub. Instead of developing the story and characters naturally however the five screenwriters who provided the at-times nauseating dialogue forced the narrative along punctuating every scene with an action sequence to cover up the fact that no one knew what the hell they were doing with this promising premise.
The story was hatched from an idea so obviously born in the Disney offices. Essentially marketing executives over at the Mouse House thought it’d be fun to revisit the timeless Sorcerer’s Apprentice segment from the 1940 classic Fantasia where Mickey Mouse must fend off hundreds of sentient brooms that are flooding his Master’s office. Trying to recreate the past is often risky business and trying to build an entire film around a classic cinematic marvel of yesteryear is a lazy practice. As a result all involved in this movie struggle to make it to the end credits.
Nicolas Cage tones down his signature insanity to play Balthazar mentor to Jay Baruchel’s “Prime Merlinian” a descendant of the Arthurian conjurer who trained a trio of magicians in 700 AD before being betrayed by one of them (Maxim Horvath played by the great Alfred Molina). As he lay dying Merlin tells Balthazar that a special dragon ring will help him find his successor who is the only person that can vanquish Maxim and Morgana his mortal enemy and a powerful sorceress in her own right. Centuries pass until Master and Apprentice meet. Once they do the magic wears off all too quickly.
Baruchel proves for the second time this year (the first being She’s Out Of My League) that he is incapable of carrying a film even with the support of competent co-stars. His shtick runs thin quickly before becoming redundant and eventually annoying. Other disposable characters including Teresa Palmer’s Becky Barnes and Toby Kebbell’s mildly entertaining illusionist Drake Stone provide filler for the thin plot before the anti-climactic battle between good and evil begins which looks cool on this high definition Blu-ray disc but not cool enough to make me forget how bad The Sorcerer's Apprentice really is.
Quite often engaging bonus content can save the home entertainment release of a sub-par film and Disney provides a plethora of featurettes including "Magic In The City" (which talks about filming in the Big Apple) and "The Science of Sorcery" (which tries to legitimatize magic) to take your mind off the magical mess that is the film but none of it changes the fact it is at best forgettable.
Jay Baruchel is Hollywood’s affable geek du jour having plied his unique trade recently in the animated blockbuster How to Train Your Dragon and the considerably less successful rom-com She’s Out of My League. His gangly frame twitchy visage and nasal drone make him perfect for movies in which awkward self-effacing underdogs triumph against enormous odds to achieve great feats like saving a Viking tribe from certain destruction or getting laid by a really really hot blonde chick.
Movies like The Sorcerer’s Apprentice a live-action CGI-fest directed by Jon Turteltaub (the National Treasure films) and inspired by a famous sequence from Fantasia Walt Disney’s groundbreaking collection of animated shorts. Fantasia debuted in 1940 long before Disney subleased its animation work to Pixar and "Fantasia" became more commonly known as a popular name among exotic dancers. My how things have changed.
Baruchel plays Dave a hapless NYU physics nerd unwittingly cast into the middle of a centuries-long good-versus-evil battle between powerful sorcerers who wield an infinite array of supernatural powers. Representing the good guys is Balthazar (Nicolas Cage) a wide-eyed eccentric whose all-black goth-pimp ensemble draws nary a suspicious glance on the eclectic streets of Manhattan. Dave it turns out is no ordinary college student but the Prime Merliner which sounds like an underwater number divisible by only one and itself but in actuality is a sort of wizard messiah destined to rid the world from the likes of the sinister Horvath (Alfred Molina) and his imprisoned overlord Morgana (Alice Krige). That is if he can take time off from his bumbling courtship of a pretty co-ed (Teresa Palmer) to actually learn the tricks of the sorcerer’s trade.
“Disposable” and “formulaic” are terms commonly applied to both of Turteltaub’s National Treasure collaborations with Cage but I submit that those films are at least fun if ultimately forgettable. The Sorcerer’s Apprentice is far less fun and far more forgettable its formula followed so perfunctorily that it ultimately comes off as an elaborate exercise in corporate cynicism one unlikely to inspire the string of sequels it so transparently hopes to conjure. Which is a shame because the film shows intermittent signs of promise and Cage despite his distracting perm is oddly charming as a sort of desperate weirdo.