‘Girls’ Recap: HBO Series Finally Deals With Race


The proof that Girls is a great show is in the details. While Lena Dunham‘s Golden Globe-winning series touches a nerve with the fans that love it because it unabashedly explores the universale topics of sex, relationships, class, money, et al. (In the words of Marnie, “Et al?!”) But you know when a show is also paying attention to the minor, but important details that it’s really working. Sunday’s episode, “I Get Ideas,” dealt with a lot of big things (including one of the show’s biggest critical roadblocks, race) but it was the little things that really went for laughs and put us in touch with the characters.

When Hannah, dressed as a “sad, limp little glow worm,” and Elijah (the hilarious Andrew Rannells) are watching Adam’s love serenade in horror on her laptop, it’s all about the details. Elijah notices Adam’s unsettling tool collection in the background, Elijah’s eye roll when Hannah is upset at the idea that Adam wouldn’t murder her because he didn’t love her enough, and Hannah’s email icon, which reveals that she has thousands of unread messages. Her pondering whether Adam is “murdery in a murder way” or whether she was supposed to be flattered by his song (sample lyric: “Standing outside your window/Not making a sound”) may say a lot about her, but those unread emails really say it all.

Since Girls is a show that meticulously weaves the big things with the little things, let’s look at how they handled them in the second episode of Season 2.

Big Issue: Race: Like any show that features an all-white cast living in a sprawling urban area (Friends, Seinfeld) the hyper-scrutinized Girls was bound to be asked the question: “Where are the people of color?” But, unlike Friends and Seinfeld, Girls, answered the question much faster. During the premiere we were introduced to Sandy (played by Community star Donald Glover), the African-American guy Hannah has started dating. We didn’t learn much about him, except for the fact that he seemed okay with showing affection in public and that Hannah really enjoyed having sex with him. Last night we learned that he has some big deal breaker traits including that, despite having non-Republican parents, Sandy is a staunch Republican and he doesn’t like Hannah’s writing. But it wasn’t Hannah’s inability to take criticism about her work or being a staunch liberal that finally made Sandy kick Hannah to the curb. During their courtship-ending fight, Hannah not only claims she doesn’t notice their different races (“That’s insane, because you should,” Sandy fires back) but she brings up his race and the fact that he’s a conservative when she inadvertently quotes Missy Elliot and drops a statistic about African-American men on death row. (Hannah and Schmidt from New Girl couldn’t be more different, except for when it comes to knowing how to have interactions with anyone of race.) Sandy then says what anyone horrified by what Hannah was arguing: “Thank you for updating me on minorities!” That said, Hannah wasn’t the only one to tap racial insensitivity. Sandy marginalizes Hannah to any caucasian girl in Brooklyn who “got a fixed gear bike and date[s] a black guy.” This couple never would have worked for a bevy reasons, including Hannah still interacting with Adam despite claiming she wants “the kind, sexy, responsible boyfriend that I’ve always wanted, but never had”, but ultimately it came down to race. The fact that Hannah couldn’t broach the topic in a smart or sensitive way proved that she, and the show, have a long way to go when it comes to knowing how to deal with race.

Little Issue: Little Dogs: We didn’t see much of Jessa last week, but now we see she’s living it up in a soulless Brooklyn high-rise in post-honeymoon “bliss” with the hilariously douchey Thomas John (Chris O’ Dowd). They both got matching tiger tattoos, she has him pose for paintings, he takes off for meetings he may or may not be late for (I’m venturing to guess the latter), and can’t be bothered to learn his wife’s friends names (he calls Hannah, who showed up to their apartment in shorteralls,”Danna” not once, but twice.) So what exactly could be so wrong about any of that? Well, everything is wrong about their impulsive nuptials, but perhaps none more so than the adorable bandaid on their gaping wound of a doomed relationship: Thomas John surprises her with three very cute puppies. I can’t think of anyone less equipped to take care of living things than Jessa and it says everything about her when she urges her friend Hannah to “read a newspaper” and tells her to “look around…life is not gonna get any better than this for you” but then names her dogs Garbage, F**ker, and Hanukkah. (Full discloser: I kinda love all of those names.) Jessa is a smart, capable, and talented person, but here she is lying that she’s at her happiest and calls Democrats and Republicans “dirtbags”, yet names her pooches Garbage and F**ker. The episode doesn’t fully explore the mixed-up psyche of Jessa, but it does show how naming little dogs can say a whole lot about a person.

Big Issue: Unemployment: Marnie was the only one of the entire gang with not only gainful employment, but a job in the career they were pursuing, so talk about a shock to the system when she was laid off. After going on a nightmarish interview with an art gallery owner, Marnie found herself not only jobless, but even more lost than before. What do you do after your dreams start to get away from your and the New York City career you were going after slips away from you? That’s right, you get a job. Any job to pay the bills. You hear that, Hannah? No judgment about hostess gigs that may or may not cash in on sexuality. Marnie may not like having to dress up like, as Elijah puts it, “a slutty Von Trapp child” for a waitressing gig at a cigar-chomping men’s club, but it’s an income until she can get back on track. Maybe Marnie is better than that job, but at least she can see past what Hannah never can: when you need one, a job is a job.

Little Issue: Obnoxious Sweet Talk: Is there anything more irritating than a couple in their honeymoon phase? Where everything they say and do is magical and everyone outside of their bubble doesn’t understand a love quite like this. I still don’t quite get the Shoshanna and Ray connection and their reunion, but the show sure does get what it’s like when couples are first together. Case in point, they say to each other all glossy-eyed and blissful, with no irony whatsoever, “You’d be really good at bathing a pig.”

Big Issue: Age: It’s of absolutely no surprise that George opted to split from Elijah after he cheated on him with Marnie. George may not completely have his shit together, but he’s been around long enough to know that bi or not (let’s face it, not) Elijah is 25. A 25-year-old doesn’t keep secrets from their best friend (Hannah has no idea Elijah and Marnie had a “three pump” hookup), a 25-year-old doesn’t know what they want from themselves, let alone anyone else, and a 25-year-old certainly doesn’t have a Hotmail account anymore. Like their stance on interracial relationships, Girls doesn’t quite know what to do with May-December relationships, but maybe they’ll get there someday.

Big/Little Issue: Adam: Look, don’t get me wrong, stalking is a very real and very serious issue. But when Hannah keeps allowing in both physically and metaphorically, it’s hard to see him as a real threat. You can’t call 911 on someone and fix them a glass of milk at the same time and you can’t scream at them to go away and then give them call them back with a loving glance as they start to leave. It doesn’t work that way. That said, Adam is a totally heartsick nutter butter who is creeping around Hannah’s apartment and letting himself in when he so pleases (“space rape,” as she puts it), so a restraining order wouldn’t be the worst idea. The problem isn’t necessarily Adam though, so much as Hannah’s reluctance to make a real decision about what to do with him. While it would be in both of their best interests to split for good, they are a pair of 25-year-olds, of course they are going to continue to make bad decisions with each other. Even though Adam gets arrested (the cops show up after Hannah’s quasi-911 call and it’s discovered he has outstanding unpaid tickets) I sincerely doubt this is the last we’ll see of him. Hannah still has the big issue of her relationship and her own self-worth to consider, after all.

[Photo credit: HBO]