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The tension between the desire to make a show about the multi-dimensional lives of young women and the necessity of plotting the show according to one of those dimensions does more than just weaken its feminist credentials; it also vitiates many of the things that made “Girls” interesting to begin with. Though most of the characters start out boasting abrasive character flaws, the brutishness of early portrayals turns out to be unsustainable in the long run. This is especially true of Adam, who goes from being a condom-averse carpenter who sends a dick pic to Hannah by mistake, to a guy sweating through his Oxford shirt during a dinner date. Charlie (Christopher Abbott), boyfriend and ex-boyfriend of Hannah’s friend Marnie (Allison Williams), goes through an opposite metamorphosis, from cloyingly sweet lover to confident app developer extraordinaire. Granted, people are complex, and different under different circumstances, but such transformations seem all too convenient.
Most disappointing, even relationships in the show don’t always rise above cliché. There are too many arguments about who is always making it about themselves, and who was or wasn’t there for whom and when. Though Ray (Alex Karpovsky), a friend who employs Hannah at a coffee shop, gives an impassioned speech about how in New York it’s possible never to run into an ex, many of the show’s plots depend precisely on chance encounters at parties or on street corners. And for every moment of crude, never-before-seen-on-television sex, there’s another of what Blair terms “mutually rapturous face-to-face vaginal intercourse.” How many times can one character hook up with another’s ex before it all becomes one big yawn?
It seems that Dunham is aware of such problems, and in the third season she tries to lift the show beyond the confines of relationship drama. There is more focus on Hannah’s writing career, and also on the girls’ non-romantic friendships. There is a whole subplot involving Adam’s mentally ill sister, which reaches again into that dark but potentially rich vein of material. But “Girls” appears to be on a quixotic quest, at least when it comes to television. Is it possible to make a comic, realistic, short-form show about normal people living normal lives? Personally I don’t know that it is, but I wish well to anyone who tries, Dunham most of all. It doesn’t even have to be about me.
Ezra Glinter is the deputy arts editor of the Forward. Follow him on Twitter @EzraG