Girls: Free Snacks, review

What do we want out of HBO's Girls? More than what the first fifteen minutes of "Free Snacks" offered.

I am coming to the realization that I don’t really know what I want out of Girls (the show, I mean; I already knew this about women in nature). I saw the previous episode, “Only Child,” as the setup for a lot of major plotlines whereas I think many other viewers saw it as an episode of climaxes or at least very major moments.

After all, Hannah kicked Caroline out and went through a drastic rollercoaster of losing her e-book publishing deal, getting a real book publishing deal, and then losing the right to publish her book entirely. Also, Marnie and Ray had sex.

Well, maybe I did get it wrong. Maybe that episode was the release after a bunch of buildup and this episode is the actual setup for what narratives are next to come down the pipeline. And maybe I just enjoy that sort of thing a little more, that “new beginnings” point in a show where we get an idea of what fresh hijinks the characters are going to get into, what arcs are going to develop, and the tone that will color those arcs. After all, my favorite episode of Community is the Season 2 premiere and 10 out of 10 fans agree that means I’m nuts.

Regardless of whatever’s wrong with me, I found “Free Snacks”—an episode one might deem emotionally tame in comparison to the previous one—more pertinent and lasting than “Only Child.” I didn’t exactly love it though. In fact, for the first fifteen minutes, I was worried this was the worst episode of Girls yet.

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By now, many of us have begun to notice a bit of a shift in this season. Basically, Girls seems to be contentedly settling into a more conventional sitcom format. It’s no focus-grouped network show obviously, but it’s spent the whole of the season thus far with episodes that jump back and forth between all the principles, devoting time to each of them to push their stories forward little by little. This is different from Seasons 1 and 2, which were happy to veer off on tangents and do one whole episode about Hannah visiting her hometown or to pull a (much less tragic) Last Tango in Paris with “One Man’s Trash.” The closest we’ve come in Season 3 is the road trip episode, but all the main characters still made appearances.

I do admit I miss that unpredictable side of Girls (which is not to say that it’s now completely without surprises), but the idea of the show undergoing a sitcom transformation didn’t strike me as too horrifying. After all, it’s always been a sitcom to some extent. However, watching the first half of “Free Snacks,” it seemed possible that this was the true ushering in of sitcom-Girls and it was more than a bit scary.

A nonspecific gap of time has taken place since this episode and last because Caroline’s still gone (yay!), but Adam and Hannah aren’t fighting about it and Hannah’s clearly not dwelling on her publishing deal falling through. In fact, she’s now quitting her job at Ray’s coffee shop to pursue an opportunity working on the advertorial staff at GQ Magazine. My problem with this was the introduction of Hannah’s new work environment and all the coworkers that came with it. There’s her affable new work buddy, Joe; then the over-the-top silliness of Hannah pillaging the work snack room; the catty antagonist coworker, Kevin; the introduction of Joe’s crush on Hannah’s other coworker, Karen—it all felt like it was laying the cheesy groundwork for Hannah’s Wacky Office Sitcom.

But I should have had more faith in Girls because the rest of the episode looks past the sheen of a fancy job with a corporate mag to explore how such a position can be just as soul-sucking as any other office employment (arguably more so). When she realizes that all of her coworkers came into this job with impressive pedigrees (publications in the New Yorker, poetry prizes, et al), but got sucked into the cushy, yet unfulfilling world of writing advertising copy, it freaks her out so much she has to stick her head under a running sink tap.

This is another one of those situations where, as a writer, I empathize with Hannah. It may seem like she’s just being a spoiled drama queen (and this is Hannah we’re talking about so that’s hardly out of character), but using a skill that you actually believe in toward a product that you really don’t believe in might actually suck more than just doing a mindless job you don’t give a shit about (trust me, I’ve tried it). Furthermore, it’s truly, maddeningly difficult to pursue one’s creative dreams while simultaneously avoiding being swallowed up by poverty. Hannah has to confront the reality that she’ll regularly need to come home from a day of draining work and then proceed to willingly drain herself even further by writing the night away. And when the people around her all serve as examples of the person she could become, a person who’s given up and settled, then taking the job with GQ is almost like staring into a bleak, inevitable future.

Aside from all this Hannah business, there’s a welcome look into what Shoshanna (who we haven’t seen much of lately) is up to. Her life is going sort of off the rails, but in a very funny way as she decides she needs to just settle on a guy to be in a relationship with and ends up going with a dude named Parker who she describes as “so stupid I worry that our children, like, wouldn’t get into preschool.”

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Marnie and Ray continue their blatantly awful relationship… kind of… thing, which is another welcome new plot because Marnie’s tedious downward spiral is finally getting shaken up. It’s fun watching these two interact because they’re constantly on the cusp of completely loathing each other. And it all ties up with a sweet moment of Ray acknowledging how they’re mutually pathetic, stating that he and Marnie should eat together simply because “you have no one else to eat with. And neither do I.”

All told, I feel better toward this episode than the previous. Still, it didn’t have too many laugh-out-loud moments (though Ray shouting “I LOVE AFRICA!” and Marnie responding “Fucking weird thing to say” is great). Plus, though it’s possible the second half only works with the first half the way it is, it’s not like it retroactively changed how I felt about it. I still think a lot of those opening office scenes were super-cheesy. At least it balanced them some with a couple of those graphic, kind of hot, kind of cringey sex scenes that only this show knows how to do. You don’t get that on other sitcoms.


Den of Geek Rating: 3.5 Out of 5 Stars


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3.5 out of 5