Girls Season 3 Premiere Review: Females Only and Truth or Dare

Hannah and her self-involved friends are back for another season of New York City shenanigans.

Lena Dunham’s Girls is back and, along with it, a nice, fresh, new batch of controversy as a television critic just recently insulted her and producers Judd Apatow and Jenni Konner by inquiring as to what the purpose is of Dunham’s fairly frequent nudity in the program. Well, it’s certainly a hot issue and one I have a taken a firm stance on:

Who cares! I like this show!

For the Season 3 premiere, two episodes aired back-to-back—a wise move on HBO’s part as they really work together like a short film, and even maintain a consistency of style by having one director on both of them, Lena Dunham herself.

“Females Only”

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Season premieres are always saddled with the burden of reestablishing the audience to the characters’ situations, which often means jumping back and forth between multiple storylines to provide all the updates needed to bring us up to speed on everyone’s lives. The Season 2 premiere of Girls suffered from coming off a bit manic because of this, but Season 3’s premiere, “Females Only,” actually manages to keep it smooth and fairly simple.

In the world of the show, some time has passed between now and the end of Season 2, where Hannah (Lena Dunham) had been saved from herself by weirdo ex-boyfriend, Adam (Adam Driver), Shoshanna (Zosia Mamet) had dumped Ray (Alex Karpovsky), Jessa (Jemima Kirke) was off God knows where, and Marnie (Allison Williams) was back together with her on-again, off-again boyfriend, Charlie (Christopher Abbott).

That final event might be one of the reasons for the time skip. The reality is that the actor who plays Charlie was unsatisfied with the direction his character was taking and moved on. As a result, when we see Marnie in this episode, she’s pining over Charlie like he’s already been gone for some time. This is a touch unfortunate as her and Charlie seemed to be pretty into each other at Season 2’s end and, though I hardly expected the relationship to stand the test of time, I imagine Dunham didn’t intend to kill it off instantly.

But Girls has always felt very true to life in the way that people’s emotions dictate how they behave and sometimes that means they do irrational, unexpected things. As such, Marnie being single again isn’t all that jarring in the grand scheme of things and, continuing the downward spiral she was on in Season 2, she seems to have sunk a bit further, now staying at her mom’s house in the suburbs and sleeping on the couch. However, on the bright side (I think?) she’s ditched the hostess job and is now working at Café Grumpy with Hannah (evidently having finally settled the rift that upset their friendship for the bulk of Season 2).

As for Hannah, her renewed relationship with Adam seems to be going well or, at least, they seem to really enjoy being around each other again. They’re living together and he’s taking good care of her, making certain she takes her meds to keep her OCD in check. Also, she’s finally producing quality pages for the e-book she’s writing and even managed to not get sued by her editor, as he chooses to be understanding of the OCD dominating her life at the time. “Why didn’t you tell me you were suffering from mental illness?” He asks. “That’s something we can work with.”

Shoshanna’s life feels a bit more uncertain. She’s in her last year of college (I’m gonna be honest: I completely forgot she was still a student) and is exploring her sexual opportunities. She seems to be her usual peppy self, but the first shot we see of her hardly presents her in a glamorous light as she extricates herself out from under a sleeping dude in the top bunk of a dorm bunk bed.

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Ray was barely in this episode (and he’s not in the next one at all), but we are told he lives in Adam’s old apartment now and I assume we’ll find time to catch up with him more in the future.

But the main focus here is on Jessa. As she abruptly took off in the middle of the last season (again, because of real world circumstances—Jemima Kirke was pregnant—but fitting perfectly with her character all the same), we’re given a lot of time to look into what she’s been up to. Turns out, at her grandmother’s urging, she’s in rehab somewhere in, in her words, “Shitsville, Nowhere.” A significant amount of the episode is spent here, which is unfortunately my main problem with it.

It’s important stuff because we need to see what Jessa’s life is like in this place and what it is that eventually gets her kicked out so that she can be reinserted alongside everyone else in New York City. But Girls often teeters on the edge of realism and absurdity. That Judd Apatow was so instrumental in the show’s production always gives me a feeling like he has an ever-present influence on its approach to comedy and sometimes that means we stop teetering on that line and fall headfirst into the absurdity that feels commonplace in his films. And Jessa’s rehab scenes are an example of the show going just a bit too extreme.

Jessa has always been foul-mouthed, aggressive, and honest to the point of rudeness, but she’s turned up to eleven for the entirety of the episode. Most of the rehab scenes are centered on her group therapy sessions. There are some great moments, like a guy describing his block back in NYC as “A Fellini movie, but one that you would actually wanna watch.” But a lot of it is just Jessa insulting everyone in cruel monologues. If you’re in the camp of people who has decided to have a vehement anti-Girls attitude (and I know that’s quite a flourishing camp you’ve got going on there), seeing it as full of self-centered twentysomethings being horrible, this premiere will only confirm that for you. But, more importantly, it feels a bit unreal and silly that Jessa gets away with being so awful for so long (though another patient does eventually throw coffee in her face).

Jessa’s other scenes are conversations she has with an older gentleman, Jasper (Richard E. Grant), the only other patient at the clinic who she’s befriended. These scenes, too, feel over the top, but in a different way. Jasper delivers these very brilliant-sounding monologues and, not that Girls isn’t often dramatic, but it feels like we’re in another sort of overwritten dramatic program (maybe like The Newsroom, which nobody should be watching, for reference). But Lena Dunham isn’t afraid to let her show occasionally get a bit more literary, sometimes with great quite success, and I won’t deny that some good lines come out of these scenes. For example, Jasper’s advice that Jessa has to “learn when honesty is righteous and when honesty is nothing more than a party trick” is nicely articulated and seems like genuinely good advice for her.

But, all said and done, what Jessa actually does that gets her kicked out of rehab at the end of the episode is decidedly not out of character for her or the show. And, furthermore, back in NYC, we get to see the remaining friends have dinner together at Hannah’s apartment, which Adam has to tolerate. There are lots of incredible moments in this scene and Adam once again establishes himself as one of the most entertaining characters on the show, both hating to be there, but also managing to bust out a blunt and insightful pep talk to cheer Marnie up about her breakup with Charlie.

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Overall, this premiere’s narrative was nicely simple and on-track. The stuff set in NYC was great and it was a joy to watch these characters play off of one another again. It’s just that all the nonsense with Jessa at times nearly ruptured the believability.

3.5 out of 5

“Truth or Dare”

I’ve always admired Girls’ willingness to abandon its home setting of NYC whenever it has to happen for the purpose of the story. It gives the show’s progression an organic, natural vibe. So, already in Episode 2 of this season, Hannah, Shoshanna, and Adam are off on a road trip to pick up Jessa from rehab and it’s absolutely awesome.

The Jessa-heavy nature of the premiere means that her role here is diminished. (It’s not that I hate Jessa; I just didn’t love her rehab scenes.) Instead, continuing the theme from the previous episode of Adam gradually losing his composure around Hannah’s friends, being the only one old enough to rent a car, he now has to accompany Hannah and Shosh on an extended a road trip. Marnie doesn’t get invited and is busy moving out of her mom’s house and into a new apartment, so we barely see her, but I’d be happy to wait until after she’s reached a new stage to properly check in with her. Honestly, she’s already spent a good chunk of the series pining over Charlie and it’d be nice if we could somehow get her past that point sooner rather than later.

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When I get back into this show after a hiatus, my mindset can be a bit confused as I remember it more as a drama than a comedy, so I love that there are episodes like this where it’s laugh out loud joke after joke. Nearly every line Shosh delivers throughout the episode is an unknowingly scathing indictment of the person she’s speaking to, like when she praises Adam for being so helpful to Hannah, explaining how she would’ve been done for if her boyfriend “had been an actual human being” with “a job and responsibilities, places to be during the day, or a best friend.” A heart-to-heart between Shosh and Hannah about how Jessa is actually very depressed derails into a conversation about the correct pronunciation of Ryan Phillippe’s last name. The actual truth or dare game that the episode derives its name is hilariously and abruptly ended when Adam gets sick of it. And, lamenting how nothing interesting is happening that she’ll be able to use for writing her book, Hannah drives home the unfortunate boringness of the road trip (and, truly, all road trips) with the line, “This road trip is not a metaphor.”

We do get a bit more Jessa, mostly just to make clearer that her rehab friend Jasper is a guy who, as she suffers heavily from abandonment issues, Jessa would like if he could be slotted into the role of her dad. He’s older, he doles out constant advice, and he has a daughter about her age (who, of course, he’s abandoned). But he ultimately turns out to just be a messed up guy who’s in rehab and, in a situation that’s become predictable for Jessa, he doesn’t actually want to take care of her, but instead wants to sleep with her. It’s just that he’s had a stash keeping him relatively sedate and it’s suddenly run out. This makes enough sense; in Girls, there’s a dark truth hiding beneath all good things and, furthermore, he’s a guy doing an extended rehab stay so how stable could he really be? But it’s sad (and, again, a little predictable) that any potentially reliable male figures in Jessa’s life must be immediately torn from her.

There might not have been a huge amount of obvious development in “Truth or Dare,” but there is an undercurrent of everything maybe not being quite right. Though watching Adam suffer is funny, it also makes us wonder if he and Hannah can last. Also, I love the ending of this episode a lot. If Jessa can’t have a father figure, she at least has a constant in Hannah, who makes an impassioned plea for Jessa to never take off like she did again, because it totally destroys Hannah. It’s a wonderful, emotional moment that lands perfectly and serves as a great dramatic capper for an otherwise comedy-focused episode.

Now that the gang’s all here, I’m excited to see where they go next.

4.5 out of 5

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