This review contains spoilers.
We begin the final season of Girls by learning that Hannah has been printed in a major publication. This is presented through a montage of her friends and family reading and reacting to her story, followed by a shot of Hannah hugging her work to her chest and smiling like a goofball. It’s all very upbeat, and I suppose it should be, as Hannah’s realising her dreams and all that. But it also poses a question: Is this what we want for her?
Those who hate Girls often criticize the show for its self-centred protagonists, but that’s always been the whole point. Girls has never acted like its characters are always in the right. Characters often call them out on their behaviour and they regularly suffer consequences from their selfish actions.
Of course, we’re also meant to feel for these people, so it’s a delicate balancing act. I can’t say I know the exact ratio of how frequently a character should be hateful versus being, uh, altruistic, I guess, but the sum of All I Ever Wanted appears to be that Hannah’s dreams are going to come true and, furthermore, that we should be sharing in her happiness. To be clear: I’m not saying I’ve always hoped for Hannah’s failure. I’m just not sure I expected or wanted her to have such clear and evident success either.
But this is really just my initial gut reaction and this is only the first episode of the season. A lot could go wrong in the remaining nine episodes. Furthermore, even though she’s getting what she wants, Hannah does spend a good chunk of this episode being her selfish, terrible self, like most writers, discontented despite her success.
In her defence, though Hannah has become a professional print writer, that hardly means instant glamour and the publication she’s writing for (something called SLAGMAG, which feels to me like it should be written in all caps) is, very openly, using her for her misery. Hannah’s assignment is to attend a surf camp on Long Island and the editor she meets with (played by the always-great Chelsea Peretti) tells her, in so many words, that the whole idea is she won’t fit in with the rest of the too-fit, suburbanite surf campers and will almost certainly have a bad time.
However, though Hannah does indeed have a terrible time with the camp activities, she ends up having a great time with camp counsellor Paul-Louis (Riz Ahmed). It’s a little bit unfortunate that the rhythms of the show have grown predictable enough that, the moment this character was introduced, I guessed, correctly, that Hannah would be sleeping with him. It’s good Paul-Louis is revealed to be an actually decent guy (albeit one who’s apparently clueless that it’s polite to disclose you’re in an open relationship before you sleep with someone for days on end). But he’s a bit too Zen for me and Hannah’s experience with him is a touch too transcendent to feel realistic.
Parallels to classic season two episode One Man’s Trash—in which Hannah shacked up with a guy for a couple of days and learned about herself—are easy to make. But that episode was a success largely because of its realistic tone. This one, again, feels unrealistically upbeat and, comedy-wise, it’s all over the place. There are good, down-to-earth jokes, like Hannah’s sunscreen coming open in her luggage so she has to apply it by rubbing her clothes against her body or that Ray makes corrections on Hannah’s published writing as he reads it, finding the prose “sloppy.” But then there’s also a patented Girls “Hannah gets drunk and dances like a complete idiot” scene, which isn’t entirely without laughs but is so extreme it doesn’t even feel like something a real person would do. Worse is the weird beach make-out montage with Paul-Louis, which features bizarre eye-licking close-ups. It feels like it’s from a different show (or a Hollywood comedy).
If I’m not mistaken, this is the show’s first ever extended-length episode (it’s about 45 minutes). This hardly feels like a Very Special Episode, so the only reason for the length that I can fathom is they simply needed more time to catch up with all the principles. Hannah’s story is the main one, but we also see how Ray and Marnie’s relationship is becoming strained (they awkwardly and unconvincingly pepper their conversations liberally with the word “baby”), which functions pretty well as an entry point into how everyone else is doing and by everyone else I mainly mean Adam and Jessa.
Speaking of characters who don’t feel like real people, Adam and Jessa have become full-on cartoons—Jessa sitting around in the nude and both of them being completely inconsiderate assholes to Ray. It makes some sense as Adam and Jessa were both always cartoonish and they amplify the worst traits in each other, but it still adds to the goofy, over-the-top general tone of the episode and it’s a tone I can’t say I much care for.
Also, the hated and horrible Desi is still around as Marnie is still going through divorce proceedings with him. Feeling estranged from Ray (who clearly gets along much more easily with his ex, Shoshanna), Marnie sleeps with Desi again because of course she does because, as Girls has been drilling into us for a while now, though I’ve been one of the remaining few loth to admit it, Marnie is kind of the worst.
Continuing off the arcs set in motion in the previous season, the main thrust of All I Ever Wanted is that, while everyone else (Shosh perhaps exempted) is falling and growing apart, Hannah is growing up and actually allowing for positivity in her life, but that returns me to my initial question: Is this what we want for her? Are we willing to sympathise and cheer on a more mature, more positive Hannah? Well, maybe, if it’s done right. But in this premiere, the positivity is a bit too positive, the comedy is a bit too broad, and the overall production doesn’t quite land.