Critics’ Roundtable: “Girls”

In so many ways, HBO’s series Girls is like nothing else on television. Made up of parts that are terrific and groundbreaking while also frustrating and challenging, the Lena Dunham-created series is one that we can’t stop talking about. And with the recent episodes stepping even further outside of the boundaries of traditional TV comedy, we thought it was the perfect time to bring together a group of top TV Critics to discuss what’s working, what’s not and, of course, whether Dunham’s frequent nudity on the show is a good or bad thing…or is that not even the point?

Our TV Critics this time out are: Maureen Ryan (Television Critic, Huffington Post), Trish Bendix (Managing Editor,, Damian Holbrook (Senior Writer, TV Guide Magazine), Shaunna Murphy (TV editor, and our own Jim Halterman.

In the “Bad Friend” episode, Hannah says to Elijah (while high on coke) that her greatest dream (and nightmare) is to make love to herself. Then we get an episode like “One Man’s Trash” where the entire show is devoted to Hannah’s liaison with Patrick Wilson. (We’ll get more to that specific episode in the next question.) Is the show becoming too self-indulgent? Or should we embrace its non-traditional-ness?

Mo Ryan: Given that the show is largely about Hannah’s quest to see beyond her limited, narcissistic worldview, I’m often OK with the amount of cluelessness and selfishness on display. The Patrick Wilson episode may have had the quality of a daydream at times, but I also embrace the fact that episodes are going to vary — they’re not all going to have the exact same structure and tone. Having said that, there are times when the show veers too wildly into clichéd or problematic areas (more on that below). But I loved the Wilson episode and thought it was one of the better outings so far in Season 2.

Trish Bendix: Firstly, I’m glad it was a straight woman saying she wanted to have sex with herself, as it’s a myth that lesbians are that narcissistic and that’s why they want to sleep with a carbon copy of themselves. I find Hannah a very real character, someone who is imperfect and fun to watch. She’s relatable at times, and completely abhorable at others. All the characters in Girls are, because that’s life. We all have traits that are admirable and others that are less so. With the characters of Girls, they are just more loosely defined. The writers aren’t putting out there THIS IS A BAD MAN or THIS IS A GOOD GIRL. Thank God.

Damian Holbrook: That “Trash” episode infuriated me. The “look at me”-ism on display was way beyond the show’s normal celebration of self-indulgence because it didn’t feel like it honored the character’s need for love, but rather Dunham’s expectation that we accept even the most ludicrous twist at her creative hand. Were we watching her act out some fantasy? Because God knows, that storyline was beyond believable.

Hannah (Lena Dunham) steps into the life of a stranger (Patrick Wilson) – love it or hate it?

Let’s talk “One Man’s Trash.” Definitely a departure episode for the show. Did you love it or hate it? Why?

Mo Ryan: Loved it, because it was like a fully realized short film or an evocative short story that took the story and the characters to new, fun and difficult places. Hannah entered a world she doesn’t normally live in and had a complete experience there, and the show might not directly reference that experience again, but it’ll certainly figure into her growth. The episode economically and entertainingly told the story of a relationship in under half an hour, and I actually felt for both characters. Wilson’s character was obviously both lonely and unable to truly get beyond his detachment, and Hannah had to embrace an unexpected realization, i.e., she’s every bit as conventional as she feared she might be, despite the fact that she’s desperate to be seen as an urban bohemian. Although I think Wilson’s amazing performance was in a class above Dunham’s, it was still a well-written, well-performed, well-directed episode that examined some interesting ideas about aspiration, intimacy and acceptance.

Shaunna Murphy: I loved it. It was like watching the realistic lifespan of a relationship all in a half hour. I bought everything that was happening — from her blunt assertiveness charming him into the bedroom, to that look of painful happiness when she was eating that orange or tangerine or whatever. Seeing Hannah completely confident and comfortable in her own skin — particularly in the ping-pong scene — not trying to please anyone but herself or be anyone but herself, was wonderful. Then the narcissist came back, and it was all over. I’ve watched it 3 times, and hey, I’m busy.

Jim Halterman: Mixed, to be honest. While I didn’t mind it being a ‘departure’ and the idea of stepping outside of your own life and being open to new experiences, I couldn’t help but think that it felt less honest and real than the show usually does. I’m fine with Hannah having a fling with Patrick Wilson, but I found myself constantly taken out of the episode and thinking about the creative choices that were being made…maybe that was the point but it didn’t make it an overall enjoyable episode.

Do you think we’re supposed to actually LIKE Hannah and her friends? Or is that not the point of the show?

Mo Ryan: I don’t think we’re supposed to like them, I think we’re supposed to be interested in them and what they do with each other and with the various friends, acquaintances and relatives in their lives. I’m OK with that — I don’t have to like the characters I follow, I just have to be intrigued enough to stick with them. Sometimes Girls sorely tests my patience in this regard (don’t start me on Booth Jonathan, please. My blood pressure can’t take it.)

Trish Bendix: I think we’re supposed to like parts of them and find ourselves in parts of them, whether that’s the good or the bad ones. I find it very real. Even the best people in your life can have terrible traits or make bad decisions. It’s inevitable, and I am thankful Girls doesn’t wrap up every problem and storyline in a big red bow and a hug.

Shaunna Murphy: Even though I’m a 20-something, I’m now LATE enough to acknowledge that people of that age are not always likable. When you’re “finding yourself” it can be really tough to factor in other people. They’re all selfish and most of them are pretty unhappy, so it’s easy to become exasperated by them at the very least. But I love the honest portrayal of painful narcissism that Lena has created. It’s real. It’s sad. It’s that time in our lives when our parents/friends might not always want to call us back, because we’re always ranting about our own problems.

The Girls (l-r): Dunham, Zosia Mamet, Jemima Kirke and Allison Williams


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