Girls 2.03- "Bad Friend"
We've decided to start covering Girls again because our newest recruit John Bender insisted and he's a hard guy to say no to. John is also funny as all hell, as you'll see, and to get the ball rolling we let him tackle the last two episodes rather than just the newest one, as a way of introducing you to him and giving him room to build up his perspective on the show. His review of the current episode will be up shortly after. Enjoy! -Nick Hanover
It’s Sunday evening in America. Parents are tidying up, ironing clothes, and paying bills. Children absentmindedly burn off their last hours of freedom. Bellies are full, night blankets the earth, and the citizenry seems to engage in a collective exhalation. Peace reigns.
Suddenly, a tortured howl pierces the still air. Birds take flight. Dogs cower. Another wail follows, and then several more. The cacophony builds, rattling doors and rousing the nation from its repose. Various phrases can be picked out of the discord—there are no minority characterrrrrrs and none of these people are sympathetic or relatabllllllllle and Lena Dunham is fat and ugly and too-often nuuuuuude, to list a few—and realization dawns on the innocent victims of these inescapable caterwauls. It’s nothing, they tell one another. Go back to sleep. It’s just another episode of Girls.
“Bad Friend” is about as Girls-y as Girls gets. It’s a perfect example of what makes the show so odious to its detractors and so captivating to its admirers. For the former, it has self-absorbed young people yearning to be appreciated for their dubious talents, heartfelt confessions between friends that blow up into whiny arguments, glimpses into the jaded, hipper-than-hip art culture of New York City, and a real—nay, the realest– drug storyline, complete with lines of coke on a toilet seat and Jon Glaser as a sniffly recovering addict. For the show’s fans, it has…all of the things I just listed, with the added supposition that the show is in on the joke the whole time.
As is so often the case with Girls (and polarizing art in general), whether or not you enjoy it seems to come down to how much credit you’re willing to give the creator. If Lena Dunham doesn’t realize how pathetic and homogenous her characters can sometimes be, then yes, it’s acceptable for outside commentators to tear the show apart in the name of High-Quality, Challenging, Artful Television. If, however, Lena Dunham is actually well aware of her characters’ similar appearances, glaring flaws, and inconsequential trials, then the show plays as an inarguably hilarious (and occasionally touching) dissection of a strain of angsty privilege specific to Millenials (sidebar: I hate this term).
I’ll lay my cards on the table right now and say that I’ve long been confident in Dunham’s ability to both anticipate and play off the criticisms of the show. I’ll even go so far as to say that the widespread assumption that she has no idea what she’s doing reeks of sexism to me. No one asks Vince Gilligan, for instance, whether he realizes that Walter White is a megalomaniacal asshole, or that meth dealing is harrowing and not at all slick, or that all of the Mexican characters on Breaking Bad besides Gomez are involved in the drug trade. Those would be stupid questions to ask Vince Gilligan. So, besides her youth, which is also not a good reason, what reason is there to lob similar questions at Lena Dunham besides the fact that she’s the girl behind Girls?
“Bad Friend” is a great episode when viewed under the assumption that Lena Dunham is on top of things. In fact, the dominant theme of the episode is an unflinching exploration of style vs. substance, or the art of bullshitting, that pervades the show’s world. Let’s start with jazzhate, the online publication Hannah agrees to freelance for as the episode opens. Besides its hilarious name, jazzhate also features a barely inspirational wall hanging and an editor whose first story pitch off the top of her head is to do a new drug for the first time and write about it. The exaggerated nature of the scene is heightened when Hannah takes the prompt to heart and immediately begins looking for cocaine.
I’ve never been crazy about any of the topics Hannah seems to write about (remember that episode in the first season when she wrote a fake essay about some acquaintance’s death that was somehow less interesting than the piece it replaced about dating a hoarder?), and I think that’s a good clue that Hannah’s talent is something we’re invited to question. Later, as she and Elijah sit in her bedroom and frantically share their dreams with each other, the content of their conversation absolutely nails the embarrassing nature of first drug experiences, as earnest deliveries are mistaken for honesty and misguided impulses are seen as revelations. Later, at the club, Hannah and Elijah have a brief conversation about AndrewAndrew (a real act, by the way) that touches on every curious thing about the twinned DJ duo besides their actual talent, including whether they fuck. Hannah’s comment about how it’s her greatest dream and also her greatest fear to have sex with herself works both as funny dialogue and a reflection of the show’s self-aware anxiety.
One might also consider the entire storyline featuring Marnie and Jorma Taccone’s perplexingly ass-getting conceptual artist character. Look, it’s obvious that Booth Jonathan’s art is dog shit. Redrum scribbled on the inside of a dollhouse? A prison of television screens that blare “Barely Breathing” accompanied by Wonder Showzen-esque video clips? These could be nothing but a brilliant parody of up-its-own-ass postmodern art. My glee over the big reveal of Booth’s work reached a fever pitch when Marnie, who has always been fairly rudderless and malleable, emerged from the TV prison and gasped, “You are so fucking talented.” The creation and criticism of art-within-the-show is a method dating back at least to Seinfeld—Chunnel and Rochelle, Rochelle, anyone?—and its proper execution is usually enough to convince me that a show is its own best critic.
Then, of course, there’s Elijah’s big reveal to Hannah about having had sex with Marnie. I don’t know if most people watch Girls for the relationship dynamics, but I certainly don’t. I’m interested in each character’s journey, and I like to see them play off one anot
her. But frankly, I don’t give much of a shit about which one of them might be the “bad friend.” Which is what made Hannah’s confrontation of Marnie so perfect. It’s roughly the 500th dramatic telling-off in the show’s one-and-a-quarter seasons, but it featured a coked-out Hannah in a disgusting mesh top haranguing Marnie, who just got tied up and fucked comically by a beardy Jorma Taccone, until Marnie excuses herself to “throw up.” Usually these sequences turn me off as a Girls viewer, but I can get behind a laughably desperate exchange between drugged young people as a climactic moment in any television episode. It’s the perfect capper to an episode of a show that, in my opinion at least, is laughing at its characters as much as it wants us to laugh at them.
John Bender is a Twitter anarchist with questionable opinions about celebrity lifestyles and the Lost finale. He edits erotic novels by day and works tirelessly by night to improve upon his personal record of 41.06 in the Mecha Marathon minigame in Mario Party 2. He also plays in Fitness.