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The Second Season of ‘Girls’: Even Better Than the First?

'Girls' / Photo courtesy HBO

Jesus, HBO makes January so much better. Sure, winter is coming, but Girls is here, and it’s still one of the best shows on television, and definitely the best comedy, which might have sounded like biased love had not the Hollywood Foreign Press Association said the very same thing last night. There were a few uneven episodes at the end of the first season, and no one can dispute the fact that it lacked diversity, but creator/director/writer/star Lena Dunham — who won a Golden Globe both for the series and for her role as Hannah Horvath — has a knack for capturing this moment in time for young, confused, anxious twentysomethings. It’s tempting to say that she’s the voice of a generation, but as her character Hannah once said, maybe she’s just “a voice of a generation,” and that’s enough. And perhaps her self-awareness and the punch lines involving cheese plates and Squeaky Fromme are only endearing if you recognize yourself in her, but we thought last night’s episode lived up to the hype, as evidenced by moments big and small:

1. The debate over the decipherability of emojis. Shoshanna doesn’t understand what’s wrong with them. “A panda next to a gun next to a wrapped gift?” asks Ray. “It makes no sense!” Shoshanna can be ridiculous, but she wins this one. (You can tell someone you were having digestive troubles, but it all worked out okay, with only two taps of the keyboard.)

2. Ayn Rand being used as an ice-breaker for a booty call. When Hannah drops by her new love interest’s house in the middle of the night, she casually asks, “Can I borrow The Fountainhead?” before stripping naked and hopping in bed. And without spoiling anything, it’s not entirely a joke; Sandy (Donald Glover) owned it.

3. And on that note: Donald Glover! It’s enough to be losing Community; Troy needs to stick around, even though he will never make a believable soulmate for anyone but Abed.   

4. Marnie’s karaoke choice. With nostalgia now a constant, it’s become something of a talent to know exactly the right moment for resurrection, and while this will always be a subjective science, it seems like the Sarah McLachlan hit “Building a Mystery” was forgotten for just long enough to be ready for rediscovery.

5. Hannah’s physical intimacy with her friends. To be honest, this show had us from the very first scene of the very first episode when Hannah wakes up in bed next to Marnie. It was such a signifier of youth, this open closeness that isn’t yet compromised by insomnia and indigestion and other things that get in the way of platonic snuggling. Now, with Marnie having moved out, Hannah’s gay ex, Elijah, is her new cuddle buddy. Also, Dunham gets extra points for allowing her sleeping self to look slack-jawed and randomly attired instead of coiffed and adorable.  

6. The lingering tension between Hannah and Marnie. In the penultimate episode of last season, these two had a fight that was so realistic and anguished. It was forgotten in the finale, and seems to have been mostly buried, but there was a slight awkwardness between them when Marnie asked if they were okay. Hannah said yes, but her deflections seemed to suggest otherwise, and ideally this will be a plotline throughout the season. (Marnie’s aborted fling with Elijah could certainly rev things up again.)

7. Broken-hearted Adam Driver. Last season, his character (Adam) manipulated Hannah and treated her not-so-well until they started dating. Now it’s his turn to suffer, even as Hannah guiltily plays nursemaid to him while his leg heals. At the same time, her frustration is particularly rich: “You know what, I have tried this whole thing of being selfless, and taking care of everyone around me and worrying about everyone before myself, but I’m an individual, and I feel how I feel when I feel it.” In reality, Hannah is as self-centered as the rest of her friends and lovers, but figuring out the boundaries of kindness, and sometimes overestimating your own, are hallmarks of one’s early 20s.

8. The music choices. It’s kind of a tie between Vampire Weekend’s cover of Bruce Springsteen’s “I’m Going Down” in the closing credits and the remix of “99 Problems” that’s playing at the party. The former is the most fun song off of the Boss album that these characters are likely to be most familiar with; the latter has been a party staple for more than a decade. The revamped versions fit the show, much like Robyn’s “Dancing on My Own” did last season.

9. Rita Wilson as Marnie’s spoiled, oversexed mom. That makes sense.

10. The general impression that the characters are evolving, and not necessarily into mature, confident, respectable people. That comes much later. For now, they’re still figuring things out, and Jessa’s new marriage is probably the best analogy for all of them. Who at home is witnessing her happiness — which is suggested in the first two episodes — and thinking that her relationship won’t fall apart by the season’s end? It’s the arrogance of someone her age to think that she can skip the hard part and figure out the secret to marital bliss (or professional success or just general contentment), but the hard part is what we suspect and hope we will see a lot more of this season.