Last night was the season premiere of HBO's Girls. Since its 2012 debut, Girls has become an immediate conversation-starter (as evidenced by the fact that Marnie had her ass eaten in last night's episode.) Lena Dunham’s uneven, yet ambitious semi-autobiographical dive into the lives of four young women rolling with life’s punches has roused audiences due to its interpretation of the modern woman.
Why did he pee on her in the shower with the glee of a 5-year-old who just discovered his dick can be used as a weapon?
The main characters’ lives are far from perfect, yet aren’t so dramatic that they venture into soap opera territory. Although their exploits are consistently entertaining (and, more often than not, frustrating), all of the show’s success doesn’t hinge on their weekly escapades. Ironically enough, as Girls enters its fourth season, its most fascinating characters are the guys.
Since his first appearance in the show’s pilot, Adam (Adam Driver) has been the most compelling character on Girls. Prior to becoming Hannah’s (Dunham) boyfriend, he was a towering enigma who viewers were left to question. Did he give Hannah HPV? What triggered his referenced alcoholism? Why did he pee on her in the shower with the glee of a 5-year-old who just discovered his dick can be used as a weapon? In the first season’s notorious Bushwick warehouse party episode, Hannah notes that she’s never even seen him outside of his apartment. But it’s in that same episode that Adam and Hannah’s relationship takes its first turn toward something serious, largely because of Adam.
Where he had been relatively indifferent about their gray area of a situation and even treated Hannah sub-human at times, he showed a striking degree of passion during their face off at the Brooklyn Navy Yard. When Hannah confronted him about the fact she knows next to nothing about him, he reminded her that she was too wrapped up in herself to ever inquire.
"I’m not gonna talk your fucking ear off about shit you don’t ask about," he scolded. "You don’t want to know me, you want to come over in the night and have me fuck the dog shit out of you, and then you want to leave and write about it in your diary. You don’t want to know me." As strange as he is, he might be the show’s most rational thinker. By the episode’s end, he and Hannah are packed into a cab with Marnie, officially a couple.
However, their bliss is short-lived. As the second season drew to a close, Adam was dating Natalia (Shiri Appleby). Despite looking more at home on Entourage than Girls, she was genuinely interested in him—until those infamous, uncomfortable sex scenes. But come season’s end, he was rescuing Hannah from her abrupt OCD relapse like some sort of knight. This set up their cohabitation last season, where Hannah seemed to be content with him playing the role of caretaker and urban troglodyte, despite his lack of income.
This dynamic was interrupted when he found success on Broadway, something he had previously feigned passive interest in. He was nonchalant about his goals the same way he was about his relationship with Hannah at first, until he landed a role in a theatrical production of Major Barbara. The image of him stuffing paper towels into his mouth to muffle his celebratory scream was the season’s most memorable.
Adam having to interact with people other than Hannah drove a wedge between them, as did her fickle and selfish behavior. However, his progression from feral man to one with something to do other than be Hannah’s personal superhero has been the show’s most enthralling arc. That can be credited to Driver’s ability to capture each of the character’s complexities, from the filthy banter during sex to the intense level of commitment. It's the reason Driver’s been nominated for two Emmys—he routinely turns in the best performance. Yet Adam isn’t the only character who’s become stronger after being fleshed out.
Originally introduced as a one-note cynic, Ray (Alex Karpovsky) is the type of devoted hater who argues with people in paragraphs on message boards. While he’s still the definitive malcontent, the more screen time he was given, the more it became evident that all of this cynicism was the result of insecurity.
Ray, who’s in his 30s, is a little older than the other characters. While they all have aspirations, every passing day is a reminder of his failures. That frustration has gathered in his gut, only escaping his body in the form of vitriol. It’s not until he begins dating Shoshanna (Zosia Mamet) that he stops complaining about his life and begins actually trying to improve it. The grim reality is that pairing the show’s most jaded person with its most naive could only last for so long.
Rant for rant, Ray and Shoshanna were the most quotable tandem on Girls. However, not only was his uncanny knack for finding fault with everything slowly killing her soul, it was stunting her development as a human being. In perhaps her second greatest tirade to date (this is the real gem), she tells him that she "can’t be the only thing [he likes]."
Their separation motivates Ray to seek more out of life (as a manager at Grumpy’s Cafe, fittingly) and even slightly alters his outlook. This doesn’t bring Shoshanna back to him until her own quest for more life experience leads to one too many gaffes and the realization that she needs him as that anchor. But instead of him becoming her updated, more abrasive version of Josh from Clueless, he rejects her. It mirrors a scene from earlier in the season, when he tries to wear his new goal-oriented lifestyle like a merit badge and she isn’t moved at all.
Girls has weathered enough sexism disguised as criticism, so this is by no means an indictment on Dunham and her fellow female leads. In fact, Marnie (Allison Williams) is often among the show’s most interesting characters. Like Adam and Ray, she’s gone through a linear transition since the first season. She’s still unlikable, but her shift from the clueless girl who showed up to the aforementioned warehouse party dressed like she was attending a fundraiser to a somewhat talented folk songstress has been, if nothing else, entertaining. Once her put-together facade was destroyed, she was forced to stop looking down on others. Her unlikely hookup with Ray was meant to highlight that downward spiral, but the upside is that he does what no one else seems to have attempted—call her on her bullshit.
Conversely, not all of the male characters are good. Marnie’s ex-boyfriend, Charlie (Christopher Abbott), was literally the weakest character on the show. He was this clingy albatross around her neck until he started dating a clone of her (Audrey Gelman) and became a tech startup boss. Even when their lives began moving in opposite directions, he was still her pet. Fortunately, his character being written out after season two permitted the rise of Elijah (Andrew Rannells). He was always hilarious, but the withering humiliation he experiences at the hands of his boyfriend, Pal (Danny Strong), added a new layer to his character. In season three, he became more than simply the jester.
The reason I was drawn to Girls in the first place is because, despite having very little in common with Hannah, Marnie, Jessa (Jemima Kirke), and Shoshanna on the surface, each of the girls they’re meant to represent are familiar to me in real life. Yet where they’re written to make statements, their male counterparts have developed organically. They aren’t scripted as the voices of a generation; they’re just guys, and rarely feel forced. According to Karpovsky, they'll be featured as prominently as the girls this season. That includes Desi (Ebon Moss-Bachrach), Marnie's recording—and inevitable romantic—partner, who the jury is still out on.
"There are four dudes and four girls," he told USA Today. "This show is very much about these four girls, and in many ways, the guys are ways for us to learn more about these girls and the mistakes that they make."
The girls’ antics drive the show, but Adam and Ray are the wheels. Elijah is that one hysterical passenger, and Desi is the radio you can tune out if need be.
Yes, Julian Kimble watches Girls. Follow him on Twitter here, then come at him if you dare.