When a young man locks a young woman inside his art installation, a claustrophobic box made of TV screens blaring loud footage of death and decay, the viewer can't help but root for the woman to burst out screaming. We expect her to react angrily at being subjected to the flood of violent, disturbing imagery. Instead she emerges, shaken and distraught, to exclaim, "you are so f***ing brilliant!"
The woman is played by Allison Williams, who really steps out from her pretty-girl role this season. The show is "Girls." The scene illustrates the state of relationships that typify the series, where 20something women put themselves in abusive situations–physical, sexual and emotional–en route to finding themselves. We yearn for them to get it together, we know the continued life of the comedy depends on them not quite getting it together.
The HBO series "Girls," a lightening rod for feminists, critics and cultural anthropologists when it debuted last season, returns even stronger and equally provocative on Jan. 13. Judging by the first four episodes, the new season contains more laugh-out-loud funny moments, the characters are well defined and the male characters get more prominence. The quest of a generation to define itself as unique beyond the parameters set by parents continues to fascinate.
Lena Dunham, the series' creator-writer who plays Hannah, paints herself/her character in an achingly honest (often nude) light. Unflattering camera angles are the least of it. Andrew Rannells ("The New Normal," "Book of Mormon") is terrific as Hannah's gay roommate/crush. The two of them have a lovely comedic chemistry as they, and Marnie (Williams), explore modern sexual politics and old-fashioned hurt feelings. Chris O'Dowd ("Bridesmaids") gives a fascinating read to the role of Jessa's (Jemima Kirke) new husband. Gender politics have never been more achingly funny.
Whether snorting cocaine off a toilet seat at a nightclub, applying for jobs with impossibly difficult, irrational bosses, or attempting to cook noodles, the characters display a limitless self-involvement. Analyzing every breath they take, they miss the bigger picture, like Shoshanna (the wonderful Zosia Mamet) and boyfriend Ray (Alex Karpovsky) trying to sort out their feelings, fearful of acknowledging their connection.
It's fresh, it's bold, it's uncomfortable at times, and that's as it should be–whether you're living the 20something moment or reflecting on it from a distance. The twenties are tough, and each generation tries to outwit the growing pains in a slightly different way. The problem, they find, is that's like trying to outsmart gravity.